“Dugin is the chief philosophical mastermind of an ideologically coherent alternative to Western political modernity. And like it or not, that is a remarkable accomplishment, from which even those who wish to defend political modernity in the West can learn a great deal.” To be sure, these are words of high praise, conveying a quite grand image of Dugin as one of the towering minds of our time. They were penned by a Dugin disciple named Michael Millerman in an article that the editors of First Things saw fit to publish in a magazine dedicated to the proposition that (in the words of its founder, Richard John Neuhaus) “culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” Millerman would have us believe that Dugin belongs in the company of leading thinkers of the last century such as Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, and Richard Rorty.
That represents one pole of the puzzling Dugin persona. But there is an opposing pole, which Millerman alludes to but doesn’t wrestle with. This is the Dugin who is happy to be interviewed by Alex Jones on Infowars and provide ideological support for Jones’s deranged notions about “globalism” as an evil conspiracy. This, needless to say, raises something of a conundrum in relation to Millerman’s celebration of Dugin as a towering thinker. Can we imagine Arendt or Strauss or MacIntyre or Derrida or Habermas or Rorty thinking it appropriate to share their visions of the world with Alex Jones, someone whose widely-publicized legal tribulations have exposed him as a congenital liar and crank? There is a very interesting document publicized by Cristo Grozev, lead Russia investigator for Bellingcat, that is relevant to Dugin’s willingness to join forces with the likes of Alex Jones. It is a confidential memo that Dugin drafted for his patron, Konstantin Malofeev, in August of 2014, and that was hacked (whether by Bellingcat or by someone else) in 2015. In it, Dugin lists “conspirology, theory of a conspiracy of the world financial elite” as one of “the main theses on the extreme right.” Dugin’s reference to this as “conspirology” suggests a strategic self-consciousness about weaponizing conspiracy theories as a way of stoking up support for extreme-right ideology. And of course this is exactly Alex Jones’s stock-in-trade, which is why Dugin would be comfortable appearing on Jones’s podcast and why Jones would be eager to have Dugin on as a guest.
How do we square these two radically opposing images of Dugin: Dugin the “philosophical mastermind” worthy of being ranked alongside the leading minds of our era, and Dugin the Alex- Jones-style conspiracy-theory-mongering ideologue? To be honest, it really doesn’t seem remotely plausible that the two images of Dugin that I have sketched are capable of being harmonized or rendered compatible. We are confronted with a strict either/or.
Near the start of his article, Millerman informs us that he first encountered Dugin in the Israeli journal Azure, namely in an article entitled “The Prophet of the New Russian Empire” by Yigal Liverant. But Liverant doesn’t put the principal emphasis on Dugin’s contributions as a philosopher. On the contrary, while acknowledging Dugin as “gifted and charismatic,” Liverant (rightly) presents Dugin’s thought as embodying “an extremist worldview which combines authoritarian politics with an imperialist strategic agenda and a nostalgic longing for the glory days of the Soviet Union”; and Liverant (again correctly) characterizes Dugin’s pivot from his explicit fascism of the 1990s as strategic rather than principled. Moreover, Liverant concludes the article by citing Isaiah Berlin’s warning “that ideas ‘nurtured in the stillness of a professor’s study’ could destroy a civilization.” This warning seems to have made no impression on Millerman. Reading the Liverant article, it is hard not to suspect that what really attracted Millerman to Dugin was not Dugin’s supposed Platonism or his supposed mysticism but rather Liverant’s account of Dugin’s inexorable rise to formidable power and influence in Putin’s Russia.
