It is inevitable that a reviewer would be attracted to a book carrying the deliciously direct title “The American Empire Should Be Destroyed” (quotation marks in the title). When that book is only 126 pages long, written by a Texan evangelical Lutheran bishop, and published by an obscure religious publishing house in a small town of under 200 people just north of Waco (most famous as the home of Baylor football, Dr Pepper, and the Branch Davidian doomsday cult), the attraction is irresistible.
It’s not the author, James D. Heiser, who wants to destroy the American empire. It’s his protagonist (or perhaps one should say antagonist), the Russian political philosopher Alexander Dugin. Dugin is the favourite Russian bugbear of Western political analysts left, right and centre. As the quotation in Heiser’s title suggests, Alexander Dugin is no fan of the United States of America. The quotation is taken from the concluding chapter of Dugin’s major political statement, The Fourth Political Theory, but it might have come from any of his works.
For example, Dugin’s analysis of Eurasian geopolitics, Last War of the World-Island, concludes with the prophecy that “Russia will take the lead in building a multipolar world … aimed at undermining American hegemony, and Russia will emerge anew as a planetary power”, and Dugin’s collection of essays Eurasian Mission features such nuggets as, “It is no exaggeration to say that the United States is … a visible embodiment and progenitor of all the evil that plagues humanity today … the empire of absolute evil.”
It comes as no surprise that an American evangelical minister would find Dugin’s point of view unappealing (to say the least) but it is something of a surprise that he knew (and cared) enough about Dugin to write a book warning the world about the peril he poses. The key to this mystery is hidden in that unappetising subtitle. “Immanentized eschatology” is Greco-Roman for “the end is near”: the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelation. When Dugin says that the United States is the embodiment of evil, Heiser takes him at his word. In Heiser’s view, when a man with the ear of the Kremlin “proclaims that ‘the American empire must be destroyed’ because it is at the center of the expansion of the ‘kingdom of the Antichrist’” the world should take notice. After all, Russia still has enough nuclear weapons to literally put an end to history.
And in fact Heiser does imagine Dugin to be the mastermind of a kind of Russian doomsday cult, a “gnostic mass movement” whose “intended goal” is to bring about “the End of the World”. Heiser is an expert on the Hermetic cults of the Italian Renaissance, a religious movement straight out of a Dan Brown novel. An historian of theology and a practising pastor, Heiser is perhaps predisposed to take Dugin’s religious metaphors a little too literally. But here Heiser is not alone: he marshals extensive excerpts from Western political analysts who, like him, see in Dugin a master of the occult. In reality Dugin is a well-grounded intellectual with a penchant for spiritual imagery, no more an occultist than Ronald Reagan or Martin Luther King, Jr. But he does have interesting friends.
Heiser’s philippic against Dugin is well sourced and brings together valuable background information on Dugin’s biography, Dugin’s critics and Dugin’s works. But it is riddled with exaggerations, seemingly wilful misreadings, and (especially) implications of guilt by association. Excerpted in isolation, Dugin’s florid language can be menacingly quotable, often amusingly so. Placed in context, Dugin’s viewpoints are extreme but not ridiculous. Thus when Dugin the social conservative says “postmodernity … is easily recognized as ‘the kingdom of the Antichrist’ … the fact of the Apocalypse” (Fourth Political Theory, p. 27) many American conservatives might agree—and, like Dugin, might imagine that the US federal government (if not the United States itself) is the evil force behind it.
All in all, “The American Empire Should Be Destroyed” is a surprisingly readable tour de force of (somewhat credible) conspiracy theory. Heiser’s writing is highly intelligent, in places even erudite. But perhaps a small-town theologian of the occult is not the best person to be writing the definitive book on a Russian intellectual whose work is steeped in the traditions of European continental philosophy and contemporary postmodern thought. Dugin may be self-educated, but he is a self-educated public intellectual, not a self-educated lunatic blogger. Heiser and the many Western academics, journalists and political analysts he cites are perhaps out of their depth when it comes to understanding the intellectual force of nature that is Alexander Dugin.
