On August 20th, Darya Dugina, the daughter of Russian geopolitical thinker Alexander Dugin, was killed when her vehicle exploded as she was leaving a festival where her father spoke. The bomb was probably meant for her father, who was expected to depart in the same vehicle but apparently changed his mind at the last minute.
My first thought was that in Russia, some people take ideas very, very seriously. But in truth, Dugin was probably targeted because of his real or imagined role in Kremlin politics.
I have always been skeptical of Dugin. Based on his books The Fourth Political Theory (satirized here) and Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning (reviewed here), as well as his articles and interviews, I concluded that Dugin and I have read a lot of the same writers and detest many of the same things, but on the most essential points we have reached diametrically opposite conclusions. I am a White Nationalist. Dugin is anti-white and anti-nationalist. He is an advocate of Russian imperial revanchism and thus a cheerleader for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which I oppose on ethnonationalist grounds. Ukraine is the homeland of the Ukrainian people, and Russia needs to stay out.
I am also skeptical of Dugin’s influence. He has been touted as the philosophical and geopolitical mastermind behind the Putin regime. Dugin has been called “Putin’s brain” (as if Putin had no brain of his own) and “Putin’s Rasputin” (as if he were pious and weak-minded). Dugin is definitely part of Russia’s late Communist and post-Communist political establishment, but I suspect that his outsize reputation is largely his own creation, since it first issued from his various publishers and platforms, whereupon it was eagerly repeated both by those who wished to deify or diabolize him.
But there’s no solid evidence that Dugin has any special influence on the Kremlin. Despite their extremism and esoteric embroideries, Dugin’s ideas on geopolitics and Russian foreign policy are rather commonplace. Dugin occupies no prestigious positions. His primary patron is the oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. There’s a real possibility, however, that he was targeted and his daughter was killed because of the mastermind reputation that he so carefully crafted.
One’s reaction to the Dugin assassination depends, of course, on who did it. But we don’t know who did it, and we may never know. There are plenty of suspects with means and motive, but they fall into three major categories. First, there are Dugin’s rivals and enemies in the Russian establishment, including his own Eurasianist movement. Second, there are Dugin’s enemies in Ukraine. Third, there are other foreign intelligence services.
The latter two options seem the least likely. It is expensive and risky to assassinate one’s enemies on foreign soil, and if the Ukrainians or other foreign intelligence services were willing to undertake such an escalation, surely they could have found a more significant target than Dugin. Of course, they may have believed Dugin’s own hype. But targeting cabinet ministers, military brass, or industrialists would inspire more fear and create more problems for the regime. Perhaps such people have better security than Dugin. But there may have been more tempting targets at the very festival Dugin was leaving. Thus it seems more likely that Dugin was targeted by domestic enemies, who would have had easier access to him. Dugin would seem like a small target for foreign actors, but he might loom much larger for people closer to home, especially rivals within his own camp.
Of course, mere ignorance of who perpetrated this crime won’t stop people from commenting on it. Why let a spectacular murder go to waste? The Kremlin, predictably, has accused the Ukrainians. Dugin himself has accused them. Surely he believes this, since otherwise he would be a monster to exploit his own daughter’s death for cheap political points. The Ukrainians, just as predictably, have blamed the Russians.
The reactions on the Internet fall into two broad camps: hopes and prayers vs. jeers and sneers. Generally speaking, the people who are mourning Darya Dugina are far from Russia and anti-Ukraine. Those who are celebrating her death tend to be closer to Russia and pro-Ukraine. I can’t fault people who actually knew Darya Dugina from sharing their feelings. But when vast numbers of strangers chime in on either side, it is a tasteless spectacle of social signaling.
People who view Dugin and his daughter simply as intellectuals react to this assassination the same way that they reacted to the attempted assassination of Salman Rushdie: as an attempt to use brute force rather than reason to deal with intellectual opposition.
Those who view Dugin and his daughter as primarily political actors who have been cheerleaders for the Ukraine war have reacted much as Iraqis or anti-war Americans would react if Liz Cheney were blown up by a bomb meant for her father. The Dugins, both father and daughter, cheered on the deaths of countless Ukrainian fathers and daughters, so it is hardly surprising that some people return the sentiments.
What do I think of this assassination? It’s complicated. It depends on who did it and why, which we will probably never know for sure. If Dugin was being targeted for his ideas, I am outraged, since I believe that intellectual disagreements should be settled by reason, not force. If Dugin was targeted as a political player by his fellow Russians, that’s obviously no way to run a country, but it was a game that Dugin himself chose to play. If Dugin was targeted as a warmonger by Ukrainians or their allies, well, that’s also part of war. Wars are no way to live with your neighbors, but that too was a game that Dugin chose to play, and his daughter chose to follow him. If this is too horrible for you to contemplate, don’t blame the messenger. Blame the war. You are getting only a taste of the horrors that have been unleashed upon Ukraine for the last six months.
How should our movement handle this assassination? Those who knew the victim should have their say. But I wish the rest of us had maintained a dignified silence rather than exploit this event for novel “hot takes” or to launch embittered attacks on rival camps.
Personally, I think compassion rather than mockery is the proper response to this horror, although I understand those who prefer to save their compassion for the Ukrainians. As I put it in my essay on David Lynch’s The Elephant Man:
We are all curious about bad things that befall other human beings: accidents, illnesses, deformities. If we satisfy our curiosity, the result is horror. At this point, however, there are two basic ways to deal with horror: mockery or compassion.
As Anthony M. Ludovici argued in The Secret of Laughter, laughter is glorying in one’s superior fitness. Forced or nervous laughter, however, is an attempt to reassure oneself that one really is more fit.
But the horror we feel is ultimately based on the recognition that misfortune can befall us all. . . . none of us is immune to misfortune of one sort or another. Compassion is the recognition of this fact: one sees oneself in the other and feels for him as one feels for oneself. Mockery is a lie and evasion, compassion an admission of the truth.
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