Full disclosure: Sometime in the summer of 2014, I agreed to serve as Millerman’s doctoral supervisor at the University of Toronto. At the time I first encountered him, I had never heard of Alexander Dugin, nor did I have the slightest awareness that young intellectuals were being drawn, like moths to a flame, to the kind of ferociously anti-liberal ideology that Dugin was in the business of propagating. Millerman struck me as smart and very energetic, which remains my view of him. But by January of 2015, I had reached the unhappy conclusion that Millerman’s intellectual work on Dugin was animated by a partisan commitment to Duginism, much as he tried to deny this. We had a tense parting-of-the-ways, initiated by me. I had no desire to supervise a project whose central purpose was to help legitimize – by elevating the intellectual stature of – someone who had clearly become a leading icon of the contemporary radical right, and whose works were published by far-right presses like Richard Spencer’s Radix and Daniel Friberg’s Arktos. Shortly before I resigned as Millerman’s doctoral supervisor, I put directly to him a challenge similar to the question posed above about whether Arendt, Strauss, or the others would be willing to discuss their philosophy on something like Infowars. The first Dugin video I watched on YouTube was a 2013 lecture given to a group of Satanists in London (The Order of Black Gnosis). (Dugin’s Nouvelle Droite comrade, Alain de Benoit, was the other speaker at the same event.) I asked Millerman: Would Leo Strauss give a lecture to a gathering of Satanists? His answer: What matters is what Dugin said, not the venue where he gave the lecture. I found that response pretty weak, and still do.
Millerman later denounced me and other colleagues for our “liberal totalitarianism” on a host of platforms. Yet I have never regretted that decision for a minute, and nothing that I have seen from him since then – including the dissertationthat he wrote and then published with Arktos or his subsequent writings and activities – caused me to doubt that my decision was the right one. I’ve never felt inclined to respond to his denunciations – for the simple reason that I didn’t want to give him more attention than he was able to arouse by his own efforts; best that he be confined as much as possible to his own radical-right eco-system. But now a supposedly “conservative” magazine has given him a platform for his advocacy on behalf of Dugin, which changes the equation fairly dramatically from my point of view. (Actually, First Things is not the first relatively “mainstream” journal to do so. Millerman – immediately following the assassination of Darya Dugina, which in all likelihood was intended to be an assassination of her father – also published a defense of Dugin in Compact. When I say relatively mainstream, I mean relative to some of the other venues for Millerman’s Dugin apologetics, such as podcasts with Jack Murphy and Arktos’s John Bruce Leonard.
Millerman is right to emphasize Dugin’s philosophical reliance on Martin Heidegger. And he’s right that the core Heideggerian project is to inspire or incite the founding of a new civilization that plugs into the depths of Being in a way that replicates or exceeds the cultural achievement of Greek antiquity. By the same token, the impossibility of achieving such a thing within the horizons of democratic bourgeois modernity condemns the latter as what Heidegger in the Rectoral Address called “a moribund pseudo-civilization.” If it takes centuries for this new civilization to draw the appropriate inspiration from Heidegger’s writings, Heidegger is happy to wait. Dugin’s project is quite similar, except that he wants to steer the site of the “other beginning” from Germany to Russia, and not having experienced the disillusionment that Heidegger suffered in the 1930s and 1940s, he seems to be in a bigger hurry for the new dispensation to get started. It’s telling that Millerman reveals at the start of his article that he was initially drawn to Dugin as “a mystical philosopher-king,” and it seems pretty obvious that someone who is drawn to Dugin on this basis will be drawn to Heidegger on the same basis. Millerman quotes a 2013 address by Dugin: “Authentically existing Dasein is the Philosopher King.” So it’s entirely plausible that Millerman’s perception of Dugin as a mystical philosopher-king accords with Dugin’s own self-understanding; and it’s evident that something quite similar was the case with Heidegger during the time that he harboured ambitions “den Führer führen,” to borrow a phrase from Otto Pöggeler.
In any case, Heidegger and Dugin are both committed to what we can call a civilizational politics: the societies that count are the bearers of whole civilizations, and societies that don’t meet this standard either shouldn’t exist or should be subsumed by those that do meet this standard. This is, as is clear, a practical or political project more than a merely theoretical one. Dugin’s Heidegger is the Heidegger who believed that “clinging” to democracy, understood as a spinoff of nihilism, would bring about Europe’s “historical death” – the Heidegger who embraced what Nietzsche called groꞵe Politik (for instance, empire-seeking dictatorship) because democracy was incapable of the civilizational ambitions that produce meaningful cultures. Millerman is unhappy when one applies the term fascist to politics of this kind, but one would have to be a bit amnesiac in regard to the history of the 20th century not to see the resemblance between this civilizational politics and the kind of thing that Mussolini and Hitler were after (in the case of Mussolini, a recovery of Roman imperial grandeur; in the case of Hitler, a 1,000-year Reich).
