Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Party Theorist

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Party Theorist

Article excerpt

Russia has annexed part of Crimea, has usurped America's role as arbiter of winners and losers in the Middle East, and makes trouble in Ukraine. Putin is increasingly popular as the patron of antiE.U. populism in Europe, and Moscow tried to influence the recent American presidential election. Once again, the Kremlin is in its old role as adversary. Which led me to read Alexander Dugin over the Christmas holiday. He's a Russian political philosopher who, by some accounts, has Putin's ear, though Walter Laqueur says otherwise in his recent book, Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West.

Dugin believes that modernity was shaped by the great conflicts between liberalism, communism, and fascism. In one of his recently translated books, The Fourth Political Theory, he describes how "they fought among themselves to the death, creating, in essence, the entire dramatic and bloody political history of the Twentieth century." In that struggle, communism, which focused on class, failed, as did fascism, an ideology based on the primacy of the nation or race. Both were defeated by liberalism, the older and enduring ideology of individual freedom. Liberalism thus became dominant in the early years of the twenty-first century. It urges the world toward a post-national, universal future, one oriented around the individual freed from the constraints of any particular tradition. Yet "having triumphed, liberalism disappears and turns into a different entity-into postliberalism." Our dominant ideology, universal liberalism, "no longer has political dimensions, nor does it represent free choice, but instead becomes a kind of historically deterministic 'destiny.'"

Dugin is a dangerous figure who manipulates ideas, perhaps for cynical reasons, but I find him persuasive on this point. Liberalism triumphed, and it has become obligatory. (Ryszard Legutko's The Demon in Democracy, which I discussed last month and which Adrian Vermeule reviewed in our January issue, points out the parallels between this aura of inevitability and communism's claims about historical necessity.) After 1989, the liberal project seemed inevitable. Some call it "neoliberalism"-freemarket economics married to a cultural politics that gives priority to personal liberation, especially sexual liberation. Markets will expand through the sheer power of the laws of economics, we're told. Technology inevitably transforms the world. Religion will wither away as traditional cultures adopt a scientific outlook. Liberated individuals are poised to assume their full humanity for the first time, claiming their rights.

Against this self-complimenting triumphalism, Dugin insists that liberalism is not a universal ideal but rather the next stage of Western imperialism-more precisely, American imperialism. This imperialism, he writes,

is based on the idea that the history and values of Western, and especially American, society are equivalent to universal laws, and artificially tries to construct a global society based on what are actually local and historically specific values-democracy, the market, parliamentarianism, capitalism, individualism, human rights, and unlimited technological development.

Globalization over the last three decades has been an expression of "Anglo-Saxon ethnocentrism, which is the purest manifestation of racist ideology." Dugin's urgent prose can sound like a combination of Chairman Mao and Pope Pius IX. "The battle with [liberalism], opposition to it, and refutation of its poisonous dogmas-this is the moral imperative of all honest people on the planet. …

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