‘Third Rome, Third International, Third Reich’ – Alexander Dugin and the ‘Fourth Political Theory’
Now that the US political establishment has decided to launch a new cold war against Russia – using Ukraine for the purpose – the question is posed: Is there a Russian Idea?
The old Cold War was supposedly directed not against a nation but against an idea, Communism. But the experience of Solzhenitsyn is interesting in this respect. When he went to the US he soon found that many of the people he thought were his allies in his struggle against Communism in fact saw the Soviet Union as a cover for Russian Imperialism. Their real enemy was Russia as a great power and they were reinforced in this by other exiled dissidents in the US, notably Western Ukrainians who, having been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire destroyed by Britain and the US in the First World War, found themselves incorporated against their will first into Poland then into the USSR.
We could discuss whether or not Soviet Communism was, as Nicholas Berdiaev thought, an authentic development of a Russian intellectual tradition or whether, as Solzhenitsyn thought, it was an alien imposition, that Russians were as much victims as Ukrainians, Latvians, Georgians; but unquestionably in the imagination of the world, ‘Russia’ was identified with an idea, an idea capable of inspiring an enormous degree of sympathy, intellectual effort and self-sacrifice throughout the world. Could this be true of the new Cold War? Alexander Dugin makes the enormous claim that his ‘fourth political theory’ is, precisely, such an idea – that it is equal to, indeed necessarily superior to, the three previous political theories that fought each other through the course of the twentieth century – Liberalism, Communism, Fascism. There is a possible contradiction here.
As a rival to Liberalism, Communism and Fascism, the Fourth Political Theory is offered as a universal idea, capable of mobilising people throughout the world, not just in Russia or in the former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. Yet one of the basic and most attractive tenets of the theory is a refusal of Universalism, an insistence that the different peoples of the world have to rediscover and rejoice in their own very diverse cultures in opposition to the spread of a uniform North American or ‘Atlanticist’ civilisation.
The Fourth Political Theory tries to bring together all those who for one reason or another – often mutually contradictory reasons – are discontented with this North American or Atlanticist New World Order. This includes elements of both the political theories which Dugin sees as irredeemably broken, the second and third – Communism and Fascism. Dugin first came to the attention of the world in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union with the emergence of the ‘National Bolshevik Party’. Its symbol was a white circle against a red background. But instead of the expected swastika the white circle contained a hammer and sickle.
There was always a question as to how seriously the National Bolshevik Party should be taken. Its leader was the poet and novelist Eduard Limonov, author of a book that has been published in English translation as Memoirs of a Russian Punk, an account of a very violent childhood in the well-known Russian city, Kiev. The name ‘Limonov’, a pseudonym for Eduard Veniaminovich Savenko, evokes a lemon but also the Russian soldier’s slang term for a hand grenade. Other novels describe a chaotic life in the United States where, among much else, he was once the proud possessor of a ripped T-shirt that had previously belonged to Richard Hell (of Richard Hell and the Void-oids, in case there’s anyone who doesn’t know – PB). He has become particularly known in France through a bestselling account of his life by the journalist Emmanuel Carrère.
Dugin and Limonov, closely associated in the early days of the NBP, have now parted company. Limonov in 2010 teamed up with the very pro-western Gary Kasparov in an alliance of opposition to Vladimir Putin, The Other Russia. In an interview published in 2010 in The Observer he says of this: ‘I always try to keep myself separate from Kasparov when he is being strongly pro-American. I leave the press conferences. I want to look pure for my people; I don’t even want the shadow of the west to fall upon me … Westerners are not our enemies but I have no reason to look for support from them. If, for example, the US president or even a senator said they supported Limonov at the elections, this would damage me so much. So please, fuck, don’t do it!’ His book Limonov v. Putin is available in a rather awkward English translation on the internet. In it he says:
‘Putin’s autocracy’s main defect does not even consist of keeping the population in poverty. Putin’s group’s regime should not be measured by economic indicators (although even by these it looks miserable) but by the quantity of humiliations, suffering, pain and non-freedom brought to the citizens. By these indicators Putin’s regime must be condemned as inhuman. The unbearably haughty, anti-democratic, anti-civilizational, medieval attitude to the person – this is its principal defect. The model of a paternalist State with a severe father, its highness the “President-Boss” at the head of it is really a GUIN [Russian acronym for the Kyrgyzstan prison system – PB] model of a prison camp. I was detained in one of those, Number 13, in the Zavolzhie steppes. There, obedient detainees are rewarded only with not being beaten, while the non-obedient ones are beaten, injured and killed. The model of a State-camp does not have to exist in the XXI century. Such States are not normal; they are gloomily old-fashioned.’
According to Dugin on the other hand, anticipating some of the themes that will be discussed in more detail later in the present article:
‘The new big Russia which is now being resurrected inside the Eurasian area is the idea of a new sovereign resurrected Empire. It is not Soviet, because that ideology is dead, but neither Russian, because we have no common religious direction here. The Eurasianity suggests resurrection of a Big Space in place of the former Russian empire and the Soviet Union. This project strongly opposes the Russian Westerners and Atlantists. Putin has come from the Atlantist regime of Eltsin, but has changed the Eltsin’s direction 180 degrees. When he came, the main idea was to fit Russia into the western world in order to become, as they said, “a normal country”. Now the idea is: Russia is a great country. Not “normal”. It is a country, re-establishing its planetary meaning, thus leading its independent policy, free from globalist pressure and the Single-Polarity world. This is what Putin and Medvedev are implementing now, and this is a geopolitical program of building the Empire.’
