Translated by M. P.
Portuguese translation here
When he arrived in Germany in 1978, Aleksandr Zinoviev had worked for years in the fields of logic and scientific methodology applied to social systems (models). His personal research and experience in the Soviet world enabled him to publish many works devoted to his country and the communist (socialist) system. According to Zinoviev, communism first developed in Russia during the Stalinist period, then implanted itself in other countries, China in particular.
This social model differs profoundly from its competitor, which was born in North America and Western Europe around 200 to 250 years ago. For various reasons, which he explains in his work, L’Occidentisme: essai sur le triomphe d’une idéologie (Occidentism: Essay on the Triumph of an Ideology [Paris: Plon, 1995]), Zinoviev prefers the terms “Occidentism” or “Occidentalism” to the traditional denomination “capitalism.”
Zinoviev is certainly not the first theorist to attempt to understand the nature of the social system that is so vigorous in contemporary Occidental countries. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville, after returning from a voyage to the United States, published the first volume of a work that remains relevant today, De la Démocratie en Amérique (Democracy in America). In this book, he shared some of his reflections on American society, which was only a few decades old and was developing before his eyes.
Twenty years later, Tocqueville wrote another work, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (The Old Regime and the French Revolution). This book is a sociological (not historical) analysis of great profundity. It is, moreover, very interesting to read this book alongside the first chapters of Zinoviev’s book, which are devoted to the history of Occidentism.
When Tocqueville wrote, he was conscious that the Occidentist system, which he called “democratic society,” was in the process of implanting itself in France, where it would definitively supplant moribund feudalism. The Revolution of 1789 had only accelerated an inevitable process. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Tocqueville not only understood that the future of France would belong to Occidentism, but he also predicted the fundamental role that the United States would play in the future in the entire world.
When Aleksandr Zinoviev wrote, 150 years after the publication of Tocqueville’s books, Occidentism was no longer in its infancy, but had long implanted itself in several countries; it had, moreover, won an important victory over its competitor, European communism. It is this triumphant system that Zinoviev describes without pretending to make an exhaustive study. I would like to present a brief overview of Zinoviev’s theory, in order to show the radically innovative aspect of his idea of Occidentism.
The Three Pillars of Occidentism
The Occidentist model is the ensemble of the traits or characteristics common to Occidental countries; these characteristics have been largely created by the same internal laws, which explains the similarities existing between the way of life of countries as geographically far apart as France, Australia, and Canada. In his work devoted to the Occidentist system, Zinoviev affirms that this model rests upon three “pillars”: the economic, community, and human factors.
The economic factor rests simultaneously upon the rules that govern professionalism in work and which deal with investment and the ability to make profits. Profoundly linked to private enterprise, the Occidental world is therefore a world where discipline in work is very severe, and enterprises have the obligation to be profitable if they want to endure. The Occidental model of the production and distribution of goods and services is a very specific phenomenon, different from that which exists in a socialist society. In the latter, employees performing a given activity generally earn less than their Occidental equivalents, but they definitely work less, they perform the same task in much larger numbers, and they have guaranteed employment; as for enterprises, their survival does not depend on their ability to generate wealth.
The community factor is a phenomenon common to all societies consisting of thousands or millions of people. The division between leaders and led, the hierarchy of leaders, the formation of castes and classes, the creation of an ideology, and the appearance of the state as an organ responsible for the direction of several aspects of social life are community phenomena. Without these things, society can exist only as a totality destined to disappear. The state is therefore a phenomenon common to all human collectivities reaching a certain stage of development, but it takes different forms according to the nature of the social organism that it is required to direct. The Occidental form of the state is traditionally called “parliamentary democracy.” Human collectivities not belonging to the Occidental world have created forms of power other than parliamentary democracy.
The human factor is manifested in the collective acts of the members of a society. Education, culture, ideology, religion, and power have, among other functions, the purpose of regulating the reproduction of the human material necessary for the survival of the collectivity. Individualism, business initiative, the taste for meticulous work, the instinct to save, and the ability to organize oneself are, among other things, psychological qualities that have developed themselves in Occidental countries. The famous “Protestant work ethic” has played, for example, an important role in the formation of the human material in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, populations have developed other qualities necessary for the survival of the social organism to which they belong.
