Abstract. This article analyzes some aspects of civilizationism as a trend in the self-positioning strategies of several Asian states, notably China and India, as well as some other countries. Close attention is paid to the concept of the civilization state (CS), as distinct from the nation state (NS), where the former reveals the specific characteristics of the major non-Western states. These stem from their long histories, traditional cultural codes deeply rooted in the consciousness of their peoples and ruling elites and from the repudiation of universalism and any attempts to impose an alien system of values on them. The conclusion is reached that Russia meets the civilization-state criteria in a way that aligns it with the nation state category. Within this frame of reference, certain states are shown to fall in between these two categories, as they reveal only a limited range of prerequisites for being included in the civilization-state list. This conclusion is illustrated by examples of states in the Arab World. Two different interpretations of the notion of “civilizationism” are revealed by examining this definition of the nature and political practices of the states. The authors, representing the interests of mainstream political bodies of Asian civilization-states, stress the spiritual and cultural superiority of civilization states in response to the West’s exclusivist claims to global leadership, and promote the idea of their “responsible” attitude to governing society and addressing global issues. By contrast, their opponents see civilizationism as a synonym of authoritarianism, violation of the rights of minorities, archaic political practices, and national egoism. The author believes that the concept of the civilization state is not only a weapon of ideological and political struggles, but also a useful tool for identifying the real differences of these states from the ideal models based on the principles of neo-liberal democracy and universalism.

The binary structure civilization state vs nation state (CS vs NS), which entered the conceptual system of the humanities and social studies some time ago. increasingly crops up in the theoretical lexicon of some historians and political scientists in and outside Russia.1 The aim of this article is to reveal what stands behind the nexus of two significantly different concepts, the state and civilization, and the features of the civilization state according to the term’s main advocates, to find out which states qualify to be included in that category and whether they are indeed so different from nation states as to constitute an antagonistic dichotomy. I consider the issues of statehood in the contemporary East from this angle.

Civilization and Civilizationism

To solve this task, a look at the concept of “civilization” is in order. Few terms are used more frequently and in more diverse contexts in academic and public discourse. It is so multi-faceted, universal, diffuse and lacking a uniform and clear-cut definition that it can be used in theoretical discourse in a wide variety of scientific disciplines. They include first and foremost the humanities: history, sociology, ethnology, political science, philosophy, law, Oriental studies, conflict resolution studies and international relations. But also a number of natural sciences. The concept of civilization is related to such concepts as barbarism (as an antipode of civilization that preceded it in the development of humankind) and also culture, nation, ethnicity, the environment, society, development, war, peace, communications, technologies and the state.

It is not my aim here to provide a detailed analysis of existing definitions of civilization in order to propose one more. But inasmuch as the term is used here, citing the definition by authoritative Russian contributors to the encyclopedic dictionary would not be amiss. They hold that a civilization is a system, existing at a certain time and on a certain territory, “in the framework of which there exists a socio-cultural and historical community with its inherent combination of political-economic, cultural, spiritual, including confessional, characteristics” [15, p. 3].

Nor is there a need to cite the ideas of any of the legion of past scholars in whose works the concept loomed large and who interpreted it each in their own way, although many humanities scholars spoke about “human civilization” in any case. Some scholars specializing in civilization have created entire schools of thought on this. Suffice it to mention the eminent Russian sociologist and ideologist of Pan-Slavism Nikolay Danilevsky (1822-1885), who considered that the bearers of historical life were original communities he called “cultural-historical types” (ten in number). Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), German historian and philosopher, in his famous grimly apocalyptic work The Decline of the West (1918) identified eight great cultures (plus the awakening Russo-Siberian culture). Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), an equally famous British historian and culturologist, continued Spengler’s line in a series of works, notably the 12-volume Study of History. He looked at human history through the prism of the theory of local civilizations each traversing a path from inception to decay, with religion underpinning its original system of values. In 20th-century Russia, the civilizationist approach was adopted by the Eurasianists. It is worth recalling that the linguist and philosopher Nikolay Trubetzkoy (1890-1938), considered the first theoretician of Eurasianism, already in his early work Europe and Mankind, inveighed against the claims of the aggressive Romano-Germanic form of civilization to superiority and saw Russia-Eurasia as the engine of the struggle against its universalism (quoted from [11]).

