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Serguey Ehrlich. Memory, Identity, and Imagination. The Structure of Behaviour from the Perspective of Memory Studies. Part II

The Rat Ethics of the Fairy Tales 

In the pre-state hunter-gathering society people were guided by the fairy tale (myth of booty). The study of Walter Burkert (1996: 58–63) helps to understand this phenomenon through the comparison of seemingly incompatible entities: when a rat crawls out of a hole in search of booty, it precisely reproduces the subsequent steps of the fairy tale. It is possible to say that the fairy tale neatly corresponds to a pattern of small predator’s behaviour, which should hide his booty from big predators, so returning home with a heavy load is always a dangerous adventure. It is the oldest narrative of the human being.

This creates a limited identity-solidarity-altruism, which is capable of uniting people only in the small groups (kin, clan, tribe, and so on). In Modern society the fairy tale unites families and gangs. In that perspective it is not odd that the mafia means ‘family.’

The communicative (social) memory based on the fairy tale narrative is quite shallow. Even now people with strong kinship ties are able ‘to trace their patrilineal ancestors back seven to ten generations’ (Ismailbekova 2014: 377), it means not much more than 200 years. For ‘modernized’ people it is usually limited to ‘the time span of three interacting generations or 80–100 years’ (Assmann, 2010b: 122). The identity in accordance with which ‘our own’ are the only members of a family or a gang, creates the ethics of an egoistic attitude towards the world outside their circle, because it is based on materialist values of survival (Inglehart, 2018).

Imagination of the fairy tale does not differ significantly from memory of ancestors, of their experience how to catch booty and return home safety. In such circumstances all innovations are not results of a purported behaviour inspired by imagination, but are chance finds only. It is an important reason behind the slow technological changes in the traditional society. Therefore the future of hunter-gatherers is a permanent Groundhog Day that is the myth of the eternal return to the lost Golden Age. The path of the fairy tale society is not the strait line towards the future, but the closed circle.


The Deception of Heroic Myth

In the epoch, when agriculture (the food-producing economy) becomes a necessary foundation of the state, the heroic myth (myth of others-sacrifice) was brought to the fore. The identity-solidarity-altruism of this myth unites more people than the fairy tale does. In the epoch of the Ancient and Medieval states the ‘national’ identity of the heroic myth was predominantly intrinsic to the members of sacral and military elite (Hroch, 2020: 9) and ‘they evince no interest in disseminating their ethnic culture to outlying groups or lower strata’ (Smith, 1999: 192). It was even common to stress the foreign origin of the upper strata of medieval monarchies, which differentiated them from the non-noble population. During the industrial Modernity identity of the heroic myth became much wider and managed to embrace all citizens of the nation-state.

Establishing of national identity took a long time. Despite strenuous efforts of intellectuals ‘the peasantry refused to exchange local for national memory until almost the First World War’ (Gillis, 1994: 8–9). In order to establish national identity politics of memory shifts ‘the focus from individual heroes to the heroification of entire groups’ of compatriots, because ‘the nation is in all its citizens and the commonality of all its citizens is the nation’ (Giesen, 2004: 27, 33).

The ethics of the heroic myth has a dual nature. In relation to ‘our own’ it becomes altruistic, simply because it teaches sacrifice of one’s own life for the sake of ‘our people.’ But it is not only love for ‘our ones’, it also includes ‘fear and hatred for the foreigner whether he is interior, whether he is exterior’ (Maurras, 1921: 128). Therefore in relations to ‘strangers’ it becomes even more selfish and hostile than the ethics of the fairy tale, because the purpose of the heroic myth is to sacrifice (kill) the enemy.

‘Political memory’ (Jan Assmann) is the core of mnemonic practices of Agrarian Society elites and Industrial Society citizens. It subsequently becomes deeper. In traditional societies the memory reached the state’s founders according to the first chronicles. During Modernity memory refers to archaeological sources and occasionally reaches the Paleolithic era in the search for the origins of a nation.

The heroic myth is a clear example of manipulation through ‘false consciousness’ (Friedrich Engels) of ideology. The agents of national memory ‘teach citizens patriotic lessons about sacrificing personal comforts, or even their lives, for the good of the nation’ (Isurin 2022: 12). The citizen must paradoxically sacrifice himself ‘on behalf of the nation’ regardless of his own interests (Hroch, 2020: 16).[1]

How is it possible to inspire people for that?

Benedict Anderson (2006: 136, 143–144) writes that the nation-state is imagined by ‘philologists’ in the interests of the bourgeoisie. For that they resorted to consanguine rhetoric of a people ‘of a common blood’ (Pomian, 1996: 30). That ‘implicit biologism, which assumes that nations are derived from direct genetic descent’ (Rigney, 2018: 252) and therefore ‘an entire nation can be viewed as a single extended family’ (Zerubavel, 2003: 66), is a fictive reference to kinship societies, based on the fairy tale.[2] At the same time, the aim of real kinship societies for getting booty and the problem of sharing the booty are beyond the scope of the heroic myth.

This ‘fictive kinship’ (Winter, 1999) strategy serves the objectives of the ruling classes not only because it allows them to increase their wealth at the cost of ordinary people’s lives as a result of external wars, but also because it protects the ruling minority from revolutions by transforming the social tensions into hate against ‘external enemies’ and ‘not with our blood’ internal strangers turning them into scapegoats[3]: ‘Nothing binds people more tightly than the need to defend themselves against an external foe. The best means of coping with internal political problems is to pursue an aggressive foreign policy’ (Assmann, 2011: 133).[4] Unfortunately many of intellectuals played the immoral role of a goat-provocateur leading human ‘herds’ to the butchery of the wars.

Julien Benda (2011: 16, 17) writes that the citizens of democratic nation-states are more prone to wage wars then the subjects of medieval monarchs. In that context he reminds the slogan of French monarchists: ‘Democracy is war.’ Michael Mann (2005: 55–110) in The Dark Side of Democracy partly approves last maxim. He argues that the practice of genocides of Modernity is largely due to the changes in the concept of sovereignty from the idea of God-given sovereign to the principle of people’s sovereignty.[5] Ancient and medieval rulers were usually satisfied with their multiethnic subjects paying taxes regularly and resorted to genocidal violence only when confronted with disobedience: ‘When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword’ (Deut. 20:10–13). Whereas ‘the sovereign people’ of the Modern nation-state consider themselves as the exclusive owners of their state, who have a full right to govern their own country. This includes the right to oppress, expel, and even exterminate the ‘strangers,’ that is, ethnic and other minorities. Mann recalls that for a long time the democratic American state was engaged in the massive extermination of Native Americans and it exploited Black Slaves. Since then the situation has changed and Native and Black Americans were given official apologies for historic violence and injustices inflicted upon them. The former ‘internal strangers’ are gradually becoming ‘our own.’ 

At the same time, however, the US and other the most developed liberal democracies continue to have a cynical attitude towards ‘external strangers.’ In 1998, when Russia was governed by pro-Western Yeltsin’s administration, Stephen Walt (1998: 43) wrote that for external politics of the US interests are dominant over the moral values: ‘The United States has taken advantage of its current superiority to impose its preferences wherever possible. … It has forced a series of one-sided arms control agreements on Russia, dominated the problematic peace effort in Bosnia, taken steps to expand NATO into Russia’s backyard. … Although U.S. leaders are adept at cloaking their actions in the lofty rhetoric of “world order,” naked self-interest lies behind most of them.’[6] During the twenty-first century the Afghanistan, Iraqi, and Libyan regimes were overthrown under the pretext of defending the human rights. Western media usually refrained from sharing information about the catastrophic consequences of ‘attempts to establish democracy,’ which have left those countries ‘in chaos’ (Inglehart, 2018: 114). If humanitarian purposes were the real motivation for the above mentioned interventions, then the US should have reprimanded their long-term Persian Gulf monarchy allies, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is violated in accordance with the medieval legislation, which is in practice in these countries.

