Alexander Dugin’s “The Fourth Political Theory”
The Fourth Political Theory
Arktos Media, 2012. 211pp.
Alexander Dugin’s book is a very timely work; by which I mean it is almost exclusively a response to the twentieth century—“the century of ideology” (p. 15) — from the twenty-first. It is a right-wing critique of modernity that has learned its lessons from left-wing post-modernity. It joins a flurry of works in a similar genre of post-war “alternative politics,” spanning from Julius Evola’s Fascism Viewed from the Right of 1964 to Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism of 2010. Authors can be Christian, neo-pagan, or atheist; they can be reformed fascists, “paleo”-conservatives, or Traditionalists. They all, however, seem to send the same message and understand the same thing about the present state of the Western world: everything that is wrong with the way we act is rooted in something desperately wrong with the way we think. It is, in many ways, set apart from the radical right-wing not only in conclusions but the quality of the authors. While some are certainly pamphleteers in spirit, there is a distinctly intellectual strain running through it all—exemplified by the Nouvelle Droit phenomenon in France. It should come as no surprise, then, that Dugin is Professor of Sociology at Moscow State University (as well as Chair of that department’s Centre for Conservative Studies).
As might be expected from an academic, he has produced a dense work that may appear esoteric to the unlettered reader—indeed, even the learned man who has no experience with Heideggerian metaphysics may struggle through certain parts of the book. Nevertheless, it is also an exceptionally practical work, and though there are doubtlessly many critiques that any given conservative can level against it, it remains a monumental book merely because of its project. The Fourth Political Theory is not, as the title suggests, a coherent, well-defined theory: the book is not a manifesto, despite all appearances. Rather, the work is ambiguous; the closest one can get to a definition is that “the Fourth Political Theory is an unmodern theory” (p. 68). The rest of what is said is either vague, dense, or apophatic (i.e., defined by what it is not).
A summary of the book can be read on the publisher’s website. Dugin proposes that the twentieth century was a battleground of three political theories, the first (Liberalism), the second (Communism), and the third (Fascism). Two have failed outright, but the first of the three is still insufficient despite its victory. The “fourth political theory” is what can be assembled to answer the failures of the first three, by drawing from the first three and building a new edifice. Flavours of Faye are already apparent. What is truly interesting about the book, though, requires perhaps several readings. On the first, it is a standard work of the New Right—which, while a good alternative to the present paradigm, has become somewhat tired by now. On the second and third readings, however, qualities reveal themselves that offer for a much fuller appreciation of the monumental potential of the work.
Dugin’s direct definitions can be esoteric, such as his declaration that “at the heart of the Fourth Political Theory, is its magnetic centre, lies the trajector of the approaching Ereignis (the ‘Event’), which will embody the triumphant return of Being, at the exact moment when mankind forgets about it, once and for all, to the point that the last traces of it disappear” (p. 29). While Dugin gives some explanation of the Heideggerian Ereignis, he does not sufficiently explain how this is different than any other apocalyptic theory of the Right—and, more importantly, he is never explicit about what exactly is meant by Being and why it has significance in the political sphere. Even to the philosopher, therefore, this will seem like a misappropriation of metaphysical ideas to serve vulgar political ends (a charge levelled against Heidegger himself after he joined the National Socialist Party). This is perhaps unfair to Dugin and Heidegger alike, but without a doubt the concept of Ereignis is unnecessary for Dugin’s real preoccupation, which is the collapse of the present world order and the emergence of a new geopolitical and socio-cultural reality: the multi-polar world.
Throughout his work (even without the helpful footnotes from the editors), the influence of other thinkers is distinctly apparent. Spengler, especially, has left a deep mark on Dugin’s geopolitical thought, and, with others, is likely the reason Dugin chooses to interpret geopolitical change as a metaphysical event—since with the death of Western Civilisation, there comes a fundamental change not only in Weltanschauung but in the very metaphysical sense of the people within that Civilisation. Spengler speaks of this as the “soul” of the Civilisation—the way in which human beings as components of these massive organisms imagine themselves. The Hermeneutical Circle is an obvious step from this: a civilisation is an organism in itself by Spengler’s theory, meaning that no matter what it does, it can never be understood at its core, as it is fundamentally by anyone outside of itself; yet, in order to analyse a civilisation and come to understand it rather than merely know it, it is necessary to mentally step outside of the civilisation—to become foreign to it. Having accomplished this, though, one has lost access to the fundamental qualities of that civilisation. Thus, one can either be within the civilisation, and know it “by heart”, so to speak, in such a way that is unreflective, or one can step outside the civilisation and reflect on it, but lose the innate knowledge—what Spengler calls “race”—of the civilisation. What Dugin is proposing with this Ereignis is a truly apocalyptic, that is “revelatory” event, wherein self-knowledge and being, Spenglerian Race, shifts fundamentally, and people no longer live, act, and think within a Western, Liberal paradigm but come into a new paradigm. This new paradigm is the multi-polar world.