Putin’s Rasputin or political fool?
The alarmist tone adopted by Heiser and most other Western “Duginists” is driven by a shared vision of Dugin as contemporary Russia’s ideologue-in-chief, a fantasy of Dugin as the latter-day Rasputin to Putin the latter-day Tsar. It doesn’t hurt that the long-bearded Dugin bears more than a passing resemblance to the much-mythologised monk. He also shares Rasputin’s interest in transcendental religion. But Dugin is no mere mystic. He is a deep-thinking (if perhaps somewhat populist) twenty-first-century political philosopher. His works ooze intelligence as they ooze resentment of the inevitability of American power. Dugin may dislike the United States, and even more dislike the crass materialism that passes for a national identity at the heart of the American project, but the reasons for his hatred are thoroughly thought through.
The Fourth Political Theory is Dugin’s major theoretical work in English. His starting point is an analysis of the three warring political ideologies of the twentieth century: liberalism, communism and fascism. Here Dugin follows in the tradition of the influential Austro-Hungarian intellectuals Friedrich Hayek and Karl Polanyi in identifying liberalism as the core ideology of modernity that was challenged first by communism and then by fascism, ultimately (and thankfully) without success. Both Hayek (the Austrian on the Right) and Polanyi (the Hungarian on the Left) published their magnum opuses in 1944, in the heat of the Second World War. Polanyi focused his targets on fascism as the great enemy of freedom while Hayek suggested that communism posed an even greater threat. Enemies until the end, Hayek and Polanyi both ended up in the United States after the war, their work supported by big American corporate foundations.
Dugin does not reference the Hayek–Polanyi debate, but it is not his purpose to wade into the worldly morass of arguments over economic policy, government regulation of business, social safety nets, and the like. For Dugin, the illiberal challenges of the twentieth century are dead and buried. Liberalism has won, decisively so; the free-market capitalism of Hayek and the embedded capitalism of Polanyi are equally liberal and equally repugnant to him. Liberalism was the first political theory of the modern age, but with the passing of its twentieth-century rivals communism and fascism, “liberalism ceases to be the first political theory and becomes the only post-political practice” (p. 19):
When liberalism transforms from being an ideological arrangement to the only content of our extant social and technological existence, then it is no longer an “ideology”, but an existential fact, an objective order of things. It also causes any attempt to challenge its supremacy as being not only difficult, but also foolish. (p. 20)
Critics who call Dugin a neo-fascist or a neo-communist miss this point, his very starting point. He has nothing but ridicule for fascists (“every declared fascist after 1945 is a simulacrum” p. 174) and communists (“there remains a plaster-cast imitation, a harmless Che Guevara, advertising mobile telephones or adorning the shirts of idle and comfortable petty-bourgeoisie youth” p. 93). Dugin is neither a fascist nor a communist, neo- or otherwise. He is a self-described postmodern fool.
He is a fool because even though he recognises the impossibility of challenging the final victory of liberalism, he wants to do just that. And he must. As a Russian nationalist (the one Western label that can unquestionably be attached to Dugin, even though he rejects it) he correctly identifies the global victory of Western liberalism as “a matter of life or death” for the Russian nation. Correctly, because liberalism with its exaltation of the individual means the death of all traditional cultures, not just Russia’s. Polanyi and even (in his own way) Hayek saw this as well. They would also agree with Dugin that communism and fascism “have already failed and proven themselves unequal to the challenge of opposing liberalism, to say nothing of the moral costs of totalitarianism”. But where Polanyi wanted to domesticate liberalism and Hayek wanted to unchain it, Dugin wants to dethrone it.