This does not mean that the US invasions are ‘bad’ and the Russian invasion into Ukraine is ‘good.’ In comparison to Russia, where according to the social estates medieval tradition only the ruling class members are viewed as ‘our own’ by government officials (Kordonsky, 2016), Western democracies, which consider all their fellow citizens as ‘our own,’ represent an important step forward. The US gives an example of the ultimate extension of identity, which can exist in a society based on the aggressive narrative of the heroic myth. The collective of ‘our own,’ where the altruistic norms are applicable, is limited to the national boundaries. The nation-state memory, identity, and imagination are not capable to come out of that frame.

The Dead End of Modernity 

Benedict Anderson (2006), Ernst Gellner (1983), Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (2013) write that the nation-state is a product of Modernity, which arose during the nineteenth century but proclaimed itself to be ‘primordial’ (the ancient origin) reality. However, the idea that capitalism is also a phenomenon of the nineteenth century lies beyond the scope of their research. Martin Albrow (1996: 28–51) argues that the nation-state is not only tightly connected to capitalism, but these two are the Siamese twins that is different sides of the same process of modernization, where the ‘free market’ of low profit economy plays a deceptive role of cover-up for the inseparable ‘anti-market’ (Braudel, 1983: 230) high profit tandem of state power and big money. It is literally a military-industrial complex. Capitalist economy is not able to functioning without police, army, and other ‘militarized’ state institutions promoting interests of billionaires inside and outside of the nation-state borders. Therefore Manuel De Landa (2000: 48) suggests redefining the term ‘capitalism’ including the ‘power to manipulate markets’ as ‘a constitutive part of its meaning.’ Unlike the nation obsessed with its ancient roots, capitalism is more attuned to its longevity in the future.

In my opinion the assumption that such phenomena of Modernity like nation-state and capitalism are transitory is sufficient to show they have generated problems that have no solution within their frameworks. The nuclear threat, environmental degradation and growing inequality are at the forefront of many global challenges, where nation-state and capitalism are not capable of providing an adequate answer:

1) Russian and Western scholars claim that there will be no winners in a nuclear war (Robock et al., 2007). It is pointless to create additional effective anti-missile systems; simply because humankind will perish regardless of on whose territory nuclear explosions occurred. Even if the leaders of the nuclear powers have enough sense not to use these weapons, there is a high probability that terrorists will be able to get hold of them. Despite that, the development of more powerful weapons of mass destruction continues. Security is a false pretext for the current arms race. The real reasons for it are the profits that have been made by arms manufacturers, who traditionally have close ties with governments.

2) Nuclear weapons could destroy humankind in an instant, whereas the environmental threat is not as obvious and therefore could be even more dangerous. The main reason behind environmental degradation is the conspicuous consumption race, which is caused by expanded reproduction required by capitalist economies: ‘Today, we are surrounded everywhere by the conspicuousness of consumption through the multiplication of objects and material garb’ (Connerton, 2009: 122). Current ‘consuming cult’ provokes various damaging consequences such as fashion, in other words the coercion of public opinion to throw away good clothes and other items, or the planned obsolescence of appliances breaking down shortly after the warranty has expired.[7] Satisfying conspicuous consumption-based needs is leading to the exhaustion of irreplaceable resources, disastrous pollution of the environment, and a massive waste of public time and energy.[8] Environmental pollution does not respect national boundaries. We can take care of the ecology of our own country, but if water, soil and air are polluted in other parts of our planet, the devastating consequences will affect the entire humankind.[9]

3) Growing inequality is related to the fact that modern development of technologies makes it possible to replace almost all routine operations, called ‘labor,’ by machines and artificial intelligence devices. In a society based on the formula ‘goods—money—goods,’ technological progress has been perceived not as the liberation of humankind from hard labor, but as a tragic loss of jobs, which requires the ‘developing successful strategies to cope with artificial intelligence’ (Inglehart, 2018: 216, italics added). The conflict of modern ‘Luddites’ is articulated as ‘robots against workers’ (Byhovskaya, 2016). Within the frameworks of nation-state and capitalism it is impossible to overthrow the Social Darwinian ideology, according to which the right to creative activity is only for selected ‘Elois,’ whereas the masses of ‘Morlocks’ (Herbert G. Wells) are doomed to labor, which is meaningless under the new technological conditions (Graeber, 2018).


The Transformation from Quantity to Quality 

The first step to solve the problems that the nation-state and capitalism are incapable of solving is to imagine post-state and post-capitalist forms of memory and identity, which would correspond to our global epoch of information civilization. The transition to the global information society represents an unprecedented change in the goals of social activity. Until now majority of people spent most of their time on acquiring material goods. The difference between the hunter-gathering economy and the agrarian and industrial stages is only the number of goods produced per unit time.

The information revolution represents a case of ‘transformation from quantity to quality’ in the full sense of Hegel’s formula, because, according to Ronald Inglehart (2018: 1), it is the most radical transformation of personal values in the world history ‘from Survival values to Self-expression values.’ Current polls show that materialist values are inherent in members of agrarian and industrial societies, whereas in developed countries, which are undergoing the transformation to the global information civilization, we can see a consistently increasing number of people for whom ‘the self-actualization and the post-materialist values’ have gradually become more important than material motivation (Norris and Inglehart, 2009: 307). In accordance with these surveys the carriers of post-materialist values are less connected with nation-state identity and strive to identify themselves with the global humankind, whereas ‘materialists’ are xenophobic patriots of their nation-states (Inglehart, 2018: 176–188), according to Karl Marx’s maxim: ‘Patriotism is the ideal form of their sense of property.’

Limitations in material resources and goods lead to fierce struggles for them. The transition from ‘savagery’ to ‘civilization’ led to the state’s ‘monopoly of the legitimate use of violence’ (Max Weber) and the regulation of competition in accordance with private property rights. Society’s obsession with material needs has penetrated into the intellectual and artistic spheres in the form of copyrights, which are perverted ‘materialization’ of the spiritual nature of creativity. Marx’s attempt to define creativity as a kind of ‘skilled labor,’ which is ‘multiplied simple labor,’ turned out to be an intellectual defeat of the genius. It shows the extent to which the ‘economic materialism’ of Communism’s prophet was determined by the Weberian Spirit of Capitalism, the dominant value of the Industrial era. The poverty of the most artistic geniuses and the prosperity of their mediocre colleagues revealed that ‘innovative’ spiritual creativity, unlike ‘routine’ material labor, does not correspond to the calculation principles of market economy.

There is a fundamental difference between material and spiritual production. The first one is a zero-sum game from the perspective of the limited natural resources of our planet; the second one is as unlimited as our imagination. We must share material products amongst us, spiritual ones are able to multiply in the minds of each and every one of us: ‘If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.’[10] It is impossible to alienate ideas and hence, by their own nature, they cannot be the property of either a person or a group. Therefore, ideas could not be goods like material products.

While most people were involved in labor—the production of material goods, creativity—the production of ideas was forced to adapt to private property interactions. In the global information civilization the majority of people are engaged in the production of information.[11] Therefore, the marginal, for the information society, material production, and property-based interactions will be gradually defined by the ‘image and likeness’ of the ‘spiritual’ principles of creativity.

We can see today that the so-called ‘aspirational class’ is transferring the focus of social prestige from material conspicuous consumption to non-material ones: learning and reading, classical and contemporary art, travelling and sports (Currid-Halkett, 2017). Despite the awkward efforts to adapt the bourgeois style of conspicuous consumption to the spiritual realities of the information civilization, these processes reflect a transition away from models based on the priority of material values.

