Review – Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory

“Russia can have a leeeetle fascism… as a treat”

Alexander Dugin, “The Fourth Political Theory” (2009) (translated from the Russian by, like, a dozen people, who cares) – Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Vladimir Putin needs a ponderous ex-punk ex-dissident “Traditionalist” to tell him to be a prick and invade places like he needs a hot shovel. A few years back, around the time of the Trump election, US media started noticing Alexander Dugin, and some floated the idea he was “Putin’s Brain.” This is typical American provincialism, applying our situation — in this case, an extremely narrow scenario, the fact that we had a president for eight years who was so stupid that people like Karl Rove and Paul Wolfowitz had to do his thinking for him — blithely to very different arrangements abroad. I’m no Russia expert, but it seems supremely unlikely that the ex-KGB siloviki and the gangster oligarchs that run the show over there really care that much about what any philosopher says. Things do have a tendency to get stupider and stupider in this timeline, so maybe more Russians who count are actually listening to people like Dugin. One thing this Ukraine situation has shown us is that the delusion some of us anti-imperialist leftists held, that powers like Russia, cruel though they may be, are at least smarter and more rational than the US, doesn’t hold up as well as we’d like, so that would fit. I’m aware that Russian state media has some kind of employment situation going with Dugin. It’s the job of major state cultural/intellectual apparatus to keep a variety of pedants and ideologues on staff in case they’re handy. We’re cheap. That doesn’t mean people like him (or me, lol) really decide anything.

Dugin has been on my radar for a long time. I had actually planned on running him in the election he swept for my next “reading on the right” well before the Ukraine crisis. If you read about contemporary fascism, traditionalism, or red-brown cross-over, his name comes up a lot. This, along with his association with Russia, a country that brings out the bullshit in Anglo-American writers, means there’s a lot of dumb agendas not so much surrounding Dugin, as much as surrounding the discourse around the topics that Dugin bridges. You can find waltzing pairs of bullshit slingers along every axis touching the man: those who think he’s Putin’s brain versus those who know he isn’t; those who sound the alarm on red-brown (that’s alliances between anticapitalist leftists and fascist right-wingers, for the uninitiated) coalitions versus those who insist any mention of that is crying wolf; those who want to defend the honor of the sort of occultism/traditionalism Dugin claims versus those who think it’s all fashy rot. I do think there are rights and wrongs, here. I also think that many involved on all sides over-generalize and press their arguments further than they will go, seemingly out of spite a lot of the time.

So, let’s go to the texts, shall we? I mean the text of Dugin’s writing, and the text of his life, most of which might as well be his writings because he’s the main source of information here. The story we’re told is that Dugin came from a family reasonably high-up in the Soviet hierarchy- his dad was a general. Dugin was a rebel- maybe this is just crossing the streams of things I’ve been thinking about recently, but he does seem a bit like a classic early-Gen-X type, a rebel of the kind that valued posturing and shock over anything else (the Soviet context was different enough from the Western to seriously complicate that read, I know). He got into rock music, satanism and other aspects of the occult, and Hitler. Supposedly, he found some Julius Evola in the Lenin Library in Moscow and that was all she wrote- he was now a Radical Traditionalist. I can basically rattle off my spiel explaining what Traditionalism is (and isn’t) from memory, since my 2018 birthday lecture, in my opinion my best one. I’m sick of doing it. Just know that when guys like Dugin say tradition, they mean initiatory occult knowledge, and know that like any magician, they rely on misprision and slips to get over with audiences. This includes the verbal slip between Tradition like they mean it and tradition like we mean it, the actual traditions of actual people. 

The biggest gap I see in Dugin’s biography is that between the fall of the Soviet Union and about 1997, when he wrote his book on “geopolitics.” That’s the book that got the west’s attention, after it was adopted by the Russian military colleges as a textbook. Where did he make enough money to sit around, write, and get involved with Eduard Limonov’s Nationalist Bolsheviks? The legacy of Limonov — people whose opinions I take seriously say he was a great writer, and I intend on reading him some day — and the NatBols motivates a lot of the bullshit slinging in this story. Here, I’m more interested in the context. The Soviet Union collapsed, the economy went into freefall, everyone was scrambling, and I wonder where Dugin (and to a lesser extent Limonov and other NatBols) found material support… really, more for my own picture than because I think such support would necessarily translate into allegiance. Nice complete picture, that’s what I’m about. 

Anyway- Dugin’s thoughts on geopolitics got people’s attention. If there is any parallel between Dugin and the neocons as implied by the “Putin’s brain” thesis, it is this: both were late twentieth century ideological entrepreneurs shilling some Risk-board nonsense to fill the hole where people like them thought a sense of national mission should be. They’re both parodies of an already degraded form of thought, the two classical schools of International Relations theory. Neoconservatism is a hyper-charged, violent Liberal Internationalism; Dugin’s Eurasianism, where he calls for Russia (and maybe China, if they’re on side) to lead a solid bloc in, you guessed it, Eurasia, is a parody of foreign policy Realism. 

