SPIRITUAL and moral values have served as a foundation for the evolution of Russian statehood throughout our country’s history. Right now, forming, keeping, and promoting traditional spiritual and moral values is a priority policy issue in both domestic politics and international relations.
There is currently a systemic crisis between traditional civilizational values and the values of the neoliberal globalizing world based on tension between two types of civilizational development – i.e., secular humanist and religious traditionalist.
As an ideological concept, broadly speaking, traditional values are a certain set of principles and norms that have existed for centuries, constituting a “correct” form of normative social behavior and interaction, where, according to Immanuel Kant, “the moral law determines the will.”1 For example, jurisprudence posits that one source of law is tradition, which in this case acts as a kind of regulator of public relations. In a narrower sense, traditional values are also a set of the same principles and norms, but unique to each country and determined through the influence of ideology, culture, religion, political regime, etc.
These days, traditional values are usually understood as a kind of matrix that combines human dignity, human rights and freedoms, patriotism, civic spirit, service to the fatherland and responsibility for its fate, high moral ideals, a strong family, creative work, the priority of the spiritual over the material, humanism, mercy, justice, collectivism, mutual assistance, mutual respect, historical memory, and generational continuity. This is precisely the definition that is contained in the draft “Fundamentals of Russian state policy for preserving and strengthening traditional Russian spiritual and moral values.”2
As Russian researcher Irina Gorlova rightly points out, such wording “generally reflects the established approach toward traditional values as being designed to prevent the division of society and preserve the unity of an ethnically diverse country.”3
Historically, Russia has viewed the protection of traditional values as a tool for promoting and upholding its interests in international relations, including by protecting the interests and rights of Orthodox Christians around the world, where, after the fall of Byzantium, Muscovite Tsardom and later the Russian Empire positioned itself as the main protector of traditional Christian values. The idea of protecting Europe’s Slavs and Orthodox Christians in the spirit of fraternal assistance materialized in specific historical events.
A case in point is the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855), when Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs, and Armenians fled from the Persian Khanate and the Ottoman Empire to escape the religious persecution of Christians, and in 1851, Slavs were officially allowed to relocate from Turkish-occupied lands. That migration process became a factor in the Crimean War.
When examining historical narratives pertaining to traditional values, we are talking about the natural process of their formation within an established cultural and political community that unites many ethnic groups of different faiths. Along with self-restraint and patriotism, the family was an important foundation of the social mode of life. The same applied to the sacrament of marriage as a union between a man and a woman; family spiritual life, reflected in regular visits to religious places; the observance of religious rites; and reverence for God, his commandments, and elders. It should be noted that in all religious and cultural traditions, family, childbearing, and rearing of the younger generation have been fundamental concepts for the evolution of values and relationships among members of society regardless of social organization. Throughout Russian history, spiritual and moral values have been the foundation of the Russian state.
Although the Soviet political system excluded religion from the concept of traditional values, in the late stages of the USSR, it formulated certain narratives about “Soviet values,” which were influenced by the ideology of opposition to the Western world in the context of the struggle against colonialism and racial segregation, as well as by the advantages of the socialist system as generally more progressive. At the same time, it was based on the same classical postulates about patriotism, service to the fatherland, justice, equality, collectivism, humanism, etc. There is good reason to say that the system of traditional Soviet values has become a tool of foreign policy ideology.
The concept of “traditional values” was first mentioned in Russian political discourse at the state level in 2012 as part of Vladimir Putin’s policy article titled “Russia: The National Question,” which outlined values “common to all of Russia’s traditional religions.”4
The president’s [annual] Message to the Federal Assembly in late 2013 clarified the concept of “traditional values” with references to a “thousand-year history” and the “spiritual and moral foundations of each civilization,” as well as the values of “genuine human life, including religious life – not only material, but also spiritual life.”5
Even today, President Putin emphasizes the need to protect and uphold traditional values throughout the world, as some countries are starting to forget about this.6 Conservative ideas in countries of the Christian (Catholic) West, which are ideologically close to Russian traditional values, are currently being excluded from sociopolitical discourse as supposedly marginal and inconsistent with the “progressive” neoliberal agenda.
