Thursday, March 01, 2018

Missing Dugin's attempt to understand

Alexander Dugin is one of seven interesting Russians followed by the Russian–American journalist Masha Gessen in The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017). The book is well written, as one would expect from the pen of a talented journalist who is a New York Times bestseller. It interweaves the familiar tale of the recent history of Russia with the lives of Gessen’s seven characters, chosen not because they are powerful and important or because they are representative “regular people,” but because “they are the people who try to understand” (p. 4). An excellent idea: there is much in Russia’s recent history that needs to be understood.

In the event, however, the book focuses mostly on the other characters, who are generally liberal and sometimes gay, and on the familiar tale of the rise and fall of Russian liberalism. Disappointingly little space is given to Dugin or to his attempt to understand. In fact, almost the only new information about him is what his first wife later remembered as his opening line: “Do you know when violets bloom on the lips?” (p. 20). The opportunity to understand how Dugin’s understandings fit in with recent Russian history is, sadly, missed.