Benedict Anderson (2006: 18) writes that ‘print-capitalism’ played a leading role in the formation of Modernity. Marshall McLuhan (1994: 170) clarifies that ‘printing from movable types was the first mechanization of a complex handicraft, and became the archetype of all subsequent mechanization.’ Printing craft was not constrained by the medieval guild regulations and right from the beginning was developed on the basis of market relations. The need to expand the market had forced the transition from books printed in ‘international’ Latin to the ‘national’ vernacular books. The vernacular literature markets predetermined the future borders of the nation-states (Anderson, 2006: 33–35). McLuhan (1994: 172) describes social consequences of printing press: ‘The typographic extension of man brought in nationalism, industrialism, mass markets, and universal literacy and education.’ 

During the global information civilization, the internet plays a similar role as a ‘vehicle’ of new technologies, new social relations, and a new type of community. A precondition for the formation of the universal identity-solidarity-altruism of the ‘digital globalized age’ (Reading, 2011) is the global coverage and the ability to communicate in real time, that is globalization is the flip side of digitalization. Unlike ‘print capitalism,’ the internet creates opportunities for non-market information exchange. Powerful co-pirate resources as, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, and Sci-Hub have already been established. They allow scholars to exchange their ideas for free. And it is only the beginning!

While the new technologies of communication create premises of global memory, identity, and imagination, the capitalist mode of production paradoxically destroys its own mnemonic community of nation-state. In their pursuit of happiness, that is cheap labor maximizing profits, the transnational monopolies ‘export’ capitals into poor countries and ‘import’ multi-ethnic workers from the Third World. The game in free market includes progressive diminishing of social support in home countries. Agents of so called ‘global capitalism,’ inextricably linked with the governments, forget the anti-market (Fernand Braudel) nature of their mode of production, which is not able functioning without military support of nation-state. It is impossible to secure global businesses of tycoons without willingness of co-citizens to sacrifice their lives defending the so called national interests in far regions of the World.

Paul Connerton (2009: 125) singles out that maximum profit race obliterates not only national form of memory, identity, and imagination, but local forms as well: ‘Economic expansion of the capitalist process of production, produces cultural amnesia not by accident but intrinsically and necessarily. Forgetting is built into the capitalist process of production itself.’ Thus business of construction systematically destroys lieux de mémoire. Exemplary case is the architectural plan of baron Hausmann of the second half of nineteenth century, which almost totally demolished the medieval city of Paris. Starting from the twentieth century the nation-state tries to save the landscape and architectural symbols of identity and resist to growing business appetites of his capitalist counterpart, adopting the legislation regarding preservation of national heritage, but we know that even in the twenty first century big business finds the ways to get around the law.

Securing his profits capitalists destroy not only national and local memories but also personal and family memories, which traditionally are embodied in clothes, furniture, tableware, and other things passed down from generation to generation. The ‘longevity’ of things contradicts interests of business, which through mechanism of fashion forces people to throw away ‘morally obsolete’ things together with transgenerational memories they contain. Connerton (2009: 64, 84) also writes that popular media, which deliver fashion appeal to their audience, also invest in erasing of memory through their pursuit of sensations. Slaves of fashion are taught by media to live in the present world of evanescent thrill and cool impressions, which provides no place for memory.

It would be misleading to believe that erasing premodern and modern forms of memory capitalism clears way for postmodern global memory, because global memory preserves all preceding forms of memory. It means that the capitalist mode of production is a ‘shredder’ of memory in general.

‘I Felt Sorry for Humans’ or ‘For their Sakes I Sanctify Myself’ 

The global information civilization needs its own mythic narrative. What is going to be?

The narrative of the heroic myth (myth of others-sacrifice) is the fairy tale (myth of booty), where the goal of booty is excluded. Subsequently, exclusion of the goal of others-sacrifice leads to the narrative’s transformation in which the goal is self-sacrifice. This end does not justify the means but cancels them instead in accordance with the Kantian categorical imperative: ‘Treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.’ Thus, the myth of self-sacrifice is realizing the dream of young Marx to overcome alienation. This is the most valuable and still relevant part of his heritage.

European culture contains two reliable stories of altruistic self-sacrifice. According to Aeschylus Prometheus sacrificed his own liver, because the Titan felt ‘compassion for humans.’ And Christ ‘gave himself a ransom for all’ (1Timothy 2:6). Both versions of the self-sacrifice narrative show that ‘our own’ are ‘neither Hellenes nor Jews,’ but all humankind, therefore it is impossible to be moral without global identity (Monroe, 2001:491). That means the morality of people of global information civilization must be rooted in the narrative of self-sacrificing (altruistic) behaviour.

Another crucial insight: ‘In the Christian view the history of salvation is no longer bound up with a particular nation, but is internationalized because it is individualized’ (Löwith, 1957: 195, italics added), reveals that to be global you should become a unique person, that is, a person, whose leading identity is a human being, and hence transcends national, ethnic, religious, class, and other ‘one-dimensional’ (Herbert Marcuse) group limitations of Modernity.[12]Therefore the global world of information civilization could not be a concert of two hundred sovereign nations, it must be a concert of billions of sovereign individuals. The paradox of global premises for profound ‘multi-dimensional’ individual development: ‘[T]he free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’ (Karl Marx), is not reflected thoroughly yet.

The narrative of self-sacrifice is the best foundation to build memory, identity, and imagination of global information civilization. I am pointing out that essential features of self-sacrificing altruists—‘universalistic worldview’ and ‘cognitive orientation’ (Monroe, 1996: 4, 200; Cf. Weinstein, 2004: 50)—perfectly resonate with global ‘form’ and informational ‘content’ of our nascent civilization.

That will allow us to overcome the borders of the nation-state and of the capitalist economy, which are disastrous for modern society. Humankind will die out if we do not realize that all people are ‘our own’ and our ‘motherland’ is the Earth: ‘Loyalty to the human race could very simply mean sacrificing my own narrow personal interests in favor of the interests of the human race as a whole (as when, for example, I make enormous personal sacrifices to ensure that the Earth’s air remains pleasant for everyone to breathe)’ (Abizadeh, 2005: 49).

The space of the self-sacrifice narrative is ‘global’ and its identity-solidarity-altruism differs from the ‘family’ and ‘national’ ones, which are subsequently based on the fairy tale and the heroic myth. The global frame of a broad human identity determines the time dimension of the global ‘cultural memory’ (Jan Assmann), which eventually begins with the ‘Big Bang.’ The global ethics, which takes humankind to be ‘our own,’ engenders revolutionary changes in consciousness. It equates wars to such ‘tabooed’ crimes as incest and cannibalism and makes us terrified that efforts of the best minds still bring nuclear, ecological, and economic catastrophes closer. Ethics based on the self-sacrifice narrative declares that self-actualization is not the exclusive right of the so-called ‘elite,’ but the duty of all of us. We all should be ashamed that despite the unprecedented development of technologies, many of our contemporaries earn their living either as a muscular extension for hand tools or as a nervous system for machines and computers. For the global information civilization work means humiliation of human dignity: ‘Where the whole man is involved there is no work. Work begins with the division of labor and the specialization of functions and tasks in sedentary, agricultural communities. … In the electric age the “job of work” yields to dedication and commitment’ (McLuhan, 1994: 138). The human being should not work, he/she must create. 

