Deconstructing Dugin: An Interview with Charles Upton, Part 1Fróði Midjord
Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here)
The following is a transcript of the Guide to Kulchur interview with the Traditionalist scholar Charles Upton on the subject of Alexander Dugin that was broadcast on May 27. Mr. Upton was previously interviewed by Greg Johnson for Counter-Currents Radio in 2012. The transcript was prepared by Hyacinth Bouquet.
Fróði Midjord: Hello, and welcome, everyone. Today we’re going to do the first of a series of episodes where I will do a deep dive into Aleksandr Dugin’s ideology. I think that before we get into any questions, or introducing the guest, I just want to tell you a little bit about why I’m bringing up this topic.
I’ve interviewed Aleksandr Dugin myself three times on this channel. I’ve had conversations with him. I’ve seen him, and I assume that others have seen him, as a bit of an eccentric, an interesting character in his own right, but that his ideology hasn’t been taken particularly seriously. But lately I’ve seen a lot of people starting to take his ideology seriously, and that’s why I think that it’s important that we have a serious conversation about the philosophy of Aleksandr Dugin.
Primarily, it’s actually because of Professor Ricardo Duchesne, who I’ve seen say in several places online that Aleksandr Dugin is the most interesting thinker on the Right today. So I don’t think that his ideology can be ignored, or lightly dismissed; it has to be analyzed.
Also, along with the new sort of Cold War going on, or lukewarm war, there’s also a hot war going on in Ukraine and the rising influence of Russian narratives among dissidents in the West, so I think it’s important that we actually deliver some serious analysis.
Before we get into any — I know that a lot of people will want someone who is fluent in Russian, who can talk about all of Dugin’s writings. That’s not the purpose of this. What I want to focus on, both in this discussion and in future discussions, is Dugin for export — Dugin as an ideology, as it’s been presented in the West and as it’s gaining some form of influence among dissidents in the West. So, really, a meticulous Dugin exegesis can be done by someone else. For our purposes it’s the translations that are relevant, because his untranslated works will have approximately zero influence on Western thinkers, or dissidents.
To do that, for this first episode I’ve invited a very special guest. He has been called “the preeminent living intellectual heir to the great French metaphysician, René Guénon.” Mr. Charles Upton, welcome to the show!
Charles Upton: I’m glad to be here. So, I was going to start out by giving a very quick overview of my intellectual perspective, and also how I came to write my book, which is called Dugin Against Dugin: A Traditionalist Critique of the Fourth Political Theory, and which is influenced by his own title for one of his books, Putin versus Putin.
You were very right in saying that Dugin has a literature for export, and that’s all that I’ve read. There is a terrible Google translation of his magnum opus, Foundations of Geopolitics, but it’s unreadable. Someone ought to translate that into English, and into a number of other languages, because here we’ll get into a deeper level than simply his manifestos produced for the West, and which can influence the West. On the other hand, I believe that perhaps inadvertently he’ll allow some of his actual ideas to come through in his Western-oriented literature.
That was Zachary Markwith who said that about my being the preeminent heir to René Guénon. I’m interested in René Guénon; he has influenced me very deeply. I am becoming recognized as a writer in the Traditionalist Perennialist school. Guénon did not intend to found a school, but it’s recognized that this school springs from the writings of René Guénon, and also from those of Ananda Coomaraswamy. Basically, he was a writer on metaphysics and comparative religion and symbology; but somehow, by some mysterious sleight of hand, he’s become a Right-wing ideologue now. You see an article in the magazine Vanity Fair, talking about Steve Bannon, because Bannon mentioned Guénon at one point. “Who is this mysterious, New Age occultist who is behind Steve Bannon?” — because in the West, we like to thing who is “behind” things. That’s why Aleksandr Dugin is often called Putin’s brain; who is the Rasputin behind Putin, and all this, which is a very strange development.
Guénon was almost entirely apolitical. He had some early connections with some conservative and Rightist movements, but pretty much not for political purposes. He was investigating the occultisms of his time, and he was looking for something that could reestablish what he considered to be spiritual tradition, which he felt had been essentially lost in the Catholic Church. This is what he was doing.
