Ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, increasing attention has been placed on the Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin. He has received even more interest after the assassination of his daughter in a car explosion this August, which both the Russian and US governments believe Ukraine was behind. But while much has been written about Dugin and his alleged connections to Putin and the Kremlin (of whom Dugin has been very critical), few seem to actually care about what his ideas are. Most who even write about his ideas don’t actually read him, instead they opt for caricature and strawman rather than doing the work to understand the man and his ideas. It is hard to blame them. The corpus of Dugin’s work is rather immense, including geopolitics, meta-politics, meta-history, ethnosociology, and deep analyses into the thought of Martin Heidegger and Plato. Due to his prolific writing, I won’t be able to cover all of his work, but I wish to give the reader an overview of his thought along with resources for further research.
The Fourth Political Theory
We should begin with his meta-political project of the “Fourth Political Theory.” It is with this that Dugin aims at destroying the modern political framework which he categorizes as consisting of three political ideologies: liberalism and capitalism, communism and various forms of left-wing socialism, and fascism, Nazism and the “third-position” broadly speaking. While each of these political theories have major differences between each other, they are all undergirded by their share in being deeply modern phenomena at fundamental odds with traditionalism. As proof of this, Dugin cites their collective belief in a monotonic view of time, e.g., a belief in a progressive or linear view of history as opposed to a more cyclical view.
Even the name “The Fourth Political Theory” is really just a placeholder, as the project to construct such a theory has only begun. Right now, the Fourth Political Theory is principally described apophatically because we mostly know what it is not, rather than what it is. In this way, we see Dugin’s Orthodox Christianity influencing him with its emphasis of the mystical approach known as “apophatic” theology— trying to describe God by what he is not— as opposed to cataphatic theology— describing God through positive attributes. However, we can begin to outline some things the Fourth Political Theory represents (in this non-exhaustive list):
- Ethnocentrism/tribalism (as opposed to modern nationalism, more on this later)
- The reversibility of time and alternative views of time (cyclical, Messianic, etc.)
- The centrality of politics
- Traditional economics (eg. gift economies, symbolic exchange, Distributism, non-Marxist socialism, etc.)
- The joining of religion and politics
Likewise we can outline the Fourth Political Theory being against the following (again, a non-exhaustive list):
Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory, however, is not mere rejection of these things. He encourages us to find what is good in each of these systems, to interpret them through the lens of the Fourth Political Theory, and to throw out the rest. He proposes that we read authors from all traditions of modernism through a Fourth Positionist hermeneutic to find what can be used from these thinkers. This has earned him many enemies on the American right, for he has read and found many interesting things from the postmodernist, structuralist, feminist and other more leftist traditions.
Dugin finds something worthwhile in all theories. With fascism, he finds the emphasis placed on the people or the ethnos or volk to be a good instinct (although Dugin disregards all racialist theories as inherently modern). With communism, Dugin sees much to gain from its critique of capitalism and bourgeois society along with its emphasis on the common good (in contrast to more individual notions of the good). In liberalism, which includes almost all of the American right (derisively called “liberal conservatives”) he finds the least that can be adopted into the Fourth Political Theory. Dugin does take up the notion of “freedom” from liberalism, but not as freedom for the individual, but freedom for the ethnos, for communities and collectivities, and for dasein. Dugin sees liberalism as giving us the freedom to do anything except to not be liberal, whereas he affirms the right of peoples (plural) to be different and have their own Sonderweg.
Dasein, meaning in German “being-there,” is the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s term for us human beings— the being that thinks of its own being. Heidegger, second only to Plato, is the most important philosopher for Dugin’s thought. In fact, Dugin’s differentiates the Fourth Political Theory from the other political theories through having Heidegger’s concept of dasein as its political subject, more specifically it is Volks als Dasein (volk as dasein), which is Dugin’s interpretation of how dasein is to be properly realized. What this means is that for each people (meaning narod or volk, more on this in the next section) there will be a specific dasein which they will have, meaning that not everyone will have the same dasein. Liberalism, on the other hand, has the individual as its political subject. For communism the subject is class and fascism has either the state or the race as its subject.
