Russia in Search of Itself

( 1 )

Overview

In the turbulent decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, conditions have worsened considerably for many Russians, and a wide-ranging debate has raged over the nature and destiny of their country. In Russia in Search of Itself, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a noted expert on Russia, examines the efforts of a proud but troubled nation to find a post-Soviet identity. The agenda has not been controlled from the top-down and center-out as in Russia's past. Nor has it been set by any ...

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Overview

In the turbulent decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, conditions have worsened considerably for many Russians, and a wide-ranging debate has raged over the nature and destiny of their country. In Russia in Search of Itself, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a noted expert on Russia, examines the efforts of a proud but troubled nation to find a post-Soviet identity. The agenda has not been controlled from the top-down and center-out as in Russia's past. Nor has it been set by any intellectual giant such as Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn.

Billington describes the contentious discussion occurring all over Russia and across the political spectrum. He finds conflicts raging among individuals as much as between organized groups and finds a deep underlying tension between the Russians' attempts to legitimize their new, nominally democratic identity, and their efforts to craft a new version of their old authoritarian tradition. After showing how the problem of Russian identity was framed in the past, Billington asks whether Russians will now look more to the West for a place in the common European home, or to the East for a new, Eurasian identity. Billington sees three elements shaping Russian culture: Orthodox Christianity; a special feeling for nature; and an intermittent, sometimes excessive passion for imported innovation. Out of this mix, he suggests, Russia must find its own moral anchor for its venture into democracy if it is to avoid falling back on a negative and authoritarian nationalism in order to recreate some sense of common purpose in society.

The prospects for world peace in the twenty-first century depend in large measure on the way Russians decide to define themselves in the next few years. Drawing on his vast knowledge of Russian history, his frequent visits to Russia in the past decade, and his longstanding relationships with Russians from many different regions and segments of society, Billington provides an authoritative exploration of one of the world's most pressing issues.

Woodrow Wilson Center Press

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Editorial Reviews

The Moscow Times.com
Russia has been in search of itself for a long time. For the present state of the old vs. new debate there is no better guide than this short book by James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress since 1987.

— Walter Laqueur

Washington Post Book World
A fond, eccentric mix of deep knowledge and fresh information. This is clearly a book for the cognoscenti.

— Richard Lourie

Opinion Journal
One of our foremost historians of Russia... He is acutely aware of how culture can influence political developments.

— Joshua Rubenstein

Forecast

Takes a close-up look at one of the world's most pressing issues, the turbulent conditions of Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the efforts of Russia to find a post-Soviet identity.

Washington Times
Modest in scale (but not conception)... Russia in Search of Itself ought to be required beach reading for the administration's policy-makers... Most political prognostications benefit from being qualified and hedged. Mr. Billington, guided by the extraordinary history of the land and people he knows so well, here courageously opts for the opposite approach.

— Martin Sieff

Survival
A valuable overview of current thinking on the Russian national idea.

— Kathryn Pinnick

Times Literary Supplement

If you want to be ahead of the crowd in understanding it [contemporary Russia's intellectual ferment 'in spite of the growing repressiveness of the current regime'], read James Billington.

Nationalities Papers
The author's exposure to the ideas and interests of the young Russian intelligence has enriched his book with unique material.

— Serhy Yekelchyk

Choice

This book is valuable primarily for its thorough survey of various contemporary Russian opinions about the country's past and present identity and what it should be in the future.

Political Studies Review
The style is in many ways more literary than political science, but its content treads confidently across today's Russia.

— Edwin Bacon

Canadian Slavonic Papers
An engaging look at Russian identity formation through the lens of intellectual history.

— Alison Rowley

Sunday Times
Russia in Search of Itself ought to be required beach reading for the administration's foreign policy-makers.

— Martin Sieff

International Affairs
A slim but extraordinarily useful survey of the main currents in Russian thought and letters in the post-Soviet era.

— Martin Walker

The Moscow Times.com - Walter Laqueur

Russia has been in search of itself for a long time. For the present state of the old vs. new debate there is no better guide than this short book by James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress since 1987.

Washington Post Book World - Richard Lourie

A fond, eccentric mix of deep knowledge and fresh information. This is clearly a book for the cognoscenti.

Opinion Journal - Joshua Rubenstein

One of our foremost historians of Russia... He is acutely aware of how culture can influence political developments.