The thing is, his name became associated with Baron Julius Evola because they were in contact, and so they were, to a degree, colleagues. People who have read Evola tend to think that Guénon is another in a line of political ideologues. Certainly Evola was more of a political ideologue [than Guénon], but this is the association in people’s minds.
The idea that René Guénon was a political writer is as far off the mark as you could get. A lot of this comes from people who have read hardly anything by Guénon but his book, The Crisis of the Modern World. Its thesis was that a cadre of Traditional intellectuals might be able to rejuvenate Tradition in his sense, which means spiritual teachings, the orthodox and true spiritual teachings from God to humanity, going back to the beginning of time — or, as Muslims would say, to the Prophet Adam. They might be able to reconstitute tradition in the West. So unaffiliated but generally conservative intellectuals latched onto Guénon by saying, “He’s giving us a preeminent position in the destiny of the West, and so he’s our man.” They didn’t read much of what he actually wrote! This is how Guénon became, in my estimation, strangely miscast as the political ideologue.
In any case, my influence from the Traditionalist school comes from what I would call the Anglo-Swiss. Schuon was a Swiss who moved to the United States in the eighties. He had a particular brand of Traditionalism which was extremely interesting. I don’t entirely agree with everything he said. He was turned into a kind of an avatar, or superguru, by his followers, and perhaps by himself. Then he fell afoul of a number of scandals, as so many gurus have, in the United States. Nonetheless, his writings are extremely important. I just hope the scandals do not obscure the writings, just as much as I hope that the writings are not used to justify the scandals, which seem to be the two tendencies that you have with people who understand the significance of Frithjof Schuon.
Coming from that, if there is a single doctrine of the Traditionalist school, it is called the transcendent unity of religions, which essentially accepts that God has sent more than one valid revelation to the human race, and more than one revelation can be in force at the same time, in different cultural areas. It shares with what I would call promiscuous liberal humanism the idea that more than one religion is valid. It shares nothing else; because it’s extremely — supposedly — extremely conservative and dedicated to the orthodoxy of the various Traditional religions.
Anyway, this is where I’m coming from intellectually. Coming at this from an entirely different angle, in 2013, I became involved in something called the Covenants Initiative. I should say I am a Muslim, an American Sufi Muslim, but also a Perennialist, which is another name for a member of the Traditionalist school who accepts the validity of all the major world religions.
Fróði Midjord: What is a “Sufi,” for those who are not familiar with that term?
Charles Upton: Well, a Sufi is — in vague, but not entirely incorrect terms — is a Muslim mystic. Now, it’s very strange to say, “Oh, I’ve become a mystic, because I’ve joined the mystics, you know; now I’m one of them!” That’s a little bit excessive. It’s an intensive spiritual path based upon meditation, prayer, and invocation in the name of God. There is a vast literature. People may have heard of the poet Rumi, who is probably the best-known Sufi in the West. Also Ibn al-Arabi, the Andalusian theosopher who was also a poet, is another well-known name.
Almost anyone who is recognized as a saint in Islam will have been connected with Sufism, even though many Muslims nowadays do not like to admit that, because Sufism has had an uneasy relationship with the rest of Islam throughout its history: sometimes being entirely accepted by the rulers and being a popular influence upon millions of people; at other times persecuted and marginalized. So it goes back and forth.
In 2013, I met a man called Dr. John Andrew Morrow. Very interesting guy; also an American Muslim. He’s American in the sense he’s North American. He was a Canadian from Quebec. He has a background of Métis, which we would translate into American jargon as “half-breed.” Someone who looks back to both his Native American and his European ancestry. The Métis have almost a separate legal identity in Canada, apart from the Native Americans and the French and the English. The Métis is another.
He converted to Islam in his teens, and he is one of the most preeminent scholars of Islam, or of anything, that I’ve ever encountered. The most thorough scholar I have ever known. I mean, he really wants to know. His scholarship is meticulous and incredibly exhaustive.
