Past and Future Possibilities: A Review of The Fourth Political Theory by Aleksandr Dugin
“We have never been contemporary,” said Bruno Latour. Perhaps not. Discussions about political theories are primarily backwards looking. Few people if any seemingly want to spend time speculating on new political theories. So we’re ceaselessly watching an eddy of circling democracy, or democratic socialism, take your emphasis, and socialism, and libertarianism, then we have the historic models of liberalism, Communism, and forms of fascism. An article in AlterNet was titled, Capitalism Is Collapsing — and the Weird Thing Is That Nothing Is Rising to Replace It. (Alternet) It simply strikes me that the area is ripe for conjecture. Luckily, for a few authors future political theories, often considerations of what might happen after capitalism, are a topic du jour, see for example Morten Overgaard’s National Intellgence: A metamodern Theory of Politics, ideas bound into Accelerationism, or Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A guide to Our Future. The ideas promoted range from reconsidering Marx to enabling the current system continue to either be tweaked or to spectacularly fail, to challenging presuppositions such as duality thinking, to striving for a more abundant global conditions.
Doctor Ivan Timofeev, Director of Programs at the Russian International Affairs Council is also an editor of the anthology The World in 100 Years (not on Amazon as far as I can see, and not to be confused with MIT’s book titled In 100 Years). Timofeev’s, and others’, goal is “to abandon all attempts to … build a coherent and non-contradictory picture of the future” because they recognized this is an untenable position in which predictions most frequently arise from extrapolations. (Timofeev) In the book they invited 50 experts to provide essays from which they drew a few basic points that I present here because the book does not seem to be readily available: Growth may slow down or shrink; populations will become more mobile often because of political upheavals and conflicts; a shortage of land and resources will develop; the current overload of information and an internet of things will suggest possibilities between informational systems and the human brain and in turn this will raise further questions about the autonomy of the individual in relation to the state and corporations; the balance of power will shift and state boundaries may in turn be altered; militaries will continue to bloat, drawing in more and more IT experts to help them adapt; state competition will highlight the need for global governance on one hand and sovereignty on the other; state and non-state competition will increase, and with the increase we will see both technological advances and the increase in vulnerable states resulting in infrastructures will be seen as vulnerable targets; an erosion of sovereignty will be uneven and the number of weak states will grow in correlation to the projection of power by strong states; energy sector changes will be radical; education may become more distance-based and fundamental education will be supplanted by specialized education; political ideologies, such as freedom, legitimacy, etc, may be invested with new meaning “against the background of a new wave of ‘panopticism’, i.e. growing control over the individual.” Timofeev sees the majority of the contributors agreeing that the world will become more interconnected in all spheres.
One could take a nominalist approach arising from states and individuals and via a many worlds view say that there is no universal to be found. Žižek addresses exactly this question and he answers: “…the only actual reality is that of the universal capitalist system.” (This and all Žižek quotes are from Like a Thief in Broad Daylight). To some degree we in the West know this is the reality, late-stage or not, and we currently don’t see it going anywhere, in fact we see communist states like China taking on capitalist means and ways.
An early entry into the discourse about future political theories was Aleksandr Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory (2012) that strives to present an option following what the author sees as the failures of and subsequently drawing upon the best of liberalism, communism, and fascism. It is a book fascinating for its considerations even as it wanders down many side alleys any attempts to link in ideas from many great thinkers, from Heidegger to Husserl from Feyerabend to Derrida from Fukuyama to Schmitt. Who would dare tackle this ‘Whole Sick Crew’ (apologies Thomas Pynchon) in one work? Aleksandr Dugin, politician, political scientist, and political theorist would. Readers may know about controversies surrounding Dugin’s real life politics. He is called for example by Peter Schweizer “an important and troubling man,” or “Putin’s Rasputin” by Robert Zubrin. Dugin is on sanctioned lists of the United States and Canada. I’m not going into those politics at all, one can read about Dugin’s involvement with Oleg Batiyarov, the Ukraine, and the Eurasia Party at their leisure. All I know is that the recent impeachment inquiry caused me to lose any surety I had on whether any statement related to the USA and the Ukraine is actually fact or simply political posturing. So I’ll leave all that alone and compartmentalize the review of the book because the question, ‘What might follow capitalism?’ is a good one.