Dugin gives us no lack of hints in The Fourth Political Theory that he is playing what amounts to a con job – that is, engaging in little more than a re-branding exercise rather than the conceptualization of something genuinely “new.” First of all, the thinkers who he consistently praises, and who serve as his intellectual guideposts, are all fascist or proto-fascist – or, in Evola’s case, “über-fascist.” Some of the ways in which he refers to fascism/Nazism have an odd ring to them in various ways. For instance, he writes that the third political theory suffered the fate of “expiring prematurely,” as if it were cause for lament that it didn’t attain full maturity as an ideological possibility. In the same paragraph, he claims that the third political theory “is still used as a bogeyman to frighten humanity,” as if the horrors inflicted by Mussolini and Hitler were merely fabrications of liberal propaganda rather than being genuinely evil. Since fascism offers resources for the project of a more thorough negation of modernity than it was itself able to effectuate, the duty of proponents of what he dubs the ‘Fourth Political Theory’ is to sift through the debris of twentieth-century fascism in order to locate aspects of that ideology that “turn out to be extremely valuable and saturated with meaning and intuition.” The Fourth Political Theory must of course liberate itself from the racism of the third political theory – so he claims – but once one succeeds in purging National Socialism of its racism, it can then be considered “harmless and decontaminated.” Once that occurs, Dugin and adherents of his new ideology can “proceed without fear to analyse [National Socialism] objectively in search of those ideas within it that could be integrated into the Fourth Political Theory.” One must ask: Who, apart from a committed fascist, would consider Nazi worship of the Volk and its Führer “harmless,” even if one were somehow able to imagine it shorn of its racism?
Even more revealingly, Dugin informs us that the “ideologies of National Bolshevism and Eurasianism … came very close indeed to the Fourth Political Theory.” This is surely a significant tip-off that between the fascist Dugin of the 1990s and the supposedly anti-fascist Dugin of the 2000s, there was merely a change of idiom, not a change of philosophy. Of course, there was nothing the least bit anti-fascist or post-fascist about National Bolshevism as spearheaded by Dugin and Eduard Limonov in the 1990s. The Fourth Political Theory is clearly a continuation of what Dugin was attempting with “National Bolshevism” in the sense that it seeks somehow to fuse the second and third political theories in a gang-up on the first. Dugin is fairly clear about this when he writes, in a text entitled “The Fourth Estate,” that the Fourth Political Theory “is built on the imperative of overcoming modernity and all three political ideologies in order (the order has tremendous significance).” I take it that the order in which one seeks to overcome the first, second, and third political theories “has tremendous significance” in the sense that the chief target is the first. “Liberalism is the main enemy of the Fourth Political Theory, which is being constructed specifically to be in total opposition to it.”
Also quite telling is Dugin’s statement near the end of The Fourth Political Theory that forging an anti-liberal coalition between the radical left and the far right requires that one “put aside anti-Communist, as well as anti-fascist, prejudices. These prejudices are the instruments in the hands of liberals and globalists with which they keep their enemies divided. So we should strongly reject anti-Communism as well as anti-fascism. Both of them are counter-revolutionary tools in the hands of the global liberal elite.” OK, Dugin claims to have transcended fascism; yet anti-fascism is a mere “prejudice” that must be “strongly rejected.”
The rather shocking but undeniable fact is that for Dugin, fascism and National Socialism are not thoroughgoingly discredited by their racism, violence, and cruelty whereas liberalism is thoroughgoingly discredited by its individualism and egalitarianism. The third political theory never completed its destruction of modernity in the way that Dugin (and Heidegger) desired, but at least in its highest expressions as conceived by Dugin (such as the aspirations of the thinkers of the Conservative Revolution), it was an intended annulment of modernity — whereas the first political theory (liberalism) was and remains the consummate embodiment of modernity. In another passage in The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin refers to the “commonalities” between Communism and fascism/Nazism, which consisted in being “staunchly opposed to liberalism.” The project of National Bolshevism was to exploit this commonality, and the Fourth Political Theory obviously represents the next stage of the same project. That is: the supposed Fourth Political Theory mimics (or is merely a re-branding of) National Bolshevism in the sense that it represents an attempt to unite the third and second political theories in a cosmic war-to-the-death against the first political theory.
