His black mane flows into his gray-white beard, and his light blue eyes are impossible to read as he waits—seated comfortably on a sofa—to be interviewed at the Palazzo Reale, in the heart of Milan. He is set to speak later on at a public conference. After listening to the first question, his face lights up and he starts to speak about his political theories and the function he believes that Russia should play in international relations. Alexandr Dugin—one of the most popular contemporary Russian philosophers—is considered to have direct influence on the thought of Vladimir Putin.
Although he denies that he is Putin’s ambassador or his direct advisor, he confirms that the geopolitical strategies of the Russian president reflect his theories perfectly. “My influence on him is strong, although indirect,” he explains. “In the Soviet Union I was considered a right-wing dissident, and during Yeltsin’s time I was completely banned from public life, accused of being a left-wing extremist. But when Putin rose to power I was given the chance to return to TV and to openly spread my message”.
Filling the vacuum
The fall of the Soviet Union left a huge ideological vacuum inside Russian institutions—including the Russian army—that was partly filled by his ideas, Dugin explains.
“From 1991, I started to fill this vacuum by spreading my views among the officers and the decision-makers, explaining the reasons why the US and the West were still pressuring Russia despite the Cold War having ended. I told them about the importance of developing a new idea of Russian geopolitics that should be diametrically opposed to the goals of the Western think tanks and that should stretch towards the creation of a Eurasian bloc. The rapid spread of my ideas in Russia deeply influenced Putin, even though he was the successor of Yeltsin. He is not an ideological person—he is a pragmatic realist— but he understands that my vision is the proper one if Russia is to face challenges head on in the coming years”.
Putin’s opponents accuse Dugin of being a right-wing extremist, thus confirming the charge that the Russian president is promoting fascist ideas. These accusations are based, among other things, on the authors that inspire Dugin’s thought. His intellectual journey began at the very beginning of the ‘80s, when he was just a student from a middle-class communist family in Moscow.
“At that time I was hanging out with a very small group of dissidents who shared some books by Julius Evola with me. These readings changed my life. I had never heard anyone describing the contradictions of the modern world like Evola, so I decided to learn foreign languages in order to be able to read more of his books. I ended up discovering and translating other, like-minded authors, such as René Guénon. Well, since those days I have thought of myself as a traditionalist”.
Evola was an Italian philosopher and is the leading thinker among Europe’s neo-fascist movements. His thought draws on several schools and traditions, including German idealism, Eastern doctrines, traditionalism, and the all-embracing Weltanschauung of the German Conservative Revolution. Guénon was a French author who converted to Islam and wrote on topics ranging from sacred science and traditional studies to symbolism and initiation. He is considered an important writer in the Traditionalist School.
The link between Russia and European far-right
Most Western think tanks consider Dugin to be a key link—a lynchpin even—between the Russian state establishment and far-right European movements—as well as the rising populist parties across Europe and indeed beyond. Although Dugin’s denies any association with fascism or far-right nationalism, he acknowledges that he sees in populist movements like Lega and the Five Star Movement the realization of his political program. The current Italian government, he says, is the first concrete expression of his so-called Fourth Political Theory.
What is Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory? In his view, the three leading ideologies of the 20th century—fascism, communism and liberalism—are defunct, and must make way for a new ideological formation; hence, the “fourth” theory. “The three ideologies are a product of the West and of the modern world,” he explains. “I want to rediscover those premodern values that were shared by the great Eastern and Western civilizations of the past”.
This vision contradicts the Western values of liberal democracy, free trade, individualism, gender equality and human rights. “The West promotes a globalist ideology that denies the existence of different cultures and traditions. According to the Fourth Political Theory, there is not just one, global, “human” civilization, but many different civilizations, each the product of its own unique historical, social, cultural and political development.”
But, as Dugin goes on to elaborate, “there cannot be a unique interpretation of history valid for everyone worldwide. This means there cannot be one supranational or global state that can claim to speak for everyone in the same way, which Western elites are trying to impose on the rest of the world. Nobody can judge one culture as superior to the others”.
The political translation of the Fourth Political Theory is a multipolar world defended by Putin, which rejects the diktats of the supranational global hegemon, which is currently identified as the United States. That is why the Russian government is promoting Eurasian dialogue with China, Iran and other rising non-Western powers.
In addition, that is why, according to Dugin, Russia is the natural ally of the populist movements of Europe. “The protagonists of the Fourth Political Theory are the people”, Dugin insists. “There can be no thought without people, because people ensure the survival and the evolution of languages and histories. Individuals are nothing if kept outside their own people. That is why the existence of different people contradicts liberal ideas—that consider only individual rights and thus deny the existence of differences among peoples.
It also contradicts communist, collectivist ideas, which consider the people to be simply the sum of identical individuals, or nationalistic ideas inspired by racist principles that promote racialized hierarchies between cultures. The populist movements that are currently rising in Europe do not comport with any of these ideologies.
They are a healthy popular reaction to the domination of Western transnational elites, a spontaneous popular resistance to liberals and globalists. They are neither left- nor right-wing—we can define them as the embodiment of the Fourth Political Theory”.
“Italy is today the geopolitical avantgarde”
“Italy is today the geopolitical avantgarde of the Fourth Political Theory” Dugin explains. “The union between Lega and the Five Star Movement is the first historical step towards the irreversible affirmation of populism and the transition to a multipolar world”. For this reason, he says, the current Italian government is a natural partner to the Kremlin. In his eyes, other interesting examples of populism are the conservative German party, Alternative für Deutschland, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon in France, and—to some extent—Donald Trump.
It is very difficult to know the extent to which Putin’s strategies are in fact influenced by Dugin’s theories and how extensively Dugin manages the links between Russia and the populist European movements and the Italian government. It is clear that Dugin is trying to create a bridge between Russia and American populism, especially with Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon.
The two recently met for the first time in Rome and, according to Dugin, “Bannon is the only American intellectual familiar with Evola and Guenon and interested in Heiddegger. He shares with me the necessity of supporting populist movements in Europe to confront global elites. He is a very interesting and unique case in the USA”.
Bannon and Dugin do disagree on some important issues, such as the relationship with new rising powers like China, Iran and Turkey. They do share the analysis of Samuel Huntington about the end of the unipolar world and the return to multi-polarity, and the consequent growing importance of certain civilizations—especially the Chinese, Persian and Turkish. However, Bannon sees the latter as a threat to America’s positive influence on the world, while to Dugin they are a resource.
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