I share the vision of René Guénon and Julius Evola, who considered modernity and the ideologies derived from it—individualism, liberal democracy, capitalism, and so on—to be the causes of the coming catastrophe of humanity, and the global domination of western attitudes as the final degradation of the Earth. The West is approaching its end, and we should not let it pull all the rest of us into the abyss along with it.—Alexander Dugin, Introduction to Eurasianism
We’ve recently seen a resurgence of hard and far right movments, many of which have a distinctly postmodern quality. Many analysts have focused on whether any of these movements warrant being called fascistic, in the full sense of the term. There are hard right movements which—however unpalatable—lack specifically fascist qualities. But there are also plenty of modern fascists. One of the most significant of the latter is the philosopher Alexander Dugin.
Dugin has denied that he is a fascist. Dugin’s western apologists also deny that he is a fascist. Instead, they characterize Dugin as defending right-wing populism, or even advocating for the rule of philosopher kings. Michael Millerman claims that Dugin defends a “Eurasianist concept of democracy,” in which the people get to participate in their “destiny”—though this destiny is determined by “the philosophers, historians, and leaders who lead the people” and to be worthy of this destiny, the people must choose “to live authentically.” This ideology grants the people few actual rights to political self-determination.
In fact, Dugin’s position is largely coextensive with generic fascism, which often appeals to the idea of mass political participation, though it conceives of the state in authoritarian terms. Fascism is not about the nostalgic defence of aristocratic regimes, nor is it a characteristic of the conservative dictatorships popular in Europe during the early twentieth century. In both these models, there is no effort to pretend that the general population plays any meaningful role in politics. Fascist states, by contrast, make constant efforts to energize the population and invest in large-scale propaganda exercises, in order to convince people that their collective will is reflected in the actions of the party and its leader. Indeed, some defenders of fascism have even claimed that authoritarianism is the purest form of democracy—because the leader has unlimited power and can therefore fulfil the populace’s bidding.
Dugin’s apologists also argue that the philosopher’s rejection of crude biological racism shows that he is not a fascist. Dugin has described “racism, xenophobia and chauvinism” as
not only moral failures but also theoretically and anthropologically inconsistent attitudes. Differences between ethnos don’t equate to superiority or inferiority. The differences should be accepted and affirmed without any racist sentiments or consideration. There is no common or universal measure to judge different ethnic groups. When one society tries to judge another, it applies its own criteria and so commits intellectual violence.
But Dugin does not hold to this position consistently. He has called for a global war to destroy decadent western culture. He has also made abundant antisemitic comments: railing, for example, against “cosmopolitan financial elites” and Ukrainian “Jewish oligarchs.” He has also had positive things to say about the “spiritual racism” of Julius Evola, a major fascist intellectual and apologist for the SS. He has described ethno-chauvinist identitarian Alain de Benoist as “simply the best.” He also considers white nationalists useful allies
when they refuse modernity, the global oligarchy and liberal capitalism—in other words, everything that is killing all ethnic cultures and traditions. The modern political order is essentially globalist and based entirely on the primacy of individual identity in opposition to community. It is the worst order that has ever existed and it should be totally destroyed. When “white nationalists” reaffirm tradition and the ancient culture of the European peoples, they are right.
But this does not mean that Dugan is not a fascist. Fascism is not always centred on a biologically racist conception of national identity. Until Hitler’s more prestigious regime eclipsed Mussolini’s, Italian fascism was inclusive of Jews and stressed the national unity and cultural superiority of the Italian people regardless of their skin colour. This was both a matter of political necessity in that highly geographically divided country and indicated an initial wariness about the crude materialism that seemed to underlie “scientific racism.” As Kevin Passmore puts it,
before the 1930s, race and still less antisemitism did not inform [Italian] domestic or foreign policy as pervasively as it would in Germany, and fascists were more interested in raising the birthrate than in eliminating the unfit. Indeed … Mussolini promoted fascist universalism as an alternative to Nazi racism. In 1930, he ridiculed biological racism. He regarded race as a “feeling,” which, by implication, anyone could acquire.
Heidegger, Dugin’s primary philosophical influence, also defended Nazism, while expressing wariness about biological racism—even though he held many antisemitic views. Dugin’s reconception of the fascist ultra-nation as characterised by Eurasian “civilisation” (rather than being simply, say, a “home for white people”) is an evolution of this approach.
Some of Dugin’s apologists feel that because he rejects Russian nationalism in favour of an expansive Eurasian megaculture, he cannot be a fascist. But the fascist enterprise has never been solely about conventional nationalism. It’s not just a matter of national self-determination. Hitler and Mussolini had imperialist ambitions and Dugin does too. As Roger Griffin puts it,
In the 1930s, individual ideologues such as Driu La Rochelle, José Streel, and Ezra Pound were already presenting fascism as a pan-European force of rebirth, and doomed attempts were made by some of Mussolini’s followers, convinced of their movement’s “universal” civilizational significance, to create a fascist International. With the war apparently going Hitler’s way, an entire bureaucracy was set up by the Third Reich to plan the postwar European New Order.