What he did is to almost single-handedly resurrect and rediscover the covenants of the Prophet Muhammad, with the Christians and other Peoples of the Book, of his time. These are treaties made by the Prophet with Christian groups, with Jewish groups, with Zoroastrians, and they uniformly command Muslims — when it comes to Christians and others, but let’s say in terms of Christianity — not to attack, or rob, or damage the buildings of Christians living in peace with Islam, and to be helpful to the Christians in any way they can. If the Christian’s buildings fall into disrepair, it would be a pious act on the part of the Muslims to help them repair their buildings. Muslims should not prevent their Christian wives from going to church, or taking spiritual direction from Christian elders. So these are treaties which have duties and responsibilities on both sides, both the Muslims and the Christians. These became the basis, for example, of the Ottoman Empire and of the Ottomans’ official state policy toward religious minorities within the Ottoman Empire.
These treaties almost fell out of historical memory. My analysis is that, after the Ottoman Empire fell, they were looked at as just old, bureaucratic documents relating to an empire. They may be of some antiquarian interest, but they have no relevance. They used to be known by every Muslim intellectual, and by many Western intellectuals. Actually, when the Ottoman Empire was operating, people in the United States diplomatic service had to study these documents, because it would help them in their negotiations with the Ottomans. So these were very well known. Then they sort of disappeared.
In the era where ISIS was coming forward, Dr. Morrow had — not knowing that this development was going to happen — been working to translate and rediscover these, and to find newer documents. A lot of them were held by ancient monasteries in the Near East, and by libraries and places like that; so he was able to unearth many of these documents, translate them, and do exhaustive historical and textual analysis on them in his book The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World. Other books along that line have come from him.
So he came to me because I have some relationship with the publishing house Sophia Perennis — unofficially, but the publisher of that house, James Wetmore, once in a while sends me a manuscript and says, “Charles, do you think this is worth publishing?” And he sent Dr. Morrow’s book, and I said, “We’re publishing. This the most relevant book there could possibly be at this historical moment. You must publish this.” After a struggle by telephone, I got them to say yes.
This book came out, and it became a basis of an international, interfaith Muslim peace movement called The Covenants Initiative, which I essentially conceived of. I said to Dr. Morrow that he didn’t realize what he had done. He was employed by a small, rather unintellectual technical college in Indiana. He was marginalized, being one of the greatest scholars of Islam, and somebody who any institution should be proud to have as a member. He was living like many of our best intellectuals do, very much in a marginalized way.
He just said, “Well, all I’ve done here is retranslated some documents from somebody else’s book and provided a little commentary,” and I said, “No, you haven’t. You’ve written your own book, and this is phenomenal.” He said, “I guess you’re right.” He fleshed it out, and it was published, and it became the basis of an international movement because it was incredibly relevant at the moment of ISIS.
These documents, and his analysis of them, became what I would say were the major ideological counter-force to ISIS within Islam. It’s hard to tell its influence, because its influence will pop up once in a while. Some leader will, in a certain instance, invoke the covenant and mention Dr. Morrow’s work, and then it will disappear again.
We’re certainly not running a movement, you know? I mean, at this point I can call myself the Executive Director of the Covenants of the Prophet Foundation, which is an honorary title until I start getting paid. Then it will no longer be honorary. We do have a small non-profit organization in case we get any funding. We’ve gotten a couple . . .
Basically, we did this international movement as two volunteers, with people who had come forward after recognizing the value of our work, who were helping us from time to time. When was it, 2016? I may be wrong, I think it was 2016. We saw we were having an important influence when the Christian woman, Asia Bibi — I don’t know if you know her name.
Fróði Midjord: I’m not familiar; no.
Charles Upton: She was a Pakistani Christian woman who had been in prison for seven years, because there was some kind of tiff between her and some other women; and they dissed her for being Christian. She said, “What did your Prophet ever do?” You know? Well, now, that’s blaspheming the Prophet, and it’s a capital offense. So she was incarcerated under threat of execution for seven years. Finally, she was exonerated by the Pakistani Supreme Court. In their decision, the justices of the Supreme Court cited the Covenants of the Prophet and Dr. Morrow’s book.
