Biopolitics in Russia: History and Prospects for the Future
Biopolitics, a field of research employing biological concepts, data, and methods in political science, took shape in the West (originally in the USA) in the 60s and 70s. To a considerable extent, this development can be regarded as a "response" to a conceptual crisis in political science within the United States as some political scientists expressed their concern about the insufficient attention given to human nature and, more generally, inadequate conceptual foundations of political science (see Degler, 1991). For example, this concern was voiced in a Presidential Address to the American Political Science Association by John Wahlke (1979), who reproached his discipline with "pre-behavioralism" despite its professed focus on a science of behavior.
It was also in response to a crisis that biopolitics took root in Russia (and some other countries in Eastern Europe). But in these countries it was not just a conceptual crisis. It was a profound political, social, and economic crisis, associated with a general collapse of the pre-existent social system. Many millions of people have had to go through hard times. Prices skyrocketed, and unemployment soared. Many certainties of Soviet life (e. g., free education and medical care), formerly taken for granted, did not exist any longer. Ethnic strife intensified and resulted in fratricidal conflict (e. g. in Moldavia) and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and Stalin's empire (first Afganistan, the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, later the disintegration of the the C.I.S. and Chechnya). The economic system became increasingly dependent on mafia structures. In this situation, Russian scholars, politicians, and people at large tried to use any available idea (no matter from what field of science) in an attempt to get an insight into the extremely complex political situation and to find a way to improve it. "In short, Russia and Eastern Europe are industrialized societies characterized by intense social conflicts and the absence of conceptual maps (emphasis added—authors) or intellectual doctrines with which to understand them" (Masters, 1993, p.244).
Biopolitics concentrates on the biological dimension of the human being as "political animal" (Homo politicus) and emphasizes the common behavioral trends in humans and other forms of life. Obviously, this subfield of political science is expected to gain in social importance whenever the political situation favors biosocially determined human behaviors, as distinguished from those that are psychocultural, to use the term suggested by P. Meyer (1987). Such a situation is likely to arise in a period characterized by the collapse of a formerly dominant value system. In this case, normally suppressed or culturally controlled biosocial behavioral trends may become more manifest than usual. Many people in Russia were concerned about uncontrollable outbursts of "bestial" aggressivity, occurring during ethnoconflicts or clashes between different mafia "clans". Another interesting example is provided by presidential (and other politically important) elections in post-communist Russia, which are evidently dominated by "gut feelings". Although political campaigns in all modern societies are heavily influenced by non-verbal communication and primate dominance-submission relationships (cf. Masters, 1989), these effects may seem especially pronounced where institutions and partisan attachments are new and weak. Under such circumstances, evolutionary biology and its socially important ramifications such as biopolitics acquire additional weight, and its concepts can provide the theoretical foundations for a new social "cognitive map".
Biopolitics is also of special interest for Russians because their political life has another significant "biological component", which was the focus of the seminal paper by L. Caldwell (1964). In Russia, the environment has not yet been adequately protected against industrial pollution and destruction. One important issue is the overpopulation stress ("the effects of noise and of crowding on human population", according to Caldwell, 1964), and much public concern is also caused by the abortion issue as well as by other bioehical and bio-medical problems. Hence in many areas of public policy, biopolitics offers necessary substantive information as well as a more generalized "cognitive map" for understanding human nature and politics.