The Myth of Alexander Dugin

Today I read Michael Millerman’s First Things article on Alexander Dugin, and listened to Rusty Reno’s interview with Millerman, after being repeatedly encouraged by a family member to delve more deeply into the Dugin ecosystem. (It also helped that Rusty Reno, editor of First Things bought me a pint of beer at Chicago O’Hare last year if I promised to start subscribing to the magazine. I accepted the beer and promptly took out a subscription, for which I count myself enormously blessed.)

I have been interested in Dugin ever since writing my 2022 article, “The Ukrainian Invasion and the Problem of Binary Thinking” and my follow-up piece, “Putin Fabricates False History of Ukraine.” Since writing those articles, I have been performing due diligence on Dugin and his philosophy.

Reno’s conversation with Millerman, author of Inside “Putin’s Brain”: The Political Philosophy of Alexander Dugin, gives a good overview of Dugon’s, so called, “Fourth Political Theory.” At the same time, I’m sad to say (and I hope Rusty will forgive me for this, as I am still in his debt for the glass of beer at O’Hare), both gentlemen perpetuate America’s central myth about Dugin. Few people, if any, within Russia would concur with the characterization of Dugin as Putin’s version of Rasputin, let alone the philosopher whose ideas offer insight into Putin’s brain. The role that Dugin is thought to play is entirely a fiction of the American radical right, with their deep need for a philosopher who is thought to be both sophisticated and somehow pulling significant geopolitical strings.

If you talk to people within Russia itself, they will tell you that Putin and Dugin are not working in close collaboration, and neither is Dugin working independently to provide intellectual justifications for Putin’s policies. In fact, Dugin is a marginal figure within Russian political discourse. He has his fans and supporters, but none of the sizeable political factions sees him as a leader, or even an important ideologue. He’s known to anyone who’s serious about Russian politics, especially people on the right, but few within Russia actually take him seriously.

Here’s how one Russian person explained it to me.

If you walked into the apartment of a notable Russian right-wing blogger, it wouldn’t be surprising if he had a couple of Dugin’s books. But if you asked him about Dugin, he’d probably scoff and say he’s right on some things but otherwise outdated, irrelevant and wrong. That’s about the extent of his influence.

Suppose you go into a real bookstore? Once in St. Petersburg, I went to a big bookstore and decided to check, ‘Hey, do they have Dugin?’ They were well stocked with a variety of political texts. Nothing by Dugin. Which didn’t surprise me.

Dugin’s heyday was in 2014. In that year, he was head of the sociology department at Moscow State University. However, he lost that position because of his controversial views. Then in 2015 he was associated with Tsargrad, a social conservative cable channel. Since then, he’s mostly relied on his own social media and other platforms. He has a bunch of fans, but they are mostly international because, again, he simply isn’t that big in Russia. If someone made a list of the top 100 political commentators in Russia, he might well be on that list. Possibly (but not probably) in the top 50. Certainly not in the top 20. It is true that the assassination of Dugin’s daughter briefly elevated his profile, but only briefly.

The fact is, Dugin has way more influence among anti-globalists outside of Russia than within the nation. If you look at a typical high school civics textbook, you’ll find Ivan Ilyin, but not Dugin.

But if Dugin was doing Putin’s ideological work, offering intellectual justification for the war in the Ukraine, then why doesn’t Putin support him? After all, Dugin could easily ask a media oligarch to give him a TV show, or just have him on as a more frequent guest. He could ask a university rector to give him another academic position. Putin could do lots of things. But he doesn’t. And he can’t for the simple reason that there is considerable disparity between Dugin’s views and those of Putin.

Dugin is an apocalypticist. He frames geopolitics in terms of the end times. He sees the world stage as dominated by a Manichean conflict between “oceanic” and “telluric” forces. He conflates metaphysics and geopolitics, uses lots of vague occultish and pseudo-mystical jargon. All of this completely contradicts Putin’s approach. People in Russia see Putin as far closer to Solzhenitsyn than to Dugin. Moreover, Dugin is far more extreme than Putin has ever been. For example, according to George Barros, Dugin once advocated the breaking up of China. That’s wholly contrary to Putin’s policies. In fact, this is why Dugin lost his MSU position. He has also advocated other positions incompatible with the approach taken by Putin’s government.