The concept of traditional values can thus be considered a soft power tool for establishing constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation with conservative, pragmatically minded political forces and politicians in the West who are upholding their countries’ national interests in fighting ideological and political globalism and the unipolar world order that denies national interests and the political sovereignty of the state, which could become an effective mechanism for countering any attempts to drive our country into international isolation.
In the modern world, the so-called collective West views traditional values through a secular-humanistic approach toward civilizational development, where they are consigned to oblivion along with traditional society and the state. At the same time, in a bid to obscure the concept of gender and erode family and marriage values, programs and policies promoting LGBT rights and radical feminist ideas are being implemented.
For example, acts aimed at protecting and promoting the rights and interests of sexual minorities around the world were adopted under the Barack Obama and Joe Biden administrations.7 In Germany, promotion of the LGBT community is also emerging as a conceptual foreign policy priority. At the same time, citizens who disagree with this approach – scholars, journalists, artists, religious and public figures, politicians – are facing enormous pressure and discrimination. In some cases, they are even being “canceled.”8
On the other hand, Russia views traditional values as key elements of civilizational and national identity. Russia is currently one of the few modern countries where narratives of traditional values are reflected in regulatory legal acts, including the Constitution.
Whereas in the Western world, traditional values are being expunged not only from public consciousness but also from various official documents, in Russia, we are seeing the opposite trend, as evidenced, among other things, by recent amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
For instance, the country’s Basic Law now includes definitions that consolidate the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and preserve the heritage and ideals of ancestors, as well as historically established national unity and faith in God. The Constitutional amendments reflect the fundamental values of the traditionalist approach, are based on historically established moral principles, and reflect the basic values of the absolute majority of Russian society. Support for the traditional family, spirituality, motherhood, and fatherhood is increasingly becoming part of the political discourse in modern Russia.
In addition, Russian laws prohibit the promotion of homosexuality and the dissemination of information related to homosexuality among minors, and the Russian Federation has not signed or ratified a number of international treaties and conventions regulating the legal status of the LGBT community.
Traditional spiritual and moral values are also reflected in several conceptual strategic planning documents, including:
● the Fundamentals of State Policy on Culture (2014)
● the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation (2015)
● the Strategy of Education in the Russian Federation through 2025 (2015)
● the Strategy of State Policy on Culture through 2030 (2016)
● the Strategy for Development of the Information Society (2017).
The diversity of documents that pertain in some way to the concept of “traditional values” speaks to the conceptual awareness of the need for systematic work by relevant bodies of power and civil society institutions aimed at formulating a coherent educational and cultural policy in the country.
Despite the aforementioned trend, a number of domestic political players, primarily representatives of the so-called nonestablishment opposition and individuals acting as foreign agents, have adopted an openly pro-Western position, are under the influence of their handlers in Western Europe and across the ocean, and continue to support the ideas of spiritual secularization, discrediting traditional religious confessions and promoting LGBT values, gender diversity, radical feminism, a change of sociocultural stereotypes of behavior, sexual enlightenment, the legalization of prostitution, abortions, and the cult of consumption, positioning these ideas as a model of progressive European values.
At the same time, such actors are framing Russia’s protection of traditional values both at home and abroad as an archaism, a rollback to the totalitarian past, or are drawing analogies with political regimes in some Arab states.9
Realizing that such ideas are not exactly meeting with understanding and support in Russian society, as evidenced by various polls,10 agents of Western influence, including not only politicians, but also cultural figures, civic activists, and vloggers, are using soft power tools, promoting such an agenda via popular culture, education, and pseudoscientific research projects.
Thus, latent ideological and psychological influence is being exerted on the minds of young Russians and society as a whole, involving the inculcation of historically alien behavioral stereotypes denying state patriotism, service to the fatherland, and procreation, and advocating selfishness, immorality, and permissiveness. Such activities, aimed at eroding basic moral values in Russian society, primarily among young people, should be considered a serious threat to state and public security.
Aware of these risks in the context of Russia’s current demographic situation, with its low birth rates, politicians and public figures at various roundtables and discussion forums are saying that there is a pressing need to ban the propaganda of not only homosexuality, but also transsexualism, abortions, the childfree movement, and other types of behavior affecting the consciousness of the younger generation and eventually the birth rate.
In this context, it is important to develop mechanisms to counter the erosion of traditional spiritual and moral values in Russian society, primarily among young people. Ignoring the problem will inevitably weaken the unity of Russia’s ethnically diverse population and therefore Russian statehood.
