Aleksandr Dugin, the brain of Vladimir Putin, is a political scientist whose ideas have inspired Russian foreign policy and enamoured nativist ‘alt-right’ elements across Europe. His Fourth Political Theory, is the roadmap for understanding the theoretical foundations of Putin’s imperial ventures and a testament to the differences between the neoliberal European order and the novel pseudo-ideology (Duginism) that now influences Russia. Dugin’s philosophy is, he admits, incomplete. His book, therefore, is a start to the conversation – an attempt to inspire ‘political creativity’ – over the false foundations of western civilisation, the evils of globalism, and re-thinking historical processes themselves.
The three premier ideologies of the 20th century fought each other for supremacy: Liberalism, Communism, Fascism. These theories battled in wars and Cold-wars and the eventual winner was liberalism. After the success of liberalism, ‘It would have been logical to surmise that politics would become liberal,’ (Dugin, 2009, p.4). However, Dugin notes the peculiarity within liberalism. After its victory, liberalism stopped being a political ideology; rather, it morphed ‘into a way of life,’ ‘having moved on from the level of ideas, political programs and declarations and entered into the very make-up of social reality.’ Thus, the liberal notion of individualism became mapped on to every conceivable (formerly) collective identity issue: gender was removed from the binary to the multifaceted, heterodox spiritualism and atheism replaced traditional religion, homosexual pride marches now legitimised by society – this turn to the postmodern constitutes a new ‘core of liberalism’. And to fight this new social reality, one must construct a new, fourth, political theory.
Dugin vehemently rebels against Fukuyama’s End of History hypothesis. The hypothesis posits that liberal democracy is the optimal civilisational standard – that liberalism is a suitable end goal for all cultures – and follows a monotonic conception of history. Dugin is critical of the monotonic process, a process he believes exists ‘only in peoples minds’ and is ‘unscientific, inadequate, amoral, and untrue’ (p.64). He believes history is cyclical, not that it follows a forward or evolutionary march towards progress, as Fukuyama believes.
Since Dugin believes (monotonic) progress is not possible in a historical sense, he therefore accepts that ‘social progress is not possible’ at all, and is forced into a position of cultural relativism – that it is impossible and inadvisable to judge the actions of another culture. This position is itself ‘amoral’ and ‘inadequate’ because it does not allow one to condemn practices from beheading to dowry burning. And it is inconsistent with Dugin’s own idea that technology made the west a perverse nihilistic culture, which is surely a value judgement. Dugin only avoids his own argumentative boomerang of ‘cultural racism’ by promoting the idea that cultural relativism exists between cultures but not within them – he, (from a Russian perspective) can scorn the west but cannot say the west is objectively worse. Thus, Dugin goes for an equalising of all perspectives rather than a negation of them. He says, ‘The problem is that all of Russian history is a dialectical argument with the West and Western culture, a battle for the assertion (sometimes grasped only intuitively) of its own Russian truth’ (p.30). The idea of forwarding a uniquely Russian truth affirms to us that Dugin rejects universalism and that from a Russian perspective it is true that the west is decadent. Although the idea of relative truth is totally unconvincing, it is, for Dugin, philosophically necessary.
From a rejection of universalism it is easy to understand how Dugin incorporates Eurasianism into his theory. He believes culturally homogenous slavic nations should band together and reject American hegemony and perversity. As part of this project it is necessary to undercut the ‘undoubtably racist idea of unipolarity’ (p.45). This helps explain Russian foreign policy which hopes to recapture old Soviet satellite states, cultivate a Eurasian Union, and protect Russian speakers in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
As a resolve, Dugin argues, ‘the project of multi-polarity must be realised’ (p.120), a world where one truth is no greater than another. Where the cultural integrity of regions should go unchallenged. Where discriminatory treatment of people – whether they be homosexual, women, or religious minorities – is correct or incorrect based upon whether the culture obliges it. Nativist right-wing elements across Europe have took notice of Dugin for this reason. Dugin’s ideas tacitly leave a place for racism and all forms of bigotry. Some have called his message ‘neofascist’ – a label he rejects, and I would also take umbrage with. Dugin’s message is, at its core, anti-western and challenges the project of globalism and basic human rights. However, at the moment, it is devoid of specific fascistic endorsement.
Dugin believes the Fourth Political Theory will only come into existence through will. The Fourth Political Theory is not inevitable, as communism claims to be, nor natural, as liberalism pretends. Dugin feels conscious agents will bring forth a new era of politics. The blueprint for Dugin is Heidegger’s idea of “The Event” – which is a moment of awakening – that occurs at the point where the west is at it’s most nihilistic, ‘the final oblivion of being, ―midnight, where nothing (nihilism) begins to ooze from every fissure.’ Only then will people realise something new and better is required, The Fourth Political Theory. Dugin discusses this with eschatological glee and a religious zeal. Indeed, this rapture-esque journey into Duginism is an assumed end-point that is without evidence, much like any utopian ideology.
The theoretical accuracy of Duginism is mostly inconsequential to his success. His explanation of how liberalism ‘mutated’ into a postmodern social theory through focus on the individual helps explain the rise of identity politics. Dugin’s opinion that technology helps spiral the west descent into nihilism is at least coherent, if subjective. And his take on Eurasianism and relativism – that homogenous cultures should not be impeded upon by outsiders – forces him into ethically murky territory that is geographically contingent rather than based on solid principles. Moreover, Dugin does not go far enough in explaining why the monotonic process does not exist. But all of his many faults do not undo his overall success. What matters to Dugin is influence. Dugin wanted to start a conversation. And that conversation influences policy makers in Russia and demagogues in Europe. That conversation includes a dangerous rethinking of the central values of western-style democracy and a summon to topple them. And as the west watches the dreams of globalism dwindle and recede, know the death of that dream is, in-part, known by the name Aleksandr Dugin.
Mitchell is a blogger currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Bath