For Dugin, there is only one way to rescue traditional societies from the predations of globalism, and that is with a “Fourth Political Theory.” Communism and fascism are equally unacceptable and liberalism, with its “consumerism, individualism, and a postmodern manifestation of the fragmented and sub-political being” is anathema. The liberal world is too comfortable for Dugin, a traditional Spartan in a postmodern world of Athenians. The liberal world seduces suspicious natives with an irresistible bargain: give up your nations, your traditions, your very identities in exchange for worldly conveniences: “The washing machine is the absolute argument of the supporters of progress.” Like any good Spartan, Dugin would rather be filthy but proud than filthy rich. Echoing Friedrich Nietzsche’s supermen, Dugin longs for the coming of “political soldiers” (pp. 172-174) who are willing to (quoting Nietzsche) “carry heroism into the search for knowledge and wage wars for the sake of thoughts and their consequences” (p. 173). Dugin here resembles no one more than the American conservative political philosopher Leo Strauss.
The key to understanding Dugin is the same as the key to understanding Strauss: they are both romantics. The difference is that Strauss, who inspired the neoconservative movement in the United States, was a denationalised romantic living in comfortable post-war America. Strauss longed for a life of great deeds in heroic times; his main argument against post-war postmodernity was that it was boring to be comfortable. Dugin does not have the luxury of longing for past days of glory, when every day in contemporary Russia is a high-stakes struggle for survival. Ethnic separatism, frozen conflicts and real shooting wars abound. Dugin himself was personally targeted by US economic sanctions in March 2015. Where Strauss’s romanticism is the romanticism of the armchair academic, Dugin’s romanticism is the romanticism of the lost cause—in his case, the lost cause of Russian greatness.
Russia is perennially dying. Like England it has lost an empire but unlike England it has not found a role. Nor has it found wealth, stability, democracy, freedom, or even security. It faces NATO in the west, China in the east, and a band of failing or failed states in between. If Vladimir Putin is paranoid that Western-funded NGOs are plotting to overthrow his government, it is because Western-funded NGOs are plotting to overthrow his government. Russia truly is surrounded by enemies, many of them of its own making, to be sure, but enemies nonetheless.
Dugin the political fool wants to revitalise Russia, to rejuvenate it. In language that American politicians ought to understand, he wants to make Russia great again. It is useless to suggest to Dugin that Russia might “find a role” as a “partner for peace” in an American-dominated liberal world order. Dugin’s Russia needs its own world order, and for that it needs its own ideology, an indigenous political theory. Opposing liberalism and eschewing communism and fascism, Russia must create a Fourth Political Theory. Not to do so would threaten the very survival of Russia as a distinct civilisation. Somewhat ironically, it all boils down to Shakespeare: “to be or not to be”, in terms of Hamlet’s eternal question. If Russia chooses “to be”, then it will automatically bring about the creation of a Fourth Political Theory. Otherwise, for Russia there remains only the choice “not to be”, which will mean to quietly leave the historical and world stage, dissolving into a global order which is not created or governed by us.
Of being and nothingness
Dugin is a great reader of German philosophy, and though Nietzsche is his sentimental favourite, Martin Heidegger is his true intellectual guide. Dugin identifies the “subject” of the Fourth Political Theory with Heidegger’s concept of Dasein (p. 40), which he leaves in German, untranslated. Dugin’s explication (one hesitates to call it simply an explanation) of Dasein is not for the philosophically faint of heart: “Dasein can be recovered by the refinement of the existential truth derived from the ontological superstructure of society” (p. 70). More literally, Dasein means “there-being” or “beingness”.
When it is used as an ordinary German word Dasein is customarily translated as “existence”. It is used in philosophy to discuss the existence of individual people (or of God), but in principle it can be applied to the existence of anything. Dugin applies it to whole societies, as the “final and localized being of man”. In this context, Dasein might more accurately be translated as “essence”: the essence of what Dugin considers an “authentic” (p. 196-197) culture or civilization.
