Whither the Fourth Political Theory?
The Fourth Political Theory is a book that is clearly not short on ambition. I haven't actually read it, but I already know more or less what is in it from past writings by its author, Professor Alexandr Dugin, as well as the lengthy video presentation he gave of his ideas at the Identitarian Ideas conference held earlier this year in Stockholm.
Dugin believes there have been three great ideologies in modern history – Liberalism, Communism, and Fascism/National Socialism – and that we are now seeing the formation of the Fourth, which is still waiting to be properly christened and so is known by an ordinal. In the footsteps of Locke, Marx, and Mussolini, we now have Dugin.
I greatly respect and like Dugin. With his Tolstoyan beard and aura of an old church father, he’s a personable and reassuring presence. But I also know how the academic world works, and how it finds all sorts of clever ways to serve different masters, and Professor Dugin is certainly well-connected to a lot of people in the Russian establishment. Is it a coincidence that his ideas support the existence of the Russian Orthodox Church or the multi-ethnic imperialism that is the unavoidable basis for a strong Russian state?
But on to the Fourth Political Theory, with its eschatological feel of being the fourth and final horseman of the ideological apocalypse.
Okay, the theory straps a cushion to its forehead by claiming to be a "work in progress," so that any blows landed on it will be softened, but already much of the groundwork has been clearly laid. The road isn’t finished, but we can more or less see where it is headed under the guidance of Dugin.
The Theory supposedly arises from the criticism and deconstruction of the previous three theories, which history has already revealed to be full of flaws and responsible for a great deal of suffering and confusion. Dugin seems happy enough to ride along with modern Liberalism’s historical demolition of Marxism and Fascism, as this makes it a tidy knuckle-to-knuckle, winner-takes-all match between his Fourth Theory and the still undefeated champion, Liberalism.
Seconds out – Ding! Ding! Ding!
Despite past attempts by the Second and Third Theories to dispute the crown of modernity, Dugin believes that Liberalism has irrevocably triumphed here, and has managed to present itself as the only truly "modern" worldview. It has also succeeded in becoming hegemonic and presenting itself as the "natural order," rather than as a "mere ideology."
To destroy Liberalism, Dugin strikes as these points. But rather than trying to claim that the Fourth Theory is more modern than Liberalism, his strategy is to try to get away from the whole idea of modernity itself by appealing to pre-modern values and conceptualizing them as post-modern eternal values. There is more than a touch of his Old Believer Russian Orthodoxy here.
This is not so much a heavy punch to the ribs of Liberalism as a bit of fancy footwork to avoid Liberalism’s nasty left hook. Modernity is not so easily discarded, as Dugin seems to believe. It operates as the measure of ideological victory, without which no battle can take place. His call to discard modernity is therefore a call for a defensive ceasefire or a time out.
Another key point for Dugin to attack is the subjects or agents of the other three theories. The economic classes of Marxism are presented as outmoded; Fascism’s state as something of a bourgeois innovation; and National Socialist race as a "kind of construction" that is not very useful.
Although his punches are only glancing ones here, it does not matter, as these two systems are supposedly punch-drunk losers propping up the bar, muttering "I coulda been a contender." Where Dugin is more effective is in battering Liberalism’s all-important subject – the individual.
This is his mighty opponent's soft spot, and Dugin makes hay with his critique of Liberalism's tendency to atomize and dehumanize. He even seems to be getting into position to unleash his KO, but this is where his attack comes unstuck. While all the previous systems have strong subjects/agents that human beings can all feel passionate about – race, nation, class, and our own beloved selves – the Fourth Theory substitutes Heidegger’s flat-footed and abstruse "Dasein" concept. You couldn't imagine the Bastille being stormed or Stalingrad held for the sheer pleasure of "being there"!
As a philosophical phrase that says very little by saying too much, it is appropriate that it is then extrapolated into a kind of blanket multi-polarity and call for a true multiculturalism (depoliticized in the case of Russia) and even multi-chronology. Regarding this latter concept, Dugin calls for a world where societies can exist that operate on different temporal patterns, such as cyclical, linear, or something more complex. He also calls for the rejection of universal values and comparisons. This is clearly heavily defensive boxing, aimed at avoiding the clever jabs and looming thump that Liberalism is aiming at Putin’s Russia.