Since Dugin was ousted from his teaching position, he has gradually become one of Putin’s critics on the right. The mainstream media doesn’t report this much, but hardcore Russian ultra-nationalists have big problems with Putin. Dugin has been one of them.

If you talk to well informed people in Russia, they all confirm this. George Barros at the Institute for the Study of War will tell you the same thing. And he also cites studies by RAND and the Kennan Institute, who reports similarly.

So much for the myth of Dugin’s importance. But what about Dugin’s importance as a philosopher? Dugin is credited with an amazing insight that offers the skeleton key for understanding all of modern history. He has become a guru of the radical right. His followers, like Michael Millerman, talk about Dugin in reverential terms. Millerman, who helped translate Dugin’s 2009 book The Fourth Political ­Theory into English, doesn’t understand “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.”

So what is Fourth Political theory? At the risk of oversimplification, it hinges on the assumption that liberalism has won after defeating its competitors. According to the narrative told by Dugin, the twentieth century saw liberal secularism defeat its contenders, namely Fascism and Communism. This led to a unipolar world where critics of the reigning orthodoxy invariably become associated with either fascist or communist ideals, since these are the only alternative paradigms that we are familiar with for attacking liberalism. What we need, Dugin claims, is an ideology to replace liberalism, one that is neither fascist nor communist. For Dugin, the solution is “fourth political theory,” one that integrates and supersedes all three predecessor ideologies. This successor ideology must recognize ethnos-based civilizational blocks over the nation state (this is where it connects with the type of Russian imperialism I have discussed elsewhere), combining the vitalism of Heidegger with Plato’s yearning for philosopher kings. It seeks to dismantle all western philosophy as distortion and alienation in order to inaugurate a more primitive ground for being rooted in new gods. One of these new gods is ethnos, described by Dugin as “the greatest value of the Fourth Political Theory.”

See Also

Of course, this narrative is skewed on so many levels. There has always been another option for opposing liberal secularism besides the Fascism and Communism, and this other way has not been swallowed up by a unipolar world of secular liberalism. St. Augustine recognized this other way when coming to grips with the fall of Rome. Henri De Lubac recognized this other way in his lectures on the collapse of the Third Republic.  The Conservative tradition has recognized this other way through a cast of sophisticated thinkers including Sir John Fortescue, Richard Hooker, Sir Edward Coke, John Selden, Sir Matthew Hale, Sir William Temple, Jonathan Swift, Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and John Dickinson. The American thinker, Russell Kirk (1918–1994) recognized this other way it in his monumental book The Conservative Mind. All these thinkers have offered a “fourth way” beyond the echo chamber of Liberalism, Fascism and Communism. This tradition, which I have summarized here and here and here, has offered a coherent and consistent body of thought for attacking liberalism.

The philosophical movement represented by thinkers like Dugin and his North American populizers like Millerman neglect this rich tradition and then can make the astonishing claim (see around the 6:57 minute mark in Milerman’s interview with Reno) that we have no reflex left for opposing liberalism anymore. This false problem, rooted in amnesia of the rich tradition of conservative philosophy, offers a false answer to a false problem, paving the way for a vitalism of a pre-civilized past that looks to Heidegger (read through the lens of Dugin) as our new starting point.

But this is not viable. As Rusty Reno himself pointed out six years before his interview with Millerman, Dugin’s vision is deeply anti-teleological, appropriating Heidegger’s Dasein without Heidegger’s teleology. Moreover, as I pointed out in my  article “America and the Collapse of Politics,” while Dugin and the larger radical right lament the way liberalism has robbed us from the transcendent, they would replace the liberal order with a Nietzschean vitalism that merely repackages and rearranges the very paradigms they reject. But this is a dead-end, for as I pointed out yesterday, when the old mythos passed away at the incarnation, everything was transformed, so that a resuscitation of pre-Christian religion, metaphysics, or even politics, is more than merely anachronistic; it is nihilistic.

In the end, Dugin’s sagacity, no less than his actual relevance in geopolitics, is simply a myth of the online world.

Further Reading on This Topic



Scroll To Top