Aleksandr Dugin has come to public attention (even in Canada, though only fairly recently) as “Putin’s Brain,” as Foreign Affairs memorably dubbed him1 – that is, as the ideological mastermind behind Russia’s moves toward 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 toward Ukraine or anywhere else reflect Dugin’s influence (or supposed influence) as an omnipresent publicist and behind-the-curtain adviser to aspiring czars. The suspicion easily arises that Putin uses Dugin, letting him rant on state TV, without himself buying into Dugin’s crazy worldview. But whether Dugin really is influencing Russian policy or is simply the object of excessive hype, 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.2
Dugin has given his distinctive ideology 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 antiliberal and antimodern or premodern. 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 pseudotheological commitments than to anything we would customarily understand as political or philosophical.
On February 5, 2015, Ontario’s TVO broadcast an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin featuring Dugin.3 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 widely respected 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 with one of Fukuyama’s books. Eurasian Mission is published by Arktos Media, an incontrovertibly “Aryanist” or white supremacist outfit.4 On its cover, repeatedly displayed on the TV screens of TVO’s viewers, is the Symbol of Chaos5 – 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, another far-right press) offers a competent and at times interesting commentary on the philosophy of Heidegger, one of the major thinkers of the 20th century. Only a fellow philosopher could pursue that kind of engagement with a philosopher as challenging and as important as Heidegger6 – 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 who have regarded life in liberal modernity as profoundly dehumanizing. This line includes 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 are more morally compelling than equality and individual liberty.
In his Heidegger book, Dugin helps to bring out why certain intellectuals of the early 20th century gravitated toward 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 what Heidegger called “spiritual renewal.”7 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 Dugin8 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 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 20th 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 20th century (Bolshevism, fascism, Nazism) rank higher – much higher – than morally egalitarian liberalism does.
Dugin’s desire to incorporate fascism into his antiliberal 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 antiliberal 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.”9
Marxism was right in its collectivism and anticapitalism, and fascism/Nazism was right in its primordialism and antirationalism. 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 Bolshevik. 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.10 Yes, he wants to incorporate a fascist and Nazi component in his antiliberal ideology, but his will be a kinder, 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.11
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,12 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.13
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.14
In a YouTube video advertising one of his recent books (Putin vs. Putin: A View from the Right),15 Dugin celebrates Vladimir Putin as a new “czar.” He’s a new czar, Dugin insists, not because he’s a dictator or aspiring dictator but because the Russian people want and demand a czar. Putin is a czar by virtue of the kind of authority that he embodies – but also, clearly, because he is the spearhead of the project for a recovered Russian empire. The difference from earlier czars, it should be pointed out, is that the aspired-to empire in this case (as Dugin envisions it) far exceeds in its dimensions what the Russian Empire was in the past.
But make no mistake: Dugin is not speaking to Russian imperialists alone. Dugin aims to assemble as broad an antiliberal coalition as possible, extending even to environmentalist terrorists like the Unabomber, although he tends to side with Shia and Sufi Islam over Sunni Islam, sometimes going so far as cast Sunni extremists as if they were allies of the West. From Dugin’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.16 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 reconquest of “Constantinople” on behalf of Russian Orthodoxy (the Islamic State 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. (There is a congenial-looking photo posted online of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias posing in close proximity to Dugin.17) And 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 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 fewer than 56 branch offices of Dugin’s Eurasian Youth Union: 47 within Russia and nine abroad.18
Our contemporary context is mightily relevant. I would urge readers to consult an acute analysis 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 antiliberal visions of life. One important example of this liberal bewilderment, but not at all the only one, concerns Putin’s Russia, where the President’s authoritarianism and his reassertion of “the claims of geopolitics, ethnicity and empire” are astoundingly popular. This makes no sense to those for whom liberal ideals are the default aspiration of humanity. Gray writes,
The Soviet debacle was an opportunity to reclaim a 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 20th century, cultural-economic-political crisis of this kind provides the perfect opening for demagogues and lunatics who can exploit these crises to turn the whole world upside down. If the far right and the politics of hate are enjoying a notable resurgence, which they are, then Dugin, however much he may appear to liberals as a kind of intellectual clown, is precisely the sort of thuggish enemy of liberalism whom 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 liberals underestimate at their peril. Similar wisdom can be drawn from George Orwell as quoted by Graeme Wood in a recent report on the rise of the Islamic State 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 emotional appeal,” writes Wood.19 This is relevant to understanding not only the appeal of Hitler and the Islamic State but also that of Dugin.
