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The Prophet of the New Russian Empire

By Yigal Liverant

Aleksandr Dugin calls for world war, and he's got the ear of the Kremlin.


 
Dugin was born in Moscow in 1962. His parents separated when he was three years old. His father, Geliy Aleksandrowitch, was a military intelligence officer who eventually rose to the rank of general. His mother, Galina, had been in her youth a close friend of the famous human rights activist Valeriya Novodvorskaya, the most outspoken opponent of the current Russian regime.
Young Dugin was accepted to the prestigious Moscow Aviation Institute, but was dismissed in his third year—according to him, for voicing anti-establishment opinions. As a result, he lost his student’s exemption from military service, but managed to avoid the draft because of “emotional problems.” He worked as a street cleaner and a private tutor of English and French, which he had taught himself. In later years, he spoke of his growing revulsion at the bleak conditions of life in the Soviet Union at the time. “In the late 1970s, when I was seventeen or eighteen, I awoke into a repulsing and entirely vacuous world,” he said. “Through my existential rejection of that world, I came to reject the paradigm that served as the basis of that world and embarked on the search for alternatives to the paradigm.”6
Dugin rejected “the paradigm that served as the basis of that world” in the most radical manner possible. In place of communist ideology, he chose fascism; instead of historical materialism and socialist realism, he turned to mysticism, esoteric philosophies, and fringe culture. He turned his back on what he considered to be a dull and provincial Russian Orthodox Church, and took up exotic religions and pagan rituals.
In 1980, Dugin joined the Yuzhinsky circle, a group of bohemians and mystics involved in witchcraft and magic.7 The group, which convened in the apartment of subversive author Yuri Mamleev, chose to “fight” the Soviet regime’s cultural oppression by devoting themselves to drugs, alcohol, black magic rituals, and orgies. Here, Dugin met Yevgeny Golovin, a poet and translator who served as something of a spiritual guru. A self-declared expert on Eastern philosophy and esoteria, Golovin was later to establish an underground cult named the SS Black Order, which subjected its newcomers to humiliating initiation ceremonies and demanded participation in orgies directed by its leader. Golovin, who continues to surround himself with faithful acolytes, accompanies Dugin to this day and even lectures at the educational institution the latter established, the New University.
In 1988, on Golovin’s advice, Dugin joined the National Patriotic Front, also known as the Pamyat (“Memory”) Society, then led by Dmitri Vasilyev. The society, sponsored by the KGB, was dedicated to spreading nationalist and antisemitic ideas. Nearly all the radical right-wing movements in Russia today can trace their lineage, in one way or another, back to it. The charismatic Dugin, already well versed in fascist ideology, was at first welcomed and treated as an important ideological asset to the society, even serving on its central committee for several months. It was not long, however, before the rising star who espoused independent opinions aroused Vasilyev’s jealousy and was dismissed from the organization.
Over the following decade, Dugin invested a significant amount of time and effort in trying to gain the recognition of the general public. The ideological platform he put forward was based on a variety of sources, all of which shared a deep loathing for the “impure” trinity of modernity, rationalism, and democracy. One of these was the esoteric doctrine of “Traditionalism,” developed by the French philosopher René Guénon between the two world wars. Dugin, who has described himself as “100 percent Guénonist,” enthusiastically took up the ideas of Traditionalism, most notably its rejection of progress and modernity.8 Generally speaking, Guénon and his followers saw human history as a narrative of decline, claiming that the relationship between God and man reached its climax at the moment of creation, which has been followed by an ever-widening gulf between the two.9 In the process, the divine order, reflected in the fundamental doctrines of the great religions, has been abandoned and forgotten in favor of false idols and illusory ideals. Guénon perceived this divine order as naturally hierarchical: Just as there is a clear and natural distinction between God, his angels, and all other creatures in the heavens, so too is there a natural inequality among all created beings in the physical world and among men in particular. Therefore, in a perfect society, organized according to divine principles, there will be a strict division between social classes. Guénon praised the traditional Hindu varna system of social hierarchy (the accepted term, “caste,” is incorrect in this context), according to which the intellectuals or priests (Brahmins) stand at the top of the social pyramid, followed by the warriors (Kshatriyas) and, at the bottom, the merchants (Vaishiya), a parasitic element that tries, throughout history, to subvert the sacred order.
Guénon saw history as a series of struggles between this primordial, sacred tradition and its enemies. He interpreted every clash between secular and religious forces as simply another battle in an ongoing historical war, including the decrees of the Confucian government in China against the Taoists during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912); the Kshatriya revolution against the Brahmins in India during the ascent of Buddhism in the third century B.C.E.; and the ongoing power struggle between the Catholic kings and popes during the Middle Ages. Not surprisingly, Guénon believed that the modern era represented the victory of the inferior classes over their betters. The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, materialism and capitalism, Russian communism, etc., were all milestones in the subjugation of the world by the forces of darkness. Modernism, especially the scientific revolution and the development of individuality, represented the birth pangs of what Hindu mythology calls the Kali Yuga, the Age of Discord, when humanity completes its tragic abandonment of the natural order.
Guénon ultimately concluded that the secular West had decisively turned its back on God, and thus was doomed to fail. The primordial and blessed order was preserved only in the East. Believing that Christianity had proven its weakness by submitting to anti-traditional ideas, Guénon converted to Islam and renamed himself Sheikh Abd al-Wahid Yahya.10 He moved to Egypt in 1930, where he lived until his death in 1951.11