Dugin left the National Bolshevik Party in 1998 but he continues to take the notion of National Bolshevism – a blending of ideas we might associate with Communism and ideas we might associate with Fascism – seriously, arguing in The Fourth Political Theory that it represents a substantial intellectual tradition going back in Russia to Nikolai Ustrialov, executed under Stalin in 1937 and in Germany to Ernst Niekisch who passed the war in a German concentration camp. This historical National Bolshevism could be described as an interpretation of what Bolshevism was – the force that against all odds, when the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were being destroyed, held the Russian Empire together. Ustrialov memorably described Bolshevism as resembling a radish – bright red on the outside, white on the inside.
In his article ‘The Metaphysics of National Bolshevism’ Dugin says:
‘The term “national-bolshevism” can mean several quite different things. It emerged practically simultaneously in Russia and Germany to signify some political thinkers` guess about the national character of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, hidden in orthodox Marxism’s internationalist phraseology. In Russian context “national-bolsheviks” was a usual name for those communists, who tried to secure the integrity of the state and (either consciously or not) continued the Great Russian historical mission geo-political policy. Those Russian national-bolsheviks were both among “whites” (Ustrialov, Smenovekhovtsy, left Eurasians) and among “reds” (Lenin, Stalin, Radek, Lezhnev [presumably the literary critic Abram Lezhnev – PB] etc.) (1). In Germany the analogous phenomenon was associated with extremely left forms of nationalism of 20s-30s, in which the ideas of non-orthodox socialism, the national idea and positive attitude to Soviet Russia were combined. Among German national-bolsheviks Ernst Niekiesch was undoubtedly the most consistent and radical, though some conservative revolutionaries may also be referred to this movement, such as Ernst Juenger, Ernst von Salamon, August Winnig, Karl Petel, Harro Schultzen-Beysen, Hans Zehrera, communists Laufenberg and Wolffheim, and even some extremely left National-socialists, such as Strasser and, within a certain period, Josef Goebbels. ‘The articles on Dugin’s ‘4pt’ website are unfortunately not dated but I would guess that ‘The Metaphysics …’ belongs to the period when Dugin was still defining himself as a National Bolshevik and had not yet adapted the terminology of the ‘Fourth Political Theory’ (apart from anything else the quality of the English translations of his most recent texts is much improved). As the title of the article suggests, however, the essay expands ‘National Bolshevism’ into something more than a nationalistic Communism. Referring to Karl Popper’s book The Open Society and Its Enemies he says:
‘The most felicitous and full definition of National-Bolshevism will be as follows: “National-Bolshevism is a superideology, common to all enemies of the open society”. Not just one of the ideologies hostile to such society, but it is exactly its full conscious, total and natural antithesis. National-Bolshevism is a kind of ideology, which is built on the full and radical denial of the individual and his central role; also on giving to the Absolute, in which name the individual is denied, the most extended and common sense. We could dare to say that National-Bolshevism supports any version of the Absolute, any justification for rejecting the “open society”. In National-Bolshevism there is an clear tendency to universalise the Absolute at any cost, to advance a kind of ideology and philosophical program, which would be the embodiment of all the intellectual forms that are hostile to the “open society”, bringing them to a common denominator and integrating them into an indivisible conceptual and political bloc.’ (I have done some tidying of the English – PB).
In The Fourth Political Theory, discussing Communism and Fascism, Dugin suggests that the elements in both tendencies that gave them their success are the least interesting from the point of view of modern politics. The most useful elements are the ones that failed:
‘The second and third political theories recognised themselves as contenders for the expression of modernity’s spirit. And these claims came crashing down. Everything related to these unfulfilled intentions in the previous ideologies is uninteresting for the creators of the Fourth Political Theory. However, we should attribute the very fact that they lost to one of their advantages rather than their disadvantages. By losing, they proved that they did not belong to the spirit of modernity, which, in turn, led to the post liberal matrix. Herein lay their advantages. Moreover, this means that the representatives of the second and third political theories, either consciously or unconsciously, stood on the side of Tradition, although without drawing the necessary conclusions from this, or even not recognising it at all.’ (p.23)
The Fourth Political Theory, then, is opposed to ‘the spirit of Modernity’ and stands on the side of ‘Tradition’. What does Dugin mean by ‘Tradition’? In various of his writings, including The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin expresses his admiration for the French esoteric philosopher, René Guénon. Indeed he has said that he regards Guénon, together with Heidegger, as the most important influence on his thought. Guénon argued (though actually Guénon tended not to argue, he affirmed) that all the major historical religions are exoteric expressions, adapted to the particular circumstances of the societies that received them, of a single hidden (esoteric) metaphysical Tradition known only to initiates who constitute, or who in what Guénon would call a ‘normal’ society would constitute, an intellectual élite. Guénon wrote extensively about Hinduism but himself became a Muslim. In ‘the West’ he recognised Roman Catholicism and, at least in some of its manifestations, Freemasonry as authentic religious traditions but nonetheless believed that the connection with the original esoteric Tradition was lost almost to the point where it could not be recovered.
For Guénon, a normal society was one in which everyone, whatever their social function, was engaged in a work of spiritual self-development following a discipline whose principles are objectively true and understood by the élite. A society whose ‘science’ was devoted to material comfort (through the development of technology) but which left spiritual development to the vagaries of everyone’s individual tastes was in Guénon’s eyes an aberration. For Guénon, ‘the West’ has strayed very far from the objective science of spiritual development even though this is the only valid reason for our existence on earth. But he also maintained that this was in itself part of the normal order of things – that the life of societies is cyclical, they go through periods of growth and of decline. The criterion for judging them is always spiritual so there is no contradiction, quite the opposite, in seeing that a period of spiritual decline is also a period of material/technical growth.
