Cultural Dissent

I’m often reminded of Madhavi Sunder’s brilliant article Cultural Dissent. Sunder argues that recognition of dissent within doctrine “would prevent law from becoming complicit in . . . project[s] of suppressing internal cultural reform.” Consider the Russian feminist band which could be imprisoned for staging a minute-long rock video in a church. The band sang and performed an intercessory prayer for the removal of President Putin from power. Here is one member’s closing statement:

That Christ the Savior Cathedral had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of the authorities was clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyayev took over as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be openly used as a flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces, which are the main source of political power in Russia.

Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? After all, he could have employed his own, far more secular tools of power—for example, the state-controlled corporations, or his menacing police system, or his obedient judicial system. It may be that the harsh, failed policies of Putin’s government, the incident with the submarine Kursk, the bombings of civilians in broad daylight, and other unpleasant moments in his political career forced him to ponder the fact that it was high time to resign; that otherwise, the citizens of Russia would help him do this. Apparently, it was then that he felt the need for more persuasive, transcendent guarantees of his long tenure at the pinnacle of power. It was then that it became necessary to make use of the aesthetic of the Orthodox religion, which is historically associated with the heyday of Imperial Russia, where power came not from earthly manifestations such as democratic elections and civil society, but from God Himself.

The whole statement is well worth reading. As Russia struggles with capital flight and crumbling infrastructure, it might wish to reconsider the fusion of political and religious authority.

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