I guess we’re having an influence. It’s hard to trace the influence. It will be successful if other people take it away from us and make it their own. If we try to run it and administer it, nothing will happen. We don’t have the resources to do that, anyway. This was a very important event in my life, becoming involved in this. We had an influence on the United States government’s declaration of ISIS as a terrorist organization, in practicing genocide, through petitions we launched and things like this.
The things I’ve learned about ISIS during that time are very interesting. There’s no question the US government had a hand in founding and trying to use ISIS at one point. This is someone who wishes to remain nameless, but one of our Muslim colleagues was, during the Obama Administration, invited to the White House with a delegation of other Muslim leaders, and the National Security Adviser spoke to them and said, “Muslim leaders, ISIS fighters will now be returning home to the United States. We want your help, not in surveilling these people, in tracking them and turning their names in to the FBI. No. We want your help in reintegrating these ISIS fighters into American society, and we have grants available to you for this purpose, all right?” The Muslim leader who told us this story — which we have no reason to disbelieve, because this person is eminently reliable — he told us that he said to himself, “Doesn’t this woman know that ISIS has a hit list of US Muslim leaders, and that some of the people in this room right now are on that list?”
At least the Obama Administration was running ISIS, running elements of ISIS, probably through the international mercenary pool that the US government draws upon whenever needed.
Anyway, it was a very interesting period doing this. During this period, Dr. Morrow went on the Arba’een Pilgrimage in Iraq, which is the Shi’a pilgrimage, the Muslim pilgrimage to the Shi’a holy places; and who should he meet on this pilgrimage but Aleksandr Dugin — who was also coming along with the Muslims and the Shi’as, going to the holy places.
Dr. Morrow came back to me and said, I’ve met this man, Aleksandr Dugin. He seems very sincere and pious, and he’s very humble. All he wants is that, with the help of Russia, the world be liberated from the globalist tyranny of the West, and that each nation, ethnic group, or religion will be able to follow its own line of self-determination, and all this.
So, it was interesting. I was already collecting material for this book, and I went back to him and showed him some of the things that Dugin had said. In fact, at one point he said, “Oh, yes, we’re willing to work with ISIS.” Oh, yeah? I convinced Dr. Morrow that Dugin was not as he seems. This was the act he was putting on for the Shi’a. He speaks in whatever language will get through to the group he’s [addressing] no matter how contradictory these various worldviews or ideologies may be. He will speak as a Leftist to the Left, as conservative to conservatives, almost as a Muslim to the Muslims, and certainly as a Christian to Christians. But he’s not serious about any of this. He does not feel he’s bound by ideology. Ideology is something that can be used.
Of course, the Communists had very much that same idea. They were bound by certain beliefs, certainly. Read Andrei A. Znamenski’s Red Shambhala. It’s about how the Russian Communists spread their influence in central Asia by going into these Buddhist cultural areas, basically Mongolian areas, with Vajrayāna Buddhism. Finding the messianic prophecies of those Central Asian Buddhists and saying, well, that’s us! We’re the fulfillment of your messianic prophecies. The hero Gesar or whoever was supposed to come — well, that was Lenin, or something like that.
Speaking in the language of whatever group you’re trying to influence is very much a Communist tactic. The thing is, I think Dugin has less actual ideology that he holds to than even the Communists did, although there are certain things, I think, he does believe. But you have to dig through an awful lot of disingenuous materials, to speak as fairly as I can, in order to find out what he actually does believe.
That’s how this book came to be, because also one of the groups that Dugin claims to be a member of is the Traditionalists, the Guénonian Traditionalists. When you’re in the Guénonian Traditionalist world, people will say, “Oh yes, Dugin is one of our guys. We may not agree with him entirely, but he’s a Traditionalist.” Well, that’s what he told us. He told other people totally different things.
