Tsar Putin’s Pobedonostsev*
Ed Dutton reviews a timely analysis of Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin
‘The American Empire Should Be Destroyed’: Alexander Dugin and the Perils of Immanentized Eschatology, James D. Heiser, Repristination Press, 211pp. 2014
Alexander Dugin is little known in Western countries. In this book, James Heiser convincingly advances the case that this Russian philosopher and occultist should be better known and helps us to get to know him.
In ‘The American Empire Should Be Destroyed’, we meet the most powerful Russian advocate of the philosophy of ‘Traditionalism.’ In Western countries, Traditionalism is fringe philosophical movement on the most esoteric edges of the extreme right, but in Russia its leading exponent is a professor at Moscow State University and an adviser to President Putin. More worryingly, Putin has adopted aspects of Dugin’s philosophy of ‘Eurasianism,’ which advocates Russian Empire building, as state policy.
To that extent, this is a useful book. It also gives us an insight into Dugin’s psychology. Born into a Soviet Military family in 1961, as an adolescent, he became something of a drifter, dropping out of college and becoming involved in assorted occult and ideological circles before finally attaching himself in the early 1990s to the ‘New Right’. The latter is centred around French philosopher Alain de Benoist and is, in essence, a form of neo-Paganism which rejects liberalism, democracy, and individualism. Dugin’s philosophy began to gain popularity during Russia’s turbulent 1990s and he established the National Bolshevik Party, and gradually gained political influence, even (apparently) co-writing one of his philosophical works with a Russian minister of defence.
But what is Alexander Dugin’s philosophy? Part Paganism, part occultism, part Russian imperialism and part something like Fascism, I expected this book to clearly explain precisely what it is. Instead, the author offers a series of similes (usually Christian, possibly reflecting the author’s position as a bishop in USA Lutheran church) to explain aspects of it – thus, in some respects it is rather like Gnosticism, in others Nazism, and in yet others a Millennial Cult – but what we require is a clear explication. Instead, we receive summaries such as, ‘In short, then, what Dugin proposes is that National Bolshevism takes from the “metaphysics” of Marxism a secret, initiatory Gnosticism and mysticism which seeks to accomplish a spiritual alchemy to transform society – National Bolshevism thus becomes a secret society based on the theurgic, magic transformation of reality’ (p.61). In many ways, this kind of prose raises as many questions as it answers. In addition to this ideology, Heiser points out that Dugin argues that on earth a cosmic battle is played out between Cosmic Angels – a Russia Angel and a bad Western Angel. Ultimately, this will culminate in some sort of mass war and the rise of ‘Eurasia’ at the end times.
Traditionalism itself is associated with various early twentieth century philosophers who had some influence on Fascism such as Julius Evola. It is based on the idea that all religions share the same origin in a primordial, transcendent unity and that they all operate according to the same metaphysical principles. Thus, some kind of spiritual realm is assumed to exist. Following pagan ideas (perhaps regarded as the closest to the origin?), certain traditionalists (such as Evola) see the world as passing through a series of ‘ages’ with the current age being the ‘dark age.’ It is ‘dark’ because it is materialistic, deviant and anti-tradition and, as such, we must work towards a primordial rebirth which is spiritual, traditional, group-oriented and aristocratic. Part of this seems to include selectively accepting Pagan and other religious ideas and the belief that truth can only be reached through a kind of religious experience. Accordingly, Traditionalism, which has led some Western followers to adopt Sufi Islam, is a kind of Nietzschean philosophy plus Pagan religious and occult belief. Traditionalism, then, would appear to be the philosophical glue that has held together the disparate anti-democratic and Eurasianist forces that have emerged in post-Soviet Russia and, accordingly, Dugin, its most charismatic advocate, has become their influential, de facto leader. He has drawn upon Pagan ideas to give a theological justification to Eurasianism and to provide it with a religious gloss.
A central objective of Heiser’s book is to explain Dugin’s philosophy and in particular to clarify the essential nature of Traditionalism and Eurasianism. However, I am not sure that he does. Indeed, throughout the book, Heiser provides extremely long verbatim quotes not just from Dugin but also from other political scientists and philosophers (such as Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, OUP, 2004) who have written about them. Not only does this technique entail piggybacking off the work of other writers but it means that Heiser’s book potentially adds little to the discussion. If the author is simply going to quote the summaries of others, why not simply read the others?
That said, ‘The American Empire Should be Destroyed’ provides a well-written history of the rise of Dugin and his influence on Russian politics. Likewise, it convincingly makes the case that the West needs to wake up to the threat which Dugin’s philosophy poses when it is advocated, in part, by the Russian elite.
* Editor’s note – Konstantin Pobedonostsev was an adviser to three Tsars
Dr Edward Dutton’s book Religion and Intelligence is published by the Ulster Institute for Social Research