Occidentism is a model that was born and matured in the west of Europe and in other continents that have been populated by European emigrants. It has then spread into several places of the world to Occidentalize other people who have sometimes opposed a ferocious resistance to it. In the nineteenth century, the creation of colonial empires by the European powers was the manifestation of this expansion. Today, this expansion takes different forms from those of the past, but it continues, in Russia for example.
The Question of the Future
In the last chapters of his work, Zinoviev raises the fundamental question of the future and his predictions regarding it. We have here an example of the methodological principles Zinoviev elaborated when he worked in Moscow.
In sociology, prediction is possible only upon the base of the analysis of the present. When the researcher analyses a given society, he highlights tendencies (laws) which act in the present and will continue to act in the future if nothing hinders their action. Upon the basis of these laws, the researcher can construct a model of a “possible future.” As Zinoviev remarks at the end of his work, the future is not fatally inscribed in the present.
The Face of the Future
Before concluding his study devoted to Occidentism, Zinoviev lists some internal laws that will determine the future, if nothing happens to thwart their action. I would like to focus on two of these laws.
In the first place, Zinoviev notes that the structure of the Occidental population is changing radically. The proportion of persons employed in the production of goods and services has decreased, while the number of the individuals exercising their activity in the spheres of the direction and administration of the country, as well as the spheres of ideology and the media, has increased.
In the second place, Zinoviev notes that the spheres of ideology and the media are reinforcing their power over the Occidental population. This last point is of great significance.
After the Second World War, the means of communication and information—the press, book publishing, radio, and television—were transformed. New technical inventions, reinforced links between different types of media, and the growth of employment in this sector have provoked a “qualitative leap.” In other words, the media have become an essential sphere of society, as well as the privileged means for the diffusion of ideological themes within the larger public.
This ideology is made up of an ensemble of judgments and ideas designed to fashion the consciousness of the social individual. Among the ideological themes diffused by the media in Western Europe in recent decades, let us cite offhand: “youthism” (jeunisme), or the extreme valorization of youth, the defense of homosexuality, the merits of democracy, ecology and the environment, and a standardized image of countries resistant to Occidental influence. The Occidentist ideology sets up taboos that must be respected: for example, the prohibition of raising questions linked to mass immigration in Europe. It also fabricates “personality cults,” often making mediocre individuals pass for exceptional beings: the stars of sports, politics, and show business.
One of today’s ideological themes occupies a preeminent place: the vision of the Occidental way of life in general, and the American way of life in particular. The best-selling books, the big budget films, and the television broadcasts, made in the United States or conceived upon the American model, present in one fashion or another a valorizing image of the American way of life.
Occidentist ideology and culture form part of what American political scientists call “soft power.” “Soft power” is extremely effective today and suffocates, in the literal sense of the term, cultural forms coming from other countries. The two laws expressed at the start of this chapter have reinforced their action since the second half of the last century. It is therefore legitimate to think that this movement will amplify itself in the future and that we are going to witness in the future an increasingly pronounced ideological conditioning of the Occidental population. “The Single Thought” (La Pensée Unique), designed to regulate the masses and to create a standardized social consciousness, therefore has a bright future ahead of it.
During the Cold War, Zinoviev addressed a letter to me in which he affirmed that he would be interested in studying the Occident, beginning by analyzing its ideology. Zinoviev perceived the colossal extent of the conditioning of the Occidental masses; he also knew that the ideology of the Occident exercised a corrosive effect on the upper classes of his own country. “Soft power” was an effective weapon in the struggle against the Soviet Union. The latter collapsed without the Americans using their armed forces, “hard power.” An extremely bloody conflict was thus avoided. Without rivals on the world scene, at least for a while, the United States has thus become the master of the world, 150 years after the voyage of Alexis de Tocqueville, the first theorist of Occidentism.
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