Both to protect the Covenants Initiative from being coopted by Aleksandr Dugin, and to prevent the same thing from happening to whatever may be left of the Traditionalist School in the West, I wrote that book. It was very strange. It’s a very long book. I wrote it with immense speed. I stepped back and said, “What did I say?” I’ll have to read this book now to find out what I said, because I wrote in a white heat under some kind of inspiration. I haven’t had a context in which to continue thinking and speaking on the basis of this book. I wrote it; it went out into the void. I never heard of it again. And now, with the situation in Ukraine, and people trying to ask what’s going on with Russia, interest in it is coming back –which, of course, you’re part of. We will have to study this book together, again.
Fróði Midjord: Very good! Yes, I will, definitely. I have ordered a copy, but I haven’t received it yet, so I’ve read an electronic copy that you were kind enough to send to me. So, I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, but I’ll definitely write a more in-depth review of it myself when I’ve had the time to do so.
After this introduction, let’s dive into some of the things that I wanted to bring up in this conversation. We’ve talked a bit about who you are, and your background, and a bit about what Traditionalism is. One thing you said that I think is worth quoting is, “If Guénon exposed the spiritual deceptions of theosophists and the spiritualists, I considered my duty, if I am serious about following him, to subject Dugin to the same treatment.” Obviously, this is a criticism that comes from a Traditionalist perspective.
Of course, I want to talk mostly about the man, Dugin. I want to talk about his philosophy, his ideology. But before we get into that, I think we should probably say something about Dugin the person, because there are lots of rumors. Like I’ve said, I’ve talked to Dugin. Of course, we’re going to judge his ideology on its own merits; but I want to acknowledge, before we start at least, that people talk about whether there’s a connection between him and the Russian state, intelligence agencies, and so on. I have asked him questions about that myself.
Some people say, just like you’ve said, that he is some sort of grey eminence behind Putin, that he has a very high influence in Russia. Others say he has no influence. When I asked him this directly, he of course wants to cultivate the image of a man of mystery. He puts out a little bit of a smokescreen, so he answered it a bit evasively, saying that, “Well, maybe a bit of it’s true, maybe not.” But I definitely think that with respect to Russian geopolitical interests, let’s just say that his ideology of the Fourth Political Theory is definitely in line with Russian foreign policy interests; and then we can only speculate about the exact nature of his connections to the state and other agencies.
Charles Upton: Clearly, Putin has allowed Dugin to operate. My impression is that he’ll let Dugin operate as long as it doesn’t create terrible problems, and he might turn up something of use that Dugin can, at his own discretion, follow up or not. Something along those lines.
Fróði Midjord: Yes, and you know one thing that I think is worth mentioning is that basically all dissidents, if we talk about dissidents generally in the West, think that America, or the American sphere of influence, has [been making] some sort of efforts to undermine Russia from within, and there are these games on the geopolitical arena. So, it would be a bit ridiculous to not think that the same thing is going on the other way as well.
Charles Upton: Yes, and I agree with both of those propositions. In fact, I have a paragraph here from Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics which I’d like to read. I found it on the web; this is a better translation than the Google translation. This is what he said in 1997. He says:
All levels of geopolitical pressure must be activated simultaneously. It is especially important to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, racial, and social conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements, extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the US. It would also make sense to simultaneously support isolationist tendencies in American politics.
Well, this has largely come true in the past few years. Certainly this describes the activities of groups like Black Lives Matter, antifa, and also other groups, which are rightly or wrongly called “white supremacist,” and the comparative isolationism of Donald Trump.
If Dugin and Russian influence on the United States’ political process was the cause of this coming true, they have a great deal of power. Of course, they were simply looking at tendencies preexisting in the United States that could be inflamed and exacerbated, but certainly you notice that he says, “We don’t care. We support all dissidents.” On the Right and the Left: racists, anti-racists, who cares! We stand behind all of them. We set them against each other.
