Alexander Dugin: “Putin’s Brain” and Anti-American Pseudointellectual
“Putin’s Rasputin or not, Alexander Dugin is a serious scholar, a genuine intellectual, and a provocative social scientist who may be not unworthily pronounced the most formidable theoretical opponent of Western liberalism since Lenin,” writes political scientist Mark R. Royce. In this review of Dugin’s book The Fourth Political Theory, one of the works cited by Dr. Royce, I aim to challenge that view. Setting aside any discussion of Lenin, I contend that Alexander Dugin is anything but “a serious scholar, a genuine intellectual, and a […] social scientist,” although I suppose to call him “provocative” is fair.
First, a little background. Alexander (or, more authentically, “Aleksandr”) Dugin’s role in contemporary Russia is that of a “public intellectual,” although, as suggested above, that description should not be taken too literally. Known to some as “Putin’s brain,” he is one of the foremost ideologues of current Russian politics, especially as regards foreign affairs. While his work supports the Russian regime, he exceeds it in radicalism, occasionally criticizing Vladimir Putin and his government for falling short of his grand designs. There has been plenty of discussion and disagreement over how influential Dugin really is, but I tend to agree with the academic who has called him “an important player in shaping the discourse of Russian political and intellectual elites.” To understand Dugin’s “thought” is, therefore, a valuable endeavor. His ideas dovetail with much Russian foreign policy, including the war against Ukraine, which is darkly anticipated at certain points in The Fourth Political Theory. If nothing else, Alexander Dugin is the Id of modern Russian politics, saying what others dimly think but are a tad too decorous to voice. (I owe the expression to Ben Shapiro, who likes to call Joy Behar “the Id of the Democratic Party.”) As another scholar has put it, Dugin “is simultaneously on the fringe and at the center of the Russian nationalist phenomenon.”
A final note on Dugin the man, before we delve into the book. For some reason, Dr. Royce comments that “[l]ittle employment history is supplied” concerning the notorious “philosopher.” Dugin’s past is actually quite well documented, including the inception of his career in the Yuzhinsky Circle, his involvement with the Russian Communist Party, which is mentioned in The Fourth Political Theory, his failed parliamentary candidacy for the National Bolshevik Party, and so on. The eclecticism of his professional path closely parallels his political ideas, which are marked by a willingness to throw together everything but the kitchen sink sans any regard for logical consistency.
The Point of The Fourth Political Theory
Although Dr. Royce is wrong to hold as high an opinion of Dugin’s work as he does, it is easy to discern what he likes about it. He sees in Dugin a “reactionary” who stands on the political right while eschewing the extreme individualism which this often entails in the United States. That may be true, but the same could be said of al-Qaeda. The analogy is not fortuitous: in The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin praises “the significant achievements of Islamic fundamentalism” and refers to 9/11 as proof that his plan for combating “liberalism” is feasible. According to him, Iran is among the countries defending the globe against the wicked West.
But how do these statements fit the broader context of Dugin’s argument? What is the central purpose of The Fourth Political Theory? It seems apparent that the book’s goal is twofold: firstly, to offer an ideological defense of authoritarianism — more precisely, totalitarianism — and, secondly, to justify Russian imperialism.
Let us examine these two objectives in turn. First, totalitarianism. Amazingly, Dr. Royce actually quotes a passage that goes to the heart of Dugin’s totalitarian project, though I charitably suppose that he has failed to grasp its meaning: in Dugin’s own words, his theory aims to establish “the freedom for any form of subjectivity except for that of the individual.” In other words, individual rights will be a thing a thing of the past in his brave new world, where no-one will be viewed as an individual and everyone will function strictly as a member of a group. Anyone who thinks this is a misrepresentation is welcome to read the quote in its context. It is explicitly part of a tirade against individual liberty: “the freedom of an individual is a prison.”
No less staunch is Dugin’s opposition to human rights. According to him, the notion that “human rights” should be globally binding is “racist” because it means the imposition of Western ideas on non-Western societies. Apparently, he finds this more outrageous than the imposition of death, torture, and so forth on populations by their rulers. The international community may have failed to prevent the (genuinely racist) genocide in Rwanda, but perhaps it affords its victims some consolation that they thereby escaped the imposition on them of human rights.
Another passage also neatly illustrates what this “serious scholar” thinks governments should be allowed to do to their citizens:
Henceforth, liberalism must penetrate into the depths of all societies and countries without exception, and the slightest resistance will be, according to the designs of the neoconservatives, broken — as happened in Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
These, then, are some of the actions Dugin considers slight resistance to overbearing American liberalism: genocide, repeatedly invading other countries, gassing thousands of civilians, and harboring international terrorists. By the way, neocon John Bolton bashed the intervention in Kosovo as “terribly misconceived” in a 1999 article, but we will examine Dugin’s caricatural view of neoconservatism later.