It should go without saying that Dugin does not consider Western civilisation “authentic”, and perhaps he is right. The whole point of Western liberalism—and the secret of its universal appeal—is that there is no one “authentic” cultural tradition in Western civilisation. There are the Greeks and the Romans, to be sure, but there is no faster way to be dismissed as an old Whig than to start banging on about the Greeks and the Romans. Lecturing students about “Judeo-Christian values” can get a tenured philosophy professor fired for proselytising. In his famous 1989 essay on “The End of History” the political scientist Francis Fukuyama described Western civilisation triumphant in the shallowest terms possible as merely “liberal democracy … combined with easy access to VCRs and stereos”. Western civilisation has absorbed the traditions of the world as no other civilisation ever has before. Western science, art and philosophy are simply science, art and philosophy. In China, “Western” food includes hamburgers, pizza, steak frites and tacos. No one ever claims to stare deeply into the Western soul.
Dugin would not be the first philosopher to find the dark hole of nothingness at the centre of Western civilisation, and his identification of alienation as the existential ill of Western politics would be taken for granted in most Western social science classrooms. What makes Dugin’s criticism of Western liberalism sting is, first, it is written by a Russian nationalist, not a denationalised Western professor, and second, he proposes to do something about it. Dugin wants to revive Russia by rediscovering Russia’s Dasein and using it to motivate “political soldiers” who can confront the “rotten liberal post-human” (p. 174) that is Western Man. The West has repudiated “God, tradition, community, ethnicity, empires and kingdoms” (p. 154); Dugin wants to preserve them; more than that, to breathe new life into them and bring them back. He wants “a global crusade against the US, the West, globalization, and their political-ideological expression, liberalism” (p. 155) and he wants it now.
Dugin does not advance any particular alternative to liberalism because he embraces (nearly) all of them. Dugin’s Dasein is—must be—an empty container because:
The elaboration of the ideology of this Crusader campaign, undoubtedly, is a matter for Russia not to pursue alone, but together with all the world powers, who, in one way or another, oppose “the American century”. (p. 155)
Foremost among his candidates for partnership in this campaign are “China, Russia, Iran, and India … [and] many South American and Islamic states” (p. 79). The problem is that “Generally speaking, these states lack an alternative vision of the future international system or world order, and certainly do not have a unified or common vision.” (p. 79)
Dugin’s vision for them is Dasein: to each their own Dasein. Dugin reasons (correctly) that Russia cannot defeat American-led Western liberalism on its own, nor can any other country. All face “the inevitable loss of their sovereignty” (p. 79). Some adapt to their reduced status in the world, others co-operate with the United States, a few like China and Russia try to allow in only certain aspects of Western culture, and a few rogue states try to maintain full independence (p. 79-80). But unless all of them act together to resist American dominance, all of them are doomed. The answer is for them to band together, separately. Dugin’s Dasein is not one essence but many national essences. My enemy’s enemy is my friend, and since (in Dugin’s world) everyone’s enemy is the United States, everyone can be friends.
Dugin pairs this plan for multiple, complementary national Daseine with the call for a multinational “Conservative Revolution” (pp. 94-98). He mocks fundamentalist conservatives for wanting to turn back the clock and liberal conservatives for merely wanting to slow it down: all they would do is restore their countries to a time when Western liberalism had degraded their societies a little less than it has today (p. 95). What the world needs are Conservative Revolutionaries who “despise the actual to such a degree that they are not content to oppose it merely with the past” (p. 96) but are prepared instead to reconstruct their national Daseine for the postmodern age. The resulting reborn national Daseine will presumably draw on different traditions in every country, with different results. For Russia, the tradition Dugin is most sympathetic to is a “National Bolshevism” that combines traditional nationalism with socialist welfare policies (p. 98), but Russia’s actually existing National Bolshevik party “alas, degenerated at the end of the 1990s into hooliganism” (p. 137).