To continue this brief historical foray, let us move closer to our time. As early as the 1920s and 1930s, when Marxist methodology held sway, Russian historians and Orientalists were engaged in a discussion of the “Asian mode of production,” which was later curtailed on orders from “on high.” The discussion resumed in the mid-1960s to develop into broader arguments between the advocates of the “formational” and civilizational approaches. The still timid reflections of civilizationists were, if not a veiled protest, then a kind of Fronde resulting from an allergy to the stifling Marxist formula. These historians and Orientalists were no longer interested in whether or not ancient Eastern states were slave-owning. But they had to tread warily so as not to be accused of straying from Marxism. Even so, as Mikhail Boitsov remarked caustically, “the theory of civilizations sprouted on our soil as a result of efforts to lend more flexibility to official Marxism along with other similar inventions…. The civilizational approach was to play the role of a second ‘Asian mode of production’ ” [2, p. 36]. Be that as it may, in the late 1980s, the taboo on the revision of the “formational” theory (from the Russian word formatsiya, or stage in the development of the socio-economic system) was lifted (some enthusiastic civilizationists even saw it as a total renunciation of it). Among the Orientalist scholars who studied the East in terms of the Marxist theory of socio-economic stages there were those who disagreed with the application of the classical Marxist “five-stage theory” to the Eastern countries. For example, Vasily Ilyushechkin of the Oriental Studies Institute argued that with regard to China, we should talk about the estate-class system based on the rent system of production and not about slave-owning and feudal systems (cf. [7]).

Boris Erasov, another co-worker of this writer at the Oriental Studies Institute, made a big contribution to developing the theory of Eastern civilizations (1932-2001). As part of his civilizational theories, he proposed an independent category status of social culturology stressing the contradictory essence of globalization that, along with the spread of universal human values, had a deleterious effect on original cultures, which fought back through fundamentalism and nationalism [4; 5].

Among the more notable civilizational theories of the past decades, mention should be made of the political and international studies of Samuel Huntington of the United States. His The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order instantly became one of the most quoted works. There are elements of the civilizational approach in the work of Palestinian-born American scholar Edward Said.

In the 21st century, scholars and politicians in various countries were carried away by discussions of the conflict between the West (sometimes the USA) and the Islamic world, sometimes through the prism of the civilizational approach. The antipodes in this dichotomy were not always homogenous or equal in size. Among the modern Russian “neo-Toynbians” (inspired by Huntington’s success) working in the civilizational paradigm-political scientists, ethnologists, historians, economists, philosophers and Orientalist scholars-are Yury Yakovets, Aleksandr Yakovlev and Andrey Loginov, to mention just a few.

In world politics, the ideas of civilizationists during these years prompted a series of practical international initiatives. These include the Dialogue Among Civilizations put forward by Mohammad Khatami (then president of the Islamic Republic of Iran) and the project of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Alliance of Civilizations, which is still supported by the UN with money from several sponsor nations. In 2005, as part of the latter project, the UN set up a High Level Group of twenty representatives of socio-political and academic circles in various countries (including this author) that two years later submitted to the UN a conceptual report, which formed the basis for implementing the project [18].

Among the modern authors writing about the problem of civilization, there is an ongoing discussion about the hierarchy of its markers, especially religion. Opinions vary widely. Noted Orientalist scholars Aleksandr Akimov and Aleksandr Yakovlev define civilization as “a stable ethno-demographic and socio-cultural community inhabiting a certain territory and possessing over many centuries spiritual (religious and moral) ideals and values, intransient principles of everyday and artistic culture, a distinct world perception and norms of behavior” [17, p. 478]. However, this definition does not sit comfortably with the categorization of world civilizations these authors propose. It is rather asymmetric, based as it is on religious or ethnic or geographical principles and including European, Orthodox, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Islamic, African and Latin American civilizations [ibid., p. 479] The list is at odds with the definition proposed by the authors and prompts a number of questions.