The ‘realists’ argue that the global identity is a non-viable concept: ‘You cannot imagine “us” without “them”. If entire humankind are “us”, who then are “them,” maybe the extraterrestrials or the penguins?’ That means the world should be divided between competing communities forever: ‘[O]ur common humanity will never make us members of a single universal tribe. The crucial commonality of the human race is particularism’ (Walzer, 1994: 83). The argument to ‘constitutive outside,’[13] that is spatial dimension of identity, using by nationalists, including far-right politicians, against the global identity-solidarity-altruism concept, still holds monopoly over Academia. One of the influential political theorist Chantal Mouffe (2013: 316, italics added), believes that ‘[t]he affirmation of a difference is a precondition for the existence of any identity—i.e. the perception of something other which constitutes its exterior.’ The word ‘exterior’ suggests that ‘the affirmation of a difference’ between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is constituted only in spatial dimension. In accordance with that approach we should locate ‘them’ either in geographical space outside our nation-state borders (‘external other’) or in social space (‘encompassed other’) where ‘them’ are separated from ‘us’ by territorial, ethnic, religious, class, and other differentiations (Abizadeh, 2005: 52).[14]

Jay Weinstein (2004: 48) suggests ‘nature’ as a cooperative opponent of ‘humanity’: ‘In the case of the human species, in particular, this other is nature, with which humanity as a whole can and must cooperate in order to survive and prosper.’

Arash Abizadeh (2005: 48–49, italics in original) argues that Mouffe and other ‘anti-cosmopolitans’ mistakenly confuse the shaping of an individual identity with a collective one, which could be shaped without any ‘constitutive outside’: ‘[S]ocializing an individual to identify with a collective identity could, rather obviously, simply occur through interaction with individuals who also identify with it.’ That could be interpreted as the global identity (‘I am a human being’) eliminates territorial, national, class, religious, and other social restrictions in creating an unlimited individual identity through constant dialogue with other ‘globalized individuals,’ who ‘are not “other” insofar as they belong to the same collectivity to which I do, but they are other insofar as they are not me.’

There is also an argument, which sounds like a direct answer to the putative ‘other’ (‘extraterrestrials’ and ‘penguins’) mockingly suggested by fellow nationalists: ‘[T]he “other” needed for “identity” does not necessarily coincide with concrete human others’ and there could be nonhuman entities like ‘the gods, animals, and so forth’ (Fritsch, 2005: 184).

I put forward another not so sophisticated solution for creating the global identity. In my opinion ‘anti-cosmopolitans’ do not pay enough attention to the fact that it is possible to imagine the relational communities of ‘us’ and ‘them’ not only in the spatial dimension. I believe that we are able to construct the global identity in both dimensions: space and time. Abizadeh (2005: 58, italics added) provides a promising insight that ‘collective identity might be formed… on the basis of difference from the values of a past historical identity from which one wishes to mark one’s distance.’ The current global community of ‘us’ includes the majority of living people and previous generations, including all victims of the past. The community of ‘them’ in that case includes modern misanthropist politicians, who provoke enmity, and also the perpetrators of the present and the past. I hope the number of misanthropes will gradually diminish and in the near future the time dimension will become the main boundary between relational global communities of ‘us’ and ‘them.’[15] 

Global memory, identity, and imagination of the myth of self-sacrifice are the embodiment of a dream that gradually becomes a ‘material force’ (Karl Marx). Current memory studies represent a number of approaches, which abandon ‘methodological nationalism’ and observe memory from the ‘transnational’ (White, 1995), ‘cosmopolitan’ (Levy and Sznaider, 2002), ‘prosthetic’ (Landsberg, 2004), ‘transcultural’ (Briere, 2004), ‘global’ (Stepinsky, 2005), ‘post’ (Hirsch, 2009), ‘multidirectional’ (Rothberg, 2009), ‘digital’ (Garde-Hansen et al, 2009), ‘premediated’ (Grusin, 2010) ‘travelling’ (Erll, 2011b), ‘globital’ (Reading, 2011), ‘subtitled’ (Rigney, 2012: 622), ‘palimpsestic’ (Silverman, 2013), ‘prospective’ (Tenenboim-Weinblatt, 2013), ‘multi-scalar’ (De Cesari and Rigney, 2014), and other perspectives. That ‘transnational turn’ is grounded in the recognition that the phenomenon of national memory brilliantly described by Pierre Nora less and less corresponds to the ‘globalizing’ reality. Present-day memory does not fit into the container of nation-state.[16]

‘That Holiest-of-Holies Holocaust of the Jews’[17]

A crucial example of global memory is the memory of Holocaust (Assmann, 2010a). There is an important reason why it could play effectively the role of an ‘engine’ of growing compassion for all victims of world history, who are traditionally regarded as ‘strangers’ within the frame of the modern nation-state heroic narrative. Jews for two thousand years were paradigmatic ‘strangers’ for Christians, who believed that adherents of Judaism ‘crucified Jesus’ and therefore are their ‘natural enemy.’ To overcome that venomous ‘primordial’ pattern of anti-Semitism through instilling empathy to victims of Holocaust means to perform μεθάνοια (the spiritual conversion) of about three billion people who inhabit Europe, both Americas, Australia, Northern Asia and Central and Southern Africa. From that perspective the memory of Holocaust is the promising first step to construct the global memory, which obligatory should entail compassion for new and new groups of victims.

The world-wide spreading of Christianity is the main argument against the Stef Craps’ (2019) opinion that the ‘local’ Western context is an obstacle for using the concept of the Holocaust as a pattern of global memory, because non-Western people allegedly could portray it as an imposing of neo-colonial hegemony. ‘Locatedness’ in that case is less important than the pattern of unprecedented empathy towards the former paradigmatic ‘strangers.’ Transforming ‘strangers’ into ‘our own’ is one of the greatest achievements of the humankind morality. The simple mnemonic formula: ‘All victims of the world history are our own,’ spreads beyond the Western ‘region of memory’ not only due to the really existing Western cultural hegemony, but firstly because this moral pattern is perfectly applicable to all victims of perpetration.

I believe that not ‘locatedness’ is the principal obstacle for using the memory of Holocaust as a worldwide pattern of empathy and should agree with Valentina Pisanty, who points out another challenge: a contradiction between the global frame and attempts to establish the concept of ‘uniquely unique’ (Eckhardt, 1974: 31) Holocaust ‘qualitatively different than all the other massacres in history’ (Pisanty, 2021: 97). This assumption supported by agents of Israeli governmental institutions, international Jewish organizations, and also by a significant part of Western academics and intellectuals inevitably entails the following conclusion: ‘To make of the murdered Jews metaphors for all humanity is not to exalt but to degrade them’ (Edward Alexander as cited in Eckhardt and Eckhardt, 1980: 175). It is not only a personal view of Alexander. In 2019 The US Holocaust Memorial Museum released a Statement Regarding the Museum’s Position on Holocaust Analogies, which ‘unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary’ (Bernstein, 2019).[18]

It is not for granted that the argument of ‘incomparability’ of Nazis’ genocide of Jewish people with other genocides of world history is effective for the strengthening of ethnic Jewish identity, but for sure it is not applicable for construction of global memory, simply because every community appreciates sufferings ‘that we are experiencing ourselves as more important than distant sufferings. … One of the greatest moral challenges of our World is the ability to place ourselves in others’ shoes, but it is not surprising that we all have difficulties doing that’ (Olick, 2018). It is impossible to overcome that ‘moral challenge of our World’ if we divide victims into ‘ours’ and ‘others’ subsuming that our ones are more significant. The concept of ‘incomparability’ is an embodiment of perverted nationalistic pride inciting enmity among nations. Therefore it is not clear what goal do my ‘stiff-necked’ fellows want to achieve when they declare to other nations: ‘Our sufferings are incomparably more painful than yours?’ Maybe to protect Jewish people in our challenging world where far-right xenophobic movements gain more and more popularity? Current political trends do not convince that the pattern of ‘incomparability’ allows solving the problem. I believe that attempt to establish the ‘superiority in sufferings’ is a kind of ethnic arrogance towards non-Jewish people. How, for instance, should Japanese people react on those reflections of the author of the term ‘unique uniqueness’: ‘When thousands[19] of Japanese were killed and maimed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was a goal behind the acts, a goal variously identifiable as resistance to aggression, restoring of peace, or whatever. … Such historical and contemporary examples possess, at best, only superficial resemblances to anti-Semitism. In contrast to them the destruction of Jewry is subject to no purpose beyond itself’ (Eckhardt, 1974: 33). The claim for ‘exclusiveness’ could have only one outcome, the growing resentment against Jews. In that context Valentina Pisanty raises the question, which Michael Rothberg (2021: 7) formulates in the Preface to her book: ‘Has a much-vaunted cosmopolitan Holocaust memory—with its linked slogans of “Never forget!” and “Never again!”—simply failed to prevent the rise of the right or, more darkly, might it even be implicated in that political turn?’

