|March 28, 2009 |
As some of you may have noticed, I've recently been playing around with the name of this blog, switching from something that was totally generic to something using the name 'Eurasia' to something else. And ruminating about what to call my blog [I ultimately decided to switch away from "Eurasia" but not because I think it's a bad name for an academic subfield] got me thinking again about Steve Kotkin's 2007 piece "Mongol Commonwealth? Exchange and Governance across the Post-Mongol Space," which I first read closely when I was in Ufa last summer.
The problem, argues Kotkin, is that, while term "Eurasia" can often be used as a rubric for generating discussion among, say, Russianists, Ottomanists, and Sinologists, outside of the confines of North America and academia "Eurasia carries nasty political overtones--autarky, messianism, demotic rule, apologia for empire--as well as very basic obstacles of a refusal by many covered by the term to be any part of it." .
Kotkin, I think, is making a good point here. For historians of Russia, after all, the term "Eurasia" conjures up the Eurasianism of Prince Nikolai Trubetskoi, Petr Savitskii, and other Russian emigres who, in the 1920s, embraced the concept in positioning Russia as an antidote to Europe. The Eurasianists, who tended to criticize the anti-Bolshevik undertakings of their fellow emigres, viewed the Soviet state as something which could be built upon in order to create a new order which, like the Soviet Union, would be an alternative to the West, but which would not be internationalist or atheist (as the Bolsheviks were). As Kotkin points out, the political views of the Eurasianists varied, but all of them tended to be very illiberal in nature.
Instead of using the term "Eurasia," Kotkin argues that, "if we need an overarching term about what we study and what shaped the world," the term should be "ab imperio" . Whereas the term "Eurasia" is saddled with too much "mystical" and "demotic" baggage, writes Kotkin, the term ab imperio brings to the table a healthy focus upon questions of exchange and governance rather than identities .