Dugin’s characterization of the alternatives on offer is laughably simplistic, certainly with respect to the liberal polity or liberal regime and its accompanying way of life, which is reduced to a crude caricature. However, his typology, however unsophisticated, nonetheless offers further clues with respect to unmistakable affinities between the fourth and third political theories, insofar as there is in the end a distinction between them at all.
The subject of Communism was class. Fascism’s subject was the state, in Italian Fascism under Mussolini, or race in Hitler’s National Socialism. In liberalism, the subject was represented by the individual, freed from all collective identity and any ‘membership.’
By contrast, the privileged subject defining the Fourth Political Theory is supposedly “Dasein.” But for Dugin, Dasein = Volk or narod. How does this not involve the Fourth Political Theory swinging back to the third political theory? The not-very-well-veiled fact is that this is precisely what it involves.
Upon hearing the Rectoral Address, Otto Wacker, Baden’s Minister of Culture and Education, famously remarked that it was Heidegger’s “private National Socialism” – by which he probably meant that it was a version of National Socialism enveloped in metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. But still, it was a version of National Socialism, and was unquestionably intended by Heidegger as such. In fact, as late as his 1966 conversation with the interviewers from Der Spiegel, Heidegger himself clearly continued to regard it as the more authentic, and more radical (because more radically anti-modern), version of National Socialism. It is this political vision articulated by Heidegger in the 1930s – with its appeal to a particular Volk that is metaphysically privileged, and hence uniquely equipped to reorient the civilizational direction of Europe, and eventually the whole planet – that Dugin elects as the foundational pillar of his own neo-Heideggerian political philosophy. So Dugin’s suggestion that the Fourth Political Philosophy is somehow distinct from, or transcends, the horizon of 20th-century fascism is pure nonsense. Dugin explicitly privileges the Heidegger of 1936-1945 – that is, during the years when Heidegger’s commitment to the redemptive mission of Deutschtum is beyond controversy, even if he developed qualms about specific aspects of Hitler’s regime. Gustav Jönsson has put the point well in stating that “in the end, [Heidegger’s] critique of the Nazi regime was simply that it failed the Nazi movement.” In his insistence on presenting himself as Heidegger’s Russian disciple, Dugin thereby simultaneously exposes the spuriousness of his claim to be the exponent of a non-fascist, let alone anti-fascist, political philosophy.
Does The Fourth Political Theory offer a political philosophy? For all his cageyness, Dugin does more or less articulate an ambitious vision of social and political life in its normative dimensions on the presumption that embracing his authoritarian and ultra-nationalist ideology would elevate humanity to a higher normative plane whereas resting content with the liberal-egalitarian dispensation that is dominant in Western democracies and that has been the central inheritance of the French Revolution is slavish and dehumanizing. But his style of theorizing, if we want to be generous enough to call it that, shares more with the rabble-rousing antics of a Steve Bannon than with the truth-seeking vocation of philosophers defined by a commitment to reasoned argument and rational persuasion. In fact, one can imagine that Bannon admires Dugin so much because Dugin is who Bannon would be if he were equipped to live up to his intellectual pretensions rather than merely being a high-IQ agitator. But needless to say, this doesn’t prove to us that Dugin’s game isn’t in essence the same as Bannon’s game, namely bomb-throwing and the sowing of chaos.
Philosophers are obviously not debarred from engaging in advocacy. I’m engaging in advocacy right now in trying to warn against the spreading curse of Duginism and allied far-right ideologies. But if there is no meaningful boundary between what genuine philosophers do and what ideological zealots do, then it should be clear that what is in prospect is the complete destruction of philosophy. Consider for instance a statement by Dugin posted on social media during the U.S. 2020 election, which offers a fair sample of how he expresses himself when displaying the Alex-Jones side of his persona: A Biden win, Dugin opined, would be “the victory of gangrene. Some kind of necro-victory.” U.S. dominance of the world would then collapse. But a Trump win would also promise big rewards: “Hillary, Obama, Zuckerberg, Gates, and above all Soros would be literally [!] beheaded.” Liberation of the rest of the world, according to Dugin, requires the end of American democracy — either through “the victory of Sorosite scum” or through the imposition of Trumpite “real (and not imagined) dictatorship.” If it turns out to be the latter, Dugin awaits with glee “inner purge and anti-liberal cleansing.” March the decadent liberals off to concentration camps! If this is the kind of discourse that liberal-minded intellectuals are obliged to treat with respect, it will surely require a descent into the gutter of violent ideologizing.