In service to his totalitarian project, Dugin goes so far as to employ arguments used by the “Ingsoc” regime in George Orwell’s 1984. For instance, he assures us: “‘Freedom from’ [that is, negative liberty as enshrined in the Constitution of the USA] is the most disgusting formula of slavery[.]” You read that right: freedom is slavery. Or how about this? “Total war and total peace are equally murderous.” It is not quite “war is peace,” but it comes pretty close.
And what of Russian imperialism? Dugin legitimizes that by accusing the United States of being an imperialist power. This implies a default positive view of any action that weakens the United States, including Russian expansionism. The problem is that Dugin’s depiction of international relations is fatally distorted, as even Dr. Royce comes close to acknowledging. Dugin may imagine that he is up against an “American Empire,” but as Zbigniew Brzezinsky shows in The Grand Chessboard, there is no American “empire” in any meaningful sense of the word, only American hegemony. Dugin refers to American “hegemony” as well, but jumps thence to the conjecture that it must destroy other countries’ “sovereignty.” This is certainly not how these terms are used in the International Relations literature, where “hegemony” means that a state possesses a preponderance of power within a group of states, whether that be through a particularly strong military, economic power, clout within international institutions, or some other factors. Indeed, scholarship has tended to find that the hegemon in a given system of states has an interest in preserving the status quo and, consequently, in upholding the rules that govern the coexistence of states in the system. As you may have guessed, none of the literature on hegemony plays the slightest role in Dugin’s musings on world politics, which are based on old leftist writings and philosophical or pseudo-philosophical texts instead of being grounded in the field of International Relations — a bold shoice for someone who has centered his career around geopolitics.
In reality, of course, American power in international affairs resembles imperial power like a Pomeranian resembles a Rottweiler. Here are a few examples, which constitute more evidence than Dugin’s whole volume presents for the imaginary “American Empire.”
Remember TTIP, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union? As late as 2016, it was considered a “major policy priorit[y] for President Obama’s administration.” Nonetheless, in late August of that year, German Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel opined that “negotiations [over TTIP] ha[d] de facto failed” because “we Europeans did not want to subject ourselves to American demands.” Yet this comment seems to overstate the breadth of opposition to the attempted agreement. According to a 2016 paper by economist Matthias Bauer, the resistance had mainly originated in Germany and Austria, whence it had expanded somewhat to other European states. Thus, polling indicated “that the European majority welcome[d] TTIP, but that Germany and Austria [were] particularly sceptical.” Even within Germany and Austria, Bauer found, the anti-TTIP agitation could be traced back to “a small group of well-connected politicians, green and left-wing political parties, and associated civil society organisations.” Ergo, an economic deal supported by most of Europe and the same United States that allegedly exercises imperial power in world politics was foiled by a protest movement organized by a little nexus of public figures in two countries. In Bauer’s opinion, they weren’t even right to oppose TTIP! That the United States, despite being the world’s only superpower, is this limited in its ability to get its way among its closest allies unmasks the notion of an “American Empire” as an absurd fantasy.
And why was Russia able to launch its invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and escalate it further in 2022? Because Ukraine was not a NATO member state, which, in turn, was due to the Alliance’s refusal to grant her a membership action plan at the Bucharest summit in 2008. Steven Pifer rightly notes that “Germany, France and […] other [NATO members] were not ready at Bucharest to support a MAP,” partly out of concern over how Russia might respond. This hesitancy tipped the scale even though “President Bush […] personally engaged to urge allied leaders to agree to the MAP request.” Pifer’s verdict is indisputable: “The United States has major influence within NATO, but it does not run the Alliance.” In fact, Russia — not a NATO member — contributed to deciding the issue against the USA’s wishes! Once again, the legendary “American Empire” eludes observation.
Finally, the Kremlin has been yowling and spitting venom for well over a decade over supposed attempts to encircle Russia through expansion of NATO (and then do what — invade? Invade a nuclear power?) But if that is the plan, how come Sweden and Finland only decided to join the Alliance after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine? Did the fearsome American empire not have enough pull in Finland, a country of five-and-a-half million people, to induce the Finns to enter the North Atlantic fold? There is no American empire, plain and simple. Sweden and Finland did not join NATO earlier because there was insufficient public support for the move; that changed after the invasion. In our Westphalian system of states, states are sovereign, despite — or, more accurately, thanks to — American hegemony.
Some Notes on Style
Among the more annoying features of the book is Dugin’s bloated, vague, vacuous style. As we will explore below, he is factually wrong on numerous accounts — in fact, this mind-numbing monograph contains more outright falsehoods than I can cover here. Yet half the time, it is not that he is factually wrong, but that he mentions no facts at all. Almost any page from The Fourth Political Theory could be used in lessons of rhetoric to explain the term “glittering generality.” Oftentimes, this supposed “serious scholar” gets by on one endnote per page, or even rambles for several pages without a single endnote. Speaking of those endnotes, the overwhelming majority of them are merely further comments by either Dugin or the editor, not citations.
