The Return of Settembrini and Naphta in the 21st Century
On 21 September 2019, the Nexus Institute – one of the most prestigious intellectual organizations keeping the spirit of European humanism alive – celebrated its 25th anniversary with a public symposium entitled ‘The Magic Mountain Revisited: Cultivating the Human Spirit in Dispirited Times’, after the founding novel of the Nexus Institute, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.
The Nexus Symposium opened with an intellectual duel between the two philosophers Bernard-Henri Lévy and Aleksandr Dugin, presented as the 21st-century reprise of the famous debates between Settembrini and Naphta in Mann’s novel. The following is a transcript of this duel.
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Rob Riemen: The Magic Mountain centres on a duel between two competing worldviews fighting for the soul of Europe. With that same duel, we will start today’s Nexus Symposium. I’m delighted that two brave philosophers accepted our invitation to discuss the premises and consequences of each other’s completely opposite and competing worldview. I call them brave, because it has become extremely rare that two philosophical opponents really meet eye to eye. Those who have read the novel know that at the very end of the novel there is, indeed, a physical duel. Naphta challenges Settembrini, Settembrini refuses to shoot, and then Naphta kills himself. That, fortunately, will not happen today. Please give a very warm welcome to Leo Naphta, also known as Aleksandr Dugin, and Ludovico Settembrini, also known as Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Dugin: First of all, I always prefer the battle of ideas over physical war. And I am very happy that I can have this exchange with Mr. Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is famous on the global scale, not in a physical duel – because sometimes we are on the same front lines, normally on different sides – so I prefer to exchange ideas here, instead of a physical battle. Maybe it is the only way to avoid that, or at least to try.
First of all, I would like to say that President Macron recently has said that the hegemony of the West is over. Our president, Mr Putin, has said the same thing about liberalism or global liberalism. There was recently an issue of Foreign Affairs with an article by Fareed Zakaria dedicated to the decline of Western power. And I think that it is obvious that there is such a decline. In your book, The Empire and the Five Kings, you noticed a very interesting thing: the evaporating of the American presence in the Middle East, in the case of the Kurds. I think we are approaching the end, not the end of history as Mr Fukuyama has said, but the end of political modernity. And that is the end of something very, very important that we should think about – the end of Western hegemony, of American dominance or global liberalism. It is something historical in itself, it is not technical.
I interpret it – as for example in Nietzsche’s words – in the sense that in the beginning of modernity, the humans have killed God, in order to liberate themselves. But that was suicide. By killing God, we have killed ourselves. And now, welcome to the last stage of nihilism.
And interestingly, in your book, you define the American empire or the global liberal system as the system of nihilism, based on nothing. It is a very interesting idea, and I would like to ask you why you still defend this more and more openly nihilist system, why you fight for this decaying, declining modernity, and why you invest all your intellectual power in order to defend it.
Lévy: Of course, I am certainly not fighting for nihilism. I’m fighting, on the contrary, to combat nihilism. I’m fighting for political modernity, because it means democracy, freedom, equality between women and men, secularism, and so on. Although political modernity is probably in crisis, I refuse the idea of its irreversible decline and, even worse, of its disappearance. And I refuse it because I strongly believe that the survival of liberal democracy is a plus for the entire world. Now, let’s talk about nihilism: I have read your work too. You are my adversary. We think oppositely on most topics. But I recognize your importance, at least on the Russian scene. That is why I read you carefully. And for me, the embodiment of nihilism today is you. And your friends. And the Eurasian current. And the morbid atmosphere which fills your books. And the way in which you dissolve the very idea of human rights, of personal freedoms, of singularities, in some big blocks of community, big faiths, sacred origins and so on. There might be a crisis of democracy. But there is, for sure, a perfume of nihilism that really embarrasses me when I read your Conservative Revolution, and all your works about Eurasia since the beginning of the 90s.