Anyone who is tempted to treat the Fourth Political Theory as a serious theory should check out a kooky text entitled “Horizon of the Ideal Empire” posted on Dugin’s 4PT website. In it, Dugin certainly gives every appearance of telling us that the whole thing is a colossal joke. He begins by writing: “Sometimes one hears the reproach from critics that the Fourth Political Theory offers no positive image of the future, instead operating with what seem to many to be ‘abstractions.’ I would like to respond to this criticism and outline how I see the future.” So with what concrete images of a society governed by the Fourth Political Theory does Dugin seek to reassure such critics? Here is a selection of his prognostications:
The state should be ruled by the philosopher king […] a philosophical tsar.
The philosopher king […] will communicate with his subjects from behind a curtain, from the depths of a cave, or even through an oracle.
Philosophers will fly and skate on dolphins, who will also be philosophers. Above all will soar the Great Raven. Below are the berserkers, the warrior barons. They are the Guardians, the ‘guardians of being’ (Heidegger) […] In the army will serve battle Dragons and aggressive fighting cocks.
Non-beautiful objects will be subject to destruction.
Dance will become a political duty. All will dance in circles, and tango, twist, and bossa nova will be promoted and made mandatory.
Talking bulls with the Moon between their horns will serve Bread and Wine to weary travelers.
Farmers will have huge beards…. Pigs will feed themselves or elect a pig-in-command.
TV and the press will be cancelled.
Dugin claims to be puzzled as to “why certain people, when confronted with the concept of the Fourth Political Theory, do not immediately rush to open a bottle of champagne, and do not start dancing and rejoicing, celebrating the discovery of new possibilities.” Millerman quotes this ludicrous passage from The Fourth Political Theory and adds: “I am one of those who was happy to raise a glass.” Yet before we start popping open the champagne, shouldn’t we first get more of a guarantee than Dugin’s book can give us that the anti-liberal dispensation that he promises won’t simply give us 21st-century versions of the evil regimes that arose from the third political theory?
As for Dugin’s appeal to nebulous Heideggerian notions like “Dasein” and the “other Beginning”: nothing can be clearer than the fact that the Heidegger celebrated by Dugin is the Heidegger who never renounced and never regretted his embrace of (an idealized version of) National Socialism. Richard Wolin, in his recent book Heidegger in Ruins, quotes a text from the Black Notebooks where Heidegger states that the fundamental error of his aligning himself with the Nazis consisted in the fact “that the ‘time’ was not yet ripe.” It was a question of “failure to recognize the immaturity of the [relevant historical] ‘forces.’” This implies pretty clearly that in principle there was nothing wrong in embracing National Socialism in the 1930s; it’s simply a question of waiting however many centuries it takes for a time that’s more propitious for realizing the civilizational project of extinguishing modernity in its rootlessness, cultural emptiness, and spiritual nihilism. Simon Blackburn was of course right to point out that analytical philosophers are allergic to Heidegger because “we care about truth. And intelligibility is a precondition of truth. If you cannot tell whether a string of words says anything, you cannot tell whether it says anything true,” whereas Heidegger offers more “fog” than truth. The same applies to Dugin. However, the fog is not sufficiently dense that we can’t perceive fairly clearly that Heidegger remained enduringly loyal to National Socialism as he understood it in the 1930s, and that Dugin remains loyal to Heidegger quaNational Socialist.
It hardly needs pointing out that we confront unique challenges when confronting the possibility of philosophical dialogue with a theory that we have strong reason to believe is a tissue of lies and cover-ups (or alternatively, merely an absurd joke). When I am writing a commentary on the political philosophy of John Rawls, I may find his idea of the veil of ignorance philosophically compelling, or I may find the argument wanting. But either way, I will try to show intellectual respect for the consequential thinker that Rawls surely is. But how am I supposed to try to do the same thing when I suspect that I am dealing with a thinker whose philosophizing is really a smokescreen for what is in fact an ugly ideology? Are we obliged to accord the respect implicit in a genuine intellectual dialogue to someone who goes out of his way to engage in the crudest and most irresponsible kind of apocalyptic ranting? In the apt words of Mark Edmundson, “you can’t argue with a wrecking ball.”