The Ascendant Order
Dugin’s interpretation of the previous three theories has a kind of grace, regularity, and ascendant pattern to it. There is natural and elegant progression from the individual to class, and from class to the state (or race). While the other three ideologies nobly struggled in the ring of modernity, and had subjects/agents that could inspire the masses, the Fourth Political Theory has a snatch of Heidegger embroidered on its boxing shorts and seems to be climbing through the ropes with its towel flying through the air behind it.
Perhaps the problem is ideology itself. While Dugin is happy to abandon notions of modernity, he is less happy to abandon ideology. This is only to be expected from an academic who eats, sleeps, and breathes ideology. So, do we actually need it?
Ideology has a progressive nature that does not endear it to many on the Right, but progress is essential in any system that is not based on pure stagnation. Even a cyclical system needs progress to get to the point of its collapse and rebirth.
Ideology creates progress through competing with the status quo, or by helping a rising system to become manifest. Therefore, in addition to each ideology having a subject or an agent, history also demonstrates that it needs some kind of enemy or rival: Liberalism arose against the old order; Marxism’s arose against Liberalism; Fascism arose against Marxism; and Neo-Liberalism’s arose against Fascism and Marxism, but more especially the latter.
The problem of the Neo-Liberal world order is that there seems no longer to be any enemy, thus endless stagnation looms. Progress will only arise when Neo-Liberalism in its turn becomes the defeated enemy. On this basis, a strong "mechanical argument" exists for the necessity of a Fourth Ideology. But after this, will we need a Fifth, Sixth, or Seventh Theory, and so on into infinity?
The chances are that our technologically enhanced world cannot handle this kind of vast, intense dialectical struggle many times over, so it is essential that the Fourth Political Theory should internalize the engine of progress that has previously come from ideological conflict and World War.
Escaping the Dialectical
As it now stands, the Fourth Political Theory is more a reflection of Russo-centric concerns, and seems inconsistent with the broader ideological framework that Dugin has outlined. In order for it to gain wider credibility it will have to take on board some of the following points:
Firstly, it should be entirely divorced from any agenda that reflects specific political or religious goals or interests, such as those elements of Russian political pragmatism I constantly detect in Dugin’s work. Where the Fourth Political Theory ends up coinciding with Russian geopolitical interests, extra efforts must be taken to decontaminate the theory from such bias.
Secondly, modernity should not be abandoned. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that this is impossible. Also if we are to have an ideological battle, we need winners and losers, so we need a common standard by which to judge them. "Da Sein" and multi-chronology are forms of retreatism, of avoiding a direct comparison. In the past, both Communism and Fascism went head-to-head with Liberalism in the struggle for modernity, and both were ahead on points for most of their bouts.
Thirdly, dismissing Communism and Fascism as defeated ideologies is premature. Although both were ultimately defeated, neither was a purely ideological defeat. Fascism’s defeat was mainly military, while Communism’s was economic and technological. Liberalism benefited from geographical and positional advantages, the most obvious being the fact that Fascism and Communism, by their contiguity, were forced into a death struggle, while the West could look on, save its strength, and position itself advantageously for the Cold War. To use boxing terminology one last time, you could say that both were lucky knock outs. Before dismissing them, these two contestants should be readmitted to the ideological arena until they are defeated fair and square. Under such conditions, it is at least questionable whether Neo-liberalism could defeat these earlier ideologies.
Fourthly, the Fourth Political Theory should be adjusted to fit more neatly into Dugin’s grand pattern of ideological evolution. Only when this is done will it succeed. History shows that Marxism opposed but also used elements of Liberalism. Fascism opposed but also used elements of Marxism and to a lesser extent Liberalism. Therefore it seems likely that any Fourth Political Theory should oppose but also include elements of Fascism and to a lesser extent Marxism.
Fifthly, the Fourth Political Theory needs to find an appropriate historical subject/agent, one with an existence that the masses can relate to, and one that fits into the ascendant pattern of individual, class, and state/race. The only subject that fits this bill is humanity itself, but this also throws up some interesting problems.
Sixthly, to avoid the dangers of endless stagnation or dialectical struggles that result in Armageddon, the Fourth Political Theory will need to internalize the progressive impetus, and this prevent the rise of subsequent ideological systems. Like Saturn it must eat its children.