Dugin: Interesting. If you propose a kind of identity between nihilism and refusing the Western interpretation of human rights, freedom and liberal democracy, in that sense I agree. I am against that, because for me, they are not universal values. I think that democracy, the content of democracy, is changing. I have spoken once with Fukuyama, and Fukuyama defined the modern understanding of liberal democracy as the rule of minorities against the majority, because the majority can always transform into populism and fascism and communism. So that is a completely new idea, I think. And I don’t share this new understanding of liberal democracy, I challenge that the subject of freedom should be the individual – and that is the essence, the axis of human rights ideology. I consider the identity of man, of human culture, of society, not to be reducible to individuality. For example, in our Russian tradition, the subject of freedom or the human subject is not individual, it is collective. And that was in the time of Czars, that was defined by the church, after that by communism. But collective identity was always dominant in our culture, as well as in Chinese culture, in Indian culture, up to a certain point in Islamic culture.
I think I am a nihilist in the sense that I refuse the universality of modern Western values. I don’t think they are universal. I think they are Western, they are modern. I think the West is very powerful still, and powerfully defends them. But I just challenge that the only way to interpret democracy is as the rule of minorities against the majority, that the only way to interpret freedom is as individual freedom, and that the only way to interpret human rights is by projecting a modern, Western, individualistic version of what it means to be human on other cultures.
Lévy: You know your tradition, the Russian tradition, better than I do. But I am enough of a friend of Russia to know that what you just said about the place of subjectivity in the Russian tradition is not true. You also have the tradition of Herzen, of Pushkin, of Turgenev, a part of Sacharov, the whole glorious tradition of the dissidents who fought the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, and who waged this fight in the name of individuality, rights of the subject, and human rights. And this element you cannot say that it is not part of the Russian tradition. And again, I devoted such a big part of my life to defending Russia against slavery, totalitarianism and so on to be authorized to say that.
Now, what is democracy? I was not there during your debate with Fukuyama. But what I would, myself, say is that democracy is a complex concept and a complex process. It is the rule of the majority and the rule of the minority also. It is the rule of the people, and the rule of parliament. It is a very complex architecture, which evolves throughout time, which enriches itself, and the difference between democracy and all sorts of authoritarianism, including the one of Putin in Russia today, is that democracy is always open, always open to change, always open to progress, always open to enrichments, withdrawals, all of that.
About nihilism. You speak of Nietzsche, but the best definition of nihilism, let’s be serious! We have it in our memory. It is Russia, with its twenty-four million deaths during the Great Patriotic War. It is Europe, occupied by Nazism. And it is the Jews, my people, nearly exterminated, reduced to nothingness by the worst nihilists of all time. Yes, there is one true definition of nihilism, which is: those who committed these crimes. And these people, these Nazis did, not come from the sky. They came from ideologists. From Carl Schmitt. From Spengler. From Steward Chamberlain. From Karl Haushofer. All people who I am sorry to see that you like, and you quote, and you take their words as inspiration. So, for me, when I say that you are a nihilist, when I say that Putin is a nihilist, when I say that in Moscow there is a morbid atmosphere of nihilism, which creates, by the way, some real deaths – Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, and so many others, killed in Moscow or in London – I mean it. And I mean that alas for this great Russian civilization today, there is a bad, dark wind of nihilism in its proper sense, which is a Nazi and a fascist sense, which is blowing in the great Russia.
