For Aleksandr Dugin, the most influential thinker in Russia, the war in Ukraine is a historic moment that will usher in a new world order
Aug 23, 2022
Intelligence and espionage agencies around the world, leaders of states, diplomats, political commentators and journalists are all trying to fathom Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions and to understand the aim of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But anyone who truly wants to get a handle on Putin’s worldview and the geopolitical vision that underlies his political and military moves in recent years, including the Ukraine campaign, would do best to listen to the words of one person: Aleksandr Dugin.
Dubbed “Putin’s Rasputin” in the Western media, Dugin is today the most influential political philosopher in Russia. He is considered the driving force behind Russian post-Soviet ideology in the 21st century, and his ideas are instrumental in shaping the approach of the ruling elite in Moscow. In Russia he is widely considered the progenitor of the “Russian Spring,” and in the West he is thought to have almost magical influence on the Kremlin. As such, he is the only intellectual whose entry into the United States and Canada was barred because of his involvement in the Ukraine crisis of 2014.
Dugin was born in Moscow in 1962; his father served as a colonel in Soviet military intelligence. From a young age he took an interest in mystical doctrines, spiritualism and political radicalism. He was a member of underground associations that opposed Soviet rule and fused mystical ideas with ultranationalist and fascist doctrines. Around this time he also translated into Russian some of the writings of Julius Evola, an Italian philosopher and esotericist who wielded a large influence on fascist and Nazi thinkers in the 1920s and 1930s. Evola’s critique of modernism, and particularly his fierce opposition to the liberal order, to the ethos of progress and to the values of freedom and equality, would in time become a foundation of Dugin’s worldview. During this dissident period, he also expressed his admiration for the SS while adopting for himself an alter ego named Hans Sievers, inspired by the figure of the war criminal Wolfram Sievers, who was the general secretary of the Ahnenerbe, a Nazi research institute that Heinrich Himmler established in the mid-1930s.
In the 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Dugin (who by now had earned two doctorates, one in sociology, the other in political science) was involved in various political initiatives. Among other tasks, he was a special adviser to the Kremlin and was one of the
founders of the National Bolshevik Party, a far-right group whose platform fused Bolshevik and fascist principles and called for the establishment of a new Russian empire that would extend from Vladivostok to Gibraltar. In 1997, Dugin published “Foundations of Geopolitics,” which became a key textbook for students at the Academy of the General Staff of the Russian army and was viewed by some Western observers, as “Russia’s version of Manifest Destiny.” In 2001, he founded the Eurasia Party, which opposed globalization and all that it implied, and called for the formation of an anti-American bloc based on a strategic alliance between Russia, the Balkan states and the Muslim world, notably Iran.
Dugin has close ties with the political, economic and military elites in Russia. He served as the adviser to Sergey Yevgenyevich Naryshkin, a former deputy premier and chairman of the Duma, who is today head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. Dugin is also very close to Sergei Glazyev, a senior member of the Duma who served as Putin’s economic adviser. He is also a regular contributor to the ultra-right website published by Konstantin Malofeev, who is considered a Putin confidant and has connections with the Russian state services and intelligence bodies.
Over the years, Dugin also cultivated extensive ties with governmental figures in Asia and Europe, acquiring in the process a special, albeit unofficial, status as a mediator for the Kremlin. In 2014, during the revolution in Ukraine and the ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Dugin worked industriously to assist the Russian separatists and was openly critical of Putin for not invading Ukraine. “The Russian renaissance can only stop in Kyiv,” he stated at the time. Following a bloody clash in Odessa between pro-Russian and pro-Western Ukrainians, Dugin said in an interview, “Kill them! Kill them! Kill them!” His remarks were construed as a call for mass slaughter, and stirred a public protest that led to his dismissal from his post as head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations at Moscow State University.
His ideas resonate at the highest levels. During the annexation of Crimea, that same spring, Putin, speaking on state television, made repeated use of the term “Novorossiya” (New Russia), which had been coined by Dugin in the spirit of the imperialist terminology during the czarist era. However, Dugin’s radical ideas don’t end with imperialist ambitions and declarations about the need to restore “Great Russia”; he purports to put forward a cultural, spiritual and moral alternative to the liberal order of the modern West. His attitude toward the crisis of liberalism in the West is that it is a philosophical matter, a “metaphysical crisis,” in his words, and his intellectual project amounts to an attempt to forge a new affinity between the postmodern era and tradition.
He draws not only on political considerations but also draws on philosophical, historiosophic, anthropological and geopolitical arguments, which he sets forth in the dozens of books he has published. His political statements are regularly spiced with liturgical and quasi-apocalyptic terminology, which originate in the Orthodox-Christian-mystical world he is fond of. In his writings and lectures, Dugin describes the struggle with the West as a clash between two civilizations that represent different perceptions of truth – different ideas of humanity – and espouse mutually contradictory value systems.