For example, can religious confession be considered a civilization marker? That conclusion was challenged by a number of notable scholars of our time, in particular, Aleksandr Panarin (1940-2003). Speaking about Eurasia, he noted the growing alienation of society from culture’s religious contexts and believed that the basis of consolidation should be the development of distinct universal Eurasian principles that transform the energy of religious impulses [13, pp. 17-18]. For instance, do societies belonging to the Orthodox civilization (i.e., based on religious community) have some common civilizational foundations? Such foundations probably exist in terms of strictly religious values, but even this sphere is invaded by politics, as witnessed by the well-known lamentable recent events involving the schism between Orthodox churches. Things are even more complicated in Islam, which has no religious hierarchy: divisions there are far deeper (suffice it to mention the Shia-Sunni confrontation of recent years, to say nothing of the fierce battle of Jihadists from well-known terrorist organizations like DAESH/ISIL or Hyatt Tahrir al-Sham/Jabhat al-Nusra, banned in Russia), with the rest of the Muslim community rooted in various interpretations of the Islamic faith. And Islam is more closely linked with politics than other religions.

It is not so much about religious disunity as about the prevalent influence on religious institutions of the interests and policies of nation states, as well as the interests of various ethnic groups. Ukraine, which is close to Russia on many counts, can hardly be considered a civilizational partner of Russia on confessional grounds. And Orthodox Bulgaria, which owes Imperial Russia its liberation from the Turkish yoke in the 19th century, was an ally of the enemies of Russia/ USSR during the two world wars in the 20th century. Nor should we forget that during the first and second Balkan wars, Russia backed Bulgaria’s enemies, and at the start of the First World War, Bulgaria declared war only on Serbia, but not on Russia, but shortly afterward, Russia was the first to declare war on the “Bulgarian brothers.” There are examples galore. In 1980-1988, Iran, where the bulk of the population is Shiite, and Iraq, where Shiites constitute about two-thirds of the population, waged a bloody war that claimed the lives of 180,000 Iraqi servicemen and 500,000 Iranians soldiers, as well as 20,000 civilians on both sides, not to mention 1.5 million wounded soldiers and civilians on both sides. And this happened between countries belonging to the same civilization? Why not, a convinced supporter of the above approach may say, after all, various branches and all sorts of groups are sometimes embroiled in fierce struggle within the same civilization. Granted, deep rifts sometimes leading to violent conflicts, and even wars may be fought within the same civilization.

Civilization State vs. Nation State?

One of the first to use the term “civilization state” (CS) was Martin Jacques, the British China scholar and well-known journalist who served as a guest professor at several Chinese universities. In his best-selling book When China Rules the World, published in 2009, he stressed that China as a nation state is just 120-150 years old, but as a civilization, it is thousands of years old. In conceptualizing “civilization states” the emphasis is usually placed on civilizational identity, adherence to cultural codes inherited from generations upon generations of ancestors and deeply rooted in their self-identification. Thus, Jacques names the following as fundamental features of China present at all stages in its more than two thousand-year history and that predetermined its identity: “The relationship between the state and society, a very distinctive notion of the family, ancestral worship, Confucian values, the network of personal relationships that we call guanxi, Chinese food and the traditions that surround it, and, of course, the Chinese language with its unusual relationship between the written and spoken form” [6, p. 244].

