Reading 'Putin's Rasputin' to Learn about Fighting Fascism

Do an internet search on the name "Aleksandr Dugin," and you quickly learn he is widely considered among the most toxic figures in today's political landscape.  The website Big Think calls him "the most dangerous philosopher in the world."  Robert Zubrin at National Review is still more energetically immoderate, referring to Dugin as the leader of a "satanic cult," a "mad philosopher" with a "new hate-ridden totalitarian ideology."  It is not at all clear whether Zubrin has read Dugin, but he refers to a strange book by a Lutheran pastor, James Heiser, who claims that "Dugin's intended goal ... is the End of the World."  Surely this must be the limit of hyperbole, yes?  No.  Glenn Beck, who also gives no evidence he has read Dugin, classifies his influence on nationalist thought in Europe as "the early stage of the Nazi movement" and his book The Fourth Political Theory as "the Mein Kampf" for modern "far-right groups." 

In the midst of all this frenzied rhetoric, one task has been given almost no attention by the Dugin-demonizers: carefully reading him with an eye toward understanding and critically analyzing his political philosophy.

In the struggle for 20th-century world hegemony among fascism, communism, and liberalism, the first two were united by their hatred of what they saw as the most serious of the third's many defects: its radical and alienated individualism.  Dugin starts from this same basic hostility to liberalism, and so he sees its two historical challengers as offering insights concerning its limits.  Each of the three ideologies has a preferred subject around which it builds its vision of politics.  Liberalism takes the individual as the main actor in human history, while communism and fascism focus on the social class and the nation or race, respectively.  For Dugin, each choice produces an impoverishment in the theorization of human nature, which is at once encompassing of all of these and much deeper than any of them. 

In The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin takes from Martin Heidegger the notion of Dasein, or human being, as the proper subject of his fourth political theory.  Dasein is inconceivable outside the lived community, so it is inconsistent with radical individualism.  The community is not a Marxian class, nor is it a racial group.  It is both a myth, an ideal identity that members venerate in the form of traditions and sacred symbols, and an ecological reality informed by long shared life in the same environmental conditions.  Dugin thus argues both as a sociologist of nationalist myth, who understands the importance of shared narratives of group identity, and as a geopolitical theorist, who conceives of the lives of human populations as intimately shaped by their shared physical environments. 

Each of these different human communities has its own inherent logic, according to this view, and each is incompatible in some ways with all others.  The nature of human history is such that the cultural solution to life's challenges carved out over long periods of time by a people faced with particular historical and ecological contexts tends toward uniqueness.  We should not be too quick to seek to reduce that pluralism.  Cultural systems should be left organically intact, as the inherent wisdom built into their structure by the tests of time and the accretions of generations of individual actions are almost certainly greater than any unifying logic we seek to impose from outside.

So, in Dugin's view, racism, with its hierarchy of groups and its purportedly objective standpoint, is to be utterly rejected.  We should see "the ethnos in the plural, without trying to establish any kind of a hierarchical system."

Each of the three dominant political theories of modernity has a chief failing, and all three must therefore be transcended.  In liberalism and communism, the flaw is their shared commitment to materialism and historical progress.  In fascism, racism and the hierarchization of human cultures constitute the fatal defect.  Liberalism too is diagnosed with the "illness" of racism insofar as it insists on distorting all humankind into homo economicus.  "As soon as we say that the American or the Russian culture is better than that of the Chukchi or the inhabitants of the Northern Caucasus," Dugin writes, "we act like racists [and] this is incompatible with both science and with a basic respect toward different ethnicities."  This position is stated and restated in The Fourth Political Theory.  It is impossible to believe that a reader of goodwill could fail to understand him here. 

Dugin's adaptation of the Heideggerian critique of liberalism contains insights that thoughtful liberals and conservatives would do well to grapple with in their own thinking about the consequences of the victory of unrooted and radically individualistic freedom.  The world this has made, according to Dugin, is fundamentally a world of products, and the global market society that proclaims itself the culminating point of human history is the conduit for the brutal triumph of egoistic nihilism.

Yes, the claim is sweeping, but evidence in modern American culture that illustrates what it contains of truth is not hard to find.  For example, it is reported by some academic social scientists that people who do not have children are, according to their measures, happier than those who have procreated.  A meme version of this I once saw online made the point at a visceral level that unwittingly reveals its philosophical vapidity.  A 30-something business-suited woman glares at the viewer, presumably a hapless parent, and imperiously asserts, "I'm going to do exactly what I want to do with my time because I don't have any children."  But what is the implied definition of happiness operative here?  It is nothing more than the narcissistic desire to accumulate things, among which are counted other people, whose sole purpose is to give pleasure to the individual until depleted and then to be disposed of without ceremony and replaced by the new.  This desire will be met through activity we glorify with the term "career," which for most of us will involve pushing paper around or selling other people things they do not need. 

This literature on the purported happiness of the childless never examines the question of whether this is a defensible framework for human life.  What of the need for a meaningful cultural system to come to terms with life's inevitable suffering and tragedy?  It would be useful to know something about how the 30-something female jetsetter feels about her total freedom in twenty-five years.  Would she perhaps come to understand, when death has crept a little closer and with no children to comfort her at this realization, that ending one's time on the planet, after passing through considerable pain and physical deterioration, in the absence of others who care deeply about you regardless of your ability to serve their purposes, is a Hell human beings are typically thoroughly unprepared to face?  

The criticism of modernity mounted by Dugin is total, and its totality relentlessly leads him into deep pockets of quicksand.  For instance, he seems not to have thought hard at all about the difficult question of what happens to the institution of science after the revolution of the fourth theory.  But notwithstanding these problems, serious-minded defenders of liberalism would do well to attend to Dugin's critique.  Marxism-Leninism and fascism were often poorly understood by their opponents because it could not be admitted that they pointed to any legitimate weaknesses of democracy.  One is not under the slightest obligation to be sympathetic to a writer in endeavoring to carve out and pocket whatever chunks of thought might be useful in strengthening one's own perspective.  Those who would defend liberalism, in its leftist or its conservative manifestation, do no favors to their side by failing to grasp the possibly grave flaws of their ideology pointed out by wily enemies.

Image: Far News Agency via Wikimedia Commons.