“National Bolshevism” is not a label designed to appeal to liberal Westerners. Nor is the popular flag of the National Bolshevik Front, the Russian political organisation with which Dugin was briefly associated. Imagine a Nazi flag, but replace the black swastika in the middle with a black Soviet hammer and sickle and you get the idea. Dugin disavows any connection to the (banned) political movement and it is unknown whether he ever had any connection to its clearly Nazi-inspired unofficial flag, though Western character assassins delight in picturing him alongside it.
In any case it should be obvious that Dugin has no interest in appealing to Western liberals with his endorsement of National Bolshevism as a political philosophy. He merely uses the label to describe a kind of political program that is common in Europe but unknown in America or the Anglo-American world: a social conservatism that is also a conservative socialism. Ironically, the party in the Anglo-Saxon world that has come closest to this point of view was the late Liberal Party of Asquith, Churchill and Lloyd George. The inherent ideological tensions tore the party apart.
Social conservatives—people who embrace religion, family and tradition—do not make natural socialists. The reason is that conservatism looks to reinforce the power of social institutions while socialism (somewhat ironically) is ultimately about the empowerment of individuals. These two goals are compatible only so long as individuals themselves embrace established social institutions. The conservative socialist puts power in people’s hands and then must simply hope that those people use their newfound power for social ends. In the absence of reliable methods of mind control, that hope is bound to be disappointed. That’s why Dugin’s second and third political theories both turned to totalitarianism: people stubbornly refused to choose to be Nazis or Bolsheviks, so they had to be compelled to be Nazis and Bolsheviks. Even ubiquitous propaganda couldn’t win people over. The gulag and the firing squad were required to ensure that people made the “right” choices.
Dugin desires neither the gulag nor the firing squad. He wants people to make the “right” choices (his choices) of their own free will. Thus his appeal to Dasein. He is not asking the peoples of the world to adopt National Bolshevism or any other specific fourth political theory. He is asking them to look to their own national Daseine for inspiration. The English might find their own Dasein in UKIP, and the Americans in Donald Trump. UKIP and Trump are far from conservative socialists, but they are illiberal, which is all that Dugin requires. He wants allies—including Anglo-American ones—who are eager to join the fight against the global disintegration of society that is postmodern liberalism.
Like national conservatives the world over, Dugin is often accused of racism. Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are no exception. In The Fourth Political Theory Dugin is explicit that “we must reject all forms of racism” (p. 43) and this seems to be no mere pro forma declaration (as if Dugin showed any signs of caring about political correctness). He devotes six pages (42-47) to a reasoned rejection of racism in favour of a pluralistic ethnocentrism (pp. 47-48) in which each human community explores and develops its own equally valid Dasein. The concept of ethnic essentialism may be anathema to liberals the world over, but it is widely accepted by non-liberals, and non-liberals still form by far the majority of the world’s population. The Arab League is nothing if not an ethno-essentialist organisation; India is ruled by a Hindu nationalist party; in China every imported dogma must be indigenised with the qualifier “with Chinese characteristics”; even America has its much-maligned but firmly-entrenched Manifest Destiny. Ethnic essentialism can be found everywhere, not just in Dugin.
But identifying the ethnos at the centre of Russia’s ethnocentrism is a challenge. Who are the Russians? That may be an impossible question. Dugin does not identify one single ethnos for all Russians to share, but he does identify an episteme or system of knowledge and belief. Dugin’s episteme for Russia is Eurasianism (pp. 98-100), a kind of blend of Russian traditions with those of the peoples Russia historically developed among. Dugin uses Eurasianism as a kind of fudge for Great Russianness, reserving
the Eurasianist episteme for Russian civilization, the Chinese for the Chinese, the Islamic for Islam, the Indian for the Indian, and so on. And only on these foundations, cleansed of Western-mandated epistemes, must long-term sociopolitical, cultural and economic projects be built. (p. 99)
In Dugin’s analysis, if Russia wants a National Bolshevik or any other political theory, it must be built on Russia’s essential Eurasianism. But post-Tsarist, post-Soviet Russia is no longer coterminous with Eurasia. And what of the other peoples of contemporary Eurasia? Are they to follow their own epistemes, to discover their own Daseine, or is it Russia’s Eurasian mission to lead them? Much of the controversy over Dugin (including his naming on the US sanctions list) stems from just this problem. Ukraine and Georgia may not be Russian, but they are clearly Eurasian. What is their place in Dugin’s intellectual system?
