By Antony P. Mueller*
Russians are “eschatologically chosen.” They must oppose the false faith, the pseudo-religion of Western liberalism and the spread of its evil: modernity, scientism, postmodernity and the new world order. This is the thesis of Aleksandr Dugin, the eminent Russian philosopher and mentor of Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a geographical “pivot zone”, Russia must regain its position at the heart of the Eurasian continent.
Aleksandr Dugin’s political theory of traditionalism wants to liberate socialism from its materialist, atheistic and modernist traits. He calls his approach “the fourth political theory” (2012) because it is directed against the other ideologies of communism, liberalism and fascism. Dugin, who teaches sociology and geopolitics at Lermontov University in Moscow, is looking for a new political idea for Russia. He finds it in the traditional identity of the region, which Dugin associates with “religion, hierarchy and family”. As such, his theory is a “crusade” against postmodernity, postindustrial society, liberal thought and globalization.
In his native country, Aleksandr Dugin is a well-known geostrategist and a mentor of the current Russian President Vladimir Putin. For Dugin, America is a threat to Russian culture and Russian identity. He makes his position undeniably clear when he states:
I firmly believe that Modernity is absolutely wrong and Sacred Tradition is absolutely right. The United States is the manifestation of everything I hate: modernity, westernization, unipolarity, racism, imperialism, technocracy, individualism, capitalism.
In his eyes, America is “the society of the Antichrist”. The United States of America is the disturbing and alarming country on the other side of the ocean, “without history, without tradition, without roots… the result of a pure experience of European utopian rationalists”. He laments that America imposes its planetary domination and knows the triumph of its way of life spreading throughout the world. He criticizes the fact that “in itself and only in itself” America sees the standards of progress and civilization.
According to Dugin, the United States denies everyone else “the right to their own path, their own culture, and their own value system.” His conclusion, then, is that burying America “is our religious duty.” The salvation not only of Russia but of practically the entire Eurasian continent is the return to its “sacred tradition”. In Dugin’s eyes, Russia must regain its true identity. A return to the greatness of Russia is a moral obligation. America stands in the way of fulfilling Russia’s messianic call.
According to Dugin, the cultural divide has a geopolitical counterpart. His grand vision is to create a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis that would fill the geopolitical black hole left in Eurasia after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Some of Dugin’s basic concepts of geopolitics can be traced back to English geopolitical geographer Halford J. Mackinder and German geopolitical theorist Karl Hans Haushofer (1869–1946). Mackinder (1861-1947) presented his thesis that the heartland of Eurasia is the “geographic pivot of history” at a meeting of the Royal Geographic Society as early as 1904.
Mackinder’s prognosis indicates that if the vast area of Eurasia is inaccessible to ships, this inconvenience will end as Russia is on the verge of building a complete railway system. Being inaccessible to ships is no longer a disadvantage. With the railway system, the Russian Empire is about to put pressure on “Finland, on Scandinavia, on Poland, on Turkey, on Persia, on India and on China”. In the world at large, a modernized Russia would occupy the central strategic position held by Germany in Europe.
By the time of Mackinder’s presentation in the early 20th century, London was already preoccupied with Germany’s rise as an industrial power and if Russia were to follow, a potentially even bigger new rival would emerge. Preventing any alliance between Russia and Germany has become a strategic priority in UK foreign policy circles. The concept of maintaining the balance of power in Europe and announcing Germany’s conquest of Russia or vice versa became a strategic imperative and motivated Britain to enter World War I in 1914 .
In the 1920s, Karl Haushofer’s geostrategic vision of a Paris, Berlin and Moscow axis towards Tokyo took shape in Germany and also attracted Soviet strategists. Dugin’s geopolitical theory represents the continuation of this line of thought and follows Haushofer as well as Mackinder’s saying: “Who rules Eastern Europe rules the heart: Who rules the heart rules the world-island: Who rules the world-island commands the world.
For Dugin, the conflict between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War is part of the same context as the war between Carthage and Rome. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of the United States as the sole superpower, this historic conflict has reached a new stage. Now Russia stands alone against an enlarged NATO. With this, the conflict between the Atlantic region and the heartland of Eurasia is heading for a showdown.