To better understand dasein’s role in his philosophy we have to take a look at Dugin’s anthropology, specifically his ethnosociology. Ethnosociology looks at man from the view of the ethnos, the smallest and most fundamental unit of human society, and from here it examines how the ethnos changes form. Formally speaking, an ethnos is a group of people who speak the same language, acknowledge their single origin, and possess a complex of customs and ways of life, differing from the customs of other groups, preserved and sanctified by tradition.
The ethnos sees itself as the entire universe in which nothing outside of it can exist, and this is reflected in the fact that many of their languages use the same word to describe their tribe as the word for human. In other words, the ethnos has yet to recognize the other and thus the condition of the friend-enemy distinction— and hence politics— isn’t met since there is only the “ethnocentrum,” and it is the role of the shaman to encounter outside forces and to properly integrate them into the ethnocentrum in order to prevent it’s shattering.
But once this shattering occurs, and the other is recognized, then there is a shift from a pure ethnos to the stage of the narod (Russian for “born-into”, the German equivalent would be volk, an imprecise English translation would be “people”) where there is no pure ethnos, but rather internal stratification starts to occur and ethnoses begin to mix; often one of the former ethnoses end up as the ruling class at the core of the narod. This is where the political can first emerge, since there is a properly recognized other and the Schmittian friend-enemy distinction is now possible. Although there is still an ethnic core to the narod,; the society, especially the elites, face the tragic loss of their ethnocentrum. The recognition of the other both externally with foreign neighbors and internally with caste and stratification (ruler-ruled dichotomy) causes any return to this mythical past to be impossible.
The most common way the narod occurred was through a nomadic narod or ethnos conquering an agrarian or hunter-gatherer ethnos and incorporating it into its society (although the conquered ethnos may still remain an ethnos if it doesn’t recognize their overlord and is able to somehow integrate their new position into the ethnocentrum). Historically speaking, most of human society has been at the level of the ethnos or the level of the narod, which includes traditional states and empires. A second step removed the ethnos is the level of nation, which stems from the more modern notion of states with defined borders; this is where mass-society and the bourgeoisie first emerge. The caste society of the narod dissolves into a class society, and the state becomes much more bureaucratic and centralized. The third derivative would be civil society, whose ethnic element is pushed to the periphery. Here the bourgeoisie is ascendent, and individualism, and liberalism comes to dominate. The role of the state becomes diminished since civil society, based on the concept of the individual, can easily surpass state borders. Civil society strives for true globality and to erase all remnants of the nation, narod or ethnos in favor of a rational society of individuals. This stage is what Karl Popper theorized as the “Open Society” and FA Hayek as the “Great Society.” Dugin also posits a hypothetical post-society where the individual turns into the “dividual” after the advent of a truly global civil society which posthumanist feminist author Donna Haraway has gleefully theorized.
Thus, that the political subject of the Fourth Political Theory is volks als dasein means that the political subject of the Fourth Political Theory is the ethnosociological term of narod containing the existential connotations of Heidegger’s dasein. The Fourth Political Theory can only be properly realized for a society that is at the stage of the narod, not the stage of the ethnos, nation, or civil society. Dugin’s ethnosociology allows him to have an anthropology based not on the individual, but rather to have a collectivistic understanding of what it means to be a human. This is aligned with Aristotle and Plato who, at least ontologically, see the community as prior to the individual. Man is thus an ethnic man who finds his personality in the ethnos, not an individual who creates his community on the basis of rational thought.
Multipolarity and Geopolitics
From the start of the 20th century (Hobsbawm notwithstanding) up until the end of the second world war we had what is called in international relations “multipolarity” where the balance of power on the world stage was held in three or more “poles of power”. Under the Westphalian system, poles of power— ‘sovereignty’ might be a better word here— had been linked to states. At the start of World War One a non-exhaustive list of poles would be France, America, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Russia, Italy and the Ottomans, sometimes referred to as the “Great Powers.” With the end of The Great War we saw the destruction of the major non-modern states (narods) such as the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and German Empires.
Fastforwarding to World War II, a different set of states makes up the poles of power. However, by the end of the Second World War— which saw capitalism and communism join forces to kill fascism in its infancy, the world shifted from a multipolarity of Westphalian states to ideological bipolarity between the Communist and Capitalist blocs as the basis of the Cold War. At the end of this conflict, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Communist regimes, we entered what was deemed “the unipolar moment” where there was only one global sovereign: The American Empire and its liberal allies.