Dugin: I agree, I think that the phenomenon of fascism or national socialism, I agree it is nihilism, and I don’t defend it, because it is a modern phenomenon. In my eyes, all modernity is purely nihilist. Liberalism is nihilism, communism is nihilism and fascism as well. And I think I agree with you about the crimes committed by Hitler, because my people as well suffered a lot. We have lost many, many millions, killed because they were Slavs, on the same scale as the Jews. Our people, Soviet people, Russian people, fought this Patriotic War in order to stop fascism in Europe, in Russia, and to save all the people suffering in that situation. And I strongly blame all kinds of racism. So if I find something interesting in Heidegger and Schmitt, in the conservative revolution in Germany, it is certain aspects of political realism or geopolitical thought or traditionalism, and the criticism of modernity that was proper to this conservative movement, but not the racism. I am bold enough to admit it if I would propagate fascism or racism – I make many bold statements, I am blamed for them, I am against liberalism, against individualism, against human rights as ideology, but I am against racism too. And that is clear. I don’t defend that. But racism is an Anglo-Saxon liberal construction based on a hierarchy between peoples. I think this is criminal. And I think that now, globalism repeats this same crime, because what the globalists, the liberals, like yourself and people who support your ideas, now try to affirm as universal values, are simply modern, Western, liberal values. And that is a new kind of racism; cultural, civilizational racism. You say: everybody who accepts the open society, they are the good guys. All who challenge the open society, they are – as Popper says in the subtitle of his book – the enemies of the open society. So there is a new Manichean division, a new racism. Those who are in favour of Western values, they are good. Everybody who challenges that, in the Islamic tradition, in the Russian tradition, in the Chinese tradition, in the Indian tradition, everywhere, they are populists, and they are classified as fascism. I think that is a new kind of racism.
Lévy: There are really, between us, three big points of disagreement. First of all, when you speak of globalization, you have a limited idea of it. There is a bad globalization, of course, which means uniformization of the world. But globalization, as many Western thinkers conceive it and, at least, as I conceive it myself, means not uniformity, but an openness to the other, bridges between civilizations, a nexus between cultures, the importing and exporting of words, theorems, and so on. This is what globalization can mean too. And believe me, those in the West who fight for that are very numerous.
Number two. When you say that to believe in universal values is a new form of totalitarianism and so on – I am sorry, but this is so short-sighted. The real point is that in every civilization, there are some great things which have been invented. Your civilization, the Russian one, which I revere and respect, invented for example, through Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the very idea of the fight against totalitarianism. It is huge, what Solzhenitsyn did, and nobody will steal that hugeness from Russian culture. So many Western thinkers tried to think freedom against totalitarianism, what it is, what it has to fight against, what is a concentration camp, and so on. It belongs to a Russian man to have produced this masterpiece which was The Gulag Archipelago. Nothing, nobody will take that from Russian civilization. In the same sense, Europe invented a few things also, which are gains for all humanity. For example, equal rights between women and men. For example, the right for a body not to be tortured, not to be enchained or enslaved. This right is universal. It is a progress, an improvement, when correctly applied, for the whole universe. But the fact is that it has been invented, produced, by a philosophy which has been called the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the birthplace of which was Europe. So the idea is not to impose a pattern on others. It is to take in every civilization the good for the rest of humanity that it invented. And one of these goods, in Europe, is the civilization of human rights, freedom, individual dignity, and so on. This deserves to be universalized. This should be conceived, except if you are a racist, as profitable for the entire humanity.
Now, are you, you, Mr Dugin, a racist? I am happy to hear that you pretend that you don’t like racism. But I am not so sure that you are sincere. I read, a few days ago, a book of yours called The Conservative Revolution. Page 256. Where you spoke about Jews. I am not only concerned about Jews, I am concerned about all – but this one was about Jews. And you are speaking, on this page, of the metaphysical rivalry and war between Aryans and Jews. And you say that this is a challenge, that this is a debate, not just for this century but for all time. Thus, you clearly are antisemitic. And I am not surprised, because all the men who you quoted and from whom you draw your inspiration – Spengler, Heidegger, who is also a great philosopher of course, and others –are contaminated, corrupted, infected by this plague which is antisemitism. And alas – you too. And in your debates with Alain de Benoist in France, with your connections with Alain Soral, who prefaced one of your books and who is one of the leaders of French antisemitism – all of this speaks for itself. So how can you say that racism is foreign to you?