I think that’s been going on. I don’t know if you can lay all of that at the doorstep of Russia, but certainly the United States, after we supposedly won the Cold War with the fall of the Soviet Union — in no way did the United States stop there. We said, “Well, step one. Now we want to win the whole thing. Now we want to be the only power in the world. This is the way power operates.” There’s no question that NATO, and who knows who else, has been crowding Russia for years. There are two sides to this conflict.
I’m in a position where, before the Covenants Initiative came to me, I was so apolitical. I had been, in the 1980s — well, in the 1960s, in a sort of amateur way — part of the peace movement against the war in Vietnam. We all thought we were Leftists, even though we’d never read a word of Marx and didn’t quite know what that meant. All the Communists are for the little guy, and against the “fat cats”; that’s about all we knew.
Some of the attitudes continued in the eighties, when I was at a Christian church. My wife and I were at a Presbyterian Church that was working in the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees, working against US intervention in Central America, and our ideology at that point was Liberation Theology. But then, pretty soon we started to see the contradictions in this and began to realize that you can’t really be a Christian and a Marxist at the same time, any more than you can be a believer and an atheist at the same time. It’s a contradiction.
At that point I said, “It doesn’t look like politics is going to work.” I don’t see ideologies that seem to be leading in any positive direction. This is when I was drawn toward the Traditionalists and toward the Sufis. Certainly, during that period, ideologies or philosophies coming from a much more conservative direction became influential on me. The excesses of the Left are enough to show you the value of some conservative viewpoints. I got to the point where I’m saying, “I’m going to learn from both Left and Right.” I could only do that if I felt that I was free to be apolitical, insofar as I found it impossible to be political; and I only came back into the activist world of things with the covenants. That’s because the Prophet Muhammad says that the covenants of the Prophet were inspired directly by Allah.
So I’m saying, “Well, if there is anything coming into the world, into the sociopolitical world, from something beyond ideology — from something prophetic, from something divine — this is something I can get behind.” Because the covenants have a kind of embryonic universal declaration of human rights; but it was not human rights that came ultimately from the French Revolution, from a revolution against religion, against God, against tradition, but came directly out of the Islamic revelation in the Abrahamic tradition. This is something I could get behind.
Fróði Midjord: The point I just wanted to make, briefly, is that — I’m speaking primarily to a dissident audience, if you like — it’s often the case that dissidents, just like “conspiracy theorists,” sometimes are more naïve than the mainstream audience in the sense that they believe anything that opposes the mainstream view.
This is a problem, because everyone assumes that the United States tries to undermine Russia from within. And at the same time, with the arrival of this new war in Ukraine, I saw that the entire — at least Right-wing dissident movement –started parroting exactly the same talking points as Dugin does. It’s no coincidence, you know?
The point is that I just want to point out that there is quite some naïveté, even in dissident movements, and that they’re even more blind to it because they see themselves as the people who see more clearly than the mainstream.
Charles Upton: Yes, and that’s been true in this country ever since the sixties. Simply inverting, and finally inverting every moral imperative of the dominant society is supposed to be a higher morality. I’m sorry, that’s not how it works.
Fróði Midjord: Absolutely. Let’s dive into some of the meat here, then. We’ve had quite a substantial introduction, but let’s dive into some of the details. When we get into Dugin’s ideas — like I said, we’re going to judge his ideas by their own merit, for what he says, by its own merits — what does he get right? Let’s start there, on a positive note. Where do you agree with him?
Charles Upton: Well, I think his critique of postmodernism, and his critique of liberalism, are spot on. The problem is, he has a magnificent critique of postmodernism, but at the same time, he is in every important sense a postmodernist himself — which of course to him is not a contradiction, because to him the only contradictions are between the Eurasian traditional hierarchal world and the Atlantean degenerate world of Western mercantilism, and whatever, whatever. He gets that right. He had some great essays in The Fourth Political Theory on various subjects, which, taken apart from everything else, were just gems.
In the larger sense, he has a ponderous, dark, in some cases very deep mythopoetic view of geopolitical forces, something that is true on some level. It’s hard to see exactly how it’s true, because it is vague; vague, but undeniable. For example, his idea of dividing the world into the Eurasian sphere and the Atlantean sphere is in line with the Book of the Apocalypse; whereas the Atlantean sphere, mythopoetically speaking, is what is called Babylon, and the Whore of Babylon. This is a luxurious society that is based upon money.
