Aleksandr Dugin has come to public attention as “Putin’s Brain,” as Foreign Affairs memorably dubbed him – that is, as the ideological mastermind behind Russia’s moves towards reasserting imperial ambitions, notably with respect to Ukraine. Is this accurate, or is it just media hype? The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to judge with confidence exactly to what extent Vladimir Putin’s more aggressive policies towards, for instance, Ukraine reflect Dugin’s influence (or supposed influence) as an omnipresent publicist and behind-the-curtain advisor to aspiring czars. (The suspicion easily arises that Putin uses Dugin – lets him rant on state TV – without himself buying into the crazy worldview.) But whether Dugin really is influencing Russian policy or is simply the object of excessive hype, either way intellectuals as well as ordinary citizens in the West need to be aware of him, lest they be taken in by his pretensions as a theorist and his claimed interest in civilizational dialogue and pluralism, which functions as a rhetorical cloak. Either way, he’s dangerous.
Dugin has dubbed his distinctive ideology with a variety of different labels: National Bolshevism, neo-Eurasianism, the fourth political theory. They all amount to the same thing: a scheme for uniting all the global enemies of liberalism under Russian leadership and displacing the current liberal dispensation with something virulently anti-liberal and anti-modern or pre-modern. Dugin aims, in fact, at a fusion of totalitarian ideologies, from fascism and even Nazism at one end to Marxism at the other end. Yet his ideological roots are far closer to fascist and proto-Nazi sources (for instance, the demented “Ariosophy” doctrines of Guido von List and Jörg Lanz) than they are to anything in the Marxist tradition – which is why both Dugin’s English-language publishers and the websites that are drawn to him belong to the ultra-Right. Dugin’s “politics” are bathed in the swampy waters of mystical esotericism and occultism, and his root-and-branch rejection of liberal democracy likely owes far more to his spiritualist and theological or pseudo-theological commitments than to anything we would customarily understand as political or philosophical.
On February 5, 2015, TVO (the Ontario equivalent of PBS) broadcast an episode of “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” featuring Dugin. The show (entitled “Big Minds on the Future of Democracies”) included Francis Fukuyama, a well-known and influential public intellectual, as well as Ivan Krastev, another heavyweight political scientist concerned with the future of democracy. This already conveyed the impression that Dugin is a serious academic on a par with the other two. The show went out of its way to publicize Dugin’s newly published work, Eurasian Mission, giving it equal standing alongside one of Fukuyama’s books. Eurasian Mission is published by Arktos Media, an incontrovertibly “Aryanist” or white supremacist outfit. On its cover, repeatedly displayed on the TV screens of TVO’s viewers, is the Symbol of Chaos —Dugin’s no less malevolent version of the swastika. It is hard to imagine that Paikin or the TVO producers knew what they were doing when they gave the purveyor of this reptilian ideology his platform on public television. But it is not too late to educate ourselves.
In presenting Dugin to their viewers, TVO advertised him as a “Russian philosopher and political activist.” Is Dugin a Russian philosopher? Yes, it seems that he is. Dugin’s book, Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning (published by Radix, a far-right press), offers a competent and at times interesting commentary on the philosophy of Heidegger, one of the major thinkers of the twentieth century. Only a fellow philosopher could pursue that kind of engagement with a philosopher as challenging and as important as Heidegger—although Dugin’s book in no way hides the fact that he’s at least as strongly drawn to Heidegger’s ideological significance as to his philosophical significance. (Dugin is very intensely focused on the Heidegger of 1936-1945, a period throughout which Heidegger was a card-carrying Nazi, however much he may have believed that Hitler’s version of National Socialism was grossly inferior to his own.) Since the Enlightenment, there has been a line of important thinkers for whom life in liberal modernity is felt to be profoundly dehumanizing. Thinkers in this category include Joseph de Maistre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Schmitt, and Heidegger. For such thinkers, liberal modernity is so humanly degrading that one ought to (if one could) undo the French Revolution and its egalitarianism, and perhaps cancel out the whole moral legacy of Christianity. For all of them, hierarchy and rootedness is more morally compelling than equality and individual liberty. In his Heidegger book, Dugin helps to bring out why certain intellectuals of the early twentieth century gravitated towards fascism: a grim preoccupation with the perceived soullessness of modernity, and a resolve to embrace any politics, however extreme, that seemed to them to promise “spiritual renewal” (to quote Heidegger). Dugin is now the latest thinker in this line of philosophers of the radical right. But his identity as a philosopher is only one aspect of Dugin’s intellectual personality. He’s also very much captivated by mysticism and occultism, and he’s a determined ideologue who is willing to reach out to allies in the gutter.
