The Ukrainian crisis has triggered speculations about the motivations behind Russia’s new muscular policy. Whereas Europe still dreams of a post-modern world order and the US are looking toward Asia (though they are still stuck in the “War on Terror”), Russia is acting like a 19th century power. It is one thing to invade a non-Western country (like say Iraq for instance) in the names of human rights and to fight nuclear proliferation, it is another to conquer territories in the middle of the European continent.
In a recent article from Foreign Policy, Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn claim that they have found the solution to this puzzling mystery. Inside Putin’s brain, there is some Dugin.
I had studied Alexander Dugin as a late Russian manifestation of the European New Right and the statement came to me as a surprise. Dugin is probably one of the most original ideologues (I would hesitate to categorize him as a fullfledge political philosopher) that Russia has produced since the fall of the Soviet Union. Influenced by Eurasianism (that described Russia as an original civilization neither Eastern, nor Western), Evolian Esotericism and the German Conservative Revolution, Dugin has articulated a new vision for Russia, “a fourth political theory” that in the war against Western Liberalism would provide an alternative to Fascism and Communism. Whereas, the first political Theory (liberalism) is centered on the anomic individual, driven by the market and hedonist purposes, the second (communism) on the social class and Fascism on the race, the Fourth Political Theory takes the Dasein (in the Heideggerian sense as its starting point). If we remember that Heidegger supported National Socialism during the 30s/40s, it is not so obvious that the fourth political theory differs so radically from the 3rd.
The teaching of Dugin is a political theory. It is also a geopolitical vision based on the opposition between continental powers like Russia and thalassocratic ones, headed by the US. Dugin (building on Huntington’s theory of the clash of Civilizations) calls for an alliance of conservative/traditional powers (Russia, China, Iran and India) against the declining American hegemon. Ultimately, the war against the US is a spiritual war against the forces of the Antichrist. One may recall here the eschatological speculations of Carl Schmitt on the Katechon (and how they lead him to applaud Hitler’s rise to power).
Ukraine, being located at the heart of Western Eurasia and being the birth place of the Russian Empire, plays a central role in Dugin’s vision and he has been supporting Putin’s anti-Western policy in Ukraine since the start. That being said, claiming that Dugin is the ideologue behind Putin is speculative at best. In all likelihood, Dugin will know the same fate as Julius Evola during the Fascist period. Evola failed to prevent the Lateran Pact between Mussolini and the Papacy and to impose his own political agenda (the restoration ancient paganism in Italy and its establishment as the new official ideology of the Fascist State). During a brief period, Evola raised to a relative fame, as Mussolini was seeking an intellectual to craft an Italian racial theory that could represent an alternative to Nazi racism. Evola also managed to attract the attention of intellectuals associated with the German Conservative Revolution. He always remained however a marginal figure. It is hard to understand how Evola could seriously believe that the SS could become the nucleus for a new initiatory order in Europe (an idea that he was still defending after the war).
In fact, Evola was recognized as a first rank intellectual among neo-fascist and neo-rightist movements in Western Europe only after the defeat. To those who had witnessed the rise and fall the fascist alternative to liberal democracy, Evola was able to provide what they had lacked from the beginning: a complete theory about man, society, history and even the nature of Ultimate Reality. Evola also articulated a full criticism of Fascism and National Socialism from “the Right”, based on the Metapolitical principles of the Counter-Revolution. Germany and Italy had failed because they were no faithful enough to conservative principles. The teaching of Evola also became an important element in the Metapolitical strategy of the European New Right to fight the Cultural Hegemony of the Left.
Dugin may know the same fate. Russian policy in Ukraine is probably less driven by a complex Metapolitical vision than by more conventional/realistic calculations. Putin’s course of action is the expression of a crude nationalist agenda. If Putin fails, his disillusioned supporters may gather around Dugin and a vision of what Russia could have become. If Putin succeeds and restores something of the greatness of the former Soviet Union, Dugin will probably remain a peripheral figure, a kind of “king-philosopher” eternally in-waiting.