Unthinking Liberalism: Alexander Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory
Unthinking Liberalism: Alexander Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory
by Alex KURTAGIC
Alexander Dugin The Fourth Political Theory, London: Arktos, 2012
Arktos recently published what we can only hope will be the first of many more English translations of Alexander Dugin’s work. Head of the sociology department in Moscow State University, and a leading Eurasianist with ties to the Russian military, this man is, today, influencing official Kremlin policy.
The Fourth Political Theory is a thoroughly refreshing monograph, combining clarity of analysis, philosophical rigor, and intellectual creativity. It is Dugin’s attempt to sort through the confusion of modern political theory and establish the foundations for a political philosophy that will decisively challenge the dominant liberal paradigm. It is not, however, a new complete political theory, but rather the beginning of a project. The name is provisional, the theory under construction. Dugin sees this not as the work of one man, but, because difficult, a collective heroic effort.
The book first sets out the historical topology of modern political theories. In Dugin’s account, liberalism, the oldest and most stable ideology, was in modernity the first political theory. Marxism, a critique of liberalism via capitalism, was the second. Fascism/National Socialism, a critique of both liberalism and Marxism, was the third. Dugin says that Fascism/National Socialism was defeated by Marxism (1945), that Marxism was defeated by liberalism (1989), leaving liberalism triumphant and therefore free to expand around the globe.
According to Dugin, the triumph of liberalism has been so definitive, in fact, that in the West it has ceased to be political, or ideological, and become a taken-for-granted practice. Westerners think in liberal terms by default, assuming that no sane, rational, educated person could think differently, accusing dissenters of being ideological, without realizing that their own assumptions have ideological origins.
The definitive triumph of liberalism has also meant that it is now so fully identified with modernity that it is difficult to separate the two, whereas control of modernity was once contested by political theory number one against political theories two and three. The advent of postmodernity, however, has marked the complete exhaustion of liberalism. It has nothing new to say, so it is reduced endlessly to recycle and reiterate itself.
Looking to identify what may be useful to salvage, Dugin proceeds to break down each of the three ideologies into its component parts. In the process of doing so, he detoxifies the two discredited critiques of liberalism, which is necessary to be able to cannibalize them. His analysis of liberalism follows Alain de Benoist. Because it is crucial, I will avail myself of de Benoist’s insights and infuse some of my own in Dugin’s explication of liberalism.
Dugin says that liberalism’s historical subject is the individual. The idea behind liberalism was to “liberate” the individual from everything that was external to him (faith, tradition, authority). Out of this springs the rest: when you get rid of the transcendent, you end up with a world that is entirely rational and material. Happiness then becomes a question of material increase. This leads to productivism and economism, which, when the individual is paramount, demands capitalism. When you get rid of the transcendent, you also eliminate hierarchy: all men become equal. If all men are equal, then what applies to one must apply to all, which means universalism. Similarly, if all men are equal, then all deserve an equal slice of the pie, so full democracy, with universal suffrage, becomes the ideal form of government. Liberalism has since developed flavors, and the idea of liberation acquires two competing meanings: “freedom from,” which in America is embodied by libertarians and the Tea Party; and “freedom to,” embodied by Democrats.
Marxism’s historical subject is class. Marxism is concerned chiefly with critiquing the inequities arising from capitalism. Otherwise, it shares with liberalism an ethos of liberation, a materialist worldview, and an egalitarian morality.
Fascism’s historical subject is the state, and National Socialism’s race. Both critique Marxism’s and liberalism’s materialist worldview and egalitarian morality. Hence, the simultaneous application of hierarchy and socialism.
With all the parts laid out on the table, Dugin then selects what he finds useful and discards the rest. Unsurprisingly, Dugin finds nothing useful in liberalism. The idea is to unthink it, after all.
Spread out across several chapters, Dugin provides a typology of the different factions in the modern political landscape—e.g., fundamental conservatism (traditionalism), Left-wing conservatism (Strasserism, National Bolshevism, Niekisch), conservative revolution (Spengler, Jünger, Schmitt, Niekisch), New Left, National Communism, etc. It is essential that readers understand these so that they may easily recognize them, because doing so will clarify much and help them avoid the errors arising from opaque, confused, contradictory, or misleading labels.
Liberal conservatism is a key category in this typology. It may sound contradictory on the surface, because in colloquial discourse mainstream politics is about the opposition of liberals vs. conservatives. Yet, and as I have repeatedly stated, when one examines their fundamentals, so-called “conservatives” (a misleading label), even palaeoconservatives (another misleading label), are all ideologically liberals, only they wish to conserve liberalism, or go a little slower, or take a few steps back. Hence, the alternative designation for this type: “status-quo conservative.”
Another key category is National Communism. This is, according to Dugin, a unique phenomenon, and enjoys a healthy life in Latin America, suggesting it will be around for some time to come. Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez are contemporary practitioners of National Communism.