It seems that there are really three Aleksandr Dugins. Let’s call them: the philosophical Dugin; the witchcraft-dispensing Dugin; and the ideology-mongering Dugin. One notable work of Dugin’s available in English is entitled The Fourth Political Theory. Despite the misleading title, intended to convey the image of Dugin as a “theorist,” offering the world a new “political theory,” this work corresponds to what I’ve called the ideology-mongering Dugin. Here Dugin is not in the theory business at all; he’s in the ideology business. And the ideology that he is hawking involves celebration of blatantly totalitarian and ruthlessly imperialistic forms of politics.
Consider a telling passage in a recent text by Dugin entitled “The Fourth Estate”:
The Fourth Political Theory … is built on the imperative of overcoming modernity and all three political ideologies in order (the order has tremendous significance): (1) liberalism, (2) communism, (3) nationalism (fascism). The subject of this theory, in its simple version, is the concept “narod,” roughly, “Volk” or “people,” in the sense of “peoplehood” and “peoples,” not “masses.”
What does Dugin mean in suggesting that while one must overcome all the leading ideologies of the twentieth century, “the order has tremendous significance”? The implication is that the normative objections to liberalism far exceed the normative objections to fascism. Fascism may not be perfect, but there is more there (even in the Nazi version!) that is worthy of being incorporated in Dugin’s higher ideological synthesis than there is in Western-style bourgeois liberalism. Yes, all three ideologies have to be “overcome,” but they are not on the same level. One needs to rank them. Shockingly for a reader in the liberal West, the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century (Bolshevism, fascism, Nazism) rank higher – much higher – than morally egalitarian liberalism does.
Dugin’s desire to incorporate fascism in his anti-liberal ideology is not a matter of conjecture or interpretation: he himself openly avows it. In The Fourth Political Theory, he writes that the kind of radically anti-liberal grand coalition that he envisions (encompassing the Far Right, the Far Left, the radical Green movement, jihadi Islam, and millenarian – for instance, evangelical and Pentecostal – Christianity) requires
putting aside anti-Communist as well as anti-fascist, prejudices. These prejudices are the instruments in the hands of liberals and globalists with which to keep their enemies divided. So we should strongly reject anti-Communism as well as anti-fascism. Both of them are counter-revolutionary tools in the hands of the global liberal elite. (4PT, p. 196).
Marxism was right in its collectivism and anti-capitalism, and fascism/Nazism was right in its primordialism and anti-rationalism. These disparate ideologies have to be fused and made to work together (hence “National Bolshevism,” Dugin’s antecedent to neo-Eurasianism). In the interests of advancing this more potent synthesis of totalitarian ideologies, concerns about 20th-century fascism and Nazism are to be dismissed as mere “prejudices.” Dugin is far from being a closet fascist. Nor, for that matter, is he a closet Bolshevist. The key idea is that if Communism and Nazism were not sufficient on their own to defeat liberalism, only a synthesis of the two can do the job. Dugin’s suggestive slogan, “Third Rome – Third Reich – Third International,” aptly conveys the scope of his ambitions.
In The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin claims that he repudiates the “racism, xenophobia, and chauvinism” of the fascist past, which he refers to as “unacceptable elements” of fascism/Nazism (4PT, p. 195). Yes, he wants to incorporate a fascist and Nazi component in his anti-liberal ideology, but his will be a kinder and gentler fascism purged of racism and nationalist chauvinism. One would have to be credulous in the extreme to be taken in by these disclaimers. Dugin’s “National Bolshevism” arose in concert with the Pamyat’ movement of the late 1980s, which in turn is traceable in a direct ideological line back to the infamous Black Hundred movement in the early 20th century responsible (according to Walter Laqueur) for 700 or so anti-Jewish pogroms.