It should seem obvious that the 20th century is not something any of us would want to replay in the 21st 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: see 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 of anyone else? Can human beings really be so blind and misguided as to have learned nothing from the 20th 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 likeminded extremists have to be taken with deadly seriousness. As the recently assassinated Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, put it in an interview with the 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.20 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 on in defining his own ideology, and he likewise picks the vile comrades with whom he chooses to collaborate. Opting to align yourself with Julius Evola (one of Dugin’s arch-fascist intellectual heroes)21 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 that 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.”22 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, as one website rightly puts it, to keep “an eye on the neo-fascists burrowing their way into a subculture near you.”23 Dugin puts huge emphasis on the idea of “geopolitics,” and his spreading influence, first in Russia 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.24 All responsible citizens in the West need to know who he is and what he stands for.
1 Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea,” Foreign Affairs, March 31, 2014, retrieved here.
2 For a good overview of Dugin and Duginism, see Marlene Laruelle’s report for the Kennan Institute, Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European Radical Right?, occasional paper no. 294 (Washington, DC: Kennan Institute, 2006), retrieved here.
3 Retrieved here.
4 For an attempt to trace the foul origins of Arktos Media, see Adam Carter, “Packaging Hate – the New Right Publishing Networks,” Searchlight, March 1, 2012, retrieved here.
5 See “Symbol of Chaos,” Wikipedia, retrieved here.
6 A version of this essay was previously published on a blog called Crooked Timber and drew an interesting comment from someone signing himself Alex K. He said that having followed Dugin’s buffoonish performances from within Russia, “I cannot believe that managed to produce a competent study of any subject, much less an esoteric one like Heidegger’s thought, at least without major help from a trained philosopher.” I readily concede to Alex K. that it is not easy to reconcile the clarity and relative sophistication of the Heidegger commentary with the ideological ranting of other Dugin texts.
7 Letter to Herbert Marcuse, January 20, 1948, retrieved here.
8 See Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2004).
9 Alexander Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory (Arktos, 2012), p. 196.
10 Ibid., p. 195.
11 See James D. Heiser, “The American Empire Should Be Destroyed”: Aleksandr Dugin and the Perils of Immanentized Eschatology (Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 2014), pp. 44–47, including the quote from Laqueur on p. 45.
12 In a statement dated September 12, 2001, Dugin in effect hails 9/11 as the possible start of World War III (retrieved here).
13 See Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March 2015, retrieved here.
14 See especially the text entitled “Fascism – Borderless and Red,” in Roger Griffin, Werner Loh and Andreas Umland, eds., Fascism Past and Present, West and East (Stuttgart, Germany: ibidem-Verlag, 2006), pp. 505–10.
15 Alexander Dugin: “Putin vs Putin” (Arktos, 2014) – Promo, retrieved here.
16 Russia’s Destiny in the Modern Age – Alexander Dugin, retrieved here.
17 Anton Shekhovtsov, “Aleksandr Dugin and the SYRIZA Connection,” blog post, January 28, 2015, retrieved here; see also “Russia-Greece: Caught in the Web of the Russian Ideologues,” Zeit Online, retrieved here.
18 Barbashin and Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain.”
19 Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants.”
20 See www.radixjournal.com and www.arktos.com
21 See Thomas Sheehan, “Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist,” Social Research, Vol. 48, no. 1 (1981), pp. 45–73; Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, chapters 5 and 9.
22 Andreas Umland, “Double-headed Eurasia” Krytyka Magazine, February 2015, retrieved here.
23 Who Makes the Nazis?, retrieved here.
24 The U.S. government recently applied sanctions both to Dugin and to his Eurasian Youth Union. A BBC report on these sanctions linked them to the Eurasian Youth Union’s paramilitary recruitment efforts on behalf of the Donetsk People’s Republic (“Ukraine Crisis: US Sanctions Target Russia Ideologue,” BBC News, March 11, 2015, retrieved here); see also Oleg Shynkarenko, “Alexander Dugin: The Crazy Ideologue of the New Russian Empire,” Daily Beast, April 2, 2014, retrieved here. And for a full scholarly account of Dugin’s place amidst the fervid ideologizing in regard to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, see Marlene Laruelle, “The Three Colors of Novorossiya, or the Russian Nationalist Mythmaking of the Ukrainian Crisis,” Post-Soviet Affairs, advance online publication, March 20, 2015, retrieved here; however, a concurrently published piece by Laruelle in Foreign Affairs is critical of the U.S. sanctions for conferring more importance on Dugin (“a lunatic fringe writer”) than she thinks he deserves (“Scared of Putin’s Shadow: In Sanctioning Dugin Washington Got the Wrong Man,” Foreign Affairs, March 25, 2015, retrieved from here).