When the Chinese say “China,” Jacques notes, they refer not to the country or nation, but to the Chinese civilization, “its history, the dynasties, Confucius, the ways of thinking, the role of government, the relationships and customs, the guanxi (the networks of personal connections), the family, filial piety, ancestral worship, the values and distinctive philosophy, all of which long predate China’s history as a nation-state.” And elsewhere even more forcefully: “Chinese identity is overwhelmingly a product of its civilizational history” [ibid.]. Vladimir Lapkin’s interesting reflections echo these thoughts on Chinese identity. In this context, it would be relevant to mention his conclusion about the West’s “challenge of uniform universalism” and the fact that the non-West is trying to compensate the immaturity of the nation state by mobilizing its cultural-civilizational resources (cf. [9, pp. 35-38; 10, pp. 94-97]).

M. Jacques notes two important characteristics of the Chinese civilization state. First, it has existed for a very long time. Second, its size-geographic and demographic-means great diversity. Jacques argues that there have been many civilizations in history, including civilization states such as India, but none are like China. Only this country blends “civilization” and “state” (with the exception of Western China), which is why there are ample grounds for calling it a bona fide “civilization state,” whereas others have only elements of it. To some extent, this can be said of the United States, but its civilization is no more than “the European legacy,” which has existed for 100 years at most.

According to Jacques, the PRC as a CS has for more than two thousand years positioned itself as a civilization rather than as a nation. Although this may be a bit exaggerated, the idea of the civilizational continuity of Chinese self-identification (which, incidentally, is also characteristic of the Russians) is unassailable.

Which brings us to an important (though perhaps debatable) proposition put forward by Jacques: the Western idea of China as a highly centralized state is not quite accurate. Why? Because, he argues, such a country was impossible to run effectively in the dynasty period and indeed today: it is simply too large. That again makes us think about Russia. Let us not forget that the country’s federated system reflects its scale and diversity, ensuring effective governance.

Even if we assume that the two above-mentioned types of states are opposites of each another, kind of antipodes, we cannot rule out that one and the same state canbeatoncea civilization and a nation. In this interpretation, nation states would end up in one group of countries and countries that are simultaneously nations and civilizations in another group. To quote a pithy sentence of the leading American China specialist, the late political scientist Lucian Pye, “China is a civilization pretending to be a nation-state” [14, p. 235]. However, according to another interpretation, civilization states may not position themselves as nations at all.

In another well-known work, The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State, Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University and the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, popular in and to some extent outside China, maintains that China has achieved success by turning away from Western political ideas and following the exam-based and meritocratic tradition embedded in Confucian culture [16, p. 61]. Accordingly, some Western authors stress the importance of the guanxi concept, an abiding feature of Chinese civilization that allegedly has analogs in some (primarily communal) traditions of Russian society, though Russian culture is far removed from Confucianism. However, some states that do not belong to the category of civilization states also reject the norms of neo-liberal democracy. James Dorsey, a fierce critic of the concept of civilization states, considers ethno-based nationalism to be an inseparable part of their policies. He accuses China’s “civilizationist” authorities of alleged violations of human rights, especially with regard to the country’s ethno-religious minorities.2 Weiwei disagrees: “It is true that Chinese society has always been more secular than religious in its long history, but it is also true that Chinese culture, influenced by Confucianism, is moralistic and humanistic, and this morality and humanism are embedded in the Chinese language” [ibid., p. 59].

Weiwei’s otherwise well-argued work contains a somewhat vague thesis concerning the difference between the civilizational state and civilization-state [ibid., p. 53] : while the former is “an amalgamation of an old civilization and a modern nation-state,” the latter often reflects “the tension between the two.” But the main thing is that being a “civilizational state”-the term the author chooses-China is at once old and young, traditional and modern, “Chinese” and international. Its essence is determined by eight features: four supers and four uniques. “At least eight features can be distilled from the civilizational state of China, and these features are (1) a super-large population, (2) a super-vast territory, (3) super-long traditions, (4) a super-rich culture, (5) a unique language, (6) unique politics, (7) a unique society and (8) a unique economy.” The classification may be a little simplistic, but it is characteristic of the traditional Chinese approach to the understanding of society. Speaking about the uniqueness of the Chinese language in its classical and modern forms, Weiwei describes it as the product of China’s long history and culture, echoing Martin Jacques [ibid., p. 58].