On the other hand, who overthrows the Whore of Babylon in the Book of the Apocalypse? The Beast. It’s very interesting. These are both considered to be evil forces, and yet one overthrows the other. I think the Beast can, to a certain degree, be seen as the principle of the Eurasian collective. He’s seeing something. He’s seeing something in saying, “Well, if Babylon is destined to fall, and it’s the Beast that overthrows Babylon, then if we want to overthrow the Western Atlantean collective, we sort of have to become the Beast, eh?” In very vague and dark and deep terms, he’s seeing something. He’s seeing something real. When you speak of the morality of, or the likely outcome of it, for the world, it doesn’t seem very positive; but there is an element of truth in it.
Fróði Midjord: Absolutely. Yes, I think it’s important to include this. I don’t want my comments about Dugin to be cartoonish, either. I think he is sometimes cartoonish, but any serious analysis would have to acknowledge the positive points as well. Karl Marx — he’s right about some things. Everyone is. Everyone at least who is some sort of an influential figure.
Let’s dive into the next question here. This is a quote from your book I want to read. It’s from the Introduction, but I think it captures something about the thrust of what I’ve heard you say about this topic:
The central irony and supreme contradiction of Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory, however, is that he conceives of it as an attack on Postmodernism — and it is certainly true that he has given us a magnificent critique of Postmodernism as the terminal, globalizing phase of Liberalism. What he has failed to do, however, is discern, criticize and eliminate the postmodern elements in his own philosophy. It’s as if he were internally possessed by the postmodern Chaos he hates, resulting in a state of self-contradiction that makes him, in many ways, his own worst enemy: thus the title of this book.
The title of the book is Dugin Against Dugin.
There are contradictions here. One of the central contradictions that other people have mentioned as well, and that you mentioned, is the contradiction between a sort of relativism while at the same time rejecting relativism. He says that no system, no political system, is better than the other. Yet Atlanticism, which he associates with America, is absolutely bad, and it’s obvious that Eurasianism is better than Atlanticism. Do you want to talk about this?
Charles Upton: These are obvious contradictions; but from a nihilistic standpoint, contradictions are no problem. Why should one have to be consistent? If one’s principle — if you can call it a principle — is chaos, then consistency would be absurd. Let self-contradiction reign! His use of contradiction — you see it in that paragraph from The Foundations of Geopolitics — it’s as if he’s trying to use the contradictory nature of liberalism against itself. To induce liberalism to inherit the consequences of its own internal contradictions in order to destroy it; and at the same time making a show of being open to all different sorts of different viewpoints. Making a show of liberalism to the various groups he wants to appeal to, no matter how ideologically opposed to one another they may be; but underneath that, what you have is a monolithic Russian authoritarian power, which is what he really serves.
He will falsely present that as open to other voices, as the postmodernists say: All voices have a right to speak. So he says, sure, all the little groups have a right to speak, and we will be their patron. But he’s not in allegiance to all those little groups. He essentially wants to draw them into a very monolithic, authoritarian sphere of Russian power.
Fróði Midjord: Right. In connection with this, I want to read one question that a listener posted. He says — this is formulated in a quite, shall we say, polemic tone — “How can he reconcile postmodern thinkers — for example, Foucault — as his teachers who seek to revive Protagorean sophistry with Plato, whose sacred worldview is in direct opposition to process-oriented sophistry to begin with?” And here, I think, the Protagorean sophistry is just that: sort of a human relativism, versus Plato who —
Charles Upton: You can say the same thing in terms of scholastic philosophy nominalism versus realism, realism being Platonic, nominalism being one of the roots of today’s postmodernism. How can you reconcile that? Well, if you’re a nihilist, you don’t have to reconcile it. Your basic reality is power. So reconciling them, who cares? You use these ideologies to get what you want. You don’t believe in them, you use them, because your basis is power and not truth.