‘The West’ has entered a period of decline that is catastrophic and dragging the rest of the world down with it. The task of those who are aware of the problem is to get as closely as possible in touch with the esoteric knowledge that will be necessary to the (inevitable) new cycle of spiritual growth. This is not a work of philosophical reasoning but of initiation. Guénon believed the necessary centres of initiation still existed but were, necessarily, hard to find.
Guénon’s central idea of the need for initiation into a tradition eternally underlying all the existing religions is absent from The Fourth Political Theory and there is no indication that Dugin himself has experience of any such initiation – it seems somehow out of character. But The Fourth Political Theory is the only one of his many books that has been translated into English and ‘tradition’ is a major theme in his other writings. With regard to The Fourth Political Theory, even though he does evoke ‘Tradition’ in the singular it might be more accurate to speak about ‘traditions’ in the plural. He calls on the different peoples of the world to strengthen their own traditions in opposition to the uniform imposition of Western liberal culture.
Quite contrary to the spirit of Guénon, Dugin, at least in this book, is not at all concerned with whether or not these traditions are authentic, that is to say how they stand in relation to a single, universal, potentially knowable but currently hidden truth. And also contrary to the spirit of Guénon, Dugin makes appeal to the huge body of twentieth century anthropological writings, notably Franz Boas and Claude Levi-Strauss, to argue that, however mutually contradictory they may be, different cultures dismissed by the modern world as ‘backward’ have their own logic which is in its own terms perfectly valid measured by the (again very un-Guénonian) values of sophistication, consistency and complexity. As an example he says (p.90): ‘One of the [Russian – PB] Old Believer authors maintains that “He who drinks coffee will cough himself to death; he who drinks the tea leaf will fall from God in despair.” Others affirm that one ought never to eat buckwheat because it is “sinful”.’
‘Old Believers seem “outdated” to us, but they are not outdated. They are different. They operate within the range of a different topography. They deny that time is progress. For them, time is regress, and modern men are a sacrificial offering to the Devil.’
In most places in The Fourth Political Theory when he mentions Guénon he links his name with that of Julius Evola. Evola was an early admirer of Guénon but where Guénon was quite apolitical – with regard to the ‘modern world’ I think he would endorse the cry in Revelation (18.4): ‘Come out of her my people’ – Evola was politically active, and particularly so in Mussolini’s Italy. He never joined the Fascist Party but, as he explained later:
‘As long as Fascism existed and could be considered a restorative movement in progress, with its possibilities not yet exhausted and crystallised, it was only fair not to carry criticism beyond a certain point. Those who, like us, while defending an order of ideas that coincided only in part with Fascism (or German National Socialism) did not condemn these movements (despite being well aware of their problematic or deviant aspects) did so counting on precisely on further possible developments – to be enthusiastically favoured by every means – that would have rectified or eliminated these problems.’ (Fascism viewed from the Right, p.25)
Where Guénon saw the fourteenth century as the moment when Western Europe lost its knowledge of the Tradition, Evola, more modestly and more conventionally, points to 1789, and identifies himself with the great counter-revolutionary theorists Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald and Donoso Cortés. But unlike them he did not regard the Church as a valid source of spiritual authority, arguing against the concordat (in 1929, between the Italian state and the Vatican, which gave the Church authority over the Italian education system) and calling on Mussolini to identify Fascism with Pagan Rome rather than Christian Rome. In his essay on the metaphysics of National Bolshevism Dugin has a section on ‘Traditionalism (Evola, the look “from the left”)’ in which he complains against Evola that ‘there is a certain discrepancy between his metaphysical doctrines and political convictions, which is based in our opinion on some inertial prejudices, characteristic for the “extremely right” circles of the Middle Europe in that time.’
What he likes about Evola is something apparently quite contradictory to a simple counter-revolutionary longing for order. Evola also had a lively interest in the more extreme ecstatic and sexually charged traditions of, for example, Tantric Buddhism and while his books on Fascism and Nazism seem to at least want to operate in the sphere of practical politics and social responsibility, Evola also had the idea of ‘the left hand path’ which Dugin summarises as follows (I’ve again done some tidying up of the translation):
‘There were periods in Evola`s personal destiny, the earliest [Evola was a Dadaist in the early 1920s – PB] and the last one, during which he had almost nihilist, anarchist views towards the surrounding reality, proposing nothing but “to ride the tiger”, i.e. e. make common cause with the forces of decline and chaos, in order to overcome the critical point of the “decline of the West” … in his writings of even the middle, maximum conservative period the necessity of an appeal to some esoteric tradition is accentuated, which, generally speaking, does not quite fit the monarchic and clerical models, characteristic of the European conservatives politically connected with him. It is not just the question of his anti-Christianism, but the question of his heightened interest in the tantric tradition and Buddhism, which within the frames of the Hinduist traditional conservatism are considered as quite heterodox and subversive [Guénon regarded Buddhism as a Hindu heresy – PB]. Besides, Evola`s sympathies with such characters as Guliano Kremmerz, Maria Naglovska [author of, among much else, Advanced Sex Magic: The Hanging Mystery Initiation – PB] and Aleister Crowley, who were undoubtedly reckoned by Guenon among the representatives of a “counter-initiation”, in the negative, destructive trend of esoterism, are absolutely scandalous. So, Evola, constantly talking about the “traditionalist orthodoxy” and strongly criticizing the subversive doctrines of the “left”, constantly appeals directly to the obvious heterodoxy… ‘The demolition of Churches isn’t just the negation of religion, it is a special ecstatic form of the religious spirit, insisting on the absolute, concrete character of self-transformation “here and now”. The phenomenon of Old-Believers` self-immolations or Khlysts` zeal [Khlysts were a sect in some ways analogous to Western Pentecostalists laying emphasis on direct experience of the work of the Holy Spirit – PB] belongs to the same category. Guenon himself in his article called “The Fifth Veda” devoted to Tantrism, wrote that in some special cyclic periods, which are very close to the end of the “Iron Age”, “Kali-Yuga”, many ancient traditional institutions lose their stamina and therefore metaphysical self-realization needs special non-orthodox ways and methods … In other words, while the traditional conservative institutions, such as monarchy, church, social hierarchy, caste system etc., fall into decadence, the special, dangerous and risky, initiatic practices, associated with the “left-hand path”, become the most up-to-date.