Dugin: Absolutely foreign to me. I think that people have their angels, their archetypes. Peoples are not only collective bodies that are physically present, but people have soul. And there is the soul of Jewish people that I admire, that I respect. I have many friends in Israel, in traditionalist circles of Israel that share my opinion. They are Jews who believe in God. In contrast with you, you define yourself as a Jew who doesn’t believe in the Jewish God. For my friends, this would be absolutely antisemitic, because the Jews are the people of God, and that is the essence. So without God the Jews lose their essence, their religious mission, their place in history.
What is important is that there are differences between peoples, and I am insisting on the difference between the souls of peoples, between the angels of peoples. But I am against any kind of hierarchy or racism. I don’t say that the Indo-European or Greek, or European or German or Indian or Iranian civilization is better, that the Islamic or the Judaic tradition is better – I think they are different.
And concerning the globalization process you described. If it were as you have said, we would have nothing against it. If there were a dialogue, where everyone participates – Christian, Muslim, Chinese – defending their set of values, if globalization would be an open and just and really democratic dialogue in order to find the better in all these civilizations, nobody would be opposed to it, I think. At least I wouldn’t oppose it. But now, it is the Western projection of Western ideas about what is good or bad as universal values. Capitalism, market economy, human rights ideology, individual freedom, hedonism, technocracy. All these elements of the Western historical and social experience are projected on the world scale, and that is called universalism. I am against that.
Concerning Solzhenitsyn, I follow him as well, because he was a Slavophile. And he fought against communist authoritarianism precisely in favour of the Russian people as a collective identity. I am against Soviet totalitarianism, I am not defending communism. I was a dissident in the eighties. But, like Solzhenitsyn, I am not a pro-liberal dissident – like Solzhenitsyn, I am anti-liberal. You also mentioned Herzen. You mentioned some names from Russian history. Most of them were Westerners. They were ethnically or culturally Russian, but ideologically they were not Russian, they didn’t follow our tradition. Our tradition was based on a completely different anthropology and ontology. And Herzen, interestingly, was a Westerner in his views and he emigrated, but he returned afterwards to a very nationalist position. Turgenev didn’t, but Herzen did. So the leader of the Russian Westerners, having experienced Western culture in emigration, returned, as did many of our dissidents returning from the West, to very nationalist ideas. So I think we should carefully conserve these identities – Jewish, Semitic, Islamic, Russian, European, in different forms, and try to find the nexus between them. Avoiding this simplistic version, totalitarianism against democracy. Hannah Arendt, who I admire as well, said that totalitarianism is a modern phenomenon, it is not a traditional phenomenon. So if we simply oppose democracy and liberalism to fascism or communist totalitarianism, it’s a simplistic version. I think now, we need to imagine something else, something beyond modernity, and in that sense, all three political theories, liberalism, communism, and fascism, they are ideologies that must be overcome, we have to get beyond them. But there is also something interesting in some communist thinkers, like Gramsci, or some French communists like Bataille or Debord. There are so many interesting thinkers, we should not simply identify Bataille with the Gulag, or Heidegger with Auschwitz or insist that all liberals are Hiroshima-bombing criminals. We need to find something sane in each of these traditions, or rather to overcome them, step beyond them.
Lévy: About Judaism, you have to revise your information. It’s a little more complicated then that. To be a Jew, of course, it is to have a relationship with God. But it’s a relationship which is based on study, more than on creed. And that is, by the way, the main difference between Judaism and Christianity.
About Herzen, what you don’t seem to understand, and what was the greatness of Herzen, was the ability to go back and forth. To enrich the Western tradition with the Russian tradition, and vice versa. This was the greatness of Herzen, of Pushkin, of all the anti-Eurasian, the pro-European Russians of the 19th and of the 20th century. Sacharov, for example, who is for me another great hero of the 20th century, he had a foot in Russia, and he had a foot in liberalism and democracy. He believed in the two, and he devoted all his life to the task of combining the two. And what I fear when I read you, and what I find when I read you and all the writers of this Eurasian current which is supposed to inspire Putin, and what I find so morbid, so smelling of death and so nihilistic, is the fact of conceiving these civilizations as blocks.