Somewhat contradicting himself, Weiwei takes issue with Jacques’ thesis about “tension” in the relationship between the two types of state (CS and NS), which allegedly may lead to China and the West following different trajectories. According to Jacques, China may revive in some form the ancient tributary system characteristic of its relations with its weak neighbors, while the traditional Chinese sense of racial superiority may challenge the world order.3 In this way, Jacques, who criticizes the Eurocentric approach to China, demonstrates that he is still in thrall to the conviction characteristic of most Western scholars that there is an unbridgeable gap between civilization states and nation states. For all that, Jacques is generally anti-Western, being confident that the future belongs to civilization states and that Europe’s main problem in its relations with China is that it does not understand China. The world is entering an era when Europe will be increasingly sidelined, America will decline, rising nations will become the main international actors, and China will replace the USA as the leading world power. This will be ensured by China’s phenomenal economic growth over more than 30 years and its rocketing international prestige. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, while it dealt a heavy blow to China’s economy, also demonstrated China’s strength in successfully dealing with the pandemic.

Naturally, these theses may be challenged and critics may attribute the successes of states with authoritarian systems to their political and not civilizational features. For example, these systems ensure effective socio-political mobilization, concentration of effort and resources in key areas of development. It should be noted that one of the key problems dividing the scholars who use the term “civilization state” has to do with the breakdown of the population in these states. Jacques notes their ethnic-confessional diversity which, however, is reduced by the policy of “civilizationism.” Another point of view is that the population of these states is largely homogenous with the heavy predominance of the main population group (Hans in China account for 92%, which is more than the predominance of Russians in Russia, of whom there are 80%).

From the literature, we see that there are three interpretations of the relationships between the two models of states. First: there are two models (CS and NS), which are irreconcilably opposed to each other, above all because they have different systems of values, ideals and norms of life. Second: these two models exist separately, but they are not totally antagonistic to each other; they simply live their own lives. Finally, there is a third version: the two models may merge in the process of convergence or synthesis.

To this we can add yet another, fourth model of states located on the “civilization-nation” scale somewhere between its poles and revealing some features of both. This transitional type of statehood can be called “undecided states.”

India and the Middle East

India is the most suitable candidate for being included in the category of fully-fledged civilization states along with China, but, according to Jacques, it is “a relatively recent creation of the British Raj, its previous history being far more diverse than China’s” [6, p. 245]. Although Jacques and some other authors doubt that India can be counted among CS (owing to the “diversity” of its history), many of the authors who write about that country still think that India qualifies. At the same time, a good many Western political and international affairs scientists who use the term “civilization state” with respect to China, India, Russia and some other countries, stress their rejection of allegedly universal Western values (cf. [19]), while still considering India to be Asia’s largest democracy (albeit with more and more reservations). The Indian ruling elites see society’s adherence to traditional values and cultural identity as a counterweight to the threat that aggressive universalism and the imposition of liberal democracy pose to Indian civilizational values.

In this context the oft-quoted pronouncements of the leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attest to their “civilizationist” approach, which stresses the role of religion. As a rule, analysts invoke the Hinduism-related concept of dharma as the key BJP concept in its drift from democracy toward nationalism and the revival of archaic values incompatible with the ideals of liberal democracy. The authors who express such views are so numerous in the West and in India, and their discourse has become so familiar that I hardly need to cite any examples. Let me just mention that to illustrate the archaic attitude of the Indian authorities during the anti-COVTD campaign, Western newscasts pointedly showed Indian police using sticks to drive lockdown offenders home and forcing them to do squats and pushups.

Cambridge University Professor Jaideep Prabhu (Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Business and Enterprise), whose chair is supported by the Indian Government’s endowment, believes that “the non-Anglicised nationalists” of India “advance the concept of a civilizational state as an alternative to the Western idea of the nation-state” [20]. He considers these two concepts mutually exclusive. He opposes advocates of the civilization state who allegedly want India to become a Hindu state, but he admits that the European theories of nationalism based on language, religion and ethnicity do not suit India, which is a “meta-nation.” Sadly, as far as I know, he has not pursued this interesting thesis in his later works.

In the narrow sense dharma, critically important for Hinduists, means “moral and religious duty” and “rules of life” with strong value, ethical and religious connotations. Prabhu writes that “Contrary to popular belief, dharma is not religion; it is a wider set of social practices and customs that have governed life in South and South-east Asia. While dharma may not satisfy a legalistic standard of definition, that is so by design. However, a state is a legalistic entity-how is one to marry an amorphous ‘civilization’ with a legalistic ‘state’? More crucially, does this mean that India should have territorial ambitions over other states in South and South-east Asia who are also a part of the same dharmic culture”? [ibid.].

The campaign to control the COVID pandemic, which did not spare India, started in March 2020, and was marked by many appeals to this instrument to justify the actions of the authorities. The government of Narendra Modi, in deciding to introduce quarantine and self-isolation, acted in accordance with its dharma, the duty to protect the population. However, because of poor planning, chaos broke out in the streets and police were disproportionately tough. Of course, the police had their own dharma, which consisted in using their own methods to fulfill the same “duty to protect the population,” including religious minorities and poor people. But, while using violence against protesters and those who defied the Prime Minister’s calls and violated restrictions, they turned a blind eye to the pogroms of Muslims in Delhi (cf. [23]) who were accused of spreading the disease. This caused a negative reaction in the Muslim world, aggravated by the recently adopted discriminatory law that effectively banned Muslims, unlike the followers of other faiths, from entering the country.

Thus, India and China, according to the majority of analysts who follow the concept of civilization state, are classical examples of such a state. Western authors also include Russia and sometimes Turkey in this category. Gideon Rachman, who claimed that the 21st century would be a century of civilization states, believes (following Weiwei) that the USA approaches this type of state [21]. But what features does the USA have in common with the CS, according to his concept? He believes that it is President Trump’s policy on immigration, because, the author argues, the CS is exclusive, and minorities and migrants adjust themselves to it, since they do not belong to the nucleus of the civilization.

The situation with Turkey as a CS is more straightforward. But it is also logical to refer to Iran, a shining example of a synthesis of a CS and NS. It is truly a country belonging to a great civilization with a much longer history than Turkey. Nor can it be called “heterogeneous” or intermittent, its statehood was only partially interrupted when it was part of the Arab Caliphate. Its population in 2019 stood at over 83 million; it is ethnically heterogeneous with the Persians, i.e., the direct heirs to the ancient civilization, accounting for about half of the population and Iranian Azeris for about one-third. Nevertheless, the Iranians, no less than the Chinese and the Russians, are aware of their identity, adherence to the cultural codes inherited from many generations and deeply rooted in their consciousness, while their leaders have always stressed their country’s long history and territorial integrity through the centuries. Though the Islamic Shia revolution ushered in a new period in Iran’s civilizational development, the roots of this adherence go deep in history.

But what of the vast Arab world? Its territory includes the lands of the great ancient civilizations of the Middle East whose heritage was assimilated by the Arabs who conquered these lands in the 7th century and brought their Beduin ideals there. The basis of the new Arab Muslim civilization that took shape on this vast territory was the synthesis of the value systems of many peoples who had long lived in the bosom of various states, but had managed to preserve, to varying degrees, their cultural principles, albeit in a modified form. The civilizational history of the Arabs was not uninterrupted, with a succession of local state entities, particularism gradually becoming the main trend, with frequent sharp conflicts between religious communities. The Ottoman conquest, as a result of which the bulk of the Arab world became part of the Turkish empire, deprived the Arabs of their statehood, and the colonial invasion dealt a still heavier blow at their dreams of regaining it.