Dugin’s Eurasian mission
If Dugin were merely a Russian nationalist pursuing a political renaissance inside Russia it is unlikely that he would have become a favourite bugbear of American religious conservatives and European liberal intellectuals alike. Dugin pops up on Western radar (and television) screens primarily because of the implications of his brand of Russian nationalism for Russia’s neighbours. To the extent that he is (rightly or wrongly) perceived to be Putin’s Rasputin, there is an added layer of hyped-up fear that Dugin’s prescriptions are instantly translated into Russia’s policies. The seeming opacity of Russian policy-making only feeds this Western anxiety. If Dugin advocates a position (for example, the creation of a Eurasian Union) that Putin later puts into practice, to Dugin’s public applause, the natural tendency among many analysts is to credit Dugin with both policy and practice. This is to give Dugin both too much credit and too little.
If Dugin is correct that Eurasianism is the essence of the Russian Dasein—the position he argues at book length in Eurasian Mission—then one can hardly expect Dugin to be the only Russian to be attracted to the idea. It would be like saying that Joseph Nye is Hillary Clinton’s Rasputin because Clinton believes in the global promotion of democracy, a position advocated by Nye. The weak link in this chain of reasoning is obvious in the transparent American context: nearly every American political leader believes in the global promotion of democracy. Less visibly but nonetheless true, nearly every Russian political leader believes in Russia’s manifest destiny to lead (if not necessarily rule) Eurasia.
Eurasian Mission is Dugin’s practical plan for turning that aspiration into reality. In it Dugin divides the world into four geopolitical “meridian zones”, of which one is a kind of Greater Russia spanning the Eurasian landmass. In deference to the sensibilities of the other nations of Eurasia, he carefully avoids the loaded term “Greater Russia”. But he does call for the simultaneous formation of a “Moscow–Tehran axis” (“The whole process of integration depends on the successful establishment of a strategic middle- and long-term partnership with Iran,” p. 49), a “Moscow–Delhi axis,” and a “Moscow–Ankara” axis (pp. 49-50). The orientation of all axes back to Moscow leaves no doubt as to which country is at the centre of this system. The very symbol of Dugin’s Eurasia movement, printed on the cover of the book, is a starburst of eight arrows pointing out from a common centre; Eurasian Mission leaves no doubt that this centre is Moscow and that the Eurasian mission in question is Russia’s.
Unfortunately for Dugin and the Eurasianists, Iran has signed a deal to end American economic sanctions, India is deepening defence co-operation with the United States, and Turkey recently shot down a Russian warplane. The prospects for the rest of Russian Eurasia aren’t any brighter. Dugin argues that the “Moscow–Astana–Kiev geopolitical triangle is a frame that will be able to guarantee the stability of the Eurasian Union, which is why negotiations with Kiev are urgent” (p. 53). Urgent indeed. Ukraine is now lost to Dugin’s Eurasia, and Kazakhstan is increasingly seduced by China’s no-strings-attached economic diplomacy. If, as Dugin believes, “Georgia is a major threat and is capable of sabotaging the very process of Eurasian integration” (p. 53) then there is not much chance for Eurasian integration. Dugin’s Eurasian project seems stillborn.
Yet Dugin the romantic is not content with a Little Russia existing inside its own internationally recognised borders. Like all romantics, Dugin lives in a teleological world. He reasons (correctly) that a Little Russia would ultimately be unable to maintain its essence (its Russian soul, if you will) in a fully globalised, American-led, liberal order. He further reasons that today’s Little Russia could not realistically face America alone. A world in which the distinctive Russian essence survives must therefore be a multipolar world, in which many national essences (Daseine) survive and flourish. Europe and China are the world’s most important centres of power and legitimacy after the United States. Therefore three poles of the required multipolar world are obvious: the United States, the European Union, and China. It is left to Russia, of course, to organise the fourth pole: Eurasia.