‘The traditionalism, characteristic for National-Bolshevism in the most common sense, is certainly this “left esoterism” … Rationalism and humanism of the individualist kind has overcome even those contemporary world organisations which nominally have a sacred character. The establishment of Tradition in its true nature is impossible by the gradual betterment of the political environment. This, the way of “right-hand esoterism”, is in the present eschatological situation doomed [the original says ‘deemed’ – PB] in advance . Moreover, the appeal to evolution and gradualness just opens the way to the expansion of liberalism. Therefore the National-Bolshevik understanding of Evola consists in accentuating those points which are directly combined with the “left hand” doctrines, traumatic spiritual self-realisation in a concrete revolutionary and transforming experience, beyond conventions and habits, which have lost their sacred justification.
‘The National-Bolsheviks comprehend the “irrational” not just as “not rational”, but as “the aggressive and active destruction of the rational”, as a fight with “everyday consciousness” (and “everyday behaviour”), as submersion into the “new life” element, that is the special magic existence of a “differential human”, who has discarded all outer bans and norms.’ All this might be rather familiar to those of us whose quest for the spiritual life goes back to the 1960s and we can perhaps see how Dugin would have been able to get on with the punk poet Limonov. The reference to the ecstatic destruction of churches may also be interesting. It may just refer to the destruction of churches by the Bolsheviks or to Evola’s anti-clericalism. But it might also refer to the wave of church-burnings that took place in Norway in the early 1990s under the influence of Satanist ‘Black Metal’ music. The 4pt website includes an interview with Alex Kurtagić, a major figure in the Black Metal, and anti-egalitarian right wing, scene.
But the main point to be retained is the idea of making ‘common cause with the forces of decline and chaos, in order to overcome the critical point of the “decline of the West.”‘ Here it might be worth noticing the symbol that Dugin uses for the Fourth Theory. It is an eight-armed star formed through a diagonal Saint Andrew’s Cross superimposed on a vertical St George’s Cross somewhat in the manner of the Union Jack except that each of the arms is tipped with an arrow head. So it is pointing in eight directions simultaneously. Wikipedia informs us that this is called the ‘chaos star’ and was devised by the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock, though it appears earlier in Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot pack. It has been widely adopted by role playing video games, punk and metal bands and is also used in a new variety of magic called ‘Chaos Magic’.
Going through the different tendencies, left and right, that oppose liberalism, Dugin evokes with particular relish what he calls ‘the New Left’ which he describes as a brilliantly conceived exercise in subversion, not just the subversion of bourgeois society but of the very idea of what it is to be human, leading logically to the ‘post-human’, the virtual human, the ‘cyborg’ or the ‘rhizome’ (a term associated with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and referring to a discourse that is formless, ceaselessly changing without evolving towards any particular end) – ‘creatures that will lack an existential dimension with zero subjectivity’ (p.167). Referring to the influential book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri he evokes:
‘A universal, planetary revolution of the masses, who, using the common character of globalism and its possibilities for communication and the wide, open spread of knowledge, create a network of world sabotage, for the shift from humanity (standing out as the subject and object of oppression, hierarchical relations, exploitation and disciplinarian strategies) to post-humanity (mutants, cyborgs, clones, and virtuality), and the free selection of gender, appearance and individual rationality according to one’s arbitrary rule and for any space of time. Negri and Hardt think that this will lead to the freeing up of the creative potential of the masses and at the same time to the destruction of the global power of “Empire”. This theme is endlessly repeated in the cinematography in such films as The Matrix, The Boys’ Club, and so on … Moreover, postmodernism as an artistic style, having become the mainstream of contemporary Western art, expresses this very New Left political philosophy, entering our way of life through pictures, design or the films of Tarantino and Rodriguez, without preliminary political-philosophical analysis, outrunning our conscious selection, hooking itself into our minds without our knowledge or will. This is attended by both a general broadening of virtual communication technologies, which in their own system carry an implicit invitation to postmodernity, and the dispersion into post-human, hedonistic fragments. SMS and MMS messages, Internet blogs and video blogs, flash mobs and other habitual engagements of contemporary youth, in essence represent the realisation of separate sides of the New Left project, while, it is true, being controlled by the bourgeois system, willingly profiting from a fashion that this time is not its own, but that of its hidden enemy.’ (p.135)
Dugin has something of a double attitude towards all of this. On the one hand he sees it as a rapid acceleration in the process of the destruction of humanity. On the other hand it is a brilliant political project brought to a successful conclusion. And of course the destruction of Western liberal humanity is in Dugin’s eyes, a consummation devoutly to be desired.