In my opinion in reality not ‘cosmopolitan’, but narrow nationalistic concept of ‘uniquely unique’ Holocaust ‘failed to prevent the rise of the right.’ While the correct use of Holocaust memory as a global engine of empathy towards all victims of world history really works. We can see that the global recognition of the Holocaust stimulates the emergence of new ‘icons’ in global memory, including victims of the capitalist colonialism and the communist Gulag, of numerous wars and genocides, of state terror and mass starvation, etc (Giesen, 2004; Rothberg, 2009; Zwigenberg 2014). Therefore ‘the ability to place ourselves in others’ shoes’ should become the main feature of the global memory of Holocaust. Global identity is formed through a gradual understanding that there is no such thing as victims who are ‘not our own.’ In the framework of global memory no hierarchy of victims could exist. All victims of violence should be equal and ‘our own’. Bernhard Giesen (2004: 3, italics added) defines this regime of memory, where ‘the victims assume the position that, before, was the place of heroes’, as ‘a new universalism of mourning.’ This ‘politics of regret’ (Olick, 2007)[20] is the real challenge to the ethics of the nation-state, which is based on the narrative of the heroic myth and prescribes sacrificing of ‘strangers’ for the sake of ‘our own.’

The deconstruction of the nation-state heroic mythic narrative and the demonstration of the disastrous results of its misanthropic ‘instructions’ of others-sacrifice has an obvious objective ‘Never Again,’ which means to ‘prevent the repetition of violence in the future’ (Bicford and Sodaro, 2010: 67),[21] but this is only the first step to establishing the global narrative of memory, identity, and imagination. The myth of global information civilization cannot be concerned solely with the remembering of traumatic experience, simply because ‘negative simulations are remembered more poorly over time’ compared with positive simulations (Schacter et al, 2012: 688), hence ‘the thought of looking ahead’ should ‘inspire, not fear, but hope’ (Kuipers, 2011: 2). We need a dream for an optimistic future!

Shakespeare is Ours! 

What is ‘optimistic’ about the myth of self-sacrifice?

The great unmasker of prejudices Freud (1939: 171–172) fully shares the prejudice of Modernity providing priority to ‘men of action’ that is ‘conquerors, generals and rulers’ instead of men of ideas. The answer of the information civilization consists of changing priorities in pantheons of memory; we should replace the military and political heroes, whose common business is to stir up hatred against foreigners, by the cultural heroes who heal the schisms between nations.

Bernhard Giesen (2004: 21, 25) writes that there is the ‘fundamental ambivalence’ of political heroism, and from ‘an outside point of view, heroes become perpetrators.’ The cult of Genghis Khan is unacceptable for Russians, just as Suvorov for Poles, and Napoleon for Spaniards. Politicians, who, according to the strategies of Modernity, are trying to redistribute limited material resources in favor of ‘their own’ at the expense of the ‘strangers,’ cannot be examples for global humanity.

In opposition to them are those who create inalienable spiritual values, which are the main product of the global information civilization. Memory about those creators fully corresponds to Jan Assmann’s term of ‘cultural memory.’ The heroes of world culture—thinkers and writers, scientists and artists, inventors and explorers—should be the key figures in the pantheon of global memory, which narrative is the myth of self-sacrifice. The interconnectedness of creativity and self-sacrificial ethics becomes obvious for those who have themselves experienced creative inspiration: ‘The goal of creativity is self-giving’ (Boris Pasternak). The impulse of creativity never is a longing for material wealth. The real creator creates simply because he/she cannot stop creating and continues to do that even in circumstances when the nation-state tests his/her devotion to creativity through misery, exile, imprisonment, and even extermination. Art requires ‘self-sacrifice of the artist’ (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy, 1988: 78), because any kind of creative activity is by its nature everyday self-sacrifice for the sake of cognition of truth and beauty. It is not coincidental that Pitirim Sorokin (1957: 719) called his department in Harvard aiming ‘to make human beings less selfish and more creative’ the Research Center in Creative Altruism. Creativity and altruism (self-sacrifice) are inseparable.

When commemorating creative people of the past, we should not forget our contemporaries. Ann Rigney (2012: 621–622) writes that literature and arts play a key role in involving people in ‘the lives of others,’ and hence shaping common places of memory of distant nations (cf. Landsberg, 2004).

Someone could argue that many of artistic geniuses shared prejudices of their time and even propagated the values, which now are completely inappropriate. Are not their ‘cults’ able to boost the hatred among the nations? All this depends of our perspective. In my opinion we should appreciate not the prejudices, hate speeches, indecent deeds, and so on, shared by our geniuses with their mediocre contemporaries, we should appreciate exclusively their unique insights, which enrich the common treasure of Global humanity. Yes, we need permanent efforts of Academia and media to separate the genial ‘wheat’ from the ‘chaff’ of ‘banality of evil’ in the works of cultural luminaries. To preserve that priceless world heritage we should strongly resist to any indecent attempts of hypocrite politicians, who now are trying to fish in troubled waters of the so-called canceling culture, that is erasing from cultural memory the ‘politically incorrect’ authors including Shakespeare (Watson, 2022).

During the transition period the pantheon of national memory should be reshaped according to the accommodation for a global scale. The heroes of national culture, people who made a significant contribution to world heritage, should get priority in collective memory instead of politicians. For Russians the prime rank of national memory luminaries should be Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, the creators of Russian medieval icons and Russian avant-garde paintings, Mendeleev and Bakhtin, Zvorykin and the Russian explorers of the Universe. 12 April 1961, the day of Gagarin’s space travel should become the main public holiday of the Russian Federation, because the memory of Gagarin leads Russian people towards the future.

There is not enough to oppose heroes and victims, suppressing as Bernhard Giesen (2004: 151) suggests ‘the celebration of heroism’ on behalf of ‘public confessions of guilt,’ but first of all we need to replace political heroes in pantheons of memory by cultural ones. Compassion towards the victims in world history and admiration for the heroes in world culture form the foundations of global memory, identity, and imagination.[22] The memory students Anna Reading and Tamar Katriel (2015: 1) have aptly remarked that ‘our name is humankind, not humancruel.’ Humankind is an excellent definition of the highest stage of Homo sapiens.

It is obvious that conditio sine qua non for creating an effective pantheon of global culture’s creators is the common knowledge about them and hence the global shift from political to cultural frameworks of memory, identity, and imagination. In the current situation, when the powerful global media are not only the message but the memory as well (Hoskins, 2009), that transnational task does not look insoluble, because a similar one was successfully solved on the national scale during the nineteenth century, when the nation-state builders reshaped the traditional memory and representations of the agrarian majority in accordance with the requirements of political ‘Civic religion’ of industrial Modernity. For example, in the beginning of the nineteenth century French peasants had never heard about Vercingetorix, but through the efforts of general education agents their heirs were transformed ‘into Frenchmen’ (Weber, 1976), who were willing to sacrifice their lives during the First World War due to inspiration by the heroic deeds of Vercingetorix, Chlodwig, Charlemagne, and other political heroes of the past.