You say you respect Islam, you respect Japanese civilization, you respect Turkish civilization – and maybe the Jews. But on two conditions: that everyone remains in their place, and that there is as little communication between them as possible. And this conception of culture, of civilizations considered as blocks which are closed on themselves, you share it with an American thinker whom you know, and you should have mentioned him rather than Guy Debord – Samuel Huntington. Samuel Huntington with his idea of a clash of civilizations matches with the thinkers which you represent today in Russia, with this idea of closed blocks that are virtually at war with one another. And when you look at Vladimir Putin today, when you look at what he is saying when he addresses Europe, when he addresses America, when he addresses human rights and so on, when he addresses Ukraine – when he aggresses Ukraine in Crimea, it is a discourse of war. So a philosophy of war, a philosophy considering civilizations as holistic blocks at war against each other, has as a natural outcome a practice of war, which is implemented by Vladimir Putin today. I really mean it. I really believe that there is a link between, on the one side, your and Huntington’s way of thinking; and, on the other side, the occupation of Crimea, the 30,000 deaths in Ukraine and the war in Syria with its bloodbath, tragic and horrible.
Dugin: I agree. I appreciate Huntington very much, I think his vision is much more correct than Fukuyama or liberalism. That civilizations exist, and after the fall of these two ideological camps, communism against capitalism, civilizations will play a decisive role in history. In Huntington, I agree as well, there is a kind of simplistic vision of civilization. I have dedicated my last 24 books to the study of civilizations, trying to find the differences between them. Trying to describe them –
Lévy: I am not speaking about differences, I am speaking about bridges. Differences we all know. But did you devote as many books to finding some bridges, some connections?
Dugin: When we try to build bridges too early, without knowing the structure of the Other – the problem is the Other. The West doesn’t understand the Other as something positive. It is all the same, and we immediately try to find bridges – they are illusions, and not bridges, because we are projecting ourselves. The Other is the same, the ideology of the same. We first need to understand otherness. I wrote 24 books dedicated to understanding those other than ourselves, to understand the West, Islamic, Jewish, European, Russian thought otherwise than as something that is already known.
I think that civilizations are unknown, they are unknown actors, they are emerging now, and we need to study them first, correctly, and after that we can create bridges.
Lévy: Do you come often to the United States?
Dugin: From time to time – but now I am under sanctions.
Lévy: I hope you will be allowed to go back – you would discover that in the American universities, nothing is more active than these departments of studies of otherness. America has a lot of defects, a lot of problems, but one of the good things about America today – since long, but today more than ever – is this attention to otherness, is this very insightful look into the body and the soul of all foreign cultures. You cannot imagine how vivid, vibrant, open to the other the American universities are. And sometimes also the French universities. Of course, this attention to otherness can also have a dark side and sometimes, it is a stubborn political correctness. But one thing you cannot deny: knowledge of otherness we have in the West. Not enough! Opening our arms, our hearts, can always be improved: but we have it ! Now you said I’m right – ok, one question. What do you think about the aggression of your country against Crimea? When France aggressed Algeria, I was just a boy, I was fourteen years old, but I was in the streets. When America aggressed Vietnam, I was demonstrating. Today, what do you think of the occupation of Crimea? And what do you think of the aggression against Eastern Ukraine by paramilitaries or the military of your country?
Dugin: In your book you say that you deplore that you demonstrated against Americans. So we can change our minds. Now, you are defending the American empire, the world liberal empire. And that is your choice that I respect. I defend Eurasian civilization, not Russia as a country – I am not too much a patriot of the Russian federation and all our government does. I do not automatically support all that. In my opinion, Ukraine is a country with two people and two civilizations, which are ethnically very close. Ukraine is a part and the cradle of Russian civilization. In some way, Ukrainians are more directly our parents, they are pure Russians, they are more pure Russians than ourselves, because they still live in the cradle of our tradition, and we migrated to the East. So historically, Ukraine was created by two tendencies of aggression by the Russian empire – aggression against Turkey, because Novorossiya was composed of Turkish territories and Crimea and what is now Eastern Ukraine – and the other part was taken from Poland, that was populated by western Russians, so-called Ukrainians. So Russia has historically, through aggression against neighbour countries, created Ukraine. And the last piece was added by Stalin, from what was previously a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire: Lemberg, or Lwów.
