Rand Versus Dugin in the Battle for Liberty
If you’re not acquainted with Aleksandr (Alexander) Dugin, read Robert Zubrin’s review of the man’s ideas. Following are a few selections:
Dugin is the mad philosopher who is redesigning the brains of much of the Russian government and public, filling their minds with a new hate-ridden totalitarian ideology whose consequences can be catastrophic in the extreme, not only for Russia, but for the entire human race. . . .
The roots of Eurasianism go back to czarist émigrés interacting with fascist thinkers in between-the-wars France and Germany. But in recent years, its primary exponent has been the very prominent and prolific political theorist Aleksandr Dugin. . . .
The core idea of Dugin’s Eurasianism is that “liberalism” (by which is meant the entire Western consensus) represents an assault on the traditional hierarchical organization of the world. . . .
[T]his [new] Eurasian Union will need a defining ideology, and for this purpose Dugin has developed a new “Fourth Political Theory” that combines all of the strongest points of Communism, Nazism, Ecologism, and Traditionalism, thereby allowing it to appeal to the adherents of all of these diverse anti-liberal creeds. Although he would adopt Communism’s opposition to free enterprise, he would drop the Marxist commitment to technological progress—a liberal-derived ideal—in favor of Ecologism’s demagogic appeal to stop the advance of industry and modernity. From Traditionalism, he derives a justification for stopping free thought. All the rest is straight out of Nazism. . . .
What Russia needs, says Dugin, is a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism.” On the other hand, “Liberalism, is an absolute evil. . . . Only a global crusade against the U.S., the West, globalization, and their political-ideological expression, liberalism, is capable of becoming an adequate response. . . . The American empire should be destroyed.”
The mass slaughter, torture, rape, dislocation, and devastation in Ukraine at the hands of thuggish Russian soldiers are today’s most visible signs of the sorts of ideas in which Dugin traffics.
What I hadn’t realized until Nikos Sotirakopoulos pointed it out on Twitter is that Dugin also explicitly attacked Ayn Rand.
Here I quote from an English translation of Dugin’s 2012 book The Fourth Political Theory (italics dropped). I’m not going to link to that book, but it’s easy to find online.
At times Dugin is clear-eyed about the nature of his liberal enemy:
The subject of communism was class. Fascism’s subject was the state in Italian Fascism under Mussolini, or race in Hitler’s National Socialism. In liberalism, the subject was represented by the individual, freed from all forms of collective identity and any ‘membership’ (l’appartenance).
While the ideological struggle had formal opponents, entire nations and societies, at least theoretically, were able to select their subject of choice—that of class, racism/statism, or individualism. The victory of liberalism resolved this question: the individual became the normative subject within the framework of all mankind.
It is true that liberalism is individualist in the sense that it values each individual person and sees each person as an autonomous pursuer of values. The individual may not be sacrificed to the “class,” the state, the race, or the alleged “greater good,” says liberalism.
Dugin immediately pretends that liberalism entails the atomized individual, the person split from all social ties. Such strawman nonsense is common to criticisms of liberalism. Liberalism does enable the individual to be free from unwanted and oppressive bonds, to be sure. Just as importantly, it allows people to choose their social interactions and commitments. Liberalism is inherently pluralist in that it enables individuals to choose their social arrangements, and different individuals will choose different groups. Some people choose a church, others a charity, ideological group, political party, chess club, book club, bar, or tightknit group of friends. Most of us have a rich, overlapping set of chosen social ties.
Why does Dugin imagine that liberalism is so oppressive? “The ideology of ‘human rights’” becomes “practically compulsory.” We are forced to expunge the unjust use of force from our societies! We are oppressed by this denial of oppression!
Most of what Dugin writes is gibberish and confusion, so I will not extensively review his rantings. But I will review his take on modernity in his lead-up to a discussion of Rand.
Let us turn to Dugin’s fourth chapter, where he begins:
The idea of modernization is based on the idea of progress. When we use the term “modernization”, we certainly mean progress, linear accumulation, and a certain continuous process. When we speak of “modernization”, we presuppose development, growth, and evolution. This is the same semantic system. Thus, when we speak of the “unconditional positive achievements of modernization”, we agree with a very important basic paradigm—we agree with the idea that “human society is developing, progressing, evolving, growing, and getting better and better.” That is to say, we share a particular vision of historical optimism.
To be clear, this progressive vision for humanity is what Dugin opposes.
Dugin immediately conflates classical liberalism with “Social Darwinism.” Here’s how Dugin describes this:
[T]he struggle in the market sphere between the strong (= rich) and the weak (= poor) becomes more efficient and leads to the higher level of development until the super-rich, super-strong, and super-developed countries appear. Progress, according to Spencer, and, more broadly speaking, according to liberalism, is always the growth of the economic power, since it continues to refine the struggle for survival of the animal species and the warfare methods of the strong nations and castes within the framework of pre-capitalist states. Thus, the concept of animal aggression is embedded in the liberal idea of progress, which is regarded as the main trajectory of social development.
