Russian Identity and Putin
The Economist interviews Alexander Dugin
The Economist: What is particularly distinctive about Russian identity and how is it different from, let’s say, European identity?
Alexander Dugin: First of all, in order to understand what the difference is between Russian and European identity, we need to understand what European identity is, because it is not so easy to understand. There are two reasons for that. First of all, now, European identity consists, as far as I understand, of ultimate destruction. So the concept of identity is judged by the liberal or progressive agenda as something which we should overcome. Liberal European identity consists of denying any identity, as some kind of transgression. To be European today means not to be European, but to be on the side of immigrants, Muslims, and everybody except Europeans. When or if you affirm yourself as an English man rooted in English culture or a Frenchman, “Français de souche", it is almost or it sounds like you are not only a conservative, but a Nazi. You are something completely labeled as extremist, marginal. Today, European identity is negation,denial of any kind of identity. This was obviously not always so, but that is the liberal agenda.
Precisely the difference with Russian identity is that we deny this denial. With Russian identity, we have no shame in being Russian. We have no guilt for being Russian. We have no remorse for being Russian. That is the difference, because, precisely to be German, that is to be ashamed of what Germany did. To be Britain today is to have remorse for everything the British Empire did in the past. To be American is to be ashamed of the Southern part of history, of the slave trade.
We have no remorse, so we are judged immediately for having an identity - that is a crime compared to the liberal agenda. That was not always the case. Before, the West blamed the East or Catholics blamed the Orthodox for different reasons. The same geopolitical tensions existed before, but were formulated in other terms. Today it is clear that we defend our identity as something that has value.
The Economist: I understand that you’re proud of your identity, but what is your identity? What is it that makes you proud? All the things that you’ve listed are negative things, but what is the positive identity?
Dugin: Any identity that is not based on denial of identity is considered in the process of the liberal agenda as something negative. We have started with negative definitions not by chance, because that is included in the concept of the modern, liberal, globalist, Western, normative identity. So, first of all, we try to conserve our identity, and we are proud to be Russian. We are proud, to begin with, of having an identity and not willing to lose it or deny it.
What is our identity? Our identity is mostly Christian. First of all, we are proud to be Christian. We are proud to be Orthodox Christian - and not just any Christian as, for example, Protestant. Because it is part of our identity, Orthodox Christianity has formed our culture, our literature. Dostoyevsky was proud to be Orthodox Christian and we are proud to belong to the nation of Dostoyevsky. We are proud, and not ashamed, of having Dostoyevsky, who was a nationalist, for example. And we do not deny being nationalist because Dostoyevsky was. We are not willing to criticize Dostoyevsky because he loved Russia or, for example, because of his hatred toward the West and liberalism. Dostoyevsky hated such, and he had his own reasons. These reasons are our reasons.
I have developed what Russian identity is in my studies, not only as limited to Orthodox Christianity and Slavic ethnic roots, but as well having enlarged it following the Eurasianist tendency of Russian philosophy. We have included the Eastern peoples that were inside of the Russian Empire as valuable elements of this identity. We have different kinds of understandings of our identity. There is the Eurasianist version that is inclusive, and there is the nationalist version that is exclusive. Both kinds are in favor of identity, but there is exