The Fourth Political Theory
Alexander Dugin, Arktos, 2012. 211pp.
Ethnos and Society
Alexander Dugin, Arktos, 2018. 236pp.
The mainline of academic thought regard Alexander Dugin, if they regard him at all, as regressive – a political academic, and worse, a Russian academic, which is to say not an academic at all, but one of these strange off-brand products that Russia produces in imitation of the Western Liberal Form. In a way, they are not wrong. Dugin is honest and self-aware in his political, particularly his geopolitical, assumptions in a manner less and less common as 1945 continues to morph into 2025.
This is perhaps what recommends him most strongly – with one foot in an academic past which the Current Year academe would prefer to forget and another in a geopolitical future they wish to pretend will never come about, Dugin offers a unique vision for scholars and dissidents alike. It also makes him an author who must be critiqued as two men – the academic Dugin and the activist Dugin. In true Heideggerian fashion, the more one uncovers of the one, the more one obscures the other; and he is never really just one or the other in any of his works, from his most political – The Fourth Political Theory – to his most academic, like Ethnos & Society.
Dugin’s works impress the half-educated because of their density and style. A similar critique was leveled against Spengler, implying that the works appeal to the half-educated because the authors are only half-intelligent. This is neither a true nor a just evaluation of either scholar, especially since “half-educated” is so often euphemism for “undoctrinaire” academics who refuse to accept the rulings of the Sanhedrin and have had their reputations led before the popular eye to be put to death. Even taking the appellation at face value, however, one finds the observation is neither inaccurate nor damning. Dugin appeals to the half-educated because his tone belongs to a different milieu than his ideas. The two Dugins work against each other even as they work in tandem; a scholarly reader will critique and benefit from Dugin in completely different ways than a political activist will, but both will find themselves at times edified and at times non-plussed by Dugin’s immense rhetorical skills and ideas.
As a scholar and a political writer, Dugin is profoundly aware of the failings of his discipline and his milieu. He has thus been characterized as a charlatan by his colleagues and demonized in the Western press as a grim influence on the neo-Stalinist regime they have fantasized around Putin, bent on the domination of Europe, and his Eurasian political programme lends itself to these characterizations. He has been adroit in agreeing and amplifying his critics to his own benefit, and has produced a daring and intellectually attractive body of work as a result. Nevertheless, his works have seen only limited circulation in the West despite their originality and utility in making sense of the post-Western world. It is profoundly fortunate that they should have found such an able publishing house as Arktos to bring them to a Western audience.
His books are full of brilliant pamphleteering slogans even in the midst of his cogent analysis. “The twentieth century was the century of ideology” he exclaims in Fourth Political Theory. It is part of what makes his works so timely – that is, they are answers to the twentieth century from a self-aware twenty-first. Although he has an eye decidedly looking to the future, Dugin is a man and a scholar of the present; he is not striking out boldly into terra incognita, but forcing his audience to reconsider existing ideas in a new synthesis. This has made him a sort of zephyr of vitality blowing from the Russian steppe, for even the European Right is hard-pressed to match his creative spirit. He is able to deliver on their expectations, though, because of his own distance between his unique Weltanschauung and the native Russian spirit.
As an activist and an academic, he is more German than Russian, consciously placing himself in a tradition established by the likes of Hegel, Fichte, Spengler, and Heidegger rather than Dostoevsky, Leontiev, or Solzhenitsyn. He is too systematic for the Russian soul, but not too mystical for his Western audience, though his latent academic nihilism can at times appear mystical. This is, again, no indictment. It gives him the unique flavor of the foreign combined with a familiarity that allows him to reach a receptive audience desperate for solutions to increasingly perplexing questions and makes him difficult to ignore.
His works are, again, timely because they return to a point of departure in the West – they reflect the reality, always implicit, that the West has reached its final stage, but cannot decide upon what form befits its old age. Western authors have attempted to grapple with this already – Evola’s analysis in Fascism Viewed from the Right or, more recently, Faye’s Archeofuturism will seem to echo through The Fourth Political Theory. This is because of their common sources, and Dugin’s talent, or at least predilection, to take the Western ideas for which he has real affinity and reorient them, as he ably did with the Baudrillardian concept of the simulacrum to great effect in The Fourth Political Theory as well as, in a more implicit way, Putin vs Putin. The latter, especially, has a great deal to offer Western onlookers in the way they must critique the populist movements filling so many people with hope in the Current Year. His most recent offering, Ethnos and Society, possesses all of the strengths and weaknesses of his other works—a double learning experience both because of the perspectives it offers and the critiques it will inevitably provoke.