The process began when ‘Through Sartre, one of the classic theorists of the New Leftists, the deep influence of Martin Heidegger and the existential problem penetrated into the Leftist movement … The Marxist analysis of ideology as ‘false consciousness’ became, for the New Leftists, the key to the interpretation of society, philosophy, man and the economy. But that same train of thought they discovered from Nietzsche, who had raised the whole spectrum of philosophical ideas to the primordial ‘will to power’ (this was its very basis, according to Nietzsche), and from Freud, for whom the base was the subconscious and unconscious impulses, rooted in the mineral foundations of man’s sexuality and the habitual structures that form in early childhood.’ (pp. 131-2)
Heidegger is very important to Dugin too. He argues that each of the four political theories under discussion has its own ‘subject’ – an actor whose interests it claims to serve. In the case of liberalism it is the ‘individual’, whose ambition is to free herself from all the constraints of a collective identity (church, state, nation); for the second political theory it is class, specifically the working class, which aims to secure for itself the fair reward of its labour; for the third political theory it is, in the case of Italian Fascism, the state, and in the case of German National Socialism, the race – but Dugin quite correctly argues that ‘The very ideology of progress is racist in its structure’). The subject of the Fourth Political Theory is Dasein.
I do not pretend to have a clear understanding of what is meant by the word Dasein. John Minahane argues that Heidegger does not want us to have a clear understanding. It is, so to speak, a work in progress (and Dugin insists that the Fourth Political Theory is also a work in progress, not a final, fixed body of ideas). One of the first people to translate Heidegger into French was the philosopher and interpreter of Iranian philosophy, Henry Corbin. In an interview about the relationship between his interest in Heidegger and his interest in Iranian philosophy he had this to say:
‘I do not want to return here to a discussion of the reasons that, back in the day, led us, in agreement with our friends, to translate Dasein by réalité-humaine [human-reality]. I am aware of the particular weaknesses of this translation, especially when by an all too frequent negligence, we omit the hyphen, whose necessity we have explained elsewhere. Da-sein: being-there, this is understood. But being-there, is essentially to be enacting a presence, enactment of that presence by which and for which meaning is revealed in the present. The modality of this human presence is thus to be revelatory, but in such a way that, in revealing the meaning, it reveals itself, and is that which is revealed. And here again we are witness to the concomitance of passion-action.’
However inadequate ‘human-reality’ may be as a translation I think it’s perhaps useful to keep it in the mind as a phantom presence – the ‘human’ is both what we are trying to understand and what we are trying to achieve since what is under discussion isn’t an observation of an external reality but an act. Da as we know means ‘there’ and sein means ‘being’ so dasein means being there, in a particular place, it is ‘a’ being as opposed to Being in general. At first sight this evocation of a particular being may suggest something like the ‘individual’ of the First Political Theory. But there seems to be something aspirational in the idea of dasein – not so much what we imagine ourselves to be, nor even what we might want to be, but what we are, which is something we perhaps, indeed that we certainly, don’t know. Perhaps we might say what we would be if … the Greeks back in the sixth century BCE hadn’t made a fundamental error in identifying ‘nature’ (physis) as something we are not, an object which can be observed and studied as something external to ourselves. For Heidegger, if I have understood him aright, we are not individuals in a place that is essentially alien to us, but the place where we are is as much part of our ‘being’ as what we imagine to be ‘ourselves’.
The political consequences of this for what Dugin calls ‘postmodernism’ but which might also be called ‘the Heideggerian left’ – Dugin’s ‘New Left’ – is the disaggregation of the person who becomes little more than a space in which the different forces of the ‘da’, the environment, act. But for what we might call ‘the Heideggerian right’ or political conservatism (real conservatism, not the liberalism red in tooth and claw that masquerades as Conservatism in Britain) it is only ‘there’ (in a specific place, culture, religion) that a person ‘is’. It is not a matter of the individual sacrificing herself to a collective subject – class, state, nation, race. The class, state, nation, race and, as John Minahane has pointed out, the land – indeed the factory, the work we do – make us and we make the class, state, nation etc. So it would indeed be undesirable to define Dasein too closely because it is a process of making through the interaction between what is us and what is also us but which we imagine to be not us. Which may turn out good or bad. Hence the importance of culture.
