I first heard the name Alexander Dugin around the time that “neo-Eurasianism” was first being noticed by the online alternative Right.The Russian Question had been brought up by figures on the European New Right. An example is Guillaume Faye and his vision of a European civilization “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. Dugin fascinates many on the Right because he has gone beyond theory. A man who can both have a conference with Alain de Benoist and also claim to influence minds in the Kremlin has outdone every Western critic of global liberalism. These days even the Western media wants to know about him. At the same time, his name probably sparks more controversy among the Right than ever before. Pro-Kiev voices condemn him as a legitimizer of Russian aggression. Identitiarians hear him cast accusations of racism and wonder why he’s sounding like a Buzzfeed columnist. Putin fans idolize him as the architect of global traditionalist resurgence. The West still dominates much of the globe, and the Cathedral dominates all of the West. Both Dugin and Neoreaction are deconstructing that Cathedral’s ideological operating system. But we shouldn’t assume that Dugin’s project is the same as the Neoreactionary one. As we’ll see, their means and motivations have some sharp divergences.
For the uninitiated, Dugin calls his theoretical framework the Fourth Political Theory (4PT). Its name hints at its foundations. Dugin holds that since the Enlightenment, three political theories have wrestled for global control. Liberalism came first, and annihilated the old Christian and monarchic order. When it thinks about society, it focuses on the individual person. Communism came second, and rose in reaction to Liberalism. It takes the socio-economic class as its subject. This was because Liberal individualism failed to address the situation of the poor and working classes, now that the bourgeoisie had overthrown their own masters. The third theory is Fascism, and it reacted against both Communism and its Liberal predecessor. It tried to overcome the division of individuals and classes by basing society on a common foundation. In cases like Italy, it took the State as its starting point. In Germany, the racial volk played this role. Communism and Liberalism defeated Fascism, and Liberalism eventually overcame its former ally too, and now stands triumphant. Dugin claims that it can only be challenged by a fourth theory, which learns from the failures of former critiques.
His belief is that the failures of each ideology came from focusing on a single aspect of human existence. In fact, our world is a complex of all these things: we individuals are part of an ethno-cultural whole, a political order, and a particular station in that order. The 4PT claims to take a holistic view of the human being and accepts all these realities. Dasein – real existence in the world – can’t be so slickly reduced to a set of axioms. Humans are different. Ethnicities differ. Cultures and histories differ. Geopolitical realities differ. Because of this, societies develop different ways of existing. Liberalism claims to accept differences, but this is mere shadow play. In reality, it imposes a common value framework on all groups. Religion and culture become ornaments for liberal homogeneity. Neoreaction’s own framework agrees with this analysis. It condemns the idea that society can be constructed from an ideological blueprint. The bigger the plan for society, the more unknowns one faces. In fact, Neoreaction takes this further than 4PT. The Eurasian idea itself, with its vision of a federal union of states and de-Westernized cultures, is more detailed than anything Neoreaction puts forward. The presumption of knowledge is a dangerous thing to contend with. Instead, Neoreaction intends to be a toolbox to be used according to different sets of needs.
There are further comparisons. Western social science distinguishes between theoretical models and the “real world”. Both 4PT and Neoreaction critique this. Dugin talks about “practice as theory”, and believes that one cannot separate lived experience from ideology; Neoreaction discerns the prerequisites to Civilization from the historical record rather than manifestos. Liberalism claimed to leave individuals free to choose their own ways of living; the modern Liberal agrees, provided they make the proper choice. With Dugin, Neoreaction recognizes the slight of hand. All three have come to understand that unrestricted personal freedom is inimical to an enduring social order. The only difference is that the latter two are honest about it. Furthermore, Neoreactionary thought has overcome theological divides in the concept of Gnon – Nature or Nature’s God. Gnon’s laws cannot be suspended by activist judges or deconstructed by university professors. Societies must discover them and structure themselves accordingly. Meanwhile, Dugin has taken inspiration from the German Conservative Revolution and the Traditionalist School. As Dugin says in The Fourth Political Theory:
“Conservative revolutionaries want not only to slow time down, like the liberal conservatives, or return to the past like traditionalists, but to pull out from the structure of the world the roots of evil…and in so doing [fulfil] some kind of secret, parallel, non-evident intention of the Deity itself.”
But Dugin’s response to these ideas also leads us to some of the clashes between Western Rightists and the Fourth Political Theory. Dugin has consistently charged the ideology of progress as racist, and the West as being a “globally deployed model of…ethnocentrism, which is the purest manifestation of racist ideology.” When he so closely echoes the rhetoric of university SJW’s, those otherwise sympathetic become understandably suspicious. There are two things we need to note. The first is that racism isn’t actually the accurate term to describe what Dugin means. In Fourth Political Theory, he states that racism also exists among cultures, classes and even technology. Clearly, “chauvinism” or “supremacy” would be more accurate words than “racism”. Dugin’s supporters explain that the term illustrates that the West uses ideology in the same way it once used race and religion – to justify itself as the standard for Civilization. But it’s worth noting that the word also allows Dugin to attack Western liberalism on its own basis.
