Against 'modernity' - Dugin and René Guénon

In The Fourth Political Theory, discussing Communism and Fascism, Dugin suggests that the elements in both tendencies that gave them their success are the least interesting from the point of view of modern politics. The most useful elements are the ones that failed:

'The second and third political theories recognised themselves as contenders for the expression of modernity’s spirit. And these claims came crashing down. Everything related to these unfulfilled intentions in the previous ideologies is uninteresting for the creators of the Fourth Political Theory. However, we should attribute the very fact that they lost to one of their advantages rather than their disadvantages. By losing, they proved that they did not belong to the spirit of modernity, which, in turn, led to the postliberal matrix. Herein lie their advantages. Moreover, this means that the representatives of the second and third political theories, either consciously or unconsciously, stood on the side of Tradition, although without drawing the necessary conclusions from this, or even not recognising it at all.' (p.23)

The Fourth Political Theory, then, is opposed to 'the spirit of Modernity' and stands on the side of 'Tradition'.

What does Dugin mean by 'Tradition'?

In various of his writings, including The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin expresses his admiration for the French esoteric philosopher, René Guénon. Indeed he has said that he regards Guénon, together with Heidegger, as the most important influence on his thought. (3)

 Guénon argued (though actually Guénon tended not to argue, he affirmed) that all the major historical religions are exoteric expressions, adapted to the particular circumstances of the societies that received them, of a single hidden (esoteric) metaphysical Tradition known only to initiates who constitute, or who in what Guénon would call a 'normal' society would constitute, an intellectual élite. Guénon wrote extensively about Hinduism but himself became a Muslim. In ‘the West’ he recognised Roman Catholicism and, at least in some of its manifestations, Freemasonry as authentic religious traditions but nonetheless believed that the connection with the original esoteric Tradition was lost almost to the point where it could not be recovered.

For Guénon, a normal society was one in which everyone, whatever their social function, was engaged in a work of spiritual self development following a discipline whose principles are objectively true and understood by the élite. A society whose 'science' was devoted to material comfort (through the development of technology) but which left spiritual development to the vagaries of everyone's individual tastes was in Guénon's eyes an aberration. For Guénon, 'the West' has strayed very far from the objective science of spiritual development even though this is the only valid reason for our existence on earth. But he also maintained that this was in itself part of the normal order of things - that the life of societies is cyclical, they go through periods of growth and of decline. The criterion for judging them is always spiritual so there is no contradiction, quite the opposite, in seeing that a period of spiritual decline is also a period of material/technical growth. 

‘The West’ has entered a period of decline that is catastrophic and dragging the rest of the world down with it. The task of those who are aware of the problem is to get as closely as possible in touch with the esoteric knowledge that will be necessary to the (inevitable) new cycle of spiritual growth. This is not a work of philosophical reasoning but of initiation. Guénon believed the necessary centres of initiation still existed but were, necessarily, hard to find. 

Guénon's central idea of the need for initiation into a tradition eternally underlying all the existing religions is absent from The Fourth Political Theory and there is no indication that Dugin himself has experience of any such initiation - it seems somehow out of character. But The Fourth Political Theory is the only one of his many books that has been translated into English and 'tradition' is a major theme in his other writings. With regard to The Fourth Political Theory, even though he does evoke 'Tradition' in the singular it might be more accurate to speak about 'traditions’ in the plural. He calls on the different peoples of the world to strengthen their own traditions in opposition to the uniform imposition of Western liberal culture. 

Quite contrary to the spirit of Guénon, Dugin, at least in this book, is not at all concerned with whether or not these traditions are authentic, that is to say how they stand in relation to a single, universal, potentially knowable but currently hidden truth. And also contrary to the spirit of Guénon, Dugin makes appeal to the huge body of twentieth century anthropological writings, notably Franz Boas and Claude Levi-Strauss, to argue that, however mutually contradictory they may be, different cultures dismissed by the modern world as 'backward' have their own logic which is in its own terms perfectly valid measured by the (again very un-Guénonian) values of sophistication, consistency and complexity. As an exampe he says (p.90):

'One of the [Russian - PB] Old Believer authors maintains that “He who drinks coffee will cough himself to death; he who drinks the tea leaf will fall from God in despair.” Others affirm that one ought never to eat buckwheat because it is "sinful"' 

He elaborates:

'Old Believers seem "outdated" to us, but they are not outdated. They are different. They operate within the range of a different topography. They deny that time is progress. For them, time is regress, and modern men are a sacrificial offering to the Devil.'

(3) "My views, my worldview, are indebted to the philosophy of Heidegger only slightly less than to the ideas of Guenon." Dugin quoted in Michael Millerman: 'Heidegger, Left and Right: Differential Political Ontology and Fundamental Political Ontology Compared', (fn 15), 4pt website