I’m also limited in having not read Dugin’s other works, so my weakness is contextualizing this book within his general oeuvre and larger political ideology.
Should we assume that a new political theory is needed to replace our current generally global neoliberal and capitalist system? Here Dugin agrees with many critics. Those advocating for the change have reasonable motives. They cite continual wars, drastic inequities, loss of freedoms and rights, and so on. A recent meme sums up our current condition. It depicts eight pictures of children of color working slave labor, sewing in a sweatshop, carrying heavy loads at an open mine, or brandishing guns in a war torn country. The ninth picture is of Greta Thunberg. Text accompanying the meme says, guess which of these children whines that their childhood was stolen. Even at its most superficial reading, it’s easy to recognize that those benefiting from the current global political system have a tough time demonstrating their ethical responsibility toward those upon whose back they maintain their lifestyle. So as the meme points out, the same benefiting first-worlders are often quick to jump on a bandwagon of selective moral outrage. It makes sense then that anyone interested in political theory, who recognizes the consequences of our current system — and of previous systems no longer in use, and who has a keen interest in global equity, would, it seems, direct their thoughts to alternatives.
Dugin’s proposal at a macro level seems to run a line from Plato through Heidegger, sort of granting everyone the status of philosopher-king in whose role they are virtuous but who have a Being-in-the-world, as true Being, from which point they show themselves within the world. On a more political theory level, Dugin is not advocating for a return to a liberalism, communism, or fascism nor does he posit a kinder, gentler form of them, to use the much lampooned words uttered by George H. W. Bush in his inauguration speech. To be clear, Dugin says we should reject liberalism as equally outdated to Marxism and fascism as it certainly is as cruel as any other political system given that liberalism is, “responsible for slavery, the destruction of the Native Americans in the United States, for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for the aggression in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for the devastation and the economic exploitation of millions of people on the planet, and for the ignoble and cynical lies which whitewash this history.” In his view, as such, the contemporary world order is improperly realized and thus requiring a new paradigm. Žižek sums all this up nicely in his backward look, “But the point is always the same: the endorsement of brutality with no constraints.”
Liberalism, defined by Dugin, is seen as both left and right. It brings with it an emphasis on the individual, freedom for as well as freedom from, the latter in the sense of John Stuart Mill and in agreement with other writers who speak of liberalism. Liberalism’s emphasis would also include freedom from the historic emphasis on class as generally embodied by communism and freedom from the State as generally embodied by fascism.
But Dugin needs first to strengthen his foundation. Values of rationalism, scientism, and positivism are for him only veiled forms of repressive totalitarianism politics. He writes,
“But now we’re post-postmodern and framing postmodernism into the discourse, a tactic that distance allows us seems necessary.
“At the same time, this is accompanied by the glorification of total freedom and the independence of the individual from any kind of limits, including reason, morality, identity (social, ethnic, or even gender), discipline, and so on. This is the condition of postmodernity.
“At this stage, liberalism ceases to be the first political theory and becomes the only post-political practice. Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ arrives, economics in the form of the global capitalist market, replaces politics, and states and nations are dissolved in the melting pot of world globalisation.”
It’s difficult to really disagree. Look for example at the book Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom by Michael Rectenwald in which he says that big digital conglomerates act as global corporate monopoly capitalists representing not only economic powerhouses but corporate state powers.