Dugin’s four geopolitical “meridian zones” thus arise out of his teleological need for a multipolar world that has a place in it for Russian greatness. For Russia is an original civilization. She is called not only to counter the West in order to safeguard its own path, but also to stand at the vanguard of the other peoples and countries of the Earth in order to defend their freedom as civilizations. (p. 18)
Russia is no Lithuania, a one-time continental empire now resigned to submersion in an expanding European civilisation. Not for Russia a quiet but increasingly prosperous future governed by Eurocrats in Brussels. That would be persistence, not existence. Vladimir Putin’s image of a “Greater Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok” (p. 14) is only acceptable to Dugin (and, it must be added, to Russian intellectuals more generally) if it is governed from its physical and metaphysical centre: Moscow. Russia fought and won the war against rule from Paris in the first half of the nineteenth century; it fought and won the war against rule from Berlin in the first half of the twentieth century; if necessary, it will fight the war against rule from Brussels (or Washington) in the first half of the twenty-first century. But Dugin recognises that the only way it can win this war is if others fight, too. American liberalism is a much more dangerous and capable foe than either Napoleon or Hitler.
“When it is left to only one authority to decide what is right and what is wrong, and who should be punished, this is a global dictatorship” (p. 101), the dictatorship of the United States. Dugin’s dictatorship of the United States is not a mere geopolitical power, or even primarily worldly in essence. It is existential. “We insist that maintaining one’s identity is the highest value, which no one has the right to encroach upon” (p. 39), but “Liberalism has accomplished the overcoming of God and the victory of pure nothingness” (p. 111). This time the existential threats to the Russian nation are neither Napoleon’s cannons nor Hitler’s tanks, but Facebook and Angry Birds.
Dugin angrily acknowledges that “in the fields of the military, finance, technology, economics, and aggressive cultural expansion, the US is now the undisputed leader of the world in all aspects” (p. 150). It can only be defeated by a “Global Revolutionary Alliance” (pp. 154-165) that unites traditionalists everywhere against the onslaught of American-style liberal consumerism. And he is right. But the fact that only a global revolutionary alliance could defeat the United States does not imply that a global revolutionary alliance will arise to defeat the United States.
As the crisis in Ukraine has shown, most people would rather dissolve their traditional national Daseine into an expanding liberal world than struggle to live an independent, sanctions-ridden existence outside it. And though many non-Russian traditionalists resent American influence in the world (foremost among them Islamic State), none of them seem to want to co-operate with Russia in throwing off that influence (least of all Islamic State). Dugin is right that his war is a postmodern war for people’s hearts and souls. Unfortunately for Dugin, that is a war that Russia has no hope of winning.
The jig is up
Therefore, geopolitically, it is unfounded and empty to hope that Russia will be able to preserve itself in the reduced and regional form in which it now exists … this is the meaning of the entirely fitting formula, “Russia will either be great or will not be at all.” (Last War of the World-Island, p. 144)
How did Russia reach this dire state? As Dugin admits in the conclusion to Last War of the World-Island, “We cannot rule out the disappearance of our country from the map.” The problem, as so often, is the internal enemy: “In Russia itself, a hidden confrontation occurs among the political elite between the new Westernism (Atlanticism) and gravitation toward the constants of Russian history” (p. 142). In Last War Dugin identifies “Atlanticist” (read: Anglo-American) “agents” (read: intellectuals and NGOs) as the main threat to Russia territorial and cultural integrity in the post-Soviet era, and once again he is right. The challenge in reading Dugin is not following his reasoning. The challenge is understanding his point of view.
