More than eight months after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the War in Ukraine continues to be waged. Putin and a cast of murderous Russian officials continue to make headlines. But perhaps no figure is as curious as the neofascist Russian “philosopher” Alexander Dugin. His name resurfaced last August after his daughter (herself a far-right journalist) was killed in a car bombing in Moscow.
Relatively obscure in the West before Russia’s pre-February military buildup, Dugin has been a considerable intellectual force in Russia during the last two decades, advocating for a new Russian Empire built on anti-liberal and authoritarian values. But what is perhaps most curious about Dugin is that he was heavily influenced by the Italian fascist and neofascist thinker Julius Evola.
How did this Italian fascist theorist’s ideas reach Russia? How did Dugin use them to form his own political ideologies? Is there a connection between Dugin, his ideas, and Vladimir Putin?
The Evolian Imagination
Julius Evola was a fascist thinker and intellectual of the early-mid 20th century whose ideas resonated with far-right politicians in Italy, Austrian and Germany, including Benito Mussolini. Avoiding war crimes punishments, Evola became a darling of new-right and neofascism in Europe in the post-War years. Embraced by far-right politicians and intellectuals throughout Europe, Evola’s ideas crossed national boundaries and were embraced by politicians and pundits across the globe.
Evola’s writings consistently denounced modern progress, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, and communism. It differed from traditional conservatism by also decrying Christianity, democracy, individualism, and the bourgeoisie – epitomized by the neoliberal USA. Evola was also a proponent of mythical Hyperborean histories of European ethnic origins. He even appropriated religious and cultural traditions from Buddhism and Hinduism to promote essential psychic and spiritual differences between “races,” classes, and sexes.
Alexander Dugin and Evola’s Ideas
Alexander Dugin was a Soviet dissident who first encountered Evola’s works in the final days of the USSR: “These readings changed my life,” Dugin said in a 2018 interview, “I had never heard anyone describe the contradictions of the modern world like Evola.” Dugin was expelled from university for “unorthodox activities,” which included the translation and samizdatpublication of Evola’s Pagan Imperialism.
Dugin remained in relative obscurity during the 1990s. But his status as an international far-right intellectual was elevated thanks to his “Eurasia Movement” launched in 2001, which claims to have a presence in 29 countries. Moreover, his ascent to academic respectability was completed through his appointment as chair of the international relations section of the sociology department at Moscow State University in 2009.
As is the case with many far-right intellectuals, Dugin’s political theories are complex and convoluted. Nevertheless, there are some major themes that can be extracted. First stated in his seminal work, The Foundations of Geopolitics (1997), Dugin argued for the revival of Evola’s fascist idea of traditionalism: an eradication of modern, polyethnic, egalitarian, feminist, and democratic cultures, which he reduces to “American Globalism.” Dugin’s vision for Russia is of a vast, Eurasian, authoritarian empire of racially pure regimes in which women are confined to the home and breeding. Furthermore, Dugin also stated in a book to Hyperborean theory that Russia has a theological destiny to leader the “modern day Hyperborean societies” of Eurasia against the American-rule “Atlanticist” civilization.
Dugin and the War in Ukraine
Dugin’s vision for a vast, Russian-ruled Eurasian Empire rejects the idea of a distinct Ukrainian culture and nation. In The Foundations, Dugin argued that “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, [and] no ethnic exclusiveness.”
Furthermore, Dugin warned Ukraine in 2003 that embracing a pro-Western “Atlanticist model” would expose Ukraine to the menace of “gays, and homosexual and lesbian marriage,” values which he saw as threatening to Eurasian civilization. Here, Dugin applies Evolian ideas to the regional geopolitical situation.
Dugin’s ideas clearly reject Ukraine’s existence, as well as his threats against the country moving closer to the West. But establishing clear links between Dugin’s ideas and Putin is challenging, since the Kremlin is veiled in a shroud of secrecy that makes any decisive claim untenable.
What we can say with some certainty is that he has been advisor to Gennady Seleznev since 1999, who was one of Putin’s top aides from 2012-2019. Moreover, The Foundation of Geopolitics is required reading at the Russian General Staff Academy for every officer above the rank of colonel.
It is also difficult to overlook the convergence between Dugin’s ideas and Putin’s rhetoric, in particular the claims which deny Ukraine as a distinct nation and culture. The February 2022 Invasion and the ensuing brutal war waged by Russia further reinforces the idea that Putin and the Russian Military are acting on the denial of Ukraine’s right to exist under historical, philosophical, and cultural pretexts, which itself constitutes a genocidal practice.
We can glean a few important ideas from the case of Alexander Dugin’s relation to Julius Evola’s ideas, as well as his non-negligible ties to formal Russian Power. Firstly, ultranationalist and neofascist ideas – like the ones espoused by Evola – can travel outside of their original national context. Secondly, right-wing thinkers (like Dugin) in other national contexts (like Russia) absorb and appropriate these ideas to develop their own right-wing and neofascist theories. Finally, under certain conditions and in certain critical moments, these ideas can draw the attention powerful people who use them to rationalize imperial projects and atrocious wars.