At times, it gets so bad that Dugin’s prose reminded me of L. Ron Hubbard’s. For instance, in Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought, we read this (p.93):
We have noted the individual who must be the only one who can make a postulate or command, whose authority is dearer to him than the comfort or state of millions that have suffered from such men (Napoleon, Hitler, Kaiser Wilhelm, Frederick of Prussia, Genghis Khan, Attila).
How accurate is this historical analysis? Who knows? It is so vague and cursory as to make that question barely answerable. Furthermore, even if we presented evidence that, say, Frederick the Great had been motivated by a deep love of his subjects, the reader could still suspect that Hubbard must have had even better reasons to believe the opposite — because Hubbard never presents his reasons in the first place. The same combination of vague, confident assertions punctuated once in a while by lazily gesturing at historical figures or events characterizes Dugin’s writing.
We can compare a stylistically similar passage in The Fourth Political Theory:
[Fascism and communism] lost the battle for modernity as the liberals triumphed. For this reason, the issue of modernity, and, incidentally, of modernisation, may be removed from the agenda. Now the battle for postmodernity begins.
Why is the battle for modernity over? How do we know it is? What exactly does it mean for modernity to “be removed from the agenda”? Where does “modernization” feature in this scheme? What is “modernization”? What is “modernity”? What is “postmodernity”? None of these questions ever receives a satisfactory answer.
Hubbard is known as the most-published author in history, and Dugin is famously prolific as well. I believe I have put my finger on how they have both managed to churn out so much text.
Testing the “Theory”
In keeping with the blurriness and prolixity of his “reasoning,” Dugin’s theoretical project includes almost no testable predictions. This makes the highfalutin terminology of “political theory” which he applies to his ravings like lipstick to a pig appear, as the British say, a bit silly. When an academic and supposed “social scientist” pens a volume on “political theory,” the obvious expectation is that it contains something like the theories used in academic disciplines such as Political Science — an intellectual framework designed as a tool for understanding phenomena and, ideally, making predictions which can be confirmed or falsified. Some theories, especially newer ones, do not aim to make predictions, but they are still basically testable through case studies. What Dugin has produced is pure ideology — as distinct from something like Marxism, which is an ideology and a theory joined at the hip; some misguided political scientists use the theory to this day. Therefore, The Fourth Political Program would have been a much more apposite title, but Dugin presumably hoped the word “theory” would lend the book some additional gravitas.
Be that as it may, he does make two testable predictions that I was able to identify, so let us examine how well they have held up. First of all, Dugin takes inspiration from Samuel Huntigton’s powerful theory — here the term is justified — of the “Clash of Civilizations.” Just when it seems he may start making sense, he adds his own fantasies about a supposed “Eurasianist civilization” before declaring:
The Western border of the Eurasianist civilisation goes somewhat more East of the Western border of the Ukraine, making that newly-formulated government […] fragile and not viable.
Inappropriate capitalization aside, how well has this assessment aged since the book’s publication? Ukraine had a revolution in 2014, it is true; but this hardly classifies her as “fragile.” Firstly, shaking off the shackles of the venal pro-Russian regime has enabled her to make great progress, including overtaking Russia in the struggle against corruption, as we will cover below. Secondly, the only reason why Ukraine splintered in the wake of the revolution was the Russian invasion that followed it. No, there was no homegrown “separatist movement.” In fact, mostly Russian-speaking areas like Odesa and Kharkiv foiled Russian attempts to implant sedition there. In the midst of a simmering war in the east, Ukraine had a more peaceful and less acrimonious transfer of power in 2019 than the United States in 2016, let alone 2020, than Russia in 2012, and than Belarus in 2020 (although the latter two weren’t really transfers).
More to the point, we are currently in the middle of a full-blown war between Russia and Ukraine, and it is Russia which has suffered an attempted paramilitary coup d’état that captured at least one strategically important city of over a million people. So which country is really “fragile and not viable” — the nation-state where separatism had to be artificially generated by a foreign power, or the multiethnic empire which has had to fight two wars to prevent the secession of a tiny region with a population of just over a million? I think Dugin might not like my answer.
Dugin’s other prediction is similarly questionable. He is confident that Russian liberals are not truly committed to liberalism: “give them some money, and they will declare anything and everything.” If a desperate battle against reality could allow one to believe that when the book was published, such self-deception hardly seems conceivable now that being a liberal in Russia requires a readiness for danger that would put a professional crocodile wrestler to shame. A glance at the numerous political prisoners in Russia’s penal system blows Dugin’s claim to pieces. If any faction in Russian politics has proved venal and hypocritical, it is the regime’s toadies: investigative journalist Nazar Tokar has documented a veritable mass phenomenon of former propagandists for the Russian government reinventing themselves as its critics after joining media companies based outside Russia or associated with the Russian opposition.
What Is Liberalism, Anyway?