The identification in the book of “Western” with “Liberal” cannot be overstated for Western readers. Dugin speaks of transcending paradigms that are all, ultimately, Western in origin. Any efforts to preserve the West in a cultural or racial sense would be to fall short of Dugin’s goal of transcendence. It is for this reason that the section of his book dealing with racism deserves some note. At first glance, the two-page long attack on Nazi racism sounds like it could have come from any Antifa publication—it could make anyone with a racial consciousness cringe. It is jarring because it must be, however. Dugin’s comments on ethnocentrism reveal a much more complex attitude. “Liberalism as an ideology, calling for the liberation from all forms of collective identity,” he writes, “is entirely incompatible with the ethnos or with ethnocentrism, and is an expression of a systemic theoretical and technological ethnocide.” (p. 47) In the same breath as he speaks of the importance of the ethnos to the multipolar world, however, he also declares that “European and American societies are fundamentally afflicted with these types of racism [cultural, civilisational, technological, social, economic, and evolutionary], unable to eradicate them from itself despite intensive efforts.” (p. 44) Racial thinking, for Dugin, is too fundamentally joined to the sense of progress and Darwinian thinking that is inherent to the first three political theories, all rooted in Enlightenment ideology. It poisons against the organic ethnos, which must become the focal point of the Fourth Political Theory. His practical solution, then, is an anti-racial, or tribal understanding with a fluid conception of “race” similar to the Spenglerian understanding. All this returns to the sort of radical traditionalism that clearly influences his metaphysical thinking.
The basic assumption, then, (never made explicit in the book but obvious if one is familiar with Dugin’s other work) is that the present world paradigm is defined by the monopolarity of Euro-American Liberal world power. In a way, it’s a very Russian way of thinking—the Atlanticist world, dominated by America and defined by Liberal ideology, is insufficient for human society, and a more tribal co-existence of multiple powers is necessary to correct the present flaws of the globalist steamroller. The change Dugin is calling for, however, is not from within—the sort of rebellion against the dominant ideology. Rather, he denies that there is a dominant ideology:
Some may argue that… liberals… remain believers in their ideology and simply deny all others the right to exist”, [but] “this is not exactly true. When liberalism transforms from being an ideological arrangement to the only content of our extant social and technological existence, then it is no longer an ‘ideology’, but an existential facet, an objective order of things. It also causes any attempt to challenge its supremacy as being not only difficult, but also foolish.” (p. 20)
Liberalism has become the force of Western Civilisation, and cannot be changed: much like Spengler before him, Dugin is proposing that the goal of most conservative movements — to “restore” tradition — is impossible, and only the fall of the West will produce any real results similar to what conservatives are looking for. It is for this reason that while he constantly refers to conservative and traditionalist goals, and constantly speaks of the Right, the Fourth Political Theory is “not an invitation to a return to traditional society; i.e., it is not conservatism in the conventional sense” (p. 70). Rather, much in line with the other writers of the “alternative right”, the Fourth Political Theory “embodies our determination to go beyond the usual ideological and political paradigms and to make an effort to overcome the inertia of the clichés within political thinking… [it is] an invitation for a free spirit and a critical mind” (p. 35). He’s talking about something genuinely creative, but not progressive—the progressive is trapped in a linear motion. Dugin is proposing something that at once can break from the past and yet also be called “traditional”. One is reminded of Arthur Moeller van den Bruck’s assertion that “to be conservative means to create something worth conserving.”
There is irony in that “free spirit” and “critical mind” are themselves clichés of the Western cult of education—meaning that even as Dugin attempts to free himself, he is still somewhat trapped by the paradigm in which he works. To his great credit, however, he seems distinctly aware of this, and it influences his decision not to propose a manifesto or a new ideology, but to propose new questions. Therefore, his language is carefully chosen to reflect invitation and inspiration rather than goals and codes; the new theory “must draw its ‘dark inspiration’ from post-modernity, from the liquidation of the program of the Enlightenment, and the arrival of the society of the simulacra, interpreting this as an incentive for battle rather than as a destiny” (p. 23). The Fourth Political Theory is not post-modern, but draws on post-modernity; it is not anti-modern, but unmodern, rejecting the society of spectacle and appearances by de-constructing it.