According to Dugin, in this scenario there are only two positions: compliance (centrist) and dissent (the periphery). As either compliant or dissenting we “are invited to join in this terrible struggle for survival at its greatest intensity, and to become like them [liberal democrats], trying to grab a place at the trough of globalisation.” Both positions are ultimately global, which in part is why partisans in the US are looking particularly foolish these days. Still, even though liberalism has outlasted variants of communism and variants of fascism; most future looking theories suggest the answer is not going back to them either. Instead, we must engage in a battle for postmodernity, or post-postmodernity, on shifting ground, on historic debris, recognizing the society of spectacle, acknowledging Baudrillard’s society of simulation in which epistemology is heightened as unknowability, as contradictions, as socially constructed, and therefore valueless.
We ended up with a postmodernism that was no longer rebellion against tradition but indifference in the sense of Guy Debord who wrote in thesis 17, “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” Spectacle turns genuine activity into passive identification or into a simulacrum. Limit options, allow big digital tracking, and we have a quantifiable data and a relatively controllable demographic. Accelerationism hasn’t seemed to solve this — how long must we wait until the collapse? I always think of an online video of a man who tosses a heavy iron scrap into a front load washing machine and films its self-destruction. The problem is, late stage capitalism refines, pivots, and continues to suck and its self-destruction is never quite past the horizon. It keeps going strong albeit in mutated form, ignoring nihilism because it is not beholden to meaning and intrinsic value. Still, the answer cannot be a retreat to some modernist theory.
Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory strives to be a negation of past political theories. These are presented as navel-gazing, each a hermeneutic bubble. So Dugin attempts is to “go beyond the usual ideological and political paradigms.” He offers a polyphonic theory in which one essential feature is to reject “all forms and varieties of racism and all forms of normative hierarchisation of societies based on ethnic, religious, social, technological, economic, or cultural grounds….The differences between societies in any sense can, in no shape or form, imply the superiority of one over the other.” This attacks communism with its emphasis on class structure. It attacks liberalism with its technological and cultural racism he calls the “glamor code,” described as conformity or non-conformity to norms set by socialites of culture and politics.
Perhaps we have wondered, what would Heidegger have said had he lived through Postmoderism. (As an aside, it is somewhat crazy to think that Heidegger was still alive for Woodstock.)
Dugin rejects the past theories and bases his new political theory on ethnos, stemming from each individual, and not those with a predisposition to be situated within a readily found superficial subservient-to-capital cultural appropriation model, nor does he mean exoticizing and othering found in hegemonic master narratives. Rather, he holds a Heideggerian view here, the ethnos in itself, each being distinct, each being without hierarchical comparison, each generating it’s own criteria by which it can be judged. Freedom is conceived in this scenario as a given human freedom, lacking any sort of subjectivity.
To position it clearly Dugin delineates freedom of the individual within a structure of liberalism as its most totalitarian and intolerant, where real freedom for any one person is severely limited; each individual has direct control over very little scope. Contrasting this inauthentic existence is a true Dasein. From this position, the Fourth Political Theory attempts to sidestep a trend of the three named political ideologies, “the idea of growth, development, progress, evolution, and of the constant cumulative improvement of society…they differ in their interpretation of this process…but they all accept the irreversibility of history and its progressive character.” It is the idea of monotonic progress and constant growth that in turn supports the cruelties found within each ideology. Instead we are asked to orient ourselves differently, toward “balance, adaptability, and harmony.”
Fair enough, we can view history and epochs as an archives, to be dipped into, stripped of original meaning, and reconstituted at will for new purposes. Dugin wants us to metaphorically reverse time, basically to redesign our pre-concepts, which I take using the words of Collingwood to mean absolute presuppositions. But the devil is in the details just as it is in the administration. Any new political theory must is held accountable on both levels. On a global plurality scale it’s all well and good to frame a new political theory through the lens of harmony but what happens when one political group openly advocates a nothing less than death attitude to the other side? A statement of valuing all Ethea may not resolve this problem in reality, in other words what if one side denies political and social transformation? The answer seems to rest within a conservative revolution, a recognizing of the Ge-stell, Heidegger again, using a word he means as a revealing of the real in our engagement with the world. Dugin means acknowledging nihilism which must be overcome, in other words exhuming meaning that sequently “Heidegger, the existentialists, traditionalists, structuralists, and at last postmodernists smashed” and supposedly voided. Societies found/find it easier to accept norms of civilization and culture, as mythical or as evil as they might be, reaching a point where there is no exit. I could be accused of relying upon history for this view.