Dugin spends much of the book on long-winded philippics against “liberalism,” though it is not immediately apparent what he means by that term. Once one pierces the thick veil of his confused ramblings and misrepresentations, it is clear that he is talking about classical liberalism — that of the Founding Fathers, as well as of Locke and Mill, whom he does mention. He even makes some rudimentary attempts to distinguish different kinds of liberalism, but most of the time, he uses the word as though it meant “libertarianism.” That is, his characterizations of liberalism almost invariably present it in its most extreme form. This verges on strawmanning, but one almost gets the sense that Dugin simply cannot help himself, that he is so reflexively fanatical he struggles even to imagine anyone having a moderate political stance or subscribing to an ideology with reservations.
Speaking of strawmanning. Although Dugin mentions some of the great minds of early liberal philosophy, when he first attempts an in-depth characterization of liberal thought, it is not Locke and Mill whom he cites. His two exemplars of liberalism — the ones he discusses more than any other in the book — are Herbert Spencer and Ayn Rand. To Spencer, he attributes a social Darwinist position, and boldly declares that the social-Darwinist mindset is therefore an essential part of liberalism. That Herbert Spencer was a famously idiosyncratic thinker and social Darwinism was a passing fad never enters into consideration. Dugin’s analysis makes about as much sense as claiming that every present-day communist must wish for nuclear war because Juan Posadas did so. On this shaky basis Dugin goes so far as to trace “the modern idea of economic growth” back to Spencerian social Darwinism, even though Spencer was not an economist and liberal economics goes back to Adam Smith, and even farther to eighteenth-century French thinkers like Quesnay — meaning that it emerged long before Darwin was even born.
Dugin’s portrayal of Ayn Rand cannot be explained by anything other than dishonesty. He would have us believe that the cornerstone of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is that “if one is rich, then he is good.” Is it even worth explaining to a predominantly American audience how fundamentally this description perverts Rand’s ideas? Her literature, which was a carefully constructed vehicle for her philosophy, is usually criticized for its cartoonishly evil villains, many of whom are rich. The rich villains are incompetent businessmen who mismanage their inherited wealth, or tycoons who collude with the government to give themselves unfair advantages, like the antagonists in Atlas Shrugged. The virtuous weathy characters are the ones who have earned their fortunes fairly — and even among them, Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead is portrayed as more bad than good because he was motivated by a desire for power and abandoned his own ideals to cater to his customers. In Rand’s first novel, We The Living, the virtuous characters are more inclined to live in abject poverty than to eke out a halfway decent living while playing by the rules of communist Russia. In The Fountainhead, architect Howard Roark prioritizes his commitment to his own unpopular style over commercial success. The protagonists of We The Living and Anthem never even attain financial stability by our standards — in fact, one of them dies trying to flee the USSR. Rand’s idea of a good person is not one who is rich. It is one who acts rationally and productively in pursuit of his personal values. Financial success merely tends to follow from productivity.
Even if The Fourth Political Theory did not completely misrepresent Rand and Objectivism, to cite them as typical exemplars of liberalism would still be absurd. Objectivists are not even on good terms with libertarians, with whom they share most of their policy prescriptions. To use them as stand-ins for all liberals is like treating the platypus as typical of mammals.
No less imbecilic are Dugin’s arguments against liberalism. One of the principal ones is this: liberalism is, in its own way, as oppressive as its alternatives, because it forbids one to reject freedom. Obviously, this line of reasoning is exactly wrong. In a liberal society, one is perfectly free to live in unfreedom — that is, to reject freedom for oneself. What one may not do is impose unfreedom on others. In the liberal United States of America, the Amish are free to live in their theocratic communes and Jehovah’s Witnesses are free to spend every hour of their lives in conformity with a totalitarian creed.
As it happens, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia, and just you try to establish an Amish-style commune in, say, China. Being a traditionalist Muslim there could get you sent to a re-education camp. Plainly, liberal governance offers citizens not only more freedom than its alternatives, but even more freedom for unfreedom.
A Very Quaint Form of Conservatism
Although Dugin is a self-styled conservative, the word does not mean to him what it usually means in America (or just about anywhere else). His “conservatism” seems to be little more than an amalgam of every ideological concept he thinks can help to defeat “modernity” and “liberalism.” Seen from this perspective, there is some sense to the nonsense that is The Fourth Political Theory. Dugin’s passionate Islamophilia suddenly makes sense. Of course, the reasoning behind it is still illogical. Supposedly, he desires a world in which all sorts of different cultures can coexist peacefully, with none imposing its values on the others. But Islam, by its very nature as an ideology aiming to dominate the whole world, cannot forego expansion in such a manner. Naturally, this obvious problem is ignored. One is reminded of Dugin’s early association with Islamic radical Geydar Dzhemal.
Dugin is certainly not a conservative in the Western sense. This he makes abundantly clear, calling his brand of conservatism “Eurasianism” and describing it as drawing specifically on non-Western values. Moreover, he seems to lack any appreciation for Edmund Burke, whom he designates as one of the “liberal conservatives,” considered by him to be the black sheep of conservatism. Intellectually, then, Dugin has very little in common with the average Republican. Yet even with these qualifications, it is difficult to identify him with the label “conservative.”