In the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, amid the growing national self-consciousness of the Arabs, intellectuals in the Arab provinces (wilayah) began harboring various political projects, with one group calling for the autonomization of the Empire’s Arab provinces under Sublime Porte’s sovereignty and another group calling for complete sovereignty. Things went haywire as a result of Turkey’s defeat in World War I, followed by colonial enslavement (as part of the mandate system) of most of the Arab provinces by European powers-members of the Entente. Some Arab countries were already colonies and protectorates of England and France long before this enslavement (notably South Yemen since 1839 and Algeria since 1830). The Arabs’ struggle for independence flared up, and since the 1940s, new independent states began to appear on the map of the Middle East.

At stake was the direction of state development. That stretch of history after World War II also saw the emergence of two main projects. The first was particularist, oriented toward the building of nation states within the borders of the time. The second was Pan-Arab, aimed at the creation of a single Arab state. The ideologists of the second project and the founders of secular Pan-Arab nationalist movements (Nasserism, Baathism, and the movement of Arab nationalists), proceeding from the thesis on the unity of the Arab nation, argued that Arab glory could be revived only by a single state. Disunited, separate Arab states, some of which had been created within the borders drawn by the colonialists, had no future and no chance to become viable states. The theoretical discourse among the Arab nationalists revolved around a dichotomy of vatanaya vs kaumiya, the former being adherence to a separate Arab country (vatan) and the latter to the single Arab people (kaum). The slogan umma Arabiya wahida (“the single Arab nation”) became a sacred formula, a chant for all the above-mentioned movements.

One example will suffice. Sati’ al-Khusri (1880-1968), a prominent Syrian-Iraqi ideologist of Arab nationalism and an adherent of secularism, considered a common language and a common history, and not religion, to be the underpinnings of a nation [8, p. 62]. He wrote: “Every Arabic-speaking people is an Arab people. Every person belonging to one of these Arabic-speaking peoples is an Arab. If he does not recognize this, if he is not proud of his Arabness, then we must look into the causes that prompted him to take such a position…we must enlighten him and set him on the right path…. He is an Arab irrespective of his wish” [1, p. 80].

This brief foray into history warrants interpreting the concept of the single Arab state as a project of creating a civilization state, which turned out to be ephemeral in spite of the attempts of its partial implementation through a unification of several states (for example, the United Arab Republic, which included Egypt and Syria and existed from 1958 to 1961). The Pan-Arab projects could not be reduced to an integration scheme of totally different states defined only by common borders, because Arabs do have some features of a single civilization. First and foremost, a common history and a large territory, one language and one religion of the majority of the population and corresponding self-consciousness and self-identification. Even though some of the early ideologists of Pan-Arab secular nationalism, the founders of Pan-Arab movements, were Christians, they proceeded from an important, if not the defining role of Islam as the cementing factor for the Arabs. At the same time, from my personal meetings with such classics of Baathism as the late Michel Aflaq and Shibli Al-Aysami, the founding fathers of the Arab nationalist movement, the late George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh, and the leaders of Nasserism, I got the impression that in those distant years, when Islamists were still debarred from political life in many leading countries of the region, even convinced secularists were unable to overcome the tendency toward inter-religious and inter-confessional strife, sometimes even on non-religious grounds.

The setbacks of the regimes created by secular Arab nationalists undermined the popularity of their ideas and brought into prominence Islam-oriented forces. These forces, which form the core of the Syrian opposition, are fighting the Pan-Arab Baathist government in Damascus. An abhorrent obscurantist deviation from the unification project, which has spread beyond the Arab world proper, is DAESH/ISIL, banned in Russia, which reflected in a perverted form the denial of the legitimacy of any Arab nation states formed after the liberation of the Arabs from colonialism. Their setbacks, dependence on the West, which rejects Arab values, internal strife and defeats in the confrontation with Israel, mismanagement, and the decline of secular Pan-Arab nationalist movement as a whole went a long way to determining the attractiveness of the Sunni Islamic Jihadist project in the eyes of part of the region’s population. Today, the Arabs live in more than a score of state entities in some of which the nation state has not taken shape even formally, causing crises, which wax and wane and sometimes erupt into violence. As a result, some states have fallen into the category of “failed states.”