For example, consider the simulacra of Che Guevara. The iconic “Che” photograph may seem to be support for radical communism, but the reality is that his image is printed on t-shirts manufactured in sweat-shops and then sold at profit to middle-class teenagers with too little education or understanding to embrace Guevara’s own ethics or ideology. Che becomes, therefore, a simulacra—appearing to be a communistic resistance but in reality representing capitalistic triumph. This is but one example – and it is a simple one at that. Far more complex simulacra dominate what Guy Debord called “the society of the spectacle”.
Debord, like Antonio Gramsci, is another common strain that Dugin has with the French authors of the “alternative right” persuasion. There is an immediate comparison that can be drawn to Faye’s Archeofuturism—itself an echo of an old Fascist project of combining futurism and traditionalism. Faye, though, is proposing something closer to Dugin’s idea—a co-existence of archaic forms with futuristic forms, in mutually exclusive spheres. Dugin is less anarchic in his vision—his multi-polar world has neater categories, the Civilizations—but nevertheless the two are pursuing a very similar goal: drawing from the old and out-moded ideas of modernity and pre-modernity to form a forward-looking world-view. The atheist Faye has the appearance of being more daring—his wanton abandonment of Christian sexual morality is an amusing example of the old French stereotype—but truly his work is less exciting and original than Dugin’s. Dugin is challenging his reader to cling to the ancient mores of his Christian faith, but do so in such a way that faces the challenges of a Brave New World. This creates tremendous doctrinal problems, especially in regards to the metaphysics of chaos that Dugin espouses, but it is a far more interesting proposal than Faye’s re-hashed Fascist progressivism.
Dugin is not progressive because he sees no need to be: “the era of persecuting Tradition is over”, he writes, because Liberalism has no more need to persecute it or attack it—the critiques of Tradition have become “common sense” and Liberalism no longer engages in ideological battles (p. 26). The “old way” is just that: generally (even universally) accepted as a relic. This creates a world that is actually both safer for radical conservative thought and also more dangerous: “following the logic of postliberalism, this will likely lead to the creation of a new global pseudo-religion, based on the scraps of disparate syncretic cults, rampant chaotic ecumenism, and ‘tolerance’”.
Dugin is perhaps being too conservative here: using his own ideas, it is easy to argue that this has already happened, and the EU and USA represent the great canonical bodies of the new religion. Tradition is no longer under attack, to be sure, but those who still come to its defence, drawing attention to themselves as though they still have a legitimate voice in the West, will come to be seen (and dealt with) as heretics. In this way, it is more dangerous to be a conservative. In another, however, it may not be: the post-liberal, post-modern world allows for the deconstruction of anything, including itself. Liberalism, therefore, gives the Right the tools to deconstruct it, such that destroying it is not necessary. It remains for the Right only to prepare for the post-Western world.
This is the basis for Dugin’s historical examination and evaluation of the various forms of “conservatism”, which is perhaps the best example of his practical politics. It is also here that one finds attitudes which seem to fall the most within the Western paradigm. The favour, for example, shown to “Conservative Revolution” and the critique of “liberal conservatism” echoes the same sort of things one hears from the majority of the alternative right throughout Europe. Dugin’s influence from Traditionalist and radical conservative thinkers like Evola, Spengler, E.J. Jung, Moeller van den Bruck, and the pan-Slavic Danilevsky and neo-Eurasianist Gumilev are all apparent in his analysis here. It is this section which is also the least original of the book—and the one which opens it up to many of the reigning critiques, including accusations that Dugin has not really outgrown his National Bolshevism or that the work is essentially just a rambling pamphlet for the Eurasianist movement in Russia. While certainly the practical political aspects of the work here are somewhat lacking in originality, when they are brought together with the more creative and daring sections of the book, they are cast in a new light. This was, no doubt, the intention of the editors in their assembly of the book.
This is the last thing that ought to be said about the book: it is a translation not of one, but of several Russian originals which have been brought together and attached to the core of the original text. Some of them are more daring than others—the Heideggerian and speculative work especially. This gives the work something of a turbulent feel at times; metaphysics in this chapter, practical politics in the next, something resembling a religious fervour in yet another. The first reading will not, as said above, reveal the depth of the work or the intention of the author and editors—not because of the way the editors chose to arrange the book, but rather because of the nature of the writings. Dugin has written, and Arktos has assembled, a book with a title suggesting new answers, while the clear intent of the book is to beg new questions, to challenge and change the language of the Right. This necessarily makes it a difficult work at times. It is, however, despite its shortcomings, perhaps the best primer for Dugin and his thinking available, and succeeds in challenging its reader. In a time when conventional ways of thinking about identity are accomplishing very little, this Russian author offers a new paradigm for identity and physical survival of those loyal to their Western identity.