Consider his frank sympathy for communism as an anti-liberal ideology. I see no indication that Dugin even disagrees with communism’s economic policies. He appears to see himself as, in some respects, continuing the cause of the Soviet Union, as when he writes of “our defeat in the Cold War” — compare present-day Germany’s commemoration of Victory in Europe Day as the “Day of Liberation” (“Tag der Befreiung”). While Dugin finds fault with Marxism’s faith in progress, materialism, and analytical focus on economics, he considers it useful for “identifying the contradictions of capitalism,” although, naturally, he never provides any economic analysis bolstered by specific data which would demonstrate such virtues in Marxism.
In the vein of the least intellectual modern leftists, he announces, on little or no evidentiary basis, that “modernity’s conception of gender” is conditioned by “Western or global patriarchy.” For a compelling refutation of such fantasies, see psychologist Roy Baumeister’s monograph Is There Anything Good about Men? Indeed psychology is the discipline to consult about differences between the genders; alternatively, one could examine the evolution of gender roles through a careful study of their history, which The Fourth Political Theory never undertakes. The titular Fourth Political Theory, for Dugin, must deconstruct the current gender norms and replace the current image of the quintessential man with one that is “non-adult[,] non-White/European, insane, [and] non-urban” — one might almost think that Alexander Dugin’s career was another elaborate prank by the grievance studies hoaxers. How this brand of irrationalist, leftoid revolutionism can be reconciled with the traditionalism Dugin consistently professes is beyond me. Let it simply be noted that Dugin opposes modernity on the grounds that, according to him, it is inherently racist and sexist.
Dugin also constantly rails against “postmodernism” and “postmodernity.” Ordinarily, I would be sympathetic to such arguments, but here, they are doubly problematic. Firstly, Dugin misrepresents postmodernism, and secondly, the attacks on postmodernism are hypocritical because he is himself a postmodernist, and makes no attempt to hide it. Dugin’s depiction of postmodernism is misleading because he presents it as a continuation of modernism and even liberalism. However, as philosopher Stephen Hicks has exhaustively documented, postmodernism is an outgrowth of anti-modern and anti-liberal (communist) currents. Hicks’s analysis also demonstrates that the postmodern mindframe is a direct continuation of the premodern one, which the example of Dugin himself neatly illustrates.
That Dugin is a postmodernist — at least in that postmodernism is a major part of his “thought” — is also blatant. The main points of reference for the “philosophy” expounded in The Fourth Political Theory are postmodernist and postmodernist-aligned “thinkers”: Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard and Derrida, Foucault, and on and on. Since the publication of The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin’s numerous agreements with postmodernism have continued to be apparent in his commentary.
Also bizarrely for a supposed conservative, Dugin dedicates tediously protracted portions of the book to defending cultural relativism. No culture can be called better than any other, he tells us — in fact, such a ranking cannot be undertaken even concerning different stages in the history of the same culture. For someone defending totalitarianism, this is immensely convenient. Individual rights, democracy and other “liberal” features, he assures us, are merely features of Western civilization, not universally desirable values. In support of his cultural relativism, Dugin refers to the history of the social sciences, especially anthropology, which have progressed from using normative terms — for instance, opposing “savagery” to “civilization” — to comparing various cultures in value-neutral terms. Two utterly unjustified assumptions are made here. Firstly, Dugin assumes that the current consensus among social scientists is necessarily more sensible than the previous consensus. Secondly, he takes for granted that the value-neutrality considered appropriate for social sciences, which aspire to obvective analysis, is automatically also desirable for an ideological project with a plainly normative focus, one intended to tell us how societies should be organized. This relates to a point discussed above: The Fourth Political Theory prevaricates as to whether it is presenting an analytical theory or an ideology. In reality, it is obviously the latter.
Not only does his reasoning for cultural relativism make no sense, but Dugin does not abide by it himself. He constantly rages against liberalism, and consistently associates liberalism with Western civilization. Indeed, he implies that, to defeat liberalism, it may be necessary to obliterate physically the territories where it originated. This can hardly be read as anything other than an appeal, albeit conditional, for genocide. (One reviewer who seems ideologically biased to agree with Dugin deludes himself: “Americans should not dismiss this book out of hand, because it it not anti-America.”)
Of Bogeymen and Hypocrites
Dugin decries the instrumentalization of fascism “as a bogeyman to frighten humanity.” Yet he himself is hardly above resorting to the old leftist tactic of smearing anything he dislikes by associating it with racism and fascism or, in his case, national socialism. Thus, he parrots the Russian propaganda trope of equating Ukrainians who would rather not be ruled from Moscow with Nazis: “Even less helpful are the dark shadows of the Third Reich, its nezalezhnye[.]” An endnote nonsensically explains “nezalezhnye” as Russian for “independent corpses,” but it is obviously just a derisive Russification of the Ukrainian adjective “nezalezhni,” meaning “independent ones” — because any Ukrainian who desires independence from Russia is thereby a Nazi, you know. (The reference may feel esoteric in English, but the book’s original audience would surely have understood it.)