Just as Dugin asserts, Mikhail Gorbachev and the other liberalisers of the late USSR were (in a meaningful way) Atlanticist agents of Western liberalism. They were Atlanticist in that they looked to the Anglo-American West for intellectual inspiration, and Western liberalism was the inspiration they found. They did not turn to the Russian Orthodox Church, or German social democracy, or even French national revivalism for social models. They turned to the United States, and to many of the most liberal organisations in America at that. The dual meaning of the term “foreign agent” may give authoritarian rulers far too much wiggle room for repression, but organisations funded by American money did flourish in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Dugin’s language may be a bit grandiose, but the picture he paints of Russia in the 1990s is broadly accurate:
Russia was transformed from a pole of the bipolar world and the civilization of Land [as opposed to Anglo-America’s control of the sea], spreading its influence over half the planet into [a] corrupt, disintegrating, second-rate state, swiftly losing its authority in the international arena and verging on collapse. (pp. 95-96)
Russia lost its global ideological war with America, and with it its claim to be a great global civilisation. At least when Germany and Japan had lost their wars with America they had had the dignity of losing actual wars and the promise of cleaner governments and more prosperous societies to look forward to. The diseased pre-war identities of Germany and Japan were completely obliterated, leaving clear spaces for the construction of healthy post-war identities. There are no despised German and Japanese minority populations stranded among hostile neighbouring states. Germany and Japanese industries were not hastily sold off to post-war profiteers. Post-war Germany and Japan were not put through sovereign default proceedings. Germany and Japan, having been defeated absolutely, accepted with good grace the opportunity to become America’s friends and (junior) partners for the future.
The situation with Russia after 1991 is more analogous to that of Germany after the First World War. Germany was defeated absolutely, but it surrendered and was not occupied. Despised German minority populations were left stranded among hostile neighbouring states, German industries were sold off to post-war profiteers, and Germany defaulted on its sovereign debt. National Socialists came to power promising to provide social benefits and restore Germany to glory. It’s no wonder that Dugin is avowedly sympathetic to the small number of anti-Hitler Nazis who wanted more socialism and less racism than Hitler was willing to give them (Fourth Political Theory, p. 98). In the re-running of history in which Yeltsin’s Russia stands in for Weimar Germany, Putin plays the pre-Holocaust Hitler of the 1930s, a figure widely admired by many then-respectable nationalists in the West—he has dangerous ideas, but he saved the nation, and he gets things done.
Russia is not Germany, Putin is not Hitler, and the occupation of Crimea is neither the invasion of Czechoslovakia nor the annexation of Austria. Poland is not “next”. Russia does not have the capacity and Putin does not have the desire to fight the Third World War. And Alexander Dugin is not a latter-day prophet of doom. When Francis Fukuyama wrote about the “end of history” no one suggested that the United States was about to bring about a literal nuclear Armageddon—even though it had the capacity to do so. When the Russian nationalist Alexander Dugin writes that “The American empire should be destroyed” and “at one point, it will be” (Fourth Political Theory, p. 193) he certainly means it, argues for it, and hopes for it with all his might. But when the unstoppable intellectual force that is Alexander Dugin meets the immovable object of American power, or indeed indifference, the debate ends there. The third millennium looks set to be an American millennium, and for all the reasons Dugin so eloquently lays bare. Much to Dugin’s regret.
The Fourth Political Theory
by Alexander Dugin
Arktos, 2012, 214 pages, £18.50
Eurasian Mission: An Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism
by Alexander Dugin
Arktos, 2014, 180 pages, £14
The Last War of the World-Island: The Geopolitics of Contemporary Eurasia
by Alexander Dugin
Arktos, 2015, 166 pages, £12.95
“The American Empire Should Be Destroyed”: Aleksander Dugin and the Perils of Immanentized Eschatology
by James D. Heiser
Repristination Press, 2014, 126 pages, US$12.95
Salvatore Babones is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney. His most recent book is Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America (2015).
Mervyn F. Bendle also wrote on Alexander Dugin in the September 2014 Quadrant.