People familiar with fascist and national-socialist theoreticians will easily identify what inspires Dugin’s thinking, and will understand why some consider him the world’s most dangerous philosopher.
In his view, the campaign against the West should not be seen as a political struggle in the usual sense of the term, but as a spiritual, existential battle for the Russian soul. People familiar with the writings of the fascist and national-socialist theoreticians of the first quarter of the 20th century will easily identify the sources of inspiration that feed his thinking, and will understand why there are some who consider him the world’s most dangerous philosopher.
Fourth political theory
What, then, is the doctrine of the person who has been urging a Russian conquest of Ukraine for the past 20 years? Dugin terms himself an anti-globalist pluralist and frequently uses the term “pluversalism” as an alternative to “universalism,” a term he borrowed from the Nazi-German jurist Carl Schmitt. Nations, Dugin argues, are historical, organic entities: They have traditions, values and distinctive conceptions of the world that emerge organically in the course of their history. The culture of a nation should not be judged by the criteria of a different culture, he maintains, and one state must not impose its values on another state. Hence his objection to the cultural, political and economic globalism being spearheaded by the United States and, as such, to Ukraine’s westernizing.
Globalization, he argues, is only a cover for American imperialism, which he terms “spiritual imperialism,” whose goal is to subordinate the entire world to the liberal value system and to the American way of life. When Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, Dugin declared that it was the happiest day of his life: At long last an isolationist president was in the White House, someone who was against international trade agreements and wanted to dismantle NATO.
But Dugin’s doctrine, as we have seen, is not confined to political or economic interests. He purports to set forth a conceptual revolution, a holistic worldview that has implications for all spheres of social life and entrenches basic assumptions about existential, metaphysical and moral questions. Western civilization, he maintains, is in a state of decline and disintegration. The reason: It is based on false philosophical foundations, a spurious worldview whose genesis lies in modernism, which he terms a “catastrophic mistake.” Evidence of the West’s internal collapse is everywhere: from the ingraining of moral relativism, identity politics and political correctness, to the surge of rapacious individualism and the enfeeblement of social solidarity, compounded by the abandonment of tradition, religion and the sanctification of material utilitarianism.
As Dugin sees it, in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union and the triumph of capitalism, liberalism ceased to exist as one political theory among many, and became the exclusive way, perceived as a historical necessity. The political thus melts into the economic while national interests and borders are redrawn based on the conditions of the global market. But the truth is that economic globalism is nothing but an assault by the liberal world on the non-Western civilizations, an attempt to erase their singular cultures and their traditional values, and to subordinate them to the idea of a unipolar world ruled by the United States.
Modernism, Dugin argues, is not a historical period. It’s a thought paradigm, an epistemology that rests on the idea that nothing is sacred, all is material. Modern existence is based on a materialist, mechanistic and determinist approach, which reduces people to external causal processes and deprives them of inner freedom. The traditional anchors that in the past provided access to the metaphysical, the sublime and the sacred have been uprooted and forgotten. The individual thus remains solitary and alienated, deprived of a formative inner experience, devoid of historical consciousness and disconnected from the social environment.
Individual freedoms and human and civil rights, which are presented as universal truths, are only artificial abstractions, ideological tools that serve power groups to pull the wool over the eyes of the masses and preserve their economic and political domination. Values such as universalism, objectivism and positivism are a cover for a dictatorial apparatus intended to construct a liberal consciousness. The inevitable end point of “liberal dogmatism,” as he puts it, is cancel culture – a war of all against all that takes the principles of liberal freedom to their absurd ends and exposes the dictatorial thrust of liberal thought.
In response to all this, Dugin posits a new political theory, one that would place at the center principles of social justice, national sovereignty and traditional values, and act as a bridge between social left and political right, between new and old, between reason and faith. In 2009, he published a tract, “The Fourth Political Theory,” that proposes an alternative to the three great political paradigms of modernist theory: liberalism, communism and fascism. Communism, he maintains, failed because of its materialist approach to history, its obsession with class structures, its heretical attitude toward religion and the faulty expectation of unidirectional progress. Fascism was doomed to failure because it is based on racial supremacy and the cult of the state. Liberalism, which placed the individual at the center of economic and political life, left people weak and disconnected, and undermined society.
The campaign in Ukraine thus signifies a new era that will determine whether the future of the world lies in multiplicity and pluralism or in dictatorial unipolarism under the auspices of American hegemony.