CS and some other types of states that possess only certain elements of NS and have not attained the level of a full-fledged NS have a distinct attitude to the preservation and development of their identity and their sovereignty and territorial integrity. This fully applies to some Middle East countries. In this context, it is worth mentioning one more pair of related concepts explored in some contemporary works. In the 1990s and early 2000s, several political scientists and international affairs analysts set forth the theoretical principles on the basis of which they proposed such concepts as right-sizing and right-peopling of states. (For a detailed assessment of NS and CS in terms of these concepts see [12]). In the period since the publication of these fundamental theoretical works on right-sizing and right-peopling, the world has seen many events that tended to destabilize the region. The system of nation states faced and continues to face new and transformed old challenges and has seriously corroded. Furthermore, in March-April 2020, the region was hit by a serious and unexpected global threat, the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, Iran and Turkey were among the hardest hit states (unlike China, where it started, and which proved able to quickly stop the spread of the epidemic).

As for modern Russia, which can be seen, along with China, as a hybrid civilization state and a nation state, the ideas of some radically-minded modern ideologists of Eurasianism are surprisingly consonant with the ideas of the classics of Pan-Arabism. Thus, Aleksandr Dugin writes: “Today’s Russia is a transition state. It has no historic future in its present borders and with its present political system. It is at once too small and too large to be really viable” [3, p. 142]. The author believes that the only way out is to create a Eurasian state according to “an imperial model.” Other ideologists of Eurasianism, too, consider the nation state to be too confining.

Let me note that Russia and China, both belonging to the CS group, in addition to similarities (both are simultaneously CS and NS) have differences. While for Russia, an important problem that demands a special approach and a search for solutions is the huge size of its territory (coupled with a low population density, an average 8.57 persons per square kilometer as of 2019), for China, as well as for India, it is the huge size of their population (144 and 405 persons per square kilometer, respectively, in 2017). However, the functional role of both features as factors of civilizational self-identification is basically the same.

The arguments about the concepts of CS and NS come to mind when considering the often spirited debates among Russian ethnologists, political scientists and sociologists about the Russian nation (see [22]).


The concept of “civilization state” used by its followers to refer to a special category of states with a long and uninterrupted history, marked by a distinct identity and a readiness of its citizens and leaders to uphold the cultural identity, is in need of further conceptualization in order to better understand the system of values and ideas underlying their realities.

One of the key ideas is civilizationism as an antipode of universalism, which erases cultural differences. Civilizationism as a philosophical-political concept stems from the wish of the rising non-West to rebuff the onslaught of the Western powers, primarily the USA, driven, in the opinion of major sections of the elites and populations in the Eastern countries, by a sense of their superiority and exceptionalism and seeking to impose neo-liberal democracy everywhere. As a counterweight, the states that claim a distinct cultural identity and embeddedness in their own history are promoting their particular ideas and, accordingly, statism, collectivism, authentic religious values and the powerful paternalistic state capable, among other things, of countering the threats to their identity more effectively and quickly.

Let us stress again the differences between those who study the phenomenon of civilization state and its relationship with the nation state. Some of them believe that the two phenomena are in a state of antagonistic conflict with each other, others that each exists by itself and yet others that they are a single whole, which is especially characteristic of China, India and Russia. If I were to choose between these three approaches, I would say that the concept of synthesis is more convincing than the other two.


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1 Among them is James Dorsey, Senior Fellow at Singapore University.

2 “Civilisationalists’ deemphasizing of human, women’s and minority rights means reduced likelihood that incidents of radicalization and ethnic and religious conflict can be pre-empted” [19].

3 Challenging the juxtaposition of NS and CS, Weiwei believes that a synthesis of the two is possible. Furthermore, he stresses that China does not intend to revive the tributary system and practice racism [16, p. 52].