But I began this essay by evoking the need for a specifically Russian idea in the context of the Cold War being orchestrated in Washington and the reader may be wondering what is specifically Russian about what has been said so far. In fact the reader may be wondering in what way it differs from the ideas developed by Alain de Benoist and his group GRECE (the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne). The critique of liberalism and the willingness to take seriously ideas usually associated with the fringes of Fascism are both very characteristic of de Benoist whose Manifesto for a European Renaissance, published in 1999, but intended as a condensed statement of ideas developed since the founding of GRECE in 1968, covers much the same ground as The Fourth Political Theory, including the transition from ‘Modernity’ to ‘Post-modernity’ and the evocation of ‘tradition’. The connection is very straightforward. Articles by Benoist appear on the 4pt website, Dugin draws attention to the fact that a selection of Benoist’s writings have been published in Russian with the subtitle ‘Towards a Fourth Political Theory’, the English translation of Dugin’s book has been published by Arktos, who also publish Benoist (and, as it happens, Guénon and Evola). Benoist also shares Dugin’s insistence on a multipolar world:
‘The Twenty-first century will be characterised by the development of a multipolar world of emerging civilisations: European, North American, South American, Arabic-Muslim, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, etc. These civilisations will not supplant the ancient local, tribal, provincial or national roots, but will be constituted as the ultimate collective form with which individuals are able to identify in addition to their common humanity. They will probably be called upon to collaborate in certain areas to defend humanity’s common interests, notably with respect to ecology. In a multipolar world, power is defined as the ability to resist the influence of others rather than to impose one’s own. The main enemy of this pluriverse will be any civilisation pretending to be universal and regarding itself as entrusted with a redeeming mission (‘Manifest Destiny’) to impose its model on all others.’ (Manifesto for a European Renaissance, Page 29)
I don’t know Benoist’s thought well enough to know if there is any significance in the fact that his list of emerging civilisations does not include ‘Eurasia’. It certainly would include Eurasia if he were writing it now. ‘Eurasia’ is a somewhat elastic term. It is the chessboard of Zbigniew Brzezinski’ book The Grand Chessboard – the whole land mass from Belgium to China. Its basic characteristic is certainly land. Dugin’s website includes, under the title ‘The Great War of Continents’, an extract from a book he wrote in 1992 – therefore still in the period of alliance with Limonov – “Konspirologya” (The Analysis of Conspirations [sic – PB]), Arktogeya, Moscow 1992, which says:
‘Let’s remind ourselves of the basic postulates of geopolitics – a science which was earlier also known as “political geography” and whose basic elaboration is due to the English scholar and political expert Halford Mackinder (1861-1947). The term “geopolitics” was for the first time introduced by the Swedish Rudolf Kjellen (1864-1922) and then brought into use in Germany by Karl Haushofer (1869-1946). Anyway the father of geopolitics remains Mackinder, whose fundamental pattern stood at the bases of all subsequent geopolitical studies.
‘A merit of Mackinder is that he managed to outline and to comprehend the definite objective laws of political, geographical and economic history of mankind. If the term “geopolitics” appeared rather recently, the reality designated by this term has a pluri-millennial history. The substance of the geopolitical doctrine can be summarized in the following principles. In world history there are two opposite and constantly competing approaches to the assimilation of land and room – the “overland” approach and the “maritime” approach. Depending on what attitude (“overland” or “maritime”) the diverse states, peoples, nations, their historical consciousness adhere to, their foreign and domestic policy, their psychology, their world-view are shaped according to completely definite rules. Given this, it is quite possible to speak about an “overland”, “continental” or even “steppe” (“steppe” is “land” in its pure, ideal kind) world-view and about a “maritime”, “insular”, “oceanic” or “aquatic” world-view …
‘In the Modern Age and in recent history the “insular” and “maritime” pole became England, “Mistress of the seas”, and later the giant island-continent America. England, as well as ancient Phoenicia, mostly employed sea trade and the colonization of the coastal areas as its basic instrument for domination . The Phoenician-Anglo-Saxon geopolitical type generated a special “mercantile-capitalist-market” pattern of civilization founded first of all on economic and material interests and the principles of economic liberalism. Therefore, despite all possible historical variations, the most general kind of “maritime” civilization is always linked to the “primacy of economics above politics”. As against the Phoenician pattern, Rome represented a sample of warlike-authoritarian structure based on administrative control and civil religiosity, on the primacy of “politics above economics”. Rome is the example of a non-maritime, overland, purely continental type of colonization, with its deep penetration into the continent and assimilation of the submitted peoples, automatically “romanized” after the conquest.
‘In Modern History the incarnations of the “overland” power were the Russian Empire and also Central European imperial Austro-Hungary and Germany. “Russia – Germany – Austro-Hungary” are the essential symbols of “geopolitical land” during Modern History. Mackinder clearly showed that in the last few centuries the “maritime attitude” means “atlantism”, as today the “sea powers” are above all England and America, that is the Anglo-Saxon countries. Against “atlantism” personifying the primacy of individualism, “economic liberalism” and “democracy of a Protestant kind”, stands “Eurasism”, necessarily presupposing authoritarianism, hierarchy and the establishment of “communitarian”, national-state principles over simply human, individualistic and economic concerns.
The clearly expressed eurasian attitude is typical first of all of Russia and Germany, the two mightiest continental powers, whose geopolitical, economic and – most important – world-view concerns are completely opposite to those of England – US, that is the “atlantists”.’ He then goes on to an account – quite fascinating if there is any truth in it at all – of twentieth century history, particularly German/Russian history, in terms of a confrontation between occult Atlanticists and occult Eurasianists, especially operating and fighting each other in the secret services of both countries.