The unprecedented international pressure that is being exerted on the Russian Federation, as well as ideologemes of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine based on values such as service to the fatherland, patriotism, mutual assistance, and justice, have intensified public discourse around values pertaining to state patriotism. This calls for a strategy to be developed to promote spiritual and moral values and guidelines in foreign policy that will help build a new, just world order, resolve disputes, and prevent conflicts.
Amid the current international political processes, the traditionalist religious approach based on traditional spiritual and moral values, presently characteristic of both Russia and Russian society, could become a key, systemic element of modernization and a factor of global competitive advantage in the international arena.
Russia’s efforts to uphold traditional values in the international arena has become a stumbling block in international relations between Russia and the West. The second half of the 20th century was characterized by the emergence of ideological trends in Western Europe toward discrediting religion, primarily Christianity, as the basis of the traditional state and traditional family. This is associated with overpopulation theories and the need to control population growth in the world. Meanwhile, the ideas of political globalism related to the limitation of national state interests and state sovereignty, and the transfer of certain state functions and powers to supranational and nongovernmental bodies for the purpose of consolidated decision-making based on some “common interests” are making the rounds in the political space.
In the neoliberal definition of the concept of “world politics,” as formulated by James N. Rosenau, an American political scientist and international affairs scholar, the main actors, along with states, are numerous nonstate actors establishing relations with each other that are of an entirely different nature from interstate relations. At the same time, interaction between actors is outside the control of states and their central bodies.11 Reducing the role of state institutions in political governance, economics, and public relations is a basic liberal value.
Analyzing the functions of the state, Friedrich August von Hayek, a well-known Austrian-British economist and philosopher, posited the need to transfer a range of such functions to the private sector.12
Similar ideas were expressed by Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian-American economist, philosopher, and historian, who spoke about the need to reduce the role of state property ownership in favor of private property ownership as the main principle of the organization of human society.13
Richard Charles Cornuelle, an American libertarian author, developed the concept of the so-called third sector, based on the assumption that certain state functions could be performed more effectively by nonstate entities.14
The attack on the traditional state in the Western world included an attack on the traditional family. In 1952, the International Planned Parenthood Federation was formed. While declaring the apparently harmless goals of family planning and childbirth and parenting preparation, the IPPF began to actively promote various birth control mechanisms.
At the state policy level, these proposals included reducing social benefits and preferences for large families, pregnant women, and young mothers. At the public level, the ideas of voluntary sterilization, the decriminalization and moral justification of abortions, as well as the depathologization of homosexuality were actively promoted. The last aspect seems to be the most significant in the context of the attack on traditional values, since the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental diseases and pathologies made it possible to fully leverage the tools of its promotion as a norm.
Russian researcher Natalia Semyonova wrote: “Of course, same-sex relationships, like other nontraditional relationships, have been known for centuries, but until the 20th century, no one tried to put them on a par with traditional family relationships, presenting them as the same kind of norm. Moreover, children in most countries that have legalized same-sex relationships are taught to accept [such relationships] as normal and natural. Parents who try to protect their children from such information may incur liability ranging from administrative penalties to criminal liability.”15
Right now, we can observe this approach being used in the “progressive” Western world in the context of the depathologization of bestiality and the decriminalization of pedophilia. This is happening because traditional European conservatives are openly ceding their positions to neoliberals, as their party ideology is moving further away from traditionalism. Russian researcher Mikhail Burda comments: “A case in point is the conservative parties’ stance on the legalization of same-sex marriage, migration policy, European integration, etc., which does not fundamentally differ from the ideas that are promoted by the liberal wing.”16
However, not all European political forces remain within the paradigm of values set by neoliberals. The ongoing attack on traditional values in the US and the EU is not receiving unconditional support in society, as evidenced by the growing popularity of several political forces that were considered marginal 10 years ago.
Given the demand for traditional values that still exists in Western society, European right-wing parties, which are currently the only force upholding traditional European Christian values, are occupying this vacant niche. It is also important to consider the exponentially growing Muslim population of Europe, which has a strong traditionalist basis and is therefore highly critical of the depopulation propaganda.