It is interesting that Dugin critiques Francis Fukuyama, proponent of countries striving for democracy and global harmony and instead leans toward Samuel Huntington and ideas of clashes and preventatives, of nationalistic, read civilizational, borders within what the author sees as a new ideology of “multipolarity,” the antidote to his view of a Western hegemonic unipolarity. So we have no universal standard, neither material nor spiritual. He acknowledges we may have to get there by enduring a few skirmishes, one of which is globalization, the West’s fetish for “striving of the Atlantic Western pole to hang its unipolar hegemony on all the nations and countries on Earth.” Here the author sees a clinging to postmodern ideals, new leftists live in a society of multi-faceted violence and oppression by superstructures and structures that although rigid and repulsive, are hidden behind democratic and liberal facades. I can’t argue with him here being an admirer of Sheldon Wolin and his theory of inverted totalitarianism. However, I side, against Dugin, with Feyerabend and Kuhn and the arguments against scientism. Rather than see the position as a rejection of reason, I see it as does Feyerabend, a reflection of reality. And here it seems our paths diverge. Dugin believes in some fundamental Dasein linked with some idea of a true reality that he seems to want to expose or invigorate. Yet I doubt that truth-as-relative does not in and of itself indicate, as Dugin suggests a future containing the legalization of narcotics, to pick on a toy example, although I would agree with him in that we may find a rhizomatic presentation. All of this could presuppose a bourgeoise system but such a view is neither inherent nor unassailable.
So this review, much like the book, may for some have become a bit frustrating in that we still don’t get a real sense of the practical plan of the Fourth Political Theory in practice. Dugin’s first answer is to link empty signifiers: in science, theory to practice; in metaphysics, principle to manifestation; in religion, myth to ritual; in philosophy, mentality to activity; in technology, idea to realization; in common use, thinking to action. In the connection is the idea that we “walk away from the dualism between subject and object, between intention and realisation, and from the dual topography which the philosophy of modernity, the science of modernity, and the politology of modernity are based on.” The uncovering and promotion of the real then is not something that sits upon a line between theory and practice, it’s something that is a common route for both. But here is where I get a little bit distracted. “What is the Fourth Political Practice? It is contemplation. What is the manifestation of the Fourth Political Practice? It is a principle to be revealed. In what aspect is the myth realised as ritual? It becomes theurgic fact (let us recognise that Neoplatonic theurgy is the reanimation of statues). What is activity as mentality? It is the idea that thoughts are magic, that thoughts can change reality; it is a suggestion that thoughts replace reality as fact.”
The more concrete construction draws upon the best from the three big previous theories. We get the anti-capitalist, anti-cosmopolitan, anti-liberal, anti-individualistic attitudes of communism, socialism, and fascism. We get communism’s emphasis on social solidarity, justice, and general holistic attitude. We get a real acceptance of diversity that works against nationalistic agendas. The Fourth Political Theory proponents must next create a pact so that factions that weaponize diversity and prejudice reject such strategies. Confrontations between religious beliefs should be strongly opposed. Overarching principles would be social justice, national sovereignty, and traditional values. Recall the main subject is the Heideggerian Dasein, the authenticity of existence and all it entails is paramount.
If we try hard enough we could perhaps preconceive some status-quo goal in this model as multipolarity and harmony reach a point of stasis, or as Dugin writes, “many civilisations, many poles, many centres, many sets of values on one planet and in one humanity. Many worlds.” Again all good. This many worlds view is the thesis of philosopher Markus Gabriel in his terrific book Why the World Does not Exist, which by the way features a unicorn on its cover.