With respect to Dugin’s political affiliations and alignments within Russia, the story is one of a bewildering multiplicity and diversity of political identities, zigzagging from the far right, to the left, to the right, to the “centre,” and so on. What consistently underlies and makes sense of these frantic migrations and manoeuvrings all over the political map is commitment to a project of a Nazified Russia laying claim to an ambitious empire straddling continents, and thereby coming to dominate the world. If these mad imperial designs lead to World War III, so much the better, since we know from Dugin’s lunatic theology that he heartily welcomes, in fact positively yearns for, an eschatological “climax”—what he typically refers to as Finis Mundi, “the end of the world.” (Dugin offers us a millenarian vision that matches to an astonishing degree the parallel millenarianism of the Islamic State.) What this erratic political career, with all its volatile ideological shifts, also tells us is that none of Dugin’s various statements and disclaimers (for instance, on the topic of racism) can be taken at face value. Or rather: the only Duginian utterances and pronouncements that can be trusted are those that are most extreme, which are certainly in no way lacking.
Make no mistake: Dugin is not speaking to Russian imperialists alone. Dugin aims to assemble as broad an anti-liberal coalition as possible, extending even to environmentalist terrorists like the Unibomber, although he tends to side with Shiite and Sufi Islam over Sunni Islam (hence he sometimes goes so far as cast Sunni extremists as if they were allies of the West). From Dugan’s own standpoint, all enemies of liberalism are crusaders fighting in the same cause (to destroy modernity). Dugin is an ecumenical jihadist. “Jihadists of all civilizations unite!” is his true slogan.
In a sense, exposing Dugin as a dangerous charlatan is redundant. He does it to himself with words spoken out of his own mouth. And it’s all on YouTube. Consider an especially revealing eight-minute interview filmed in Indonesia in which Dugin fully lays out his “political-theological” vision. He cites the authority of Russian Orthodox monks who assure him of the coming Apocalypse. He divides up the world into good Muslims (Sufi mystics and theocratic Shiites) and bad Muslims (Sunnis aligned with the West, it would seem); good Christians (Orthodox) and bad Christians (Western); good Jews and bad Jews (mainly bad!). He posits an “eschatological line” and arranges world civilizations on one side of this line or the other, foretelling their historical destiny or historical extinction. He predicts the re-conquest of “Constantinople” on behalf of Russian Orthodoxy (ISIS predicts the same thing on behalf of the caliphate!). He refers to the existing world order as “Pax Judaica.” He claims to have a direct line to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (President of Iran at the time of the interview). It is easy to dismiss all of this as a wild rant, since that is what it is, except that it is a wild rant emanating from someone listened to with seeming respect by the president of Russia, the former president of Iran, and the current Foreign Minister of Greece. (As regards the third, there is a congenial-looking photo posted online of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias posing in close proximity to Dugin.)
Why should one worry so much about one pseudo-intellectual kook or crank? I think there are indeed very serious reasons to worry. That he is influencing powerful people in the Kremlin (right up to the top) cannot be ruled out. But even if Putin and the people around Putin are using Dugin rather than being influenced by him, there is no question that there are vast numbers of people, within Russia and beyond Russia, who are being influenced by Dugin’s ideology and by his political-theological fantasies. According to Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, there are no less than 56 branch offices of Dugin’s Eurasian Youth Union: 47 within Russia and nine abroad. Our contemporary context is mightily relevant. I would urge readers to consult a wise and penetrating analysis published by John Gray in the October 2014 issue of Prospect entitled “The Liberal Delusion.” Gray argues that for liberals, peace, freedom, and prosperity are self-evidently the natural aspirations of all human beings, and liberals get utterly bewildered when individuals or societies have the opportunity to choose these liberal ideals and instead unaccountably opt for anti-liberal visions of life. One important example of this liberal bewilderment, but not at all the only one, concerns Putin’s Russia: his authoritarianism and his reassertion of “the claims of geopolitics, ethnicity and empire” are astoundingly popular within Russia. This makes no sense to those for whom liberal ideals are the default aspiration of humanity. Gray writes:
The Soviet debacle [at the conclusion of the Cold War] was an opportunity to reclaim a [liberal] normalcy denied them for over 40 years. A sort of normalcy has returned; but it is the kind that Europe experienced in much of the first half of the last century, a condition of chronic crisis. Structural flaws in the single currency have left much of Southern Europe in permanent depression. Reunited by the fall of communism, the continent has been re-divided by the European project. Across Europe, there has been a resurgence of the far right and the politics of hate.