Dugin, for his part, follows in the long… well, post-1945 long… tradition of fascist pedants magpie-picking from amongst the few fash left standing after the big blowout for ideological inspiration. The unlettered skinhead mooks did Hitler-manquery; the ones with that critical bit of grey matter go looking for somehow who didn’t shit the bed and die in 1945. That’s how Evola got a postwar rep- he was still alive, because nobody trusted him with anything important. That’s why you still see Strasserites, despite Strasser being as scabrously anti-semitic as the Fuhrer who offed him, because he, being dead, wasn’t so thoroughly associated with ignominous defeat. Figures like Mosely and Yawkey were, ironically, protected by the rules of liberal democracies, and they have their little followings. Dugin is an Evola disciple but for his geopolitics, he borrows heavily from Karl Haushofer, a German practitioner of the school of “geopolitics” that came about in the early twentieth century. Like a lot of haut-bourgeois thought, geopolitics is a way of thinking about something real — the way geography influences, sometimes determines, politics — without taking most of the realities on board. Geopolitics is high-flown, if taken seriously it’s high stakes, and just bullshit enough for someone to be able to say anything at all they want under its auspices (dialectics has sometimes played a similar role, if you think I can’t pick on Marxists too!). It’s perfect for an ideological hustler like Dugin.

Because that’s what the Fourth Political Theory is- a hustle. Dugin, above all else, is a performer. Take a look at his videos. Big old gray beard, English pronunciation and cadences somewhere between Zizek and a Bond villain. I could, potentially, see his geopolitical and “Eurasianist” stuff having something closer to meaningful content (that’s saying a lot, for a field and an ideology I hold in low regard). But what you see in this, his effort to encapsulate his broader political ideas, is a transparent snow job resting on sleight of arthritic hand. 

Dugin’s theory is the Fourth theory, you see, because there were already three: Liberalism, Communism, and Fascism. Fourth theory is none of the above, he’ll have you know, regardless of how Fascist it looks (or its fond words for the worst parts of the Communist legacy)! The three previous theories were all modern, in that they believed in progress. The Fourth theory is both pre- AND post-modern, and doesn’t! But it still partakes of a dialectic, because Liberalism’s victory ushered in postmodernism, which the Fourth theory would take advantage of to be Liberalism’s eventual gravedigger. Fourth theory is related to conservatism, Dugin tells us, especially traditionalism, your Evolas and your De Maistres (the latter not a formal Traditionalist but a believer in similar ideas). But it’s smarter, cooler, newer. 

Here’s a good tell: Dugin claims to have made a workable politics out of the thought of Heidegger. I’m actually of two minds about this. On the one hand, I actually rather appreciate the cheek of someone willing to take this awful wizard-gnome and his pronouncements as something so mundane as a political program. No seminar table intimidation for old Doogs! On the other, even I know claiming to wield “dasein” like a fucking… ruler, or wrench, or pointer, is definitely not what the old fucker had in mind and points to the larger incoherence of the whole project. The whole point of Heidegger is to be anti-programmatic. Dugin says he is too- he, like his co-thinker and fellow half-smart Eurotrash Guillaume Faye, insists he is ultimately a radical pragmatist, concerned with what works. Then goes on to make a program of it. To affirm a programmatic — which is not to say well-considered — list of goals, most of which conform to what his idea of what a Russian meathead wants out of life: more power for Russia, no gay pride parades, etc. 

You see the same thing with his definition of postmodern… and of most other things. More than anything I’ve read in theory, or heard from a professor, what the whole thing reminds me of is the calvinball discursive games assorted half-read kids (invariably boys) have tried to get me to play with them. “How do we know X ACTUALLY isn’t Y??” And, invariably, you could see what they were driving at. At the very least, they were trying to get social points over you, prove you wrong or insufficiently broad-minded somehow. Usually, they had some bigger point, at least bolstering some kind of ethos. Dugin is doing the same thing. He wants something just as slippery and open-ended as any college sophomore philosophy major. It’s just more violent (he soft-sells the violence and racism, but given how prominent a place “ethnocentrism” plays in his system…). 

Ultimately, stupid and pointless though this book was, it was a reasonably smart read to undertake. Coming in 2009, this is a pretty good sample of the kind of competitive scrabbling for position you saw various far-right ideological entrepreneurs engage in as it became good and clear that the End of History was ending. Dugin had some advantages and some disadvantages, and they tended to run along parallel lines. He’s clearly better-read than a lot of his rivals and co-thinkers. Richard Spencer always came off like a grad student who didn’t do the reading and was trying to get by in colloquium with bluster; Dugin did some of the reading but “realized” no one cared, it’s all just symbols and branding anyway. But, he’s also Russian, and so has a more limited audience… but, he’s Russian, so has a smaller pond to try to dominate. I kind of thought I’d rate this one higher, but the book gets repetitive and his act gets old. When I came to give a “bullshit” tag in my shelving system, I couldn’t actually make myself call it “fascist bullshit.” It is that. But more than that, it’s “post-bullshit,” my category for books that take the category confusions and other lacunae of theory to smuggle nonsense and, often enough, the lies of the powerful into print. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dugin’s patrons in the Russian ruling class reach more for ideological explanations ala this book as the Ukraine situation sucks more and more, for them and for the world. I’m not looking forward to it. *’

Review – Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory

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