We should not fear if opponents would denounce us of being addicted to ‘Utopian thinking.’ Almost one hundred years ago Julien Benda (2011: 211,italics added) replied to ‘professional providers of spiritual guidance,’ who asserted themselves as the ‘positive minds and not Utopians,’ which ‘are concerned with what is, not with what might be’: ‘They do not know that the moralist is essentially a Utopian, and that the nature of moral action is precisely that it creates its object by affirming it.


Witch-Hunts of Today? 

 In 1882 one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the French nationalism Ernest Renan (1990: 20, italics added) writes: ‘The nations are not something eternal. They had their beginnings and they will end. A European confederation will very probably replace them. But such is not the law of the century in which we are living. At the present time, the existence of nations is a good thing, a necessity even. Their existence is the guarantee of liberty, which would be lost if the world had only one law and only one master.’ Some ‘positive minds’ still have doubts regarding the realization of a dream of united humankind and almost a century and a half after Renan has predicted unavoidable end of nations are continuing to believe that even under the conditions of global information civilization the phenomenon of nation-state is forever. They support ‘incontestable’ argument with reference to the current rise of nationalism experienced in many Western countries.

This can be answered by referring to historical analogies. Catholics and Protestants were engaged in ‘medieval’ witch-hunts not at the height of the Middle Ages, but during the Early Modernity of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Tens of thousands were executed in Europe and North America under accusations of witchcraft. Historians explain that irrational reaction through confusion over challenges posed by the transition to Modernity (Behringer, 2004).

We are now experiencing a similar process. The post-modern nation-state, like the early-modern church, is unable to respond adequately to the current challenges. Trying to maintain its influence, it blames globalization for problems, which nation-state and its capitalist economy generated themselves: nuclear threat, ecological collapse, and growing inequality to name a few. Agents of the state, who condemn ‘global capitalism’ and at the same time keep stolen money offshore, are emblematic of this epoch.

The nation-state is not really able to promote public prosperity but it is still capable of unleashing new witch-hunts against ‘anti-national elements,’ which in turn could result not in tens of thousands, but in tens of millions of victims.[23] Ronald Inglehart (2018: 214–215) points out why the agenda of current nationalism is false: ‘High-income societies are currently regressing toward the xenophobic authoritarian politics,’ which ‘obscures the fact that the key conflict in contemporary high-income societies is between the majority and the one percent’ of the richest people. ‘If developed societies excluded all foreigners and all imports, secure jobs would continue to disappear, since the leading cause—overwhelmingly—is automation,’ which, it should be clarified, is performed in the obsolete frames of nation-state and capitalism. According to that the existing paroxysm of undemocratic nationalist feelings is triggered by an inherent conflict between the outdated nation-state identity and the contemporary reality of the nascent global community. If history is able to teach us anything, we must make every effort to ensure that an inevitable transition to a global civilization would not include modern witch-hunts.

Memory studies are still looking for the adequate answer to the current nationalist challenge. Aleida Assmann (2020: 4), who was one of the leading promoters of global memory, rightfully warns that ‘the principles of liberal democracy are challenged in Europe’ by right-wing parties and regrets, in my opinion in vain, that ‘more than a decade’ she ‘emphatically opted for transnational memories.’ Now Assmann changed her mind and believes that ‘there is as yet no real alternative for the nation.’ Therefore the supporters of open society should be in opposition to nationalism of extreme right trying to fill the concept of nation with liberal values. Wulf Kansteiner and Stefan Berger (2021: 239) put under a question the idea of Assmann that nation-states are ‘neutral containers of values and memories equally hospitable to all kinds of political programmes. The re-nationalization of memory has once more revealed how thoroughly biased the national container appears to be and prompts us, yet again, to look for help in the writings of the proponents of the transnational turn in memory studies.’ Hence the opponents of far-right would inevitably lose their sincere fight, if they choose the obsolete nation-state terrain.

Berger and Kansteiner not only argue that the current nation-state is quickly losing its previous democratic potential.[24]They try to defend democracy using the agonistic approach, which was initiated by a political theorist Chantal Mouffe (2000) and was transposed into memory studies by Anna Cento Bull and Hans Hansen (2016). From the perspective of Mouffe’s followers the main reason of the agonistic turn is the inefficiency of consensual cosmopolitan memory in the face of challenges of antagonistic national memories. The mnemonic competition imitating democratic political debates, where opponents assume that they are not enemies but adversaries, looks promising with regard to people sharing ‘values of liberty and equality for all,’ but ‘dissent about their interpretation’ (Mouffe, 2005: 121). That limitation of the agonistic approach is of paramount importance for Mouffe (2000: 105, 101) believing in ‘ineradicability of antagonism,’ which ‘is inherent in human relations,’ but it looks like memory studies specialists, who optimistically evaluate agonism as a remedy against far-right antagonism, did not work through last point thoroughly. Debates with people, who do not share ‘values of liberty and equality for all’ and use instruments of democracy aiming (how far-right nationalists do) to cancel it[25], could, with a high probability, get opposite of what we want, for instance, providing ‘cultural recognition’ (Pisanty, 2023) to ‘antagonists’ in public opinion. Therefore agonistic memory is not a panacea and agon should not replace consensus in memory politics, but both approaches could be combined for the achieving of ‘conflictual consensus’ among supporters of democratic values in the framework of an ‘agonistic cosmopolitanism’ (Caraus, 2016).

I can imagine, for instance, an agonistic cosmopolitan mnemonic competition of British democratic people with their Indian, Greek, and Kenyan peers. Britons would argue that Winston Churchill is the greatest hero because under his leadership the United Kingdom resisted without any allies to Hitler during the ‘Darkest Hour’ of 1940–1941, and after the USSR and the US entered the war his input in the victory of Allies was extremely significant as well. From the point of view of Jews, Indians, Greeks, and Kenyans Churchill is a perpetrator, who committed evil crimes against humanity:

— Jewish people blame him ‘for “increasing the scale of the Holocaust” by refusing to allow Jewish European refugees into British Mandate Palestine during the Second World War’ (Liphshiz, 2010; Cf. Cohen, 1989).


— In the Indian public opinion he is responsible for the Bengal famine of 1943, when colonial policies created and then exacerbated the crisis resulted in at least two million deaths (Hickman 2008);

— In Greece in 1944 the British commandment sought to delay the German withdrawal in order to prevent pro-communist Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), which was the main force of partisan resistance, from establishing control over the country (Gluckstein, 2012: 47). The rebellion of left partisans was suppressed by British army in collaboration with Greek far-right, a lot of whom were former Nazis collaborators (Iatrides, 1972: 183);

— In Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion (1952–1960) at least 80 000 were interned and about one million were held in ‘enclosed villages.’ Prisoners were questioned by British forces with the help of ‘slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death,’ and so on. A total of 1015 people were hanged between 1952 and 1956 (Curtis, 2003: 324–325). Churchill ‘told then the Cabinet that ”care should be taken to avoid the simultaneous execution” of large numbers of people. … [H]e was objecting here, not to large numbers of executions per se, but to large numbers of people being hanged at the same time.’ The Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton promised with the perfect British sense of humor that he ‘would seek the advice of his Cabinet colleagues if any question arose of carrying out simultaneously death sentences imposed on more than, say, twelve persons’ (Toye, 2011: 296, italics in the original).