Even broader groups of society in East European countries (Hungary, Serbia, Poland, and Bulgaria) support politicians who are ready to oppose the destruction of their people in this melting pot of modern global Europe. For example, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Poland have refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention that promotes “gender diversity.” In Poland, more than 80 municipalities have adopted so-called family charters, declaring themselves LGBT-free zones.
The departure from traditional spiritual and moral values is arguably steadily undermining the seemingly unshakable European unity. Under these circumstances, support for traditional values, which are still highly relevant for Christian countries of Southern and Eastern Europe, including the Balkans, is emerging as an element of constructive and mutually beneficial interaction between Russia and nationally oriented political forces in European countries that are opposed to the secular-humanistic approach of liberal globalism that is waging hybrid warfare against modern Russia.
This calls for Russian diplomats to step up their activity, including by leveraging soft power mechanisms and people-to-people diplomacy. Clearly, the anti-Russian hysteria that is being stoked in the West makes it difficult for official channels of interaction with political allies to be used in Western countries, but this only underscores the importance of unofficial channels.
Modern Russia, which has assumed the role of the main defender of traditional values and the traditional family as their core element, has great potential for coordinating such efforts with all actors sharing this approach.
As mentioned earlier, modern globalism is opposed not only to the traditional state, its political and economic independence, but also to the traditional family. The family and childbearing are the basis of a sovereign demographic policy that is a key element of national security and therefore of state sovereignty.
In promoting the concept of spiritual and moral values in international relations, it is important to take the following steps in the legal field:
First, to conduct a legal review of international documents ratified by the Russian Federation for compliance with the Constitution and to denounce specific provisions of such documents or entire documents if they seek to promote the destructive agenda of birth control, abortion, and nontraditional sexual relations.
Second, to initiate the development of international documents (agreements, conventions, etc.) on the protection of the family and traditional values, including at the level of the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the Union State of Russia and Belarus, as well as BRICS.
Third, to initiate the discussion and adoption of international documents protecting the life and rights of a child from the moment of conception, including protection from sexual abuse and LGBT propaganda.
Steps to improve national legislation:
First, to introduce accreditation (licensing) for the activities of NGOs working on issues of demography, migration, and gender relations, and to identify and shut down organizations that engage in destructive activities directed against traditional values.
Second, at the legislative level, to expand social and financial support for large families, young parents, and parents with two children, including opportunities to receive education through state-subsidized university programs; take additional measures to protect the legal status of pregnant women and young mothers and fathers in the Labor Code; and increase the number of nursery groups in preschools.
Third, to introduce into school curriculum “fundamentals of family culture and interaction,” a discipline based on traditional spiritual and moral values.
To build a positive image of the traditional family, families with many children, and traditional relations, it is important to:
● first, provide focused content in the media, culture, art, and advertising that promotes the traditional family: dad, mom, and several children of different genders
● second, hold topical sociopolitical forums and conferences aimed at shaping a positive image of modern Russia as a state actively promoting and protecting traditional spiritual and moral values.
Such activities could become a platform for effectively countering attempts by the “collective West” to isolate Russia, as well as for developing cooperation with all political forces that share the religious-traditionalist approach to combating modern political globalism, including in unfriendly countries.
Such sociopolitical discussion forums could lead to various kinds of declarations, memorandums, agreements, conventions, and various forms of international cooperation that can help promote the concept of traditional spiritual and moral values in international relations.
In conclusion, it is important to note that the Ministry of Culture has formulated the objectives and tasks of Russia’s state policy in the field of traditional values, including “ensuring Russia’s moral leadership in international relations as the guardian of traditional human values” and countering “destructive ideology.” Special emphasis is put on the fact that “traditional values are jeopardized by the activities of extremist and terrorist organizations, the US and its allies, multinational corporations, and foreign NGOs.”
Thus, traditional values are an effective means of improving world politics and economies in crisis. During a serious economic crisis, even cynical politicians seek salvation in traditional values, religion, and moral principles, referring to traditional values as a lifeline for the global market economy that is devoid of morality. This idea is nothing new to Russia, which has long been upholding the need to strengthen moral principles in international relations and reject double standards. The possibility of combining traditional values and modern policies in the West and East is already the focus of progressive Russian diplomacy, and the task of preserving, strengthening, and promoting traditional spiritual and moral values is becoming key to preserving civilization as a whole.