Dugin takes as one of his premises that all cultures and peoples – including the European West – must determine for themselves how they choose to exist. In that sense, 4PT undermines modern Progressivism’s condemnation of Western identity and heritage. The 4PT is a weaponized ideology: its stated purpose is to take over from the failures of Liberalism. Western countries have often used liberal ideology to undermine states in opposition to Western interests. From Russia to Egypt, Western NGO’s have funded groups with liberal sympathies, as the ideology is particularly useful in such ventures. Since it focuses on the individual, Liberalism can delegitimize a political order by focusing on select groups who view themselves as being excluded from the political process. Of course, Western countries themselves do this all the time through electoral and speech regulations. Implicit in our laws is the admission that not everyone should have equal involvement in the political process. If the 4PT gains influence, Russia and other countries will have a strong ideological counterweapon to this tactic.
Nevertheless, this is not the only issue on which Dugin seems to compromise with ideologies antithetical to the values of the Right. While an ideological anticommunist, he has defended the Soviet Union as an expression of the Russian worldview.
“Thanks to those who will be engaged in the defense of the Republic of Novorossia and who experience this particular Eurasian Orthodox identity, the rest of the Russian population will learn more about its ideological identity. At the same time, the achievements of the Soviet Union will not be excluded but included in a broader context rid of orthodox Marxism, materialism and atheism. That is the Eurasian ideology: it mainly includes the legacy of orthodoxy of the Byzantine monarchy and Russian nationalism, not to mention the Russian interpretation of Soviet history as briefly expressed in National Bolshevism.”
To understand Dugin’s reasoning, we need to distinguish between ideological communism and the geopolitical entity of the USSR. Communism as an ideology is rejected by Dugin as the failed second political theory. Communism as a system of government was absorbed into a broader Russian culture and worldview. Hence, Stalin is today remembered by many Russians not primarily as a Communist, but as a strong central ruler in the Russian tradition of autocracy. Similarly, the modern Communist Party of the Russian Federation supports cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church. This is due to the Left-Nationalist faction currently controlling the party. The same pattern is reflected in the Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples’ Republics attempting to secede from Ukraine. Soviet institutions, nationalist rhetoric, and Orthodox religion are woven together by supporters of Russian rule. For Dugin, this is part of an organic process. Under bolshevism, the Russian people suffered mightily. From Stalin on, they were also a superpower. In the post-Soviet age, the Russian mind must reconcile itself to its own historical experience.
Neoreaction’s similarities with 4PT also contain its differences: both seek to deconstruct the liberal ideological premises laid in the Enlightenment. But Dugin is working in a society which holds fundamentally illiberal values, mores, and worldviews. Neoreaction exists in the sanctum of Liberalism, the West itself. If 4PT is a ship to let Russia sail on its own path, Neoreaction is a lifeboat with a map and compass that we hope against hope will get us to shore. Dugin looks at civilizations which must choose whether to follow the West’s path or not. Neoreaction looks at societies which must choose whether to follow Civilization’s path or not – and most seem to have chosen the latter. Moreover, Neoreaction stands firmly in a tradition of empirical analysis which Dugin categorizes as part and parcel of the Western “Atlanticist” thinking Russia rejects. The programmer who built an ideology in his garage stands in stark contrast to the bearded philosopher holding a rocket launcher in South Ossetia. As both ideologies accept differences, this isn’t necessarily a point of conflict. But it’s crucial to understanding the distinctions in methodology.
Both 4PT and Neoreaction are deeply concerned with Civilization. But this may also be the most fundamental point of distinction between the two schools of thought. For 4PT, the main emphasis is on the right to difference. Of course, Neoreaction agrees that different peoples and cultures must find their own particular modes of Civilization. But Dugin goes further, almost into relativism. He proclaims:
“There will be no universal standard, neither in the material nor in the spiritual aspect. Each civilisation will at last receive the right to freely proclaim that which is, according to its wishes, the measure of things. Somewhere that will be man, somewhere religion, somewhere ethics, somewhere materialism.”
This makes the difference clear. Dugin imagines many different civilizations. Civilization is simply a particular people’s mode of being – its culture, self-conception, and so forth. But Neoreaction goes further. Modes of being have consequences. They can make you master of the globe or they can send you to a humiliating historical grave. Beyond the many particular civilizations, there is a common phenomenon of Civilization proper. Violence and force are its foundation, because they are the tools used to create law and order. When people can live in peace and safety, they have the incentive to have families, invent, and improve themselves. When this is reinforced with responsibility to the common good, people invest in the future. The structures may differ, but the effect is the same: society flourishes. But when authority breaks down, families are abandoned, and the common good forgotten, a society will collapse. Sometimes, enough is protected that it can repair and be reborn. More often, it gets overrun and absorbed by healthier rivals. While 4PT focuses on the particular, Neoreaction is more willing to address those universal truths that all civilizations must contend with. And if it has no quarrel with Russia taking its own path, it can also see the omens that point to its incredible fragility at the present time. Any Eurasian future becomes less likely when the future of Russia itself is uncertain. From demographic collapse to economic woe, no stirring promises of a united Russian sphere can mask the problems besetting it. Neoreaction may have some lessons for Mr. Dugin yet, Atlanticist or not.
Next week’s article will be a neoreactionary analysis of Russia itself. It will cover geopolitical and domestic issues, as well as the Russian talent for weaponizing ideology.