Marlene Laruelle has described Dugin as “a chameleon thinker,” and a chameleon thinker is indeed what he is. Since he began hawking his so-called Fourth Political Theory, Dugin has insisted that he is not fascist but anti-fascist, not racist but anti-racist. Yet it is effortless to show that there are blatant contradictions between what Dugin says and what he does — or between what he says when he is posing as an anti-fascist “theorist” and what he says when he is unleashing his ideological lunacy. Three examples: (1) While it is impossible to know what influence, if any, Dugin has had on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, anyone who knows anything about Dugin and his ideological movement knows that the rape of Ukraine that we are seeing today has been a Duginite desideratum for a very long time; that the unprovoked attack on a peaceful neighbour for the sake of reconquering the erstwhile Russian Empire amounts to a conversion of Duginite theory into Putinite praxis. Liberalism is “poison,” declares Dugin. And Russia’s lust for imperial glory is sweetness and light? (2) When a group of U.S. neo-Nazis undertook to create the Traditionalist Worker Party in 2015, they turned to Dugin to give the keynote address at their founding convention, and he was happy to oblige, addressing these Nazis with a video speech entitled “To My American Friends in Our Common Struggle.” (3) When Sheikh Imran Hosein gave a lecture at Moscow State University in July of 2013 and invited Dugin to respond, Dugin repeatedly resorted to a classic anti-Semitic depiction of the contemporary world as “Pax Judaica,” namely a globalist cabal for which Jews served as the all-powerful puppet-masters. Note that all three of my examples are situated within the last decade, thus utterly puncturing the notion that Dugin ceased to be a fascist when he embraced the supposed Fourth Political Theory.
The phrase that Millerman repeatedly deploys in his article is that Dugin’s philosophy is “compatible” with Putin’s diabolical policies in relation to Ukraine. As Millerman surely knows, this formulation is far too weak. It suggests, misleadingly, that the question of how Dugin’s theorizing relates to current Russian policy towards Ukraine is to be pondered hypothetically, whereas the truth, of course, is that Dugin has spent decades proselytizing on behalf of these very policies of genocidal imperialism. It’s obviously not an accident that Dugin has acquired his near-universal reputation as an avatar of Russian fascism at its worst, such as we’re currently witnessing in Ukraine. In January of 2023, Dugin’s Telegram channel posted a message from Dugin in which he referred to the war in Ukraine as “the final one” in relation to which “all previous wars were relative and prototypes, prefigurations of this one, which is the main one.” That is, the war for the conquest of Ukraine is the final showdown between Russia’s “Eurasian” civilization and the “Atlanticist” West. It was crazy eschatological thinking of this sort that obviously lured Russia into this deranged war in the first place, and continues to sustain it.
Millerman is clearly aware of all this. I myself made some of these points to him as early as 2015. Yet he continues to pretend that Dugin’s identity as a “philosopher” is more salient than his identity as a hate-mongering extremist, and continues to spout the official line that Dugin is anti-fascist in the pages of Compact and First Things. As if it weren’t sufficient to have given Millerman his original platform in the magazine, the First Things editor, R.R. Reno, astonishingly granted him a second platform in the form of a fawning podcast. In it, Millerman emphasized the “thoughtfulness” of Dugin’s critique of liberalism, and the marvellous “insights” into liberalism itself that liberals deny themselves by failing to attend to Dugin. It amazes me that anyone can read The Fourth Political Theory and find anything “thoughtful” or “insightful” in its challenges to liberalism; Dugin’s engagement with liberalism has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. This is a public relations operation, not an invitation to philosophical dialogue.
Ronald Beiner is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada specializing in political philosophy. He is the author of seven books on political theory and the editor or co-editor of seven others. His most recent publication was Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right in 2018.
Photo: “врнс-20 (52456025310)” by Екатеринодарская Епархия licensed under CC BY 2.0.