The fourth political theory proposes a path that hasn’t yet been tried. Instead of class, state and race, or the individual, it posits a different foundation for the political idea: the concept of Dasein, the German word meaning “being there” or “being-in-the world,” which originates with the greatest German philosopher of the 20th century, and undoubtedly the most controversial of them: Martin Heidegger.
Dugin has written 14 volumes about Heidegger – whose ties with the Nazi Party continue to cloud his legacy – and views his philosophy as a key to overcoming modernism and the materialist world it represents. In his view, this is the way to uncover the inner, authentic core of the Russian spirit, which is the West’s ultimate “other.” As he writes, “To master Heidegger is the main strategic task of the Russian people and Russian society in the near term, the key to the Russian tomorrow.”
Dugin would apply Heideggerian thought categories to Russian thought and language, and thereby renew the Russians’ collective affinity to the root of their existence: the primal inner
core that spawned “Russianism,” which was forgotten in the modern era. Dugin objects to liberalism, fascism and communism because the three ideologies are salient products of modernism and are based on the same conceptual paradigm: belief in progress, development, linear growth, evolution, the constant improvement of society, modernization. He terms this approach to history a “monotonic process” and devotes extensive discussions to refuting its logical and scientific validity. As he sees it, the monotonic process is an axiom that belongs to the 19th century and was long since refuted by modern physics, the social sciences and the historical experience of the 20th century. The monotonic process is disconnected from biological reality and is contrary to life; it can produce only destruction and death.
For example, the liberal belief in constant economic growth in a world of limited resources is ruinous and leads to unavoidable perdition. Life is not a linear development or a causal sequence of events of preordained direction, but a cyclical round of birth, growth, old age and death. Accordingly, the modern myth of progress needs to be supplanted by the premodern and ahistorical myth of the eternal return.
The philosophical model posited by Dugin is a kind of conservative revolutionism that resembles the philosophic stream that arose in Germany in the interwar period. It blurred conventional distinctions between left and right, fused progressive and reactionary, rational and mystical elements, and cultivated ideas some of which found a place afterward in National-Socialist ideology. According to Dugin, conservative revolutionism does not aspire to slow down the rush of history, as the liberal conservatives would do, or to return to the past, like the traditional conservatives. Its aim, rather, is to “pull out from the structure of the world the roots of evil, to abolish time as a destructive quality of reality, and in so doing fulfilling some kind of secret, parallel, non-evident intention of the Deity itself.”
Know the enemy
Two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Dugin declared that the war (or the “operation,” as he quickly corrected himself, in the spirit of the Kremlin-dictated terminology) heralds the end of the idea of the unipolar world that is ruled by one civilization. The events thus reflect a clash of civilizations: “modernism against tradition, materialism vs. decency and military might.” This struggle is not over religion, race or nationalism, it is a geopolitical struggle: “Without Ukraine, Russia will never be an empire, with Ukraine it will be an empire.” Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Dugin says, Russia has tried to integrate into the global vision but has failed, because that vision is not compatible with its true essence. The campaign in Ukraine thus signifies a new era that will determine whether the future of the world lies in multiplicity and pluralism or in dictatorial unipolarism under the auspices of American hegemony.
Dugin is a deep, trenchant and vigorous philosopher, and his critical arrows are honed, well-reasoned and aimed at the soft belly of liberalism. Accordingly, his work is popular among broad circles of intelligentsia in the non-Western world and is resonant as well among the deep right in the West, as it is among revolutionary left-wing groups. Everyone who believes in the importance of the values of freedom and democracy would do well to listen attentively to what
he has to say. The feeling of repulsion that many in the West share – regarding corporate rapaciousness, the economic disparities in society and the inequality in the distribution of global resources, the destruction of the environment by rampant and hedonistic consumerism, the subjugation of intellectual and cultural life to a hyper-capitalist market economy, and a whole host of other neoliberal ills – must serve as a warning light and arouse genuine apprehension about the future of the liberal West.
If open society wishes to survive, it needs to take seriously the ideas of its critics and maligners, and not dismiss them disdainfully. For it wasn’t so long ago that opposition to liberalism generated powerful ideological reactions whose political implementation involved killing and destruction on an unprecedented scale. The German-Jewish philosopher Ernst Cassirer wrote after World War II: “In order to fight an enemy you must know him. That is one of the first principles of a sound strategy. To know him means not only to know his defects and weaknesses; it means to know his strength. All of us have been liable to under-rate this strength. When we first heard of the political myths we found them so absurd and incongruous, so fantastic and ludicrous that we could hardly be prevailed upon to take them seriously. By now it has become clear to all of us that this was a great mistake. We should not commit the same error a second time. We should carefully study the origin, the structure, the methods and the techniques of the political myths. We should see the adversary face to face in order to know how to combat him.”
Dr. Amit Varshizky is a writer and historian.