As well as my article on Putin’s rhetoric, another piece of my academic writing has appeared in print this month – a chapter on the subject of ‘Discipline’ in a new book entitled Military Virtues. In this I note that discipline has two meanings – first, ‘measures, including, but not limited to, coercion, used by those in authority to ensure desirable behaviour among subordinates’, and second ‘a state of mind manifested in certain forms of behaviour.’ I conclude:
The ideal is soldiers who can be relied upon to exercise self-control and self-restraint, and to act with precision, exactitude, and timeliness. The ideal of discipline, therefore, is not soldiers who merely obey out of fear of punishment, but soldiers with the spirit to discipline themselves even when authority is weak or absent.
Many military organizations have official lists of the virtues they wish their members to display. Sometimes they have instead lists of ‘values’, and sometimes they mix up the terms virtues and values. Regardless of the terminological confusion, however, in all cases the lists lay out either certain things which military personnel are meant to defend or certain traits of character which they are meant to display in their behaviour. The Military Virtues book examines 14 virtues: justice, obedience, loyalty, courage, wisdom, honesty, integrity, perseverance, temperance, patience, humility, compassion, discipline, and professionalism. Some, but not all, of these appear in the official lists I mentioned above. In a book I edited a few years ago entitled Ethics Education in the Military, I included the following graphic which showed several of these lists:
The most common virtues in these lists are loyalty/comradeship, courage, self-sacrifice, and discipline. On the whole, the focus is very much inwards – that’s to say that the virtues in question are by and large those required to make a soldier effective in a purely functional sense. There’s very little which is outward looking – i.e. about how soldiers should treat others outside the military. The Israelis are unique in including ‘respect for human life’ in their list (Israeli ethicist Asa Kasher, who was responsible for this, told me that he had to fight hard to get that included, as there was a lot of resistance, but he eventually succeeded).
What I didn’t have when I drew up the table above was any example of a Russian set of military virtues. Today, though, I was directed to an article by the head of the military-political directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, A. Kartapolov, in which he provides such a list. I thought, therefore, that it was worth looking at it by way of comparison. According to Kartapolov, the ‘spiritual values’ with which the Russian soldier needs to be inculcated are:
Statehood (gosudarstvennost’) as the bulwark of sovereignty, the guarantee of social-economic progress and of the spiritual flourishing of all Russia’s peoples.
Civic spirit (grazhdanstevnnost’) as someone who belongs to the great Russian people and is responsible for its historic fate and social wellbeing.
Patriotism as a feeling of love of the Motherland, caring for its interests, and being ready to defend one’s Fatherland against aggressors.
Military duty as a sharpened sense of responsibility to oneself and one’s collective, expressed in a desire to fulfil one’s professional responsibilities as well as possible, in one’s attitude towards getting the respect of one’s peers, controlling one’s actions, and showing self-restraint and self-control in any critical situation.
Courage (muzhestvo) and heroism as strength of character, obedience to moral principles in times of danger, and also deeds carried out in the name of the highest ideals.
Military honour as fulfilling one’s military duty, unity of word and deed, an ability to take independent decisions and be accountable for them, and knowing how to take sensible risks.
Self-sacrifice as a readiness to take risks and sacrifice oneself in time of need.
Strength of will as an ability not to withdraw in the face of difficulties, but carry on a job until it’s done; overcoming one’s weaknesses and lack of self-confidence.
Holiness (sviatost’) and sobornost’ as time-honoured expressions of the Russian Idea, defending the rights and freedoms of believers among one’s comrades while in the process of fulfilling one’s military duties.
For the most part, these fit in pretty well with the values and virtues listed by other countries above. The demands of military life are such that military virtues are pretty much the same wherever you find soldiers. There are some differences, though. Kartapolov’s article is full of references to the Great Patriotic War and the glories of the Soviet Army. At the same time, it makes regular reference to ‘traditional values’ and ‘spiritual ties’ (dukhovnye skrepy – a phrase which supposedly dates back to the émigré Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev). As such it’s a somewhat typical post-Soviet mishmash of Soviet and pre-Soviet values and traditions. This can be seen in the last item on Kartapolov’s list – ‘holiness’ and ‘sobornost’ (the latter an almost untranslatable word, having to do with a sort of spirit of religious collectivism). Western armies have become almost entirely secular. References to religious values are entirely missing. But the Russian Army, while looking to its atheistic predecessor, insists on ‘holiness’ and ‘sobornost’. It’s a curious combination which reveals much, I think, about how the post-Soviet Russian state is trying meld all the aspects of its past into a coherent whole.
What really struck about Kartapolov’s list, however, was item no. 1 – ‘statehood’. Again, this is something one just doesn’t find in the Western equivalents. It’s an outward looking value – expressing why the military exists, not just how it’s meant to operate. A lot has been written in recent years about the ‘conservative turn’ in Russian politics, how Putin is allegedly stoking Russian nationalism in order to legitimize his ‘regime’, and so on. The sense is that the Russian state has become increasingly ideological. But actually what Kartapolov’s list shows is that the core of the Russian state’s ideology is what it was throughout the Imperial period (and arguably for large parts of the Soviet period as well) – namely, itself.
Thus we see that the ideology of the Russian state isn’t conservatism or nationalism, or anything like that. The state’s ideology is, simply put, the state. Everything else is just window dressing.