The theme of a land/sea confrontation is also developed by the German jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt. Schmitt is often represented as a major influence behind the US Neo-conservative movement usually with a view to tarring the Neo-Cons with a Nazi brush (Schmitt joined the Nazi Party in the same week as Heidegger). Alain de Benoist has recently published an essay – Carl Schmitt Today: Terrorism, ‘Just’ War, and the State of Emergency – to free Schmitt from the taint of association with the Neo-Cons. In it he gives a summary of Schmitt’s view of the land/sea confrontation:
‘Carl Schmitt writes that “World history is the history of the wars waged by maritime powers against land or continental powers and by land powers against sea or maritime powers” … The Earth determines concrete freedom, which is always a situated freedom, as opposed to the “fluid’” and “formless’ freedom of the sea. The Earth constitutes the substratum of thought of a concrete type. The logic of the sea is, on the contrary, intrinsically fluctuating and chaotic, for it ignores boundaries … That is why it is the preferred place for exchanges which operate in all directions: freedom of the seas and freedom of international commerce have constantly been associated in history … Land warfare implied a decisive confrontation in the field … the maritime war, on the other hand, favoured such characteristic means as bombardment, the blockade of the enemy shores, and the capture of enemy and neutral merchantmen, in virtue of the right to capture. As such, the sea war tactics were directed both against enemy combatants and the non-combatants. Thus a starvation blockade indiscriminately affected the entire population of the involved territory: soldiers, civilians, men, women, children and old people.’ (pp.90-91)
‘After 1945, the essential theme of the writings of Schmitt is that of the “nomos of the Earth.” According to Schmitt, the modern age signifies the disappearance of the old nomos, and he investigates what is destined to succeed it. One of the essential questions he poses is whether history is oriented towards a political unification of the world and what the consequences of that would be, both for the world and for the concept of politics itself …
‘The nomos is not understood in his works in the sense of a law (Gesetz), that is to say, as a simple product of legislation, but as a ‘first measure’ (Messung), an original distribution or sharing of space. The error of Western modernity, according to Schmitt, has been to replace the law as concrete order (nomos) with the law as a simple rule (Gesetz). Nomos is of course related to the logic of the Earth, to the extent that everything in it is a matter of boundaries. Without boundaries, without spatial limits, no order is possible: every fundamental order (Grundordnung) is a spatial order (Raumordnung) … The question of the ‘”new nomos of the Earth” arises in the form of an alternative, which Carl Schmitt defined already in the late 1930s: the world of the future will be either unipolar or multipolar. If it is unipolar, it will inevitably be subjected to the hegemony of the dominant power, which can today be only the United States. That will then be the advent of a unified world that Schmitt equates with the end of politics, since the essence of politics implies that one can always determine, in relation to the plurality of actors, who is the friend and who the enemy (there is politics only as long as there exist at least two different polities). If, on the contrary, the world remains a ‘political’ world, it will quite necessarily also be a multipolar world, composed of ‘large spaces’ (Großräume) — cultural territories and crucibles of civilisation, but also of geopolitical territories — which alone will be able to play a role of regulation and diversification in relation to the vast movement of globalisation. Schmitt summarises this alternative in the formula: ‘Large space against universalism.’ (pp.96-7)
‘The alternative between the unipolar world and the multipolar world corresponds to the opposition between sea and land, for a multipolar world implies the territorial concept of borders … Likewise, one could say, the alternatives of a European Union as a simple transatlantic domain of free trade and a European Union as an autonomous continental power relates again to this opposition, to the extent that the sea is on the side of commerce whereas the land is essentially on the side of politics. … the major geopolitical objective of the United States is to avoid the formation of a continental or Eurasian heartland which could rival its own power, that is, to do everything to avoid the emergence of a rival power in Western Europe, in Asia or on the territory of the former Russian Empire.’ (p.104)
And this is of course the burden of Brzezinski’s book. But Brzezinski’s argument, unfortunately, is a strong one. Within Russia there may be a desire to reconstitute the ‘great space’ that was the Soviet Union but there does not seem to be the same enthusiasm among the other nations that would have to reunite with Russia in order to form it. Undoubtedly the US is fishing in troubled waters, but the waters are already troubled.
‘Eurasia’ is of course not the same thing as ‘Russia’ (the nation). Nor is it the Orthodox World (religion) nor the Slav world (race). It is Russia plus something else. It might signify a possible alliance with, say, Germany as ‘Europe’ and Russia as at least in part ‘Asia’. But Germany has its own slowly but successfully developing ‘great space’ project, the development of a large free trade zone that rather resembles the old Austrian Empire. That the Germans know what they are doing is indicated by the sudden ruthlessness they showed in breaking up Yugoslavia when the opportunity was suddenly presented to them of reincorporating Croatia and Slovenia into their own ‘near abroad’. But the countries in the natural German ‘near abroad’ tend to be countries that in the twentieth century were unnaturally thrust into the Russian ‘near abroad’ in the form of the Soviet Union and are therefore very hostile to Russia. While aspiring to an eventual alliance with the German ‘great space’, then, Russia is really obliged to look East. Dugin sees Eurasia as a ‘superethnos’ uniting Russia with the Islamic, Tartar world. The case that Russians and Tartars constitute a common people was developed by the Soviet ethnologist, Lev Gumilev, son of the poets Nikolai Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova. To quote Brzezinski:
‘Eurasianism was given an academic gloss in the much-quoted writings of Lev Gumilev, a historian, geographer, and ethnographer , whose books Medieval Russia and the Great Steppe, The Rhythms of Eurasia, and The Geography of Ethnos in Historical Time make a powerful case for the proposition that Eurasia is the natural geographic setting for the Russian people’s distinctive “ethnos,” the consequence of a historic symbiosis between them and the non-Russian inhabitants of the open steppes, creating thereby a unique Eurasian cultural and spiritual identity. Gumilev warned that adaptation to the West would mean nothing less for the Russian people than the loss of their own “ethnos and soul.”’
One thing that is noticeable about Dugin’s writings and his website, however, is the absence of any substantial connection with the Tatar Muslim world. He does evoke, somewhat in passing, the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as an enthusiast for Eurasia (the L.N.Gumilyov Eurasian National University is situated in Kazakhstan opposite Nazabayev’s presidential palace). But that is about all. It happens that the movement among the Muslim peoples of the Russian Empire that supported the Reds in the Civil War was called ‘National Communism,’ theorised by the Volga Tatar, Mir-Said Sultan Galiev, purged in 1937 and executed in 1940. One would expect a ‘National Bolshevik’ who wished to assert a Eurasian superethnos uniting Russians and Tatars to be very interested in him yet if I only had Dugin’s website as a source of information I would not know that such a thing as Muslim National Communism or such a person as Mir-Said Galiev ever existed.