So Ukraine is a composed entity that appeared after the fall of the Soviet Union. And there was a chance to create a Ukrainian identity, as for example there is Belgian identity, with two people living and considering and respecting each other. There are two people, and if for example the Walloons would like to say that the Flemish are second-rank citizens because they are Germanic, that would be exactly the same as what happened in Ukraine. The newly born state, which didn’t exist historically, had the chance to create its national structure respecting both people living there, in Eastern Ukraine and Western Ukraine, and to find a balance. I supported that, and there are others, including in Western Ukraine, who share this view. But finally, politically, it was only the Western part represented in Maidan, where you tried to inspire them to get rid of Russia, and the Western part subjugated the other part. Russia intervened in order to save this part of Ukraine. After that, we committed an error, I think. We should have liberated Eastern Ukraine with Crimea, and we should have proposed to recreate Ukraine, an independent Ukraine as a bridge between us and Europe, based on respecting both identities. That was the mistake, that we only took Crimea and the Donbass. We should have restored and reconstructed Ukraine as a whole.
Lévy: For the moment, the only bridge which has been created is between Crimea and Russia. For the moment, the only building which has been constructed is a huge Russian military base in Sebastopol, directed against enemies I suppose, and I haven’t seen in recent years in the speeches of Putin or others any tendency to rebuilding a bi-national, great Ukraine. I see a pure and rabid aggression and violation of international law, I see an attempt at rewriting and revising history, that by the way, if I understand you well, you are pursuing today. When you say that Ukraine is a new state, this is what I heard – how can you say that? Ukraine existed before Russia.
Dugin: Yes. That is our common history.
Lévy: Prince Volodymyr, who was baptized and who was at the origin of the Christianization of modern Ukraine and modern Russia, was a prince of Kiev, not of Muscovy. So Ukraine is an old country, more ancient than Russia. This is the truth that revisionist historians, at the Kremlin and all around, try to revise.
Dugin: It is Russia.
Lévy: You can, if you want, choose, like Mr. Trump, your ‘alternative truth’. But, alas, the facts are there. Ukraine is an ancient nation. Crimea, too. And Crimea came under the Russian boot only because of a late colonial process. Anyway… Discussions, on these topics, are so interminable that the best we can do, Mr Dugin, is to respect, as imperfect as they are, international laws, the laws that might prevent us from falling into another catastrophe like the one that cost your people 24 million deaths, 24 million brave soldiers and civilians destroyed by Hitler, and which cost Europe such ruin.
There is an architecture of security which was built after the Cold War, in cooperation by the way between the West and Russia, and we have to do our best, for our children, to preserve and to save this imperfect but crucial architecture of security. And what Putin did in Crimea, what he is doing at this very minute in Eastern Ukraine, what he is doing when he plays with fire and with massacre and bloodbath in Syria, goes against the interests of our children and grandchildren.
Dugin: I don’t think so. I agree on the principle that we need some international law. But law reflects the status quo, the balance of power. The law is never completely abstract. For example, the law is established after victory – when the West and the Soviet Union together won over Hitler, we established our international law. When communism fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, there was an attempt to create Western-centred law, based on the victory in the Cold War. And now that law, that international balance of power is in decay, we are challenging it and we try to create a new international architecture that would respect civilizations. So I think we are coming to the end of the unipolar world system, based on this ideological and geopolitical victory, because the end of the unipolar moment, as Charles Krauthammer has said, is happening now. Civilizations reappear. And we cannot understand this emergence of civilizations in terms of the old version of the Westphalian national state system. Today we need to revise it in a multipolar way, in order to respect the Other, accept the Other, and not only culturally.