Washington Times - Martin Sieff

Russia in Search of Itself ought to be required beach reading for the administration's foreign policy-makers.

Survival - Kathryn Pinnick

A valuable overview of current thinking on the Russian national idea.

Nationalities Papers - Serhy Yekelchyk

The author's exposure to the ideas and interests of the young Russian intelligence has enriched his book with unique material.

Political Studies Review - Edwin Bacon

The style is in many ways more literary than political science, but its content treads confidently across today's Russia.

Canadian Slavonic Papers - Alison Rowley

An engaging look at Russian identity formation through the lens of intellectual history.

International Affairs - Martin Walker

A slim but extraordinarily useful survey of the main currents in Russian thought and letters in the post-Soviet era.

Forecast

Takes a close-up look at one of the world's most pressing issues, the turbulent conditions of Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the efforts of Russia to find a post-Soviet identity.

Choice

This book is valuable primarily for its thorough survey of various contemporary Russian opinions about the country's past and present identity and what it should be in the future.

Joey Tartakovsky
James Billington's Russia in Search of Itself is a wise reflection on Russia's destiny by a lifelong student. It has a somewhat uneven feel, as if it were written first as a series of essays. But Billington, who has served as the Librarian of Congress since 1987, is an eminent authority, and the insights found in his book transcend its faults.
The Claremont Review of Books
Richard Lourie
Russia in Search of Itself, by James Billington, Librarian of Congress and author of the classic The Icon and the Axe, allows us to eavesdrop on Russia's national conversation, which ranges from the brilliant to the boozy (and wouldn't be Russia if it didn't). The discussion is a form of national therapy for the "cultural-psychological nervous breakdown" the country suffered with the collapse of its ideology and economy. While redefining Russia's identity, the conversation is also "relegitimizing the exercise of authority within its reduced but still capacious borders."
The Washington Post
Foreign Affairs
In the 1950s, the United States created a commission to define national goals. Russia, amid the rubble of its past, cannot get to that point before sorting out the more fundamental issue of national identity. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's scholars, pundits, and politicians have agonized over the content of the "Russian idea"; Yeltsin even appointed a committee to define it. No one has explored the rush of cacophonous notions that has filled this space more succinctly or elegantly than Billington. From the neoimperial isolationism of the latter-day Eurasianists to the spiritual metaphysics of Russian traditionalists and the ambivalence of modern democrats, he assesses each with remarkable erudition and sympathy. The contradictions, he argues, are as strong within individuals as among them-and, worryingly, if there is an equilibrium point, surveys show it is a kind of nihilism. Nevertheless, Billington is optimistic that something creative and distinctive will come out of the dissonance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801879760
  • Publisher: Woodrow Wilson Center Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2004
  • Pages: 234
  • Sales rank: 1,082,942
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

James H. Billington has been the Librarian of Congress since 1987. The originator and guiding force of two major Russian-American bipartisan initiatives in Congress in the 1990s—Meeting of the Frontiers, a bilingual, online educational library; and the Open World Program, which has brought more than 7,500 emerging young Russian leaders to America—he also founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in 1974 as director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. A foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he is the author of five books on Russia, including, most recently, Russia Transformed and The Face of Russia.

Woodrow Wilson Center Press

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Table of Contents

Preface
I The Long Prologue 1
1 The Nineteenth-Century Discovery of Identity 7
2 The Twentieth-Century Search for Legitimacy 23
II The Quickening Quest 41
3 A New Nation in Search of Identity 47
4 The Authoritarian Alternative: Eurasianism 67
5 The Travails of a Democratic Identity 95
Conclusion 135
Notes 167
Bibliographic Postscript 216
Index 219
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2005

    A journey into the soul of Russia

    RUSSIA IN SEARCH OF ITSELF is great intellectual work that should be taken seriously. This is a book to read with a serious mindset. It is not easy to understand the trauma and humiliation that the people of the former Soviet Union felt after the collapse of the union, when the majority suddenly found themselves living miserably than before. In fact, except for the Baltic States, none of the former Soviet Republics¿ average citizen lives better than before the demise of the Soviet Union. Even though Russia has almost recovered and fares better than the rest of the ex-Soviet Republics, it is still haunted by the loss of its pride as the heart of a major superpower.

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