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Ivan Krastev on Imitation - Dictionary of Arguments

Krastev I 8
Imitation/Krastev: (...) we should separate the imitation of means from the imitation of goals. Borrowing technical means does not affect identity, at least not in the short term, while imitating moral ends cuts deeper and can initiate a much more radically transformative process, veering close to a ‘conversion experience’. In rebuilding their societies after 1989, Central Europeans strove to replicate the lifestyles and moral attitudes which they observed in the West.
The Chinese, by way of contrast, have taken a path not unlike the one identified by >Veblen, adopting Western technologies to drive economic growth and boost the prestige of the Communist Party for the explicit purpose of resisting the siren song of the West.
The imitation of moral ideals, unlike the borrowing of technologies, makes you resemble the one you admire but simultaneously makes you look less like yourself at a time when your own uniqueness and keeping faith with your group are at the heart of your struggle for dignity and recognition.
Krastev I 10
An important reason why cosmetically imitative behaviour is so common in political life is that it helps the weak appear stronger than they are – a useful form of mimicry for surviving in hostile environments. It also makes the imitators seem legible to those who might otherwise help, hurt or marginalize them. In the post-Cold War world, ‘learning English, displaying copies of the Federalist Papers, wearing Armani suits, having elections’ – and, to recall Jowitt’s favourite example, ‘playing golf’(1) – enable non-Western elites not only to put their powerful Western interlocutors at ease, but also to make economic, political and military claims upon them.
Krastev I 11
Russia: In Moscow, of course, the situation was different. Communism there was never experienced as foreign domination, and thus imitation of the West could not be plausibly presented as a recovery of the country’s authentic national identity.
Krastev I 25
Because Central European elites saw imitation of the West as a well-travelled pathway to ‘normality’ (>Revolution/Michnik, >Revolution/Krastev, >Communism/Havel), their acceptance of the post-Cold War Imitation Imperative was wholly spontaneous, voluntary and sincere. >Normality/Krastev.
Krastev I 73
Imitation/post-communist countries/Krastev: Because copycat nations are legally authorized plagiarists, they must, on a regular basis, seek the blessings and approval of those who hold the copyright to the political and economic recipes being borrowed and applied second-hand. They must also unprotestingly accept the right of Westerners to evaluate their success or failure at living up to Western standards. The surprising passivity of Brussels in the face of outrageous violations of judicial and press independence in both Poland and Hungary means that this is not a practical issue but a symbolic one.


1.Ken Jowitt, ‘Communism, Democracy, and Golf’, Hoover Digest (30 January 2001).


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Krastev I
Ivan Krastev
Stephen Holmes
The Light that Failed: A Reckoning London 2019


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