A decade before Dugin’s geopolitical worldview rose to prominence, American geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski had also identified the heartland of Eastern Europe as a pivotal region. In his The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives (2016), Brzezinski explains that to maintain America’s leading role in the world, it must include both Germany and Japan as strongholds on the western and eastern sides of the Eurasian continent to keep Russia in check.
As for the importance of the geostrategic position of Russia and its neighbors, there would not be much difference between Aleksandr Dugin and Zbigniew Brzezinski. For both, Eurasia is the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played out. The fundamental difference, however, between America and Russia is that the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States in the unique position of having become the first superpower with global reach.
To establish this hegemony, Brzezinski explains, Eurasia is the “geopolitical axis” and Ukraine is a geopolitical hub state. It follows that “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire…. However, if Moscow regains control of Ukraine… Russia automatically regains the means to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.
It is difficult to understand that Dugin claims ‘tradition’ and ‘identity’ when in fact Russian history in the 19th and 20th centuries was a disaster. He clung to imaginary traditions that laid the groundwork for calamities to occur. It was the resistance of the czars against liberalism and capitalism which continued under the Soviets until the present leadership which blocked the advance of Russia.
In the 20th century, Russia experienced one disaster after another. The Russo-Japanese War of 1905 ended in a humiliating defeat and provoked violent uprisings in the country. The First World War claimed millions of lives and devastated the Russian economy. The Bolshevik seizure of power led to the bloody Civil War of 1918–21 followed by the Russo-Polish War of 1919–20. The Soviet Union began its existence parallel to the creation of the GULAG, the vast network of concentration camps.
Forced industrialization and the collectivization of agricultural land generated the Holodomor, with famines claiming millions of lives in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Stalin’s terror regime imprisoned millions in labor camps.
World War II from 1941 to 1945 resulted in horrific military and civilian casualties and was immediately followed by the Cold War with its arms race and costly engagements in many Third World countries. The tragic war in Afghanistan for more than ten years, until 1989, dealt the deathblow and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The failed attempt to establish a market economy did not bring prosperity, but established an oligarchic state capitalism.
Equally problematic is Dugin’s analysis of war and culture as the main conflict between the Atlantic region and the heartland of Eurasia. For both aspects, war and culture, his concept of “Atlanticists” versus “Eurasians” is fundamentally flawed. Wars between European sailors have marked history since the days of Greece and Rome and reached new heights after the discovery of America. Likewise, the “land powers” France and Germany invaded Russia and both were defeated by Russia with the help of the “Atlanticists”.
As for the thesis of a fundamental cultural gap between Western Europe and the Russian lands, it should be remembered that the Russian Orthodox Church is in many respects closer to Catholicism than the Catholic Church is to Protestantism in West. Eighteenth-century Russian literature and music were deeply influenced by the Western part of Europe, and Russian contributions had a strong impact on Western Europe as well. It was not a cultural divide that pushed Russia to adopt Marxism instead of free capitalism and the values of classical liberalism. Russia imported false ideologies from the West. By opting for Western Marxism instead of Western liberal capitalism, Russia has made its biggest mistake so far.
When it comes to the current war in Ukraine, not only has Russia’s foreign policy been held hostage to geopolitics but also America’s. By losing Ukraine, Russia fears being deprived of its identity and becoming a global player again. For the United States, Ukraine is seen as the pivotal state to maintain and expand its global hegemonic position. In both countries, foreign policy makers look at the map and see a chessboard. Both seem to believe that the authority over Ukraine decides its own future without ifs and buts.
It would not be the first time in history that a “fixed idea” like the geographical determination of world affairs has jeopardized prosperity and peace on the continents.
By following the ideological path of Alexander Dugin, Russia would be making another tragic mistake. Instead of following the illusions of an imaginary tradition, Russian leaders should recognize that outside of free capitalism there will be neither freedom nor prosperity.
Historically, Russia’s homeland is not outside of Europe. Petersburg and Moscow are European cities. If, however, the Western powers fail to integrate Russia into a common security system, Russia will turn to Asia. With China, India and Iran, new associations await.
Given Ukraine’s “pivotal” strategic role, Russia and the United States could be wrong.
*About the author: Dr. Antony P. Mueller is a German economics professor currently teaching in Brazil. Write an email. See his website and his blog.
Source: This article was published by the MISES Institute