It is obvious that for people from Israel, India, Greece, and Kenia Churchill never could be a hero. Therefore achievement of the ‘conflictual consensus’ is possible only due to, using Mouffe’s (2000: 102) terminology ‘conversion’ of Her Majesty’s subjects. How is it plausible that British people could feel empathy to the Churchill’s victims? Britons reflecting the Second World War from the perspective of nation-state, where ‘our people’ are only citizens of the Great Britain, definitely would find a lot of excuses for their loved Sir Winston and no facts would change their memory about the greatest British hero. Only people who have supranational views are able to understand that glorifying Churchill is an unforgivable insult of millions of residents of our ‘global village.’ But even for the ‘globalists’, who recognize that, it would be difficult to apologize publicly, because of the pressure of fellow nationalists. A British journalist reports that ‘[o]ne respected academic told me he was advised that if he pursued the study of Churchill’s responsibility for the number of deaths in the Bengal famine, his academic career would be compromised. This is the level of censorship to which we are willing to stoop’ (Hirsch, 2018). Even in the old democracies it is not easy to move against the nationalist trend, but recent time some brave young people are publicly criticizing the brightest star of British national memory (see e.g., Blair, 2020). That shows how difficult to perform the ‘conflictual consensus’ even among democratic supporters of ‘agonistic cosmopolitanism.’ Memory of Churchill is the case where reconciliation could be only achieved, if all ‘agonists’ pursue the global agenda.

During the massive anti-Putin protests that rocked Moscow in 2011–2012 an impressive agonistic experiment has been launched on the one of leading Russian TV channels showing that debates with people, who are not sharing ‘values of liberty and equality for all,’ are able only to reinforce the convictions of anti-democrats. It was The Historical Trial show, where two well-known public intellectuals—a liberal Nikolai Svanidze and an admirer of the Soviet project Sergei Kurginyan—discussed the crucial events of Russian history (Sharafutdinova, 2020: 136). There were fifteen ‘rounds’ in total and every time Kurginyan won the SMS voting (in the twelve cases his share was more than eighty percent).[26]This exemplary case warns that in the common to different countries current situation of the growing authoritarian trends the democratic by its nature agonistic approach could be using for discrediting the democratic values.

‘National return’ of Aleida Assmann and popularity of the agonistic approach of ‘a resolutely anti-cosmopolitan theorist Mouffe’ (Caraus 2016: 94)[27] reflect the crisis of supranational perspective in current memory studies. What should we do in the situations when our opponents are people, who believe that democrats are their enemies, and therefore agonistic approach is not applicable to the mnemonic competition? In my opinion it is not realistic to change the minds of politicians, propagandists and other zealous agents of antagonistic memory, because they are highly motivated by financial, career, and other reasons. Yes, they are extremely stubborn and active, but they constitute only an insignificant minority. Therefore we should strenuously work with public opinion, addressing to the hesitant majority directly without venomous quasi-agonistic assistance of agents of antagonism.

The mnemonic experience of the Soviet perestroika, when the ‘vernacular Stalinism’ (‘Stalin was severe, but fair leader devoted to the common people’) was discredited in public opinion in a few years despite the existence of powerful Stalinist lobby in media and among communist officials, shows that massive media campaign combining national (collectivization and the Great Purge) and international (the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the Katyn massacre) subjects of memory could be successful. The direct consequences of that ‘transnational turn’ in the late Soviet public opinion were two impressive political results: on 24 of August of 1989 the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union condemned ‘the signing of the “secret additional protocol” of Aug. 23, 1939,’ and the other secret agreements with Nazi Germany (Simpson, 1990); on 13 of April of 1990 the official Telegraphic Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) published the Communiqué on Katyn: ‘The Soviet side, expressing deep regret in connection with the Katyn tragedy, declares that it represents one of the most heinous crimes of Stalinism’ (Szonert-Binienda, 2012: 633). This shows that direct communication with public opinion is able to change the memory, identity, and imagination of nation-states citizens towards transnational agenda of information civilization.

I believe that the paramount reason of methodological concessions of memory studies to the nationalist prejudices of mass consciousness is a ‘problem of signifiers.’ In public opinion the terms ‘global’/’cosmopolitan’/’transnational’ are largely discredited because they are tightly connected with undemocratic ideology of neoliberalism, which despite its quasi-democratic rhetoric in reality follows the cynical slogan of Social Darwinism: ‘Survival of the fittest.’ It is the main reason of common people’s revulsion of global project. The predatory ‘global’ capitalism, which in reality is a proxy of the leading nation-states, is, unwillingly, clearing the way for far-right nationalists to the top of power.

How to eliminate the threat of global and nationalist heads of the capitalist monster? Kansteiner and Berger (2021: 204, italics added) write that ‘agonistic memory hopes to unsettle a hegemonic and deeply problematic neoliberal status quo and give democratic socialism a stronger voice in contemporary political debates.’ Nancy Fraser (2021, italics added) suggests ‘global democratic ecosocialism’ as an alternative enabling to ‘dismantle the “law of value,” abolish exploitation and expropriation, and reinvent the relations between human society and nonhuman nature, between goods production and caregiving, between “the political” and “the economic,” democratic planning and markets.’ I believe that filling the global project with the left altruistic agenda is a fruitful insight. In the frameworks of nation-state and capitalism we are not able to respond adequately to the critical challenges of nuclear, environmental, and inequality threats. ‘The capitalist information society’ is nonsense by definition, simply because information is not merchandise. Therefore its exchange could not be adequately regulated by market rules. The global Informational[28] (Alexander Shubin) of new left internationalists, which have nothing in common with the old totally discredited itself ‘industrial’ communist movement, is able to oppose successfully both—national and supranational—manifestations of the current predatory mode of production, which destroys nature and society. Therefore specialists in memory studies should not only warn the public of the threat of growing undemocratic nationalist movements, but inspire people with the new promising ‘left’ social agenda of information civilization, which is authentic for the global framework of memory, identity, and imagination, where democracy could be successfully developed in accordance with its nature. The World should be democratic and socialist; for otherwise it would not exist at all.

Narodniks of the Global Scale 

Is there a social group that can achieve the revolutionary transition from the material mode of productions to the spiritual one?

Marx persistently searched for a ‘driving force’ that could ‘remove’ the alienation of a world hypnotized by conspicuous consumption. His bet on industrial workers was not justified. Even geniuses are not always sufficiently gifted to foresee the future. Today we do not need to be geniuses. It is good enough simply to observe the world around us. We are witnessing the appearance of ‘carriers’ of the self-sacrifice narrative.

By this I mean the fast growing volunteer movement, which has crossed national borders and which, for example, has involved at least 20 percent of the current UK population (Rochester et al., 2010: 38). The names of powerful NGOs, such as Care International and Doctors without Borders, do speak for themselves. Volunteers do the same as the Russian Narodniks (Populists) of the nineteenth century did by providing medical care, education, and other help to the poor[29]. The difference is that for many volunteers of our time the meaning of ‘their own people’ has expanded beyond the nation-state borders and covers the entire globe.

Volunteers are still a ‘class-in-itself’ (Karl Marx). They act in accordance with the altruistic ethics of the self-sacrifice, not fully realizing that they share the values of global memory, identity, and imagination. The objective of people of science, literature, and art, of public intellectuals, journalists, and teachers is to formulate and provide that memory, identity, and imagination to the carriers of volunteer ethics, to transform them into the ‘class-for-itself,’ the conscious vanguard of modern humankind.

There is no controversy between academic profession and social prophecy, because ‘[t]he social relevance of memory has propelled scholarly work from the ivory tower into the public sphere’ (Erll, 2011a: 3). Rephrasing Michael Rothberg’s (2019: 203) reference to the Theses on Feuerbach of Marx: ‘scholars and activists need both to interpret memory, identity, and imagination and to transfigure them.’ Therefore the ‘orientation to the future’ should ‘cease to be a predicament and should become a program’ (Unger, 2007: 41). That path faces a huge number of obstacles, but if we do not persevere, we will not move from the absurdity of conspicuous consumption to the rationality of everyday self-sacrifice, meaning different volunteer activities for the benefit of global humanity.