Though he tries to give this worldview a more “Russian” character, Aleksandr Dugin sees himself as the quintessential Traditionalist.12 In this vein, he has called for the restoration of Russia’s medieval social hierarchy, with an aristocratic ruling class under religious patronage. He differs with Guénon only in that he believes the French philosopher was too quick to give up on Christianity. Unlike Catholicism and Protestantism, Dugin claims, Eastern Orthodox Christianity preserved its esoteric character and its ties with divine tradition.
Another profound influence on Dugin was the Conservative Revolutionary school of thought, which originated in 1920s Weimar Germany. Some of its most notable representatives include Oswald Spengler, author of the two-volume bestseller The Decline of the West (1918); Carl Schmitt, the controversial jurist and political theoretician; the historian Arthur Moeller van den Bruck; and the author Ernst Jünger.13 In many ways, the conservative revolutionary movement tried to formulate a “third way,” distinct from traditional right- and left-wing politics. Like the radical left, the conservative revolutionaries strongly rejected capitalism and the bourgeois social order, which they saw as the cause of social division, immorality, and decadence. Although they rejected Marxism, they leaned toward economic socialism. They were generally in favor of a state-controlled economy, and they glorified the heroic and pioneering worker over the selfish and greedy businessman. This was the extent, however, of their kinship with the left. Unlike socialists and Marxists, the conservative revolutionaries vehemently rejected modernism and its progressive ideals. Their views were not wholly reactionary, in that they did not advocate a return to the pre-modern order, but they did long for a more organic and primordial social existence; one in which the individual is entirely assimilated within a closely knit, unified community. In contrast to the universalist vision upheld by the left, the conservative revolutionaries favored particulars such as culture, nation, and race. They believed in an eternal struggle between these forces, rejecting the desire for a unified humanity and world peace.
Such thinking appealed to Dugin, who had always seen himself as a rightist with respect to his nationalist views, and a leftist with respect to his economic positions. The ideological platform he developed based on this synthesis, under the name of “National Bolshevism,” was also indebted to the Nazi movement (especially to the left-wing socialist faction of the party). While Dugin passionately rejects Hitler’s ideology of biological racism, he does not hide his admiration for the romantic death cult fostered by Nazism, which forsakes life in service of a higher cause. He sees radical Islam, which he also takes as a model, in a similar way:
We need a new party. A party of death. A party of the total vertical. God’s party, the Russian analogue to the Hezbollah, which would act according to wholly different rules and contemplate completely different pictures. For the system, death is truly the end. For a normal person, it is only a beginning.14
This radical cocktail of Traditionalism and revolutionary conservatism brought Dugin to the attention of the “European New Right,” which shares many of the same influences.15 He discovered, however, that his ideological allies in the West did not share his disgust for the Soviet regime. Their proclaimed enemy was not the USSR, but her archrival, the United States, the most vigorous and aggressive exponent of the decadent bourgeois civilization they hated. The spiritual father of the European New Right, Belgian politician Jean Thiriart, so loathed capitalism that he openly flirted with Maoism and Stalinism. He envisioned a “Euro-Soviet Empire extending from Vladivostok to Dublin,” and praised the authoritarian and cooperative aspects of the Soviet Union, which he compared unfavorably to the corrupted “utopian utilitarianism” of Western market economies.16 The movement he established, Young Europe, collapsed in 1970, largely as a result of his dramatic ideological transformation, although his influence on the New Right remained, especially through his outspoken anti-Americanism. Alain de Benoist, the leading French theorist of the New Right today, echoes Thiriart’s sentiments when he says it is “better to wear the helmet of a Red Army soldier than to live on a diet of hamburgers in Brooklyn.”17 Like Thiriart, de Benoist also underwent an intellectual journey that ended in his wholesale rejection of Americanized culture, Western capitalism, and globalization. He spoke in favor of the reorganization of Europe as a single, unified entity divided into tiny, culturally distinct ethno-political communities. Moreover, he preached a return to the pagan roots of the continent and the establishment of a neo-feudal order along the lines of “Indo-European, Nordic, Celtic, Greek, and Roman” models.18
In light of his allies’ sympathy toward the Soviet regime, Dugin was forced to reexamine some of his convictions. Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, however, his intellectual shift did not appear so drastic. Support for the defeated empire against the liberal status quo suddenly took on an invigorating, avant-garde character, and while Dugin continued to reject Marxism and Leninism, he began to speak up in favor of “Sovietism.”
Dugin sought to translate his new red-brown ideology into real power and influence in Russian politics, albeit with little initial success. In 1991, he supported the failed Communist coup that tried to remove Mikhail Gorbachev from power and return the Soviet Union to its former glory. In 1993, he made another misstep, supporting the Russian parliament’s failed attempt to dismiss president Boris Yeltsin. It was during this period, however, that Dugin built his journalistic career. He joined the editorial team of the radical nationalist newspaper Den’ (“Today”), which later changed its name to Zavtra (“Tomorrow”). He also founded a monthly periodical, Elementy (“Elements”), the almanac Milyi Angel (“Dear Angel”), and appeared on various radio shows. Between 1990 and 1991, Dugin established a research center and a publishing house named Arctogea (“Northern Land”), where he published his books and translated the writings of his favorite Western thinkers, including René Guénon, Julius Evola, and Carl Schmitt, into Russian.


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