Sunday, March 27, 2022

Dugin and Ukraine

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been ever more mentions of the Russian Traditionalist (or possibly post-Traditionalist) Alexander Dugin in the Western press. The general view is, as the Washington Post recently put it, that President Putin’s “analysis came directly from the works of a fascist prophet of maximal Russian empire named Aleksandr Dugin,” and that “Russia has been running his [Dugin’s] playbook for the past 20 years.” “The recent invasion of Ukraine is a continuation of a Dugin-promoted strategy for weakening the international liberal order,” argues an article in Foreign Policy.  Dugin is “the most influential thinker in Russia,” according to Haaretz.

Is this true? Dugin certainly backs the invasion of Ukraine, which fits with his vision in many ways. But did he inspire that invasion? In a Facebook post on this question, Sindre Bangstad, a prominent Norwegian scholar of the radical right, argued that Dugin’s “influence in the Kremlin and on Putin is not known - precisely due to the fact that it is ultimately unknowable to outsiders.”  

Yes and no. Some things are unknowable to outsiders, or even insiders, but it is clear that Dugin is not one of Putin’s close advisors, and it is also clear that the general thrust of his geopolitical analysis is far from exclusive to him. Dugin did not invent Eurasianism, but rather refined it, in part by combining it with Traditionalism. Eurasianism was invented by earlier Russian thinkers, notably the linguist Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890-1938), and arose in the context of the debate between Westernizers and anti-Western Slavophils that is almost as old as the Russian state itself. Trubetzkoy’s Eurasianism was prefigured in the work of the Slavophil philosopher Konstantin Leontiev (1831-91), who saw the West as both a moral and military threat to Orthodox civilization and to Russia.

The Westernizing position recently had its day in Russia under President Yeltsin, and has been losing ground ever since. Putin is clearly in the anti-Western Slavophil camp, and is even said to have been reading Leontiev. The current prevalence of anti-Western and Slavophil positions in Moscow certainly helps explain the invasion of Ukraine, as Jane Burbank, a historian of Russia from New York University, recently argued in The New York Times. Burbank also proposed that “Eurasianism was injected directly into the bloodstream of Russian power in a variant developed by the self-styled philosopher Aleksandr Dugin.” This is more likely. Dugin has certainly made Eurasianism better known, and his variant is better adapted to today's world than variants from a century ago. But Dugin is a participant in a broad discussion, not the sole author of any playbook.

There is a tendency, in the West and elsewhere, to explain the actions of opponents in terms of unfamiliar and apparently bizarre ideologies. The anti-Westernism of revolutionaries in the Middle East, for example, is often blamed on Islamism or even Islam. Yes, Islamism matters, but Western policy and interventions in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War also matter, but it is harder to blame those interventions—which would mean the West blaming itself—than to blame Islamism. John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, argues that Western policy towards Russia is to blame for the current crisis. In his response to a recent article by Mearsheimer in The Economist. Sir Adam Roberts, an emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, called this argument “apparently perverse”—but then went on to demonstrate that there were also other reasons for the invasion of Ukraine, not that Mearsheimer was actually wrong.  Mearsheimer is at present something of a lone voice in blaming the errors of Western policy. It is a lot easier to blame “a fascist prophet.”

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Evola as one of five philosophers of the Radical Right

A new book looks again at Julius Evola and his significance for today’s radical right. This is Matthew Rose, A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021).

Evola is one of five philosophers who Rose discusses. The first is Oswald Spengler as a representative of the Conservative Revolution, and Evola is the second. Alain de Benoist is the fourth. This selection and sequence is sensible, though one might perhaps argue for Carl Schmitt or Ernst Jünger as an alternative representative of the Conservative Revolution. The remaining two philosophers are both American, and slightly less obvious figures: Francis Parker Yockey, who comes between Evola and Benoist, and Samuel Francis, who comes after Benoist. The book then closes with a chapter on the relationship between the radical right and Christianity that is perhaps of more interest to those who are concerned with Christianity than to those who are concerned with the radical right.

The treatment of all five philosophers is comprehensive and fair, and the book is well written. Rose sees Evola as “without question the most interesting utopian thinker on the right” and as someone who “dreamed of a world of absolutely fixed and certain meanings, where human identities, in all their forms, bore the indelible chrism of sacred destiny.” This, thinks Rose, came from René Guénon, who imagined “a community in which human beings continued to live in the uninterrupted tranquility of sacred order, and in which uncertainty and disagreement find no place.” Evola “sought to revive the assumption of natural human inequality as essential to any political order. He did so through a form of mythic thinking that collapsed the distance between the archaic past and present. Through esoteric readings of ancient and modern texts, he claimed to reveal the permanent constitution of human society, which he envisioned as a form of sacred hierarchy led by an elite order of men.” This is a reasonable summary, though it emphasizes the contemporary reception of Evola (and Guénon) more than the internal logic of their own thought.

Rose makes an interesting connection between Yockey, Evola, and Benoist. Evola reviewed Yockey’s main early work, Imperium, approvingly, and many of Yockey’s ideas indeed echo Evola’s. Both emphasized empire and spirit, and both condemned narrow nationalism and racism. Given this, it is not quite clear why Rose characterizes Yockey as “the Anti-Semite,” since this was not his real point, and the characterization risks supporting the common and mistaken over-association of the radical right with historical Fascism and Nazism. Evola, incidentally, is characterized as “the Fantasist” because he imagined a new sort of utopia. I suppose this is OK as a chapter heading. In the other direction, Rose claims not only Evola but also Yockey as an influence on and inspiration for Benoist. This deserves fuller investigation, and Yockey should probably be read more carefully.

It is easy to see why Rose ends with Samuel Francis, who drew on James Burnham’s important 1941 book The Managerial Revolution and, in Rose’s words, “synthesized nationalist populism with brewing racial resentments over the shrinking demographic majority of white Americans.” This indeed provides the link to the Trump movement, as Rose says, and also perhaps to European phenomena such as Brexit. What is less clear is how Francis relates to Spengler, Evola, Yockey, and Benoist.

A World after Liberalism is a good book that seems to be being generally well received and that succeeds in showing that “The alt-right is not stupid; it is deep. Its ideas are not ridiculous; they are serious.” Those who already know Evola will not discover much that they did not know before, but the book puts his contemporary reception in a new context (rather as I did in my Key Thinkers of the Radical Right). The book is also recommended for those who know Evola but do not know all of the other philosophers discussed.