I agree with you about American universities, because I’m an admirer of the tradition of Franz Boas in anthropology, and of Claude Lévi-Strauss. They are my teachers. This anthropological pluralism, I agree, is precisely the American and French tradition. But it is not reflected in politics, or it is reflected in a very perverted way. So I think there is a big contradiction between this anthropological thought in American universities and French universities, and a kind of very aggressive colonial neo-imperialist form to promote American interests on the world scale with weapons. I could not blame only Putin for Syria, for example. You were active as well in the Libyan crisis that cost the Libyan people rivers of blood. You suggested to overthrow Assad and that was supporting one side in this civil war against the other. So I think that we could not accuse, in that situation, only Putin. This is a wrong image, Putin reacted, Putin tried to affirm the Russian voice, and the Chinese voice as well, in this situation. That is five kings against the empire – you are on the side of the empire, so you accuse the five kings of all the crimes. We are the five kings.
Lévy: I am on the side of Solzhenitsyn, I am on the side of Bukovsky, I am on the side of Anna Politkovskaya, I am on the side of Leonid Plyushch, I am on the side of so many dead, and sometimes living Russian friends. The big disagreement between us – and we are coming, here, to the key point and to the end – is the following. First of all, multipolarism is not a new thing. There has always been multipolarism. And before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a real multipolarism between America, Russia and China – so it is not such a new thing. Number two, you say that everyone should respect the other and not interfere in the process of the other’s civilization. If you look honestly at today’s situation, the one who interferes, the one who tries, really, genuinely to destabilize the other is not Trump destabilizing Russia, it is Putin destabilizing America and Europe. These are facts, and they will be fact-checked. You cannot find one extreme right and neo-fascist party in Europe which is not at least blessed and at best financed by Russia. You cannot find one crisis in Europe which is not encouraged by Russia. You cannot count the number, in 2014 and 2015, of violations of the airspace of Poland, Lithuania and even sometimes France by Russian planes. You know, as I know, in 2014 or 2015, the little declaration of Putin – who is a good chess player – saying that one should check again the legality of the independence of the Baltic states. So today, the real imperialism, the real one who is interfering and sowing disorder and interfering in the affairs of others, alas, is Putin. And I need not speak of America, where it is now proved that there has been a huge, crude, and evident Russian intervention in the electoral process of the last election.
And a last remark. Syria, Libya – these are not civil wars. They are wars against civilians. A war of a state, an army, against civilians. What is true is that you have people in the West, like me, and in Russia and in Ukraine also, who took the side of the civilians in Libya, in order to prevent a bloodbath. In order to prevent what happened in Syria, which is 400,000 dead, 3 million displaced people and so on. That is true. You are speaking of ‘rivers of blood’. But do you realize that these are the proper words used by Kadhafi’s son when he expressed his threat against his people? Anyway these are the ‘rivers’ that the West prevented from bleeding. This is the good thing the West did in Libya. And this Western humanitarian effort to save the people from the barbarity of their own state cannot be compared to what a big state, Russia, does with its big planes, with the gas of Bashar Al-Assad, which is to feed the war of aggression of a butcher who does not care about our discussion about civilizations, bridges, blocks and so on, who is just an executioner, supported, today, by your president and by Iran.
Dugin: I think there are so many exaggerations and rhetorical figures that I am not inclined to answer, but not because I have no answer. For example about intervention. On one side, it was proven that there was no intervention in favour of Trump, and there was intervention in favour of Hillary by some Russian oligarchs. The same for the financing of far-right movements in Europe. There are many rumours about Russian intervention, most absurdly about intervention in the crisis in Catalonia – but no proofs. But nevertheless, what is interesting – I don’t like to speak about the facts…
Lévy: So what do you want to speak about, if not the facts?
Dugin: Facts – from Latin facere, to do – are something that was done, they are a construction. Who controls the media, as Guy Debord has said, controls the facts.