Still, we wish to know what this world is and how we live within it.
Dugin says, “It looks like postmodernity, like virtuality.” So for his apparent Baudrillard-bashing and postmodern-poo pooing we end up with simulacrum and simulation in a postmodern condition, evidently.
One of the goals of the postmodern was to seek out dominant and underlying voices and to give previously disenfranchised voices more power, to raise as questions epistemological presuppositions, to support pluralism and relativism. This was seen by some to devalue truth. So it’s as though Dugin wants the good of postmodernism while retaining the roots, which must presuppose some generalized truth residing in the self, and which seemingly entails deontological ethics. I suppose the rub is that postmodernism also accepts a loss of being and this would be difficult for Dugin who retains a nostalgia for Heidegger. Being is always susceptible to deconstruction. The idea of reading being doesn’t seem to fit easily into Dugin’s theory because of his desire for a common incontestable root.
Here I must side with Baudrillard and his ideas in After the Orgy. Liberation means a things are subject to increasing indeterminacy, and yet, paradoxically, a kind of hysteresis of the political reigns. Baudrillard writes, “We are now in the transpolitical sphere; in other words, we have reached the zero point of politics, a stage which also implies the reproduction of politics, its endless simulation. For everything that has not successfully transcended itself can only fall prey to revivals without end. So politics will never finish disappearing — nor will it allow anything else to emerge in its place.”
Overall I’d like to see this book broken into component parts, with each expanded with more focus into short books on specific subjects that would include subjects like beyond postmodernism, Dasein and Ge-sell, Accelerationism, Postanthropology, and so forth. In each section are really decent ideas and provocative arguments. It’s that everything is subject to drift, and not in a Žižekian manner, that is the rub. We get then into the mix his views regarding Traditionalists, his return to theology and the idea that “postmodernity (globalisation, postliberalism, and the post-industrial society) is easily recognized as ‘the kingdom of the Antichrist,’”or his interest in linking to theurgy, a practice of magical rituals that evoke the presence of a higher being. Without all the these trimmings, Dugin’s critique of past theories may strike informed readers as very much in line with Foucault’s tri-part critique of “the sovereignty model, the the commodity model, and the repressive model.” (Brown)
At a minimum, it’s obvious that the countries of North America won’t fawn over Dugin’s comment, “globalism is the creation of a grand parody, the kingdom of the Antichrist. And the United States is the centre of its expansion.” On the other hand it’s fairly easy to see why other countries would take exception to the US’s rhetoric of global hegemony stating that they alone should set agendas everyone else regarding political futures. So while people like Dugin are calling for united resistance against such hegemony we in the West are, as Žižek says, hold a view that “Every minimal doubt and reservation about alternatives we are presented with is immediately proclaimed a sign of secret collaboration with fascism.” (Žižek) I’ll just note that with respect in TFPT, Dugin raises both some interesting ideas, even if lines of inquiry are maddeningly pursued and some ideas incite strong disagreement. Certainly the book prompted me to want to ask more than a few Columbo type follow ups. But like it or not, maybe this is the point of good discourse.
Alternet. Kilian, C. (December 28, 2016). Capitalism Is Collapsing — and the Weird Thing Is That Nothing Is Rising to Replace It. Retrieved from https://www.alternet.org/2016/12/end-capitalism-and-end-our-world/)
Baudrillard, J. (1993). After the Orgy. In The Transparency of Evil. London, UK: Verso
Timofeev, I. (March 13, 2017). Russia and the World: The Agenda for the Next 100 Years. Retrieved from https://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/russia-and-the-world-the-agenda-for-the-next-100-years/
Brown, W., (2008). Power After Foucault, in Dryzek, J, Honig, B., and Phillips, A., (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Žižek, S. (2018). Like a Thief in Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Human Capitalism. London, UK: Seven Stories Press.