Setting out the suggested foundations of a fourth political ideology takes up the rest of Dugin’s book. Besides elements salvaged from earlier critiques of liberalism, Dugin also looks at the debris that in the philosophical contest for modernity was left in the periphery. These are the ideas for which none of the ideologies of modernity have had any use. For Dugin this is essential to an outsider, counter-propositional political theory. He does not state this in as many words, but it should be obvious that if we are to unthink liberalism, then liberalism should find its nemesis unthinkable.
But the process of construction begins, of course, with ontology. Dugin refers to Heidegger’s Dasein. Working from this concept he would like the fourth political theory to conceptualize the world as a pluriverse, with different peoples who have different moralities and even different conceptions of time. In other words, in the fourth political theory the idea of a universal history would be absurd, because time is conceived differently in different cultures—nothing is ahistorical or universal; everything is bound and specific. This would imply a morality of difference, something I have proposed as counter-propositional to the liberal morality of equality. In the last consequence, for Dugin there needs to be also a peculiar ontology of the future. The parts of The Fourth Political Theory dealing with these topics are the most challenging, requiring some grounding in philosophy, but, unsurprisingly, they are also where the pioneering work is being done.
Also pioneering, and presumably more difficult still, is Dugin’s call to “attack the individual.” By this he means, obviously, destabilizing the taken-for-granted construct that comprises the minimum social unit in liberalism—the discrete social atom that acts on the basis of rational self-interest, a construct that should be distinguished from “a man” or “a woman” or “a human.” Dugin makes some suggestions, but these seem nebulous and not very persuasive at this stage. Also, this seems quite a logical necessity within the framework of this project, but Dugin’s seeds will find barren soil in the West, where the individual is almost sacrosanct and where individualism results from what is possibly an evolved bias in Northern European societies, where this trait may have been more adaptive than elsewhere. A cataclysmic event may be required to open up the way for a redefinition of what it is to be a person. Evidently the idea is that the fourth political theory conceptualizes a man not as an “individual” but as something else, presumably as part of a collectivity. This is probably a very Russian way of looking at things.
The foregoing may all seem highly abstract, and I suspect practically minded readers will not take to it. It is hard to see how the abstract theorizing will satisfy the pragmatic Anglo-Saxon, who is suspicious of philosophy generally. (Jonathan Bowden was an oddity in this regard.) Yet there are real-world implications to the theory, and in Dugin’s work the geopolitical dimension must never be kept out of sight.
For Dugin, triumphant liberalism is embodied by Americanism; the United States, through its origins as an Enlightenment project, and through its superpower status in the twentieth and twenty-first century, is the global driver of liberal practice. As such, with the defeat of Marxism, it has created, and sought to perpetuate, a unipolar world defined by American, or Atlanticist, liberal hegemony. Russia has a long anti-Western, anti-liberal tradition, and for Dugin this planetary liberal hegemony is the enemy. Dugin would like the world to be multipolar, with Atlanticism counterbalanced by Eurasianism, and maybe other “isms.” In geopolitics, the need for a fourth political theory arises from a need to keep liberalism permanently challenged, confined to its native hemisphere, and, in a word, out of Russia.
While this dimension exists, and while there may be a certain anti-Americanism in Dugin’s work, Americans should not dismiss this book out of hand, because it is not anti-America. As Michael O’Meara has pointed out in relation to Yockey’s anti-Americanism, Americanism and America, or Americans, are different things and stand often in opposition. Engaging with this kind of oppositional thinking is, then, necessary for Americans. And the reason is this: liberalism served America well for two hundred years, but ideologies have a life-cycle like everything else, and liberalism has by now become hypertrophic and hypertelic; it is, in other words, killing America and, in particular, the European-descended presence in America.
If European-descended Americans are to save themselves, and to continue having a presence in the North American continent, rather than being subsumed by liberal egalitarianism and the consequent economic bankruptcy, Hispanization, and Africanization, the American identity, so tied up with liberalism because of the philosophical bases of its founding documents, would need to be re-imagined. Though admittedly difficult, the modern American identity must be understood as one that is possible out of many. Sources for a re-imagined identity may be found in the archaic substratum permeating the parts of American heritage that preceded systematic liberalism (the early colonial period) as well as in the parts that were, at least for a time, beyond it (the frontier and the Wild West). In other words, the most mystical and also the least “civilized” parts of American history. Yet even this may be problematic, since they were products of late “Faustian” civilization. A descent into barbarism may be in the cards. Only time will tell.
For Westerners in general, Dugin’s project may well prove too radical, even at this late stage in the game—contemplating it would seem first to necessitate a decisive rupture. Unless/until that happens, conservative prescriptions calling for a return to a previous state of affairs (in the West), or a closer reading of the founding documents (in America), will remain a feature of Western dissidence. In other words, even the dissidents will remain conservative restorationists of the classical ideas of the center, or the ideas that led to the center. Truly revolutionary thinking—the re-imagining and reinvention of ourselves—will, however, ultimately come from the periphery rather than the center.