Dugin’s other major bogeyman is racism: in true leftist fashion, he seems intent to accuse every political position he dislikes of being racist. This includes the mere statement “that the present is better […] than the past,” because it supposedly constitutes “an insult to the […] dignity of our ancestors[.]” How utterly preposterous. Firstly, if the present is better that the past, that should dignify our ancestors, whose efforts got us to this point — and who suffered through harder times than we are experiencing! Secondly, if the present appears to be preferable to the past, one should be allowed to express that impression without being labeled with some pejorative term like “racist” simply for making a natural observation. Thirdly, even if the belief in the better present were somehow a slight to our ancestors, the term “racism” would still not be remotely applicable to it (Dugin makes no effort to argue for its appropriateness). On the contrary, real racists are the ones who claim that their ancestors were always as superior as they themselves are. Finally, if saying that the present is better than the past is racist, what does that make Dugin’s own declaration that “‘[a]ncient’ means good, and the more ancient — the better”?
Another purported manifestation of racism is the attempt to have specifically Western qualities adopted globally. These attributes are “democracy, the market, parliamentarianism, capitalism, individualism, human rights, and unlimited technological development.” Again, the racists are clearly those who argue that such institutions are, or should be, universal, and not those like Dugin, who assert that they should belong only to the West. You’re about to be slaughtered by Idi Amin? Don’t worry, black man; at least you won’t be saved by democracy, individualism, and human rights.
One may ask: if Dugin spends so much time on leftist-style rants about racism, how can The Fourth Political Theory have been glowingly reviewed on the website Counter-Currents, and how can the English editions of his books be published by Arktos Media, a company Dr. Royce euphemistically calls “identitarian”? The answer may be fairly simple: if everything is racist, nothing is.
As stated, I believe the book’s twofold goal to be the defense of totalitarianism and Russian imperialism. By simply asking oneself: “What would I write if that were my goal?” one can, in fact, predict much of the content of The Fourth Political Theory. For instance, the most convenient way to whitewash Russian imperialism is to present it as resistance to another power’s imperialism. The obvious candidate for this role of viallain is the United States. Now, in a treatise which pretends to be an intellectually sophisticated work of political theory, some explanation for the supposed American imperialism must be provided — and what better explanation could one find than to blame it on everyone’s favorite punching-bag, the neocons, mirror image of the equally hated neoliberals? Indeed, Dugin does exactly this.
As we have seen, Dugin considers neoconservatives to be crusaders for the foisting of liberalism onto the world. This places him in opposition to those who have proposed that neoconservatives are really cynical reactionaries whose supposed liberalism is merely a ruse to mask the Machiavellian pursuit of American interests. Not that that view is necessarily correct, but at least it has received some substantiation, instead of the gaping void that Dugin provides to support his opinion. Dugin’s mischaracterization of neoconservatives largely stems from what may be the two most common mistakes people make when discussing them: he treats them as more unified than they ever were and exaggerates their influence.
Irving Kristol, the “godfather of neoconservatism,” observed in 2003 that the term “neoconservative” is so broad that it is often unclear to whom it applies, and went so far as to ask: “Is there any ‘there’ there?” He concluded that neoconservatism was a “persuasion,” an intellectual tendency to which conservatives were drawn at certain points in history, but nothing sufficiently distinctive or monolithic to be called a “movement.” A glance over some of the best-known neocons confirms this notion. On the relative left there are those like Bill Kristol (much more so than his father Irving) and David Frum, who come closest to Dugin’s caricature of the neocon driven by abstract and universalist liberal ideals. Kristol’s website, The Bulwark, seems ot spend more time criticizing the right than the left. At the center reside figures like Douglas Murray and Noah Rothman, culture warriors who could ruffle feathers at Fox News only through their hawkish foreign-policy preferences. On the relative right we find those like Norman Podhoretz, who has had a falling-out with Bill Kristol over Donald Trump, and David Horowitz, whose publication FrontPage Magazine has been quite equivocal over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Of course, any such nuance is totally lost on Dugin, who makes sweeping pronouncements about what neoconservatives think with the overconfidence of an extraterrestrial making generalized statements on the daily habits of all mammals. Thus, he avers that, for neoconservatives, “it is not enough” if a foreign country is an American ally: it must also embrace liberalism. Contrary to this shameless distortion, the argument that the United States should cooperate with friendly authoritarian states instead of demanding that they liberalize was most famously advanced by neocon Jeane Kirkpatrick.
As mentioned, Dugin also overstates the neocons’ influence on American politics. When the English edition of The Fourth Political Theory appeared in 2012, Barack Obama was not only in the White House, but was one year from reneguing on his “red line” statement regarding chemical weapons in Syria, one of the most un-neoconservative foreign-policy moves ever made by the United States. Yet Dugin consistently treats the neocons as a major force, if not the major force, behind American foreign policy — which they probably never were, not even under Bush.