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[1]Cf. ‘He wants his nation to acquire territories, to be prosperous and to have powerful allies; but he wants all this far less on account of the material results … than on account of the glory, the prestige which the nation will acquire’ (Benda, 2011: 14).

[2] In premodern kinship societies blood relationship never played the main role (Sabean and Teuscher, 2013).

[3] Cf. ‘The threat of violence inside the community is overcome by directing it toward a scapegoat’ (Giesen, 2004, 59).

[4] Cf. ‘War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system’ (Benjamin, 1936); ‘The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia but to keep the very structure of society intact’ (George Orwell) (

[5] Cf. ‘Already in the great revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but at least in the course of the nineteenth, a new collective subject entered the political arena and claimed sovereignty: “the people”’ (Giesen, 2004: 98).

[6] I must point out that the inconsistent politics of The Cold War victors towards Russia provides no justification for the Putin’s regime aggression against Ukraine.

[7] Cf. ‘Modern consumers are constrained by the velocity of fashion’ (Connerton, 2009: 61); ‘A time span referred to in marketing as the “product life cycle”—becomes shorter. Long-term planning becomes less important, the facility to exploit market fashions more crucial. Companies innovate at a much faster rate’ (Connerton, 2009: 63).

[8] Cf. ‘The great industrial cornucopia has not only been polluting the earth with wastes and poisons; it has also been spewing forth increasingly shoddy, costly and defective goods and services’ (Harris, 1978: 8).

[9] Cf. ‘The ecological strand is the one that makes me think that we could be facing something different, a genuine epochal crisis, whose resolution requires overcoming capitalism once and for all’ (Fraser, 2021).

[10]Groundlessly attributed to George Bernard Shaw. See: URL: (Accessed: 29 Jun. 2022).

[11] Cf. ‘An ever larger proportion of humanity is engaged in the production of information, an ever smaller proportion is involved in producing things. … The lack of solidity of the culture from which things are increasingly absent is becoming our daily experience. All that is solid melts into information’ (Connerton, 2009: 124).

[12] Cf. ‘The Gospel of Jesus does not imply any country, but obliterates the fatherland’ (Loisy, 1915: 60, as cited in Benda, 2011: 91).

[13]Henry Staten (1984: 24) refers to Jaque Derrida, who writes in De la grammatologie (1967) about ‘the power of exteriority as constitutive of interiority’ (Derrida, 1998: 313). Aletta F. Norval (1994: 135) writes that ‘the notion of the constitutive outside developed by Staten’s commentary on Derrida and Wittgenstein.’

[14]In my opinion Mouffe’s ‘exterior’ is a logical ‘slip of the tongue’ of a researcher who builds her concept of agonism on the antagonistic ‘friend-enemy’ distinction of Carl Schmitt: ‘This is why I have chosen to conduct my critique of liberal thought under the aegis of such a controversial thinker as Carl Schmitt. I am convinced that there is much that we can learn from him, as one of the most brilliant and intransigent opponents of liberalism. I am perfectly aware that, because of Schmitt’s compromise with nazism, such a choice might arouse hostility. Many people will find it rather perverse if not outright outrageous. Yet, I believe that it is the intellectual force of theorists, not their moral qualities, that should be the decisive criteria in deciding whether we need to establish a dialogue with their work’ (Mouffe 2005: 4–5). Cf. ‘Mouffe draws on Schmitt at the risk of inheriting some of his viewswithout attending to their autodeconstruction’ (Fritsch, 2008: 183–184).

[15] Experience of historical catastrophes shows that rigid divide of ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ does not fully correspond to reality, because destiny of people from both categories could be radically changed by the vicissitudes of fate, how, for example, it was during Stalin’s Great Purge, when a lot of high officials including members of the Soviet secret police, that is, obvious perpetrators were condemned to death. Besides that, during epochs of terror and genocide always exist ‘grey zones’, which should be analysed through the subtle classification of ‘implicated subjects’ thoroughly unfolded by Michael Rothberg (2019). But in the current draft of temporal dimension of global identity I cannot discuss that complex subject.

[16] Cf. ‘In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to go beyond methodological nationalism and explore alternative social frameworks for memory. Many of these initiatives have involved upscaling to frameworks that are larger than that of the nation with an emphasis on ‘transcultural’ processes that transcend the boundaries of languages and national cultures’ (Rigney, 2018: 249).

[17] The quotation is from the satirical novel My Holocaust by Tova Reich (2009: 282). The author mockingly represents nationalistic, cosmopolitan, denying, trivializing, sacralising, and so on public discourses regarding Holocaust. The provocative ‘shock therapeutic’ approach of Reich demonstrates that prophetic tradition of self-criticism is still alive among Jewish intellectuals. It is a kind of Viktor Shklovsky’s ‘defamiliarization’ (остранение), allowing to scrape off the rust of ritual veneration and to be seen as anew that much vaunted memory of Holocaust is in deep crisis.

[18] 580 academics signed the public letter requiring the retraction of that Statement, because it ‘is far removed from mainstream scholarship on the Holocaust and genocide. And it makes learning from the past almost impossible. The Museum’s decision to completely reject drawing any possible analogies to the Holocaust, or to the events leading up to it, is fundamentally ahistorical. It has the potential to inflict severe damage on the Museum’s ability to continue its role as a credible, leading global institution dedicated to Holocaust memory, Holocaust education, and research in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies. The very core of Holocaust education is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering; pointing to similarities across time and space is essential for this task’ (Bernstein, 2019).

[19] Defending his biased approach A. Roy Eckhardt obfuscated number of Japanese victims, writing ‘thousands’ instead of at least two hundred thousand killed and wounded in immediate results of the nuclear bombardment and other about two hundred thousand hibakusha, who suffered from the late effects of radiation (Wellerstein, 2020).

[20] Cf. ‘Western politicians confessing the guilt of the nation are, hence, relying—mostly without being aware of it—on a pattern of Christomimesis that is deeply rooted in Occidental mythology’ (Giesen, 2004: 149).

[21] Cf. ‘In remembering the victims of the past, we construct their postmortal life—hoping for a future when no subject will ever be treated as an object’ (Giesen, 2004: 55).

[22] Cf. ‘Insisting on a positive construction of collective identity is accepted by outsiders—and that means by the vast majority of others in a globalized world—only if the alleged identity is constructed as a nonpolitical one, which can be aesteticized by outside observers, or as the identity of a victimized group’ (Giesen, 2004: 151, italics added ).

[23] Cf. ‘The forms of nationalism we are witnessing today may not be the same as earlier ones, but they could end up being even more destructive’ (Wertsch, 2021: xiv).

[24] Cf. ‘Voter apathy and civic privatism appear coupled with powerful new nationalisms in the context of the fear of globalization and increasingly multicultural memberships’ (Fritsch, 2008: 175).

[25] Cf. ‘While crying “ideas must not be censored,” negationists rehabilitate the people who burned book. It is theparadox of “mature” (post-Faurisson) negationism, but also of the entire current discourse of the xenophobicRight.’ (Pisanty 2021: 250).

[27] Cf.: ‘To believe in the possibility of a cosmopolitan democracy with cosmopolitan citizens with the same rights and obligations, a constituency that would coincide with “humanity” is a dangerous illusion’ (Mouffe, 2005: 106–107).

[29] It is remarkable that Pitirim Sorokin, who coined the term ‘creative altruism,’ was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, whose program was based on ideology of their Populist movement predecessors.

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