Western critics display an endless fascination with “the Russian soul,” the “spirit of Russia,” or what Lesley Chamberlain, the author of Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia, calls “Russia as Motherland and Otherland.” Whenever Western intellectuals seem disillusioned by our “bourgeois” values, by technological progress, or individualist pursuit of personal goals with no overarching moral imperative for society as a whole, they turn to Russia as an alternative. The horrors of the twentieth century, of course, make such an alternative more than a bit suspect. Communism was a disaster, and post-Communist Russia, as Garry Kasparov has observed, is now little more than Thugland, the best guide to which is the novels of Mario Puzo.

In fact, there is a great deal to learn from the Russian experience, both negative and positive. When Time magazine named Einstein as the...

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