My thoughts on Lonely Power

Good morning Rantsville! It’s J.T. How are you doing, friend?

I thought I’d left your streets for good, but here I am again.

I’d like to begin this by saying that prior to reading Lonely Power, I’d had no experience with Shevtsova’s writings; much of my commentary below combines first impressions with a semi-review of the book. Expect something closer to a collection of disorganized thoughts than a regular structured review.

  • Reading this book caused a familiar bout of dizziness, mild nausea and existential questions I have come to know as Kasparovicosis. While Shevtsova doesn’t openly advocate an invasion of Russia, she calls on the West to become “tough” with Russia to help bring about a regime change. (She openly discusses what could undermine the Russian system on p. 334.) Sound familiar? In other places, she proposes an absurd notion that Russia should be somehow fused with the West. Her liberal views tie the entire book together; however, her link to liberalism is tenuous – she is ready to abandon her liberal principles if liberal methods – including diplomacy, negotiations, and exchange – don’t work.
  • In Shevtsova’s view Russia must reject the current system and adopt liberal democracy. However, she doesn’t give convincing reasons why Russians should prefer liberal democracy or even abandon the current soft-authoritarian regime. Liberalism and democracy are self-legitimizing, I wager.
  • Shevtsova works in the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy think tank based out of Washington D.C. Like a member of any important American foundation, she participates in setting the agenda for American foreign policy. Creating bridges, making connections, and understanding what makes Russia “tick” are [should be – J.T.] important for the US, and presumably, it is what the Carnegie Center is trying to do. Yet in the book there are no traces of a desirability of improving relations, or even simply reaching modus vivendi. Shevtsova advocates a risible notion that by sanctioning, isolating Russia and weakening its institutions the West could create and enhance freedom. However, “freedom” is a tricky and very subjective thing – it cannot be created by export or by destroying an existing regime or even by removing tyranny. As the world moves from the Fukuyaman “end of history” back into an era of conflict, animated this time by nationalist and religious fundamentalist forces, is it really the neoliberals whose advice Russia should listen to?
  • Some guy in some Russia article in the National Interest once said that the image of Putin commonly held in the West is so distorted that’s it’s hard to take a swing at such a straw man. Well in this book, there’s no need to try, because Shevtsova creates a straw man (Putin wants to recreate an imperialist superpower, a new USSR) and then destroys it on her own(Russia under Putin doesn’t have what it takes to be a superpower). I’m already over that – it’s unlikely Russia can be a superpower like America, but it is already a regional Great Power.
  • In Shevtsova’s opinion, Russia must not pursue Great Power Politics (dershavnichestvo) because liberal democracy is incompatible with Great Power Politics. In the end, she concludes that Russia could become a “challenge to liberal civilization”.

ты шутишь

How could this book and Post-Imperium be published by the same think tank?

Lonely Power by Lilia Shevtsova. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. Pub. 2010 by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Paperback, 394 pages. ISBN13: 9780870032462




  1. “because liberal democracy is incompatible with Great Power Politics.”

    Um, the U.S. It thinks of itself as a liberal democracy but has no problem doing “Great Power Politics” to pursue its interests – or the perceived interests of its ruling elites. No one is supposed to ever question the contradictions of the indispensable nation.

    Ignore that man behind the curtain.


  2. “liberal methods – including diplomacy, negotiations, and exchange”

    What exactly is genuinely liberal about them?
    They are neutral and used by non-liberals just as much, if not more sometimes.


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