Dugin’s whole sphere of reference, starting of course with de Benoist, is European. And the whole emphasis on a transition from modernism to postmodernism is Western. And indeed we may question how much of his writing really is distinctively Russian. Dugin purports to be an Orthodox Christian – how, under the circumstances, could he not? Yet there is nothing in what I have so far read of him (and I’ve read quite a lot of what is available in translation) that is distinctively Orthodox Christian. No hint of disagreement with Evola or Benoist both of whom see Christianity (albeit Western Catholic/Protestant Christianity) as destructive of European culture (Benoist is a contributor to ‘The Journal of Contemporary Heathen Thought’ and author of a book – unfortunately currently unavailable; it looks interesting – called On Being a Pagan). No discussion of how Guénon’s idea of tradition might relate to Orthodoxy (a very intelligent attempt at reconciliation has been made by the English convert to Orthodoxy, Philip Sherrard). Nothing to explain how his statement that Evola’s ‘traditionalism, characteristic for National-bolshevism in the most common sense, is certainly this “left esoterism”’ can be reconciled with his supposed Orthodoxy. No reference to what is surely the most exciting development in modern Russia, the best guarantee of Russia’s moral and spiritual independence from ‘the West’, the revival of the monasteries. No hint that they might have something to contribute to combating the problem – if there really is a problem, different from the old problem Christians traditionally identify as the problem of sin – of the degradation of the human reality, Dasein, in our post-liberal, post-modern, post-human society.
I find that I have presented Dugin’s thinking in a rather negative light, perhaps more in the style of my presentation than in the substance. I do in fact think there is a lot in it that deserves to be retained and taken seriously. In the first instance, there is his effort to identify and define his Enemy – variously called ‘the West’. ‘liberalism’, ‘civilisation’, ‘progress’, ‘modernism’, ‘post modernism’. This is recognised as a coherent body of thought which is itself going through changes but which is fairly clearly laid out in, for example, Karl Popper’s Open Society and its Enemies and Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History.
To some extent Dugin is prepared to accept this body of ideas as a legitimate expression of the history of the societies in which it evolved – chiefly the UK and US, the ‘Atlantic’ nations. What he does not accept is the attempt to impose these values on the world as a whole, in the process destroying the wide variety of alternative possible world views that correspond to the wide varieties of history as experienced by the different peoples of the world. He sees this effort as inherently racist. He also sees it as a process driven by intellectual conviction. His great concern is always with ideas. In the material I have seen I don’t think he engages with the Marxist argument that this process of imposing uniformity on the world – Imperialism – is pushed by economic necessity, the imperative need of an economic system – Capitalism – to expand and conquer new markets (the point is important because the poles in a multipolar world cannot be expected to coexist peacefully if they accept the logic of capitalism and are therefore each driven by the same economic need for expansion).
The strategy of opposing liberalism by identifying himself with the two political alternatives that rose and fell in the twentieth century – Communism and Fascism – may seem unduly risky given the horrors committed under their name, which Dugin does not in any way fail to acknowledge. But one of his main points is that liberalism is equally responsible for the horrors of the twentieth century. Indeed we might say that the ruthlessness of both Bolshevism and Fascism was largely a reaction to the breathtaking ruthlessness shown by liberalism in the First World War.
The label ‘National Bolshevism’ signifies a refusal to accept the effort of totalitarian liberalism to bury both Communism and Fascism completely in a tomb of infamy – to do to them, indeed, what they would each have liked to do to each other. Within both Bolshevism and Fascism, Dugin insists, there are elements that can still be regarded as positive, especially on the fringes of their thought – in the case of German National Socialism in the wider body of thought associated with the ‘Conservative Revolution’. So far in what I have read he has been more interested in the right wing side of the enterprise than in the left but this may be because of the large body of work already done in this direction by de Benoist.
Against liberalism he is willing to defend virtually any doctrine that proposes an Absolute and since logically there can only be one Absolute this can easily be held up to ridicule. And yet the acceptance of a multiplicity of Absolutes is the necessary condition of the ‘pluriverse’ or ‘multipolar world’ – a world that will accommodate a wide variety of world views in opposition to the effort to impose a totalitarian ‘liberalism’. In this context we might define ‘liberalism’ as the refusal of an Absolute, freedom from the Absolute. And we might argue that it is only in relation to an Absolute, an object of veneration that is other than ourselves, that the human being can become something other than a consumer; and we might argue that this is the problematic of Heidegger’s Dasein.
Since Dugin is trying to regroup all the forces that might see the world in this way it is perhaps unreasonable to criticise him for failing to define his own Absolute. And eccentric as his embrace of ‘chaos’ might appear, this is the worm that has developed within totalitarian liberalism itself. That radical, formless discontent is part of the material the opponents of liberal totalitarianism are given to work with. Hence the strange spectacle of the apostle of order and the Absolute, the defender of the Iranian theocracy, surrounded by punks and black metal rockers. Dugin’s project is ambitious, perhaps absurdly so, but what he is trying to do, develop a political project that posits the need for an Absolute and at the same time allows for the coexistence of very many different Absolutes, is something that needs to be done.