The most comical segment in Dugin’s long distortion of neoconservatism unfolds as follows. First, he introduces William Kristol as “one of their most important ideologues,” which he never was. (Given the aforesaid looseness of the neoconservative “persuasion,” I would not say the neocons had ever even had “ideologues.”) Next, he attributes to Kristol the desire for the United States to impose liberalism and even “the American way of life” on every country in the world. There is no substantiation to this; Kristol himself is never quoted. Kristol’s name has an endnote to it and is directly followed by a sentence in quotation marks that is supposed to represent his opinion, so any reader would assume that sentence was a quote, the source of which was provided in the endnote. In reality, the endnote is just a description of Kristol, so the sentence in quotation marks is clearly Dugin’s own words misleadingly presented as though it were a quote. A Google search for the sentence yields no sources besides The Fourth Political Theory. I think the intention here really is to deceive, since this endnote is one of the few added by Dugin himself and not the editor. Midway through mischaracterising Bill Kristol’s opinions, Dugin suddenly starts attributing them to “the neoconservatives” — quite an extrapolation. By the next page, he is already proclaiming, with no evidence, that the neocons are “setting the tone for contemporary American politics[.]” What a statement to make in 2009, when the Russian version of the book was released, let alone in the English edition of 2012! This passage is optimally representative of the rigor with which this “serious scholar” analyzes international politics: he misattributes positions to Bill Kristol, then extrapolates them to all neoconservatives, and then, by implication, to the reality of American foreign policy — during the Obama administration.
Possibly the best indication that Dugin doesn’t know the first thing about neocons is that he claims that the “former Trotskyites” who laid the groundwork for neoconservatism shifted “from extreme Communism” to an equally “radical defence of [economic] liberalism[.]” In truth, of course, neocons are among those American conservatives least committed to small government. Elsewhere, Dugin speculates that neoconservatives wish to create a stable portion of the world centered on the United States and surrounded by countries forced to remain indefinitely in a condition “bordering chaos.” To understand how asinine this notion is, recall that the United States was, at this point, struggling to establish order and root out chaos in the faraway land of Afghanistan, in a war supported by the neocons. While such a conspiracy theory could have seemed almost plausible to someone during the Cold War, it is hard to believe that anyone could buy it in the age of sub-state international terrorism. (This assertion by Dugin is also impossible to reconcile with the idea that neocons want to impose liberal governance globally; political turmoil is the greatest enemy of liberalism and democracy.)
A final point on neocons: when Dugin accuses them of promoting “liberalism” he means, again, classical liberalism in the tradition of Locke and Mill: representative democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, and so forth. It is telling that Irving Kristol attracted indignation with an essay advocating the censorship of pornography, and that essay was featured in the 2004 anthology The Neocon Reader. Neoconsevatives are not, except possibly for Bill Kristol and a few others in the wake of the Trump election, liberals in the modern American sense.
The Terrible Translation
The translation of The Fourth Political Theory into English is the work of at least two individuals and, incredibly, went through a proofreader. Given the ineptitude of the final product, references to The Three Stooges practically make themselves. Translations are often so literal that, by the end of the book, one is almost equipped to emulate Dugin’s bland style in Russian. The verbatim copying of Russian phrases creates a stilted and awkward effect, as when we are told about a “critique […] from the side of liberals,” rather than “by liberals,” or about what happened “[i]n the majority of cases,” instead of “in most cases.”
The book’s English is flawed in other ways, with inconsistencies between British and American spellings, broken sentences, misused words, and so on. The problems, however, extend beyond English and Russian. Someone in the chain of production, if not multiple people, was clearly a Jack of all languages and master of butchering every one of them. The German article “das” appears where “der” should be used. “Sendero Luminoso” is translated as “Golden Path” instead of “Shining Path” (for a speaker of English, “luminoso” really shouldn’t be that hard to figure out!). The French “homme politique” is spelled with a single “m,” and so on. The frequency of such errors may provide some indication as to the intellectual stature of this publication and its intended audience. After all, Dugin apparently feels the need to refer to “the figure of bin Laden, independent of whether he is real or whether he was thought up in Hollywood[.]”
To state the obvious, this is a book written by a pseudointellectual, released in English by a pseudointellectual publishing company, for a readership of pseudointellectuals. A powerful indication of this is sordid fact is that the foreword by Alain Soral is just as moronic as are Dugin’s musings. According to Soral, Dugin’s work is important because we live in a world where “liberals and libertarians agree on the essentials[.]” Given that libertarianism is simply an extreme form of liberalism, how could they not “agree on the essentials”? He goes on to say that “capitalism, Communism and fascism […] have […] proven incapable of governing peoples peaceably” — but capitalism doesn’t “govern” in the same way as communism and fascism do. Its defining feature is the absence of constraints and controls (governance, if you will) in the economic sphere, and it has nothing to say about other areas of politics, let alone war and peace.