As we should have been taught by the catastrophes of the twentieth century, cultural-economic-political crisis of this kind provides the perfect opening for demagogues and lunatics who can exploit these crises in order to turn the whole world upside side. If the far right and the politics of hate are enjoying a notable resurgence (which they are), then Dugin, however much he may look to liberals as a kind of intellectual clown, is precisely the sort of thuggish enemy of liberalism that we must most fear. We are learning anew that fascism (including its theocratic versions), with its brown uniforms and black flags, has a romance that we liberals underestimate at our peril. Similar wisdom can be drawn from George Orwell as quoted by Graeme Wood in a recent report on the rise of ISIS written for The Atlantic: fascism is “psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.” Socialism and capitalism convey the message: “I offer you a good time”; Hitler’s message, by contrast, is: “I offer you struggle, danger, and death.” “We ought not to underrate [the latter’s] emotional appeal.”This is relevant to understanding not only the appeal of Hitler and ISIS but also that of Dugin. Crooked timber indeed!
It should seem obvious that the twentieth century is not something any of us would want to replay in the twenty-first century. Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo, predicted in 1889 that the century to come would see “upheavals, a convulsion of earthquakes, a moving of mountains and valleys, the like of which has never been dreamed of. There will be wars the like of which have never yet been seen on earth.” And so it came to pass! Why would any sane person want to do it all over again, namely seeing the world convulsed by totalitarian ideologies, genocide, and apocalyptic wars? How can this prospect possibly be attractive in the eyes of Dugin and his disciples or anyone else? Can human beings really be so blind and misguided as to have learned nothing from the twentieth century at its worst? That seems unthinkable, yet the atrocious ideologies currently gaining ground in Europe and in other parts of the world are forcing us to reconsider what Gray calls “the liberal delusion” (the faith that history favours liberalism). That’s why Dugin and like-minded extremists have to be taken with deadly seriousness. As the recently assassinated Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, put it in an interview with Toronto’s Globe and Mail: “The most difficult question for Russia is what kind of revolution you will get – orange or brown or red. There is a very big danger for Russians and for the world because, unfortunately, nationalists and fascists are very popular in this country.”
Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize address got it right—“evil does exist in the world”—and in the case of Duginism, that very thing is staring us right in the face. Readers are urged to check out the websites of Dugin’s English-language publishers, Radix and Arktos Media, so that they may judge for themselves the ideological complexion of these organizations. Is this a kind of guilt by association? No: Dugin is so eclectic and ecumenical in his extremism that we need to be aware of those with whom he associates in order to pierce through the bewildering variety of his sources and references. Dugin himself decides which toxic intellectual sources to draw upon for his own ideological activities, and these are the vile comrades with whom he chooses to collaborate. Choosing to align yourself with Julius Evola (one of Dugin’s arch-fascist intellectual heroes) and Arktos Media is decidedly a mode of self-disclosure and is probably our most reliable point of access to what Dugin is really about.
Andreas Umland, an important scholar of Duginism, has recently written: Dugin “envisages himself not as a public intellectual but rather as a mastermind who need not necessarily run the state himself, but should define the thinking of the elite: not a politician, but a meta-politician. Ideally, Dugin the theoretician would generate ideas that the political leaders and the propaganda workers would, consciously or subconsciously, realize.” With this concerted commitment to “meta-politics” on the part of Dugin and his followers as well as kindred ideologues of his ilk, we need to, as one website rightly puts it, keep “an eye on the neo-fascists burrowing their way into a subculture near you.” Dugin puts huge emphasis on the idea of “geopolitics,” and Dugin’s spreading influence, first in Moscow and now in other societies, has its own significant geopolitical implications. After Putin’s aggressions against Ukraine, with their real potential for geopolitical mischief, it no longer seems hyperbolic to call Aleksandr Dugin one of the most dangerous ideologues on the planet. All responsible citizens in the West need to know who he is and what he stands for.
Ronald Beiner is a professor of political theory at the University of Toronto