Two liberal visions were presented as to what was to happen. The first was the linear view of history presented by the vulgar-Hegelian Francis Fukuyama with his idea of the “End Of History” which saw liberal democracy as the last form of human government, which would eventually spread to every corner of the globe. The second was the pessimism of Samuel Huntington who, in response to Fukuyama, wrote about a rising multipolar world based on a “clash of civilizations” and presented a more cyclical view of history more akin to civilizational theorists such as Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler than Hegel and Marx. In this clash of civilizations, which he argued we can already see percolating, we will see various civilizations at odds with each other, and poles of power will be situated in each of these civilizations rather than in ideology or state. This might manifest as the West against Islam, China against Eurasia, Hinduism against Buddhism, etc. While the Westphalian state will probably still persist, we will see sovereignty be vested not in these states, but within a larger context in which they operate together to project power collectively.
While Huntington, an American neoconservative, posits this view with much chagrin, Alexander Dugin takes up this line of thinking (by no means exclusive to Huntington) with optimism. Part of his interpretation of Heidegger’s notion of dasein is the plurality of dasein. The Chinese, Russian, and German dasein will not be the same. Thus, in order for each dasein to express itself authentically there will be a need for multipolarity that allows room for people to have a right to be different. Liberal unipolarity, however, denies this since it imposes the individual as primary and imposes its way of life onto others through both soft and hard imperialism.
We can now begin to see how all these threads start linking together. Dugin’s meta-political project of the Fourth Political Theory has as its subject Dasein als Volks which states that there is no human qua human, but that man is always an ethnic man tethered to a whole greater than himself. The best way to actualize Dasein als Volks is for civilizational multipolarity, which will be at the ethnosociological level of the narod, to be realized so that each dasein can live authentically without the imposition of liberalism or any other unipolar force. At this stage the specific instantiations of the Fourth Political Theory can be conceived as each people finds, discovers, and realizes their dasein and frees itself from modernity to instead launch itself forward into eternity.
This is why at first the Fourth Political Theory appears so vague, in part because the Fourth Political Theory is supposed to free each dasein to express itself in its own authentic way. It is a type of cultural relativism that doesn’t deny truth, but says that each person finds the truth within their own specific context and tradition, for this is the only way that we humans live (again remember, man for Dugin is always ethnic man). The Fourth Political Theory is a form of traditionalism which rejects a reactionary mindset that merely wishes to “turn back the clock.” Instead it wishes to find eternity, perennial truth, and to go forward with those ideas, while understanding that we need to interpret eternity and truth within a specific tradition due to what Martin Heidegger would call our “thrownness.”
For instance Dugin’s political project which works within the framework of the Fourth Political Theory is Neo-Eurasianism, which seeks to see the Russian narod (dasein!), which would have the Rus people, with its Orthodox Religion at its center, to break away from its western cultural imposition that has chained it down for the past several hundred years (with Westernizers like Peter the Great) and to fully realize their unique Eurasian dasein, their own imperium.
The best place to start with Dugin is his book Ethnos and Society. He has also produced a series of lectures on ethnosociology in English. For those who wish to delve deeper into ethnosociology and see how he traces the evolution of this field throughout the world, one can look at Ethnosociology: The Foundations.
After Ethnos and Society, a good place to start is The Fourth Political Theory, and the second volume The Rise of the Fourth Political Theory (they were published as a single volume in Russian.) From here, delve into his geopolitics with The Theory of a Multipolar World, and The Great Awakening vs the Great Reset. The final book to read before delving into the more advanced topics is Eurasian Mission, which outlines in more detail his specific view of politics for Russia (but also the world).
For an overview of some of the more advanced topics I recommend the book by his principal English translator, Michael Millerman, called Inside “Putin’s Brain”: The Political Philosophy of Alexander Dugin which delves deeper into some of the more nuanced and detailed aspects of Dugin’s philosophy. From here we have exhausted most of his works available in English, so the last two recommendations for a deep dive into Dugin’s thought would be his book on Plato called Political Platonism and his book on Heidegger: Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning.
He also has a number of websites where he writes articles available in English alongside fellow Fourth Political Theorists: 4pt.su/en, geopolitika.ru/en, and katehon.com/en. There are also numerous interviews you can find of him on YouTube. One of the best videos, however, is his debate with French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy. There is also a great interview with him and Michael Millerman which delves into some of his works which are currently untranslated into English.