A Note on the Russian Version
I did not realize this while reading the book, but the original Russian text is quite a bit longer and, somehow, even nuttier. It was Dugin himself who edited it down for publication in English, so he clearly had some understanding of what he had to remove because it would look too crazy even to the useful idiots in the West who usually read his books. Among the material excluded from the English edition was Dugin’s infamous rant about surfers, which I feel compelled to quote here (the translation is mine):
[A] person has turned his baseball hat backwards, has put on baggy pants; there he goes. […] He is possessed by the spirit of Atlanticism. […] When there are more of us, we will not, of course, allow such characters to walk our streets so easily. […] The most dreadful ghettoes will be created for surfers — this is the most impudent, the most anti-Eurasian phenomenon. There is nothing more repulsive than riding on that disgusting board[.]
Dr. Royce’s phrase “serious scholar” simply will not stop flashing through my mind as I write this review… Needless to say, the English version never sounds quite that unprofessional. The closest it gets is a bizarre jab at the movie Spy Kids 2, which, it is claimed, exemplifies Western moral failings. Of course, Russians still possess a more refined taste in cinema than we degenerate Westerners, which is why they hold Steven Seagal in such high regard.
To Conclude the Review
Dr. Royce writes: “One might strenuously object to much of the content of [Dugin’s] books on both evidentiary and analytical grounds, though so routine and so pedantic a response concomitantly implies tacit overall approval.” I beg to differ. I see nothing pedantic in pointing out that Alexander Dugin is a liar, a pseudointellectual hack, and an apologist for terrorism and genocide.
The Fourth Political Theory was a difficult read. Perusing page after page of obvious falsehoods becomes tiring fairly fast. It was also difficult to choose what to include in this review: rest assured that I have barely scratched the surface of everything wrong with the book.
On the upside, at least now I know what I’ll be listening to when the old coot finally croaks.
The Bigger Picture
While I disagree with Dr. Royce’s position, I understand it to an extent. He believes we should take our enemies’ grievances seriously, which for some reason means treating Alexander Dugin as a mouthpiece for “the mortal agony of the wretched of the earth.”
Dr. Royce is right that there are plenty of poor people in Russia. Dugin’s writings are full of the resentment many Russians feel over the state of their economy since the transition to capitalism. But it is not the evil West and capitalism that have ruined Russia; it is the Russian government. In Red Notice, Bill Browder recounts from first-hand experience how, at the end of communism, state-owned companies in Poland were sold off far below their true value, just like what happened in Russia. In fact, a country like Poland has much more reason to complain than Russia, having been bullied by the Soviet Union even before the Cold War ended. Yet today, Poland is a stable and prosperous country, on course to overtake Britain economically in just seven more years. Even more amazingly, the Poles have not invaded any of their neighbors since gaining independence.
Dugin’s work, like all the avalanches of propaganda in support of Russian imperialism and Vladimir Putin’s regime, is directed against the very forces that combat poverty, backwardness and corruption in the post-communist world. Since the revolution of 2014, Ukraine has decimated corruption and lawlessness in its government by leaps and bounds. In 2014, Ukraine ranked 142nd in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. By 2022, it had risen to 116th place, an improvement of 26 places in eight years — and this improvement apparently understates the real progress. In contrast, Russia scored 136th in 2014 and 137th in 2022, meaning that it actually dropped by one place. The Fourth Political Theory spews fire and brimstone against the West, which has helped Ukraine to achieve such progress, and deprecates the Orange Revolution, a precursor to the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, as a triumph of liberalism.
Yes, we have to understand the grievances that people like Dugin channel — but to understand them properly is to see that there is nothing we can do or could have done to prevent them, at least through concessions. Those people are not poor because of evil Americans or world capitalism. They are poor because of predatory oligarchs, and politicians who steal, and parasites like Alexander Dugin who help them to steal. (A rare moment of honesty in The Fourth Political Theory is Dugin’s admission that dissident oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was imprisoned on Putin’s initiative for being a “liberal” and not, as some have claimed, out of a desire to combat the economic oligarchy itself.) The Russian population, which tolerates this instead of freeing itself like the Ukrainians have done, and the Belarusians have at least tried to do, is not blameless either.
Is there any hope for Russia? That is the million-dollar question. On one hand, the country has never had a stable democracy, and has had an unstable one for no more than about a decade. Russian public intellectual Boris Akunin has argued that the distinctive Russian brand of authoritarianism dates back to the Mongol empire, from which it was borrowed, and has resisted reform ever since because its structure as a tightly centralized union of highly different territories can only be maintained through top-down oppression. On the other hand, if there is anything that can thoroughly discredit the current Russian regime with all its major parties, it is a military defeat in Ukraine. Perhaps then, a sensible faction can gain the political ascendancy and a decent leader can take on the presidency. I have shown elsewhere that the true Russian conservatives are, today, in the opposition. The fall of the Putin regime could pave the way for a president like — ideally — Alexei Navalny, a real conservative who has relentlessly fought corruption even without government power on his side and has, for instance, proposed to do something about the Islamicization of Russia (and been attacked for it). Should that ever happen, it is sure to elicit much howling and gnashing of teeth by the supposed right-wingers in the West who today fall for Russian propaganda.