Lévy: Too easy! And Guy Debord, who was a good and brilliant writer, never said such a simplistic thing! Readers and journalists are the one who control the media, mostly. Owners of the media also control them to some extent. But mostly readers and journalists do. At least in the West. And let me tell you something: this is one of the undisputable advantages in the
West. We have a discussion in France today about Le Monde, the biggest newspaper. There is a project of the owners of Le Monde to transfer their shares to a foundation which will belong to the public interest. So Le Monde will belong to its readers, and to its journalists!
Dugin: I am not speaking about the owner, I am speaking about the epistemology – who controls the epistemology. The mass media, for example, Régis Debray has said that as adviser of Mitterrand, he could not achieve any plan the president supported because of some resistance coming from nowhere. So there is an epistemological centre of control, they are not the owner of the media.
This is an epistemological struggle. We have a created system of facts or chosen facts, biased facts, and when Russia tried to do the same, to create our mass media, Russia Today, Sputnik, we were blamed for creating fake news.
To say the truth, both of us are producing fake news.
Lévy: The big difference is that when Russia Today was invented, it was based on verticality – vertical democracy, as you say yourself. It was founded by Putin. That’s what President Macron said, by the way, the first time he saw Putin at Elysée Palace: this sort of outlet is not a media, but a propaganda tool – and he was right. In other words, when you have a conflict of interpretation in the West, between Le Monde and Le Figaro, between the New York Times and another news source, it is a fight between professionals, individuals, it is a sincere attempt to find the truth. It is not a propaganda media, coming from the sky of power, being in conflict with the rest of the society. And this again is an advantage of the West. Because what is true, Mr Dugin, is that we have left the age where truth comes from above, like in Plato. It has to be searched for, and it has to be searched for with sincerity and genuineness. For that, we don’t need the intervention of the state. We don’t need the trolls, manipulated by the Kremlin or by whomever else. We need readers, journalists, civil society, all animated by a sincere and authentic will to truth, to speak like Friedrich Nietzsche. I recommend it to Russia. It is one of the beauties that democracy can offer to Russia. And when you embrace it, it will not be Western. It will be a common good, and it will be Russian too.
Dugin: When Bush was in Moscow, at the moment of the invasion of the United States in Iraq, he said: ‘Please be patient, you will have democracy as well, like in Iraq.’ Putin said: ‘Thank you very much, we will find another way to build our society.’
I think the picture you gave is correct, but it has nothing to do with modern Western society, where there is a purely totalitarian way of describing the facts, not in favour of a small group of owners of one mass medium or another, but in favour of a political elite. And they are in that sense a kind of Platonists, taking their truths from their liberal ideology; that is something Platonic as well. And the people are in revolt against that, in different countries but also in the West. I think the wave of populism is precisely the refusal of the European people, not right wing or left wing, but a refusal by normal European citizens of this absolutely abstract agenda of liberal elites. So I think that it is not about the State now, we are speaking about political elites.
Lévy: There is a big fight all over the world between liberal values and illiberal values. This fight crosses our countries too. You have some liberals in Russia, and we have some illiberals in Europe. And what is true is that liberalism faces the same sort of crisis of credibility as it faced in the 1930s or at the very beginning of the 20th century. But in this fight, Mr Dugin, I confirm today, as we are at the end of this debate, we will be on the opposing sides of the barricades. Because for me, a free press is not totalitarianism. The respect for liberal ideas and for freedom is not another totalitarianism. Secularism, rights of women cannot be placed, as you did at the beginning of our encounter, on the same level as fascism and communism. There is today a real clash of civilizations. But not the one you mention in your books, between the north and the east and the west and the south and all of that; there is a clash of civilizations all over the planet between those who believe in human rights, in liberty, in the right for a body not to be tortured and martyred, and those who are happy with illiberalism and the revival of authoritarianism and slavery. And this is the difference between you and me. I am sorry to have confirmed it today once again.