This is all complete nonsense. Free markets tend toward win-win, mutually beneficial exchanges and the rise of general prosperity (as illustrated by the dramatic global fall of extreme poverty). Free and voluntary markets replace the force of “animal aggression” with the consent of reasoned trade. But Dugin cannot admit the difference between blowing someone’s brains out to take their bread, and trading a willing partner a candle for a loaf of bread, or the ludicrousness of his entire system would become too blindingly obvious for anyone to take seriously.
This is where Dugin gets to Ayn Rand. He accurately identifies Rand as an “American liberal” (one who escaped the horrors of Communist Russia to reach America); beyond that his account is pure fiction (I’m not including the notes):
[W]hen we speak of “modernization” in the liberal vein, we necessarily mean the enhancement of the social, political, cultural, spiritual, and informational scenario within which the total aggression of the strong against the weak can be implemented.
American liberal Ayn Rand . . . has created an entire philosophy (“Objectivism”) based on the following blunt idea: if one is rich, then he is good. She reached the limits of Weber’s idea about the origin of capitalism in the Protestant ethic and said that the “rich” is always and necessarily the “good”—almost a “saint,” while the “poor” is evil, lazy, bad, and corrupt—a “sinner.” Being poor, according to Ayn Rand, is to be a sinful villain, whereas to be rich is to be a saint. She proposed to establish the “conspiracy” of the rich (= the strong, bright, sacred, and powerful capitalists) against any kind of labor movements, the peasants, against all those who stand for social justice, or those who are simply poor. Such a “crusade” of the rich against the poor is the basis of the “Objectivist” ideology. . . .
If we understand modernization like liberal democrats, then that means that we are invited to join in this terrible struggle for survival at its highest peak, that is to become just like them and to snatch a place at the globalization feeder. Globalization, in this case, is the new avenue in the struggle for survival, the struggle of the rich against the poor.
Anyone who has actually read any of Rand’s works knows that Dugin, along with the American leftists whom he here parrots, is simply lying about Rand. The hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, is poor for most of the novel (as Rand was poor when she first arrived in America). Many wealthy people both in that novel and in Atlas Shrugged are villains, because they use unscrupulous means to achieve or maintain their wealth. Meanwhile, various people of modest means (Mike Donnigan, Eddie Willers) Rand portrays as virtuous and minor heroes.
True, Rand opposed a government-run welfare system; instead, she advocated private charity in line with the givers’ values. As Neera Badhwar and Roderick Long point out, “In her own life Rand was often extremely generous, not only towards friends and acquaintances, but also strangers.”
Rand recognized that the essence of capitalism (properly conceived) is voluntary and mutually beneficial social interaction, as opposed to any “struggle for survival” between people.
True, Rand recognized, people must “struggle to survive” in nature because we are living beings with natural bodies. If we don’t produce food, clothing, shelter, and so on, we will suffer and die. This struggle fundamentally is not against other people, but in collaboration with other people against the ravages of untamed nature. Much of the point of a free society is that, rather than fight each other for scraps, we can interact consensually with each other to produce our values. Such collaborative production is what has allowed people to grow dramatically in numbers and to prosper, escaping the Malthusian trap.
The existing problems in the world are mainly the result of the repudiation of the free society, the destruction of wealth and trade and human lives, such as we see at the hands of the Russian thugs inspired by Dugin and his ilk. It is obvious to anyone with eyes and a functioning brain who has unleashed brute force and the resulting “terrible struggle for survival.”
In his criticisms of Rand, Dugin sounds exactly like many American leftists. Just to take one recent example, Matthew McManus characterizes Rand as seeing some people on the economic “top” and others on the “bottom.”
Such is totally alien to Rand’s way of thinking. A virtuous person, to Rand, in not someone who is rich—again, she recognizes that people often attain riches through devious or even brutal means (Putin immediately springs to mind)—but someone who thinks for himself, uses reason, respects others’ autonomy and rights, and produces the values he needs to live and thrive to the best of his ability.
True, in a virtuous society, people who choose to exercise their productive capacity in business or industry (rather than, say, in philosophy, as Rand’s hero Ragnar Danneskjöld does), often become wealthy. So what? They do so by producing goods and services that also enrich other people’s lives, provide good-paying jobs, and help raise economic prosperity generally.
Dugin is one of the worst, most despicable, and most dangerous people on the planet. At least he knows who his enemies are, even if he has to lie about them to spin his nihilistic fantasies. The side I choose is We, the Living.