1 Solovyov E.Yu. “Kritika prakticheskogo razuma,” Novaya filosofskaya entsiklopedia. Institut filosofii RAN; Nats. Obshchestv.- nauch. fond; Preds. nauchno red. soveta V. S. Stepin; zamestiteli preds.: A.A. Guseinov, G.Yu. Semigin, uch. sekr. A.P. Ogurtsov. 2-e izd., ispr i dopol. Moscow, Mysl, 2010.
2 Strategiya 24, https://strategy24.ru/rf/projects/osnovy-gosudarstvennoy-politiki-po-sokhraneniyu-i-ukrepleniyu-traditsionnykh-rossiyskikh-dukhovnonravstvennykh-tsennostey (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
3 Gorlova I.I. Traditsionnye dukhovno-nravstvennye tsennosti v normativno-pravovykh dokumentakh Rossiiskoy Federatsii: sostoyaniye i puti sovershenstvovaniya,” Kulturologichesky zhurnal, 2021, No. 2 (44) (2021), https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/traditsionnye-duhovno-nravstvennye-tsennosti-v-normativno-pravovyh-dokumentah-rossiyskoy-federatsii-sostoyanie-i-puti (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
4 Putin V.V. “Rossiya: natsionalny vopros,” Etnodialogi, No. 1 (38) (2012), https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/rossiya-natsionalnyy-vopros-4 (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
5 “Traditsionnye tsennosti – ideologicheskoye oruzhiye sovremennoy Rossii,” https://news.rambler.ru/other/39596481-traditsionnye-tsennosti-ideologicheskoe-oruzhie-sovremennoy-rossii/?utm_source=copysharing&utm_medium=social (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
6 Prezident V.V. Putin. Poslaniye Federalnomu Sobraniyu RF [Message to the Federal Assembly] April 21, 2021, http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/65418 (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
7 “Obama obyavil zashchitu prav seksualnykh menshinstv prioritetom vneshnei politiki SShA,” URL: https://www.interfax.ru/russia/220625 (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
8 Vasilyev M.A. “Kultura otmeny v sovremennom obshchestve,” Vesti nauchnykh dostizheniy, No. 10 (2020), https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/kultura-otmeny-v-sovremennom-obschestve (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
9 “Proyekt Minkultury razberedil pyatuyu kolonnu,” Tsargrad, https://tsargrad.tv/articles/proekt-minkultury-razberedil-pjatuju-kolonnu_486969 (retrieved on August 31, 2022).
10 See: Otnosheniye rossiyan k LGBT, https://www.levada.ru/2021/10/15/otnoshenie-rossiyan-k-lgbt-lyudyam (retrieved on September 1, 2022).
11 Rozenau Dzh. N. [James N. Rosenau]. Upravleniye bez pravitelstva: Poryadok i izmeneniya v mirovoi politike, http://www.worldpolit.ru/dl/gwg_rus.doc (retrieved on July 8, 2012).
12 Hayek F.A. Law, Legislation and Liberty: A New Statement of the Liberal Principles of Justice and Political Economy. Routledge, 2012, 584 рp.
13 Mizes L. fon. [Ludwig von Mises]. Liberalizm v klassicheskoy traditsii, translated by S.G. Kamenskogo and Yu.V. Kochetygovoy. Moscow, Nachala press, 1995, 176 pp.
14 Cornuel [le] R.C. Reclaiming the American Dream: The Role of Private Individuals and Voluntary Associations (Philanthropy and Society). Transaction Publishers, 1993, 199 pp.
15 Semyonova N.S. “Traditsionnye tsennosti v. ‘Prava LGBT’ v ramkakh realizatsii prava na obrazovaniye: mezhdunarodno pravovoy podkhod,” Vestnik RUDN. Seriya: Yuridicheskiye nauki, No. 4 (2016), https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/traditsionnye-tsennosti-v-prav-lgbt-v-ramkah-realizatsii-prava-na-obrazovanie-mezhdunarodno-pravovoy-podhod (retrieved on September 1, 2022).
16 Burda M.A. “Migratsionnye protsessy v Yevrope i fenomen rosta vliyaniya pravykh politicheskikh partiy,” PolitBook, No. 4 (2017), p. 123.