What he brings to the table, though, that the native-born New Right cannot, though, is an honest appraisal from an outsider who is not our enemy. Russian culture, in its youthful chaos, permits him to think thoughts and ask questions that Established Western scholars are not allowed to ask and which Dissident scholars do not think of. Thus he can declare that his Fourth Political Theory – 4PT – is “an unmodern theory”, and, upon honest evaluation, this declaration is true.
It will take the reader several takes, though, to understand why it is true. Here the scholar Dugin obstructs the political theorist with the opaque and apophatic. The influence of notoriously esoteric Martin Heidegger means Dugin will propose many brilliant ideas that are simply easy to miss – such as declaring that the “magnetic centre” of 4PT is “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.” 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.
His explanation of the new discipline he proposes of Ethnosociology is likewise confusing; his illustration of the ethnocentrum as a circle with eight arrows pointing outward initially seems like mere self-aggrandizement (it is the symbol of his Neoeurasian movement). It takes a closer reading and more extensive background knowledge to parse his meaning. The conceptualisation of the ethnos as koineme (i.e. the most basic of all human societies) clarifies it somewhat, making Ethnos and Society a work of what we might call Quantum Anthropology on par with the work of Stephen Hawking in speculative physics.
All human communities have some ethnic element to them—practices which are by and large restricted to what we call primitive societies (e.g. animistic or fetishistic religion) manifest themselves in a variety of ways outside those societies. Likewise, Ereignis as a political, or geopolitical, phenomenon, it becomes clear, is the moment of transformation at which point the self-aware and dying civilization suddenly transmutes itself into a young, vibrant, decidedly different civilization. Lacking the lens of Spengler and Danilevsky, however, one is left with a vulgar Apocalypse manifest as the collapse of current world order and the emergence of the ideé fixe of the Duginite corpus, the Multipolar World.
With them in the background, though, a theme therefore becomes apparent – though taken by themselves, each work offers its own fascinating scholarly consideration – that centres upon the post-Western world, and what the existing West can and must transform into if any element of it is to survive this new political, cultural, and social reality. This becomes apparent in the three Idealtypen in which the ethnos is conceptualized (ethnostatics, or the ethnos in-itself, defined by an assumed self-identification Dugin calls the ethnocentrum; ethnodynamics, the ethnos sustaining itself; and ethnokinetics, the ethnos resolving its conflicts).
What is The Fourth Political Theory but Dugin’s own invitation to the Atlantic European ethnos to an exercise in ethnokinetics? Especially when one considers the three as simultaneous as well as successive, as the tribe or folk society shifts in its self-perception from an assumption that the ethnos is the entire world to an assumption that the ethnos is set apart from the rest of the world, it becomes clear that 4PT, and particularly the necessary Ereignis it invokes, is a hard reset on this process that is meant to tap into ethnodynamics and ethnokinetics to reevaluate Western ethnostatics. Multipolarity is, politically, the Faustian world once again becoming aware of itself as just part of the world by culturally abandoning the Liberal paradigm.
This must, however, be done organically – by means of a relocation or reorientation of the ethnocentrum. As he rightly observes in 4PT, “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.” Liberalism no longer engages in ideological battles, because it has already established a grammar whereby Tradition as such can never reemerge.
Further, “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’“. Most, your reviewer imagines, would content Dugin ought to be speaking in the present rather than the future tense here. Aye, there’s the rub: Liberalism has become the force of Western civilization, and cannot be changed: much like Spengler before him, Dugin is proposing that the goal of most conservative movements, that is 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, 4PT “not an invitation to a return to traditional society; i.e., it is not conservatism in the conventional sense” (something of a common conclusion today, but far more scarce a view in 2012).
The Ereignis means accepting the complete transmutation of the West into something familiar to the Western man, but at its beating heart unWestern, unmodern, and ethnic – not according to the common definition, but according to his understanding of the ethnos. In this regard, Dugin offers a real and practicable frame of thought for moving forward, though it can unfortunately be lost in the reeds of his hermeneutics. The only way to find it is to read Dugin against himself, and to read his works as a whole rather than taking any one by itself. To read an author’s entire corpus will seem a tedium to some, but if we are not fit to rise to so small a challenge, how can we hope to face the far greater challenges that preoccupy us? Dugin, in both his political and academic works, provides us a means to answer these challenges if we have the mettle.