If your basis is power, not truth, this leads us into the realm of Antichrist. Christ says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And what does Antichrist say? “I am power; and to hell with truth.” I will use truth. I will counterfeit, and use, cynically use, all the truths of the ages. But I’m not subject to it (the truth). I’m only subject to my own will.
This is the problem, parenthetically, with the idea of will to power. Power is meaningless unless it knows — You can’t say that the will can be made powerful. How does the will know what to will? The will has to serve the intellect. It has to serve truth. If it sees what is, then it will know what to will, and it will be empowered to make that act of will by reality. Whereas if it says, “I don’t care what’s true, I’m just going to will,” what are you going to will? You’re going to will whatever happens to occur to you at the moment. You’ll be subject to your own whim; and there is no worse slavery than to be enslaved by your own whims that are trying to operate in the absence of truth, of knowing what’s what. That’s a terrible slave.
Fróði Midjord: This goes back to the Marxist idea that the object of philosophy is not to describe reality in a truthful way, but to change reality. This is what has infected our academia throughout the West now.
Charles Upton: Yes, that’s true. What’s interesting is that that Marxist idea is a counterfeit and a perversion of something that one could say about true spiritual philosophy, which is that we do not simply academically describe God and his relationship to his creation, but the purpose of this philosophy is to transform the human soul so that it can conform itself on all levels — levels of the will, the levels of affection, of imagination, of memory, of all levels — so it can conform itself to that truth.
In other words, in spiritual terms philosophy also has a practical application and is not considered to be that important without orientation toward the practical application, which is the salvation of the soul; the enlightenment of the entire being, and the conformation of the human being to the truth. In that context you can say that certainly the purpose of philosophy is not just to describe, but to change. So, it works in that framework, whereas when this is applied to sociopolitics, it becomes nihilism, ultimately.
Actually, an interesting precursor to Marx, in my opinion — we have to be careful when we talk about the Jewish race, and the Jewish religion, because there’s a tendency to an unthinking anti-Semitism that can’t separate the Jew on the street from Zionism. We need to be opposed to Zionism, but not opposed to the Jews as Jews. On the other hand, there was a great influence of Jewish intellectual streams on Marxism, and one of them was coming out of Kabbalah. Isaac Luria had a concept called Tikkun, which is, he said, the fall of humanity, and there’s the Kabbalist Tree of Life with the seven Sefirot, the seven different hypostases of divine manifestation. He said, “What happened is that the lower seven Sefirot, the vessels, were shattered, and the spirit of God was dispersed throughout time and space and effectively lost. So what we need to do is regather the sparks of the divine manifestation and reintegrate them into the divine nature, and this is the great restoration. This is what he called Tikkun, which is pretty much the same as the Christian heretical idea of apocatastasis, which was the heresy that Origen, the Church Father Origen, was condemned for.
This means something in terms of the spiritual path. In terms of your own soul, you are dispersed. You have made many identifications, and have many different conceptions and obsessions, and you’re not at one with yourself. The spiritual path, by the process of what is called recollection, you have to recollect all of the ways that you’ve involved your will, and your intelligence, and your feelings in thousands of things and bring them back to center and orient them toward the one. This works in terms of the internal spiritual practice. This is one of the ways you could describe Sufism is that kind of recollection.
But then someone came along, possibly Sabbatai Zevi and other people, and reinterpreted Lurianic Kabbalah, or began to, in sociopolitical terms. What we’re really doing in this restoration and collecting the scattered remnants of the manifestation of the Godhead in earthly existence is we’re reconstituting Israel. We’re politically reconstituting Israel, and we’re going to create a Great Israel. We hear some echoes of this coming from Zelensky. Ukraine is going to be a big Israel, he says. There is this tendency, in other words, when a spiritual doctrine becomes politicized that it becomes perverted, and it doesn’t work in those terms.
Of course, we can see this as something that may have had an influence on Marxists, or with Zelensky, who is certainly not a Marxist, [but] it’s having an influence on whatever his ideology is.
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