Dugin’s vision of a “Novorossiya” (“Greater Russia”), whose boundaries have been unfairly constrained, and which must include Ukraine is very much in keeping with this idea. Fascists often appeal to the idea that they are the champions of a victimised people who need to be helped to return to their rightful glory. In keeping with this, Dugin vacillates between utopian imaginings and revenge fantasies. In Foundations of Geopolitics, we can clearly hear the Hitlerite vehemence of his tone as he intones his megalomaniac eschatological prophecies:
[The] new global ideology will be that of Final Restoration, putting a final end to the geopolitical history of civilizations—but this will not be the end which the globalist spokesmen of the End of History have theorized. The materialistic, atheistic, anti-sacred, technocratic, Atlanticist version of the end will give way to a different epilogue—the final victory of the sacred avatar, the coming of the great judgement, which will grant those who chose voluntary poverty the kingdom of spiritual abundance, while those who preferred wealth founded on the assassination of the spirit will be condemned to eternal damnation and torment in hell.
Dugin is a fascist intellectual, enthralled by bizarre ideas drawn from alchemy. As Alexander Reid Ross puts it, he “considers Eurasia a palingenetic territorial imperative, through which the Russian spirit might soar with the advancement of the purity of its soul. Eurasianism must confront ‘Atlanticism’ in a metaphysical combat between the alchemical elements of water and fire.” Or as Gerard Toal puts it, he sees the Ukraine War as a “spiritual clash between tellurocracy (earth) and thalassocracy (water).”
Dugin is also a postmodernist. He has expressed considerable admiration for iconoclastic left-wing theorists like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze:
The postmodern critique of historical optimism, universalism and historicism … created the doctrinal prerequisites for a total revision of the conceptual apparatus of western philosophy. The revision itself has not been fully implemented, but what has been done (by Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Ricoeur, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, etc.) is already sufficient to ensure the inability to use the Dictionary of the Modern without its thorough and meticulous deconstruction.
This is grimly ironic. Many conservative critics have condemned postmodern theory for dissolving the epistemic and moral bases of western society. Dugin agrees that the postmodernists theorists have accomplished this—and praises them for it—in the service of a geopolitical project vastly more reactionary than any Jordan Peterson would be comfortable with. That Dugin should be attracted to postmodern critiques of western thought isn’t entirely unexpected. Dugin is an admirer of Martin Heidegger, who profoundly influenced the poststructuralist philosophies that emerged in late-twentieth-century France, which have long enamoured many on the left.
Indeed, some of the far right argue that Dugin offers the most complete understanding of Heidegger’s message, which entails a rejection of liberal democracy—indeed a rejection of all of western history, since it led to the emergence of nihilistic modernity. In this view, Heidegger teaches that the nihilistic postmodern culture that first emerged in the twenty-first-century west is not—as the more superficial reactionaries suppose—a consequence of abandoning Enlightenment reason. It isn’t even, as Nietzsche predicted, the consequence of Christian egalitarianism. Instead, it is the result of what Heidegger describes as our neglect of the concept of “Being,” which has led to a conception of the world as consisting of nothing but meaningless things, to be endlessly manipulated to gratify venal human hedonism.
In Heidegger’s cryptic words, both liberalism—“planetary idiocy”—and “Soviet Bolshevism” should be rejected. Only “the final destruction of Liberalism and Communism” will allow “the leap into another Beginning and the dawn of Being’s return.”
For Heidegger, Germany had a crucial role to play in combating both America and Russia. Dugin regards Russia—or what he calls “Eurasia,” evoking some quintessential power inherent in the continent and embodied by Russia—as the only force that could possibly confront the Atlantic coalition that he despises. Dugin talks a great deal about authenticity and about the people willing their own destiny into being. Yet he champions an authoritarian system that demands from the people slavish obedience to the “destiny” designed for them by fascist intellectuals.
People are complex and have many different desires, aims and wishes. The idea that these multifarious human motivations can somehow be smelted by the fascist philosopher or leader into a single authentic will of the people is delusional. Being authentic means being true to oneself as an individual—not part of an undifferentiated mass.
In the hands of the Nazis, fascist ideology led to tragedy on an unimaginable scale. Dugin’s twenty-first century fascism began with shrill invocations of the supposed “destiny” of the Russian people and has most recently featured geriatric conscripts firing Soviet-era weapons at Ukrainian soldiers. Duginism reminds us of Marx’s truth: history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.
A version of this article first appeared in Matt McManus, The Political Right and Equality: Turning Back the Tide of Egalitarian Modernity (Routledge, 2023). The section featured here has been substantially edited for inclusion in Areo and is featured here with the publisher’s permission.