Civilization War? Understanding Alexander Dugin's Eurasianism

Não se sabe ao certo o tamanho da influência das ideias de Alexander Dugin sobre o pragmático líder russo.

It is not known for sure the size of the influence of Alexander Dugin’s ideas on the pragmatic Russian leader.| Photo: Bigstock

The Russian invasion of Ukraine would have been motivated by several strategic calculations: fear of NATO expansion, fears that Ukraine was getting too close to the West and confidence in Moscow in their economic reserves. But this analysis perhaps ignores the civilizational aspect of Vladimir Putin’s fateful decision. After all, the war does not only involve Ukraine, but also a wider conflict between East and West.Instead of the Soviet Union, the United States is facing a Eurasian continent that has Russia as its soul. In geographic space, Eurasia covers the former Soviet empire, excluding the Baltic countries, as well as Mongolia and parts of China. And within that territory resides a great civilization – the Russian civilization – that represents the only alternative to the globalized and decadent West.

At least, that’s how the philosopher and founder of the Eurasian Party, Alexander Dugin, sees the situation. Dugin has long said that Eurasia is the only hope against Western world domination, and he addresses the difference between the two civilizations in geopolitical terms. If, on the one hand, Western analysts overestimate Dugin’s influence by calling him “the brain behind Putin”, on the other hand, the study of the Russian philosopher’s ideas may help to clarify Russia’s actions.

Dugin’s most influential work is the book “Foundations of Geopolitics” , in 1997. It was adopted as a textbook by the Russian military academy and the state education system. Curiously similar to the comparison that Thucydides makes between Athens and Sparta, Dugin’s analysis argues that contemporary Athenians are the “Atlanticists”, led by the US and UK, while the Spartans would be the “Eurasianists”, led by Russia. Atlanticists dominate the sea through vastly superior naval power, while Eurasianists seek to dominate geographic territory through superior military capability on dry ground. The idea behind this is that the choice of a civilization is not made by choice, but by geographical necessity. Geopolitics determines what kind of civilization you become.But the implications of this go well beyond military guidance. Dugin argues that cultural and ideological differences are consequences of geopolitical fate. The Athenians were materialists, innovators, individualists, and progressives, just like the Atlanticists. Sparta was spiritualized, austere, communal and traditional, just like the Eurasianists. These immutable differences run deeper than political institutions or ideas about human rights, and override economic and prosperity concerns. Furthermore, the state must use its power to serve and defend civilizational values. It is civilizational values, not democratic consent, that represent the source of the state’s legitimacy. A weak civilization means a weak state.

The way Dugin approaches the question of Ukraine follows the same logic. In a lecture given to Western journalists on March 4, eight days after the offensive began, he said the invasion had been an “option” to affirm the “multipolarity” of the world. Russia has “the right to be one of the world’s civilizations”, a right that Western globalism would have denied the country since the collapse of the USSR. Ukraine may be a specific target, but the larger objective is to re-establish Russia’s place as a “second center” that serves as a model for all nations with similar characteristics. Dugin’s claim that Putin is only “protecting Russia’s geopolitical interests” must be understood to include the protection of Russian civilization and Russian way of life.

Dugin draws inspiration from Western thought to illustrate his position. In a illuminating statement, he said that “[Samuel] Huntington was right and [Francis] Fukuyama was wrong”. World politics is a conflict of civilizations. The idea that liberal democracy can spread across the world is a fantasy because economic and political systems are functions of civilizational differences. According to this idea, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika was a genuinely Russian attempt to modernize itself – and it failed. “For a long time we tried something impossible: to be part of world civilization,” said Dugin. “But we are a civilization in itself”.

Dugin in general restricts his theory of Eurasianism to the world of ideas. Scholars of foreign affairs distinguish between the material world – planes, tanks and troops – and the world of ideas (values ​​and beliefs). And Eurasia – despite Dugin saying that geopolitics requires the emergence of a concrete civilization, with clear borders – belongs to the second world.

On the whole, he plays with this distinction, using the terms that best suit his purposes. While “Foundations…” is all about geopolitics, Dugin’s other important work, “The Fourth Political Theory” [A quarta teoria política], is all about ideas and ideology. In the book, he attacks the Western values ​​of capitalism and individualism, advocating a new political ideology based on the experience of existence itself (influenced by Heidegger).

In his lectures, Dugin alternates approaches, sometimes talking about “geopolitical necessity” and sometimes trying to rethink political philosophy. , human nature and the future of life itself. He uses this ambiguity to his advantage and seems more comfortable with rhetoric than philosophy, acting more like a charlatan than a true seeker.

Reality x theory

Since the beginning of the war, in from February, empirical reality has contaminated Dugin’s theories. “Foundations…” advocates a Franco-German bloc aligned with Russia, a “Moscow-Berlin axis” based on the idea that both France and Germany are historically enemy powers of the Atlanticists. The news, however, is that the opposite is happening, with Germany reasserting its ties to the West while seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian energy. Of course, not every nation feels destined, due to geographic circumstances, to choose the right path.

It’s true that Putin’s foreign policy sounds like something inspired by Dugin. The Russian leader criticizes the cultural decadence of the West, while emphasizing the corrupt influence of Enlightenment ideals – above all, individualism. In a speech delivered in October 1280, Putin attacked progressive ideology. He mentions Russian civilization and insists that Ukraine is fundamental to that civilization, having called Kiev the “cradle of Russian civilization”.

Geopolitically, Putin shows interest in the idea of ​​a larger Eurasian community. His recent push to promote a Eurasian Economic Union (UEE) seeks to create a bloc capable of rivaling the United States, the European Union and China as a region of economic and political integration. In practice, however, this seems quite unlikely. Only Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have joined Russia in the EEU, and the other countries in the region do not show much interest in the idea. The Russian domain over the EEU is total and the country uses this domain to seduce other nations.

In other words, Putin’s foreign policy is aligned with Dugin’s geopolitical orientations. Still, it is not known whether Putin makes decisions with Dugin’s ideas in mind. Despite the problem (which affects all autocrats) of being surrounded by kiss-ass who give him inaccurate information, the Russian president is a sober strategist who generally resists theorizing and the temptation of romantic ideas.

Putin also tends to work more closely with a reduced core of officials chosen very carefully. His former political advisers, such as Vladislav Surkov and Gleb Pavlovsky, lacked Dugin’s intellectual pretensions. Those closest to Putin are chosen not for their intelligence, but for their loyalty. I would say that Putin likes Dugin’s ideas, as well as the concept of Eurasianism. They give him a grandiose vision of the future – but the pragmatic Putin is unlikely to be carried away by these ideas.

Steven Pittz is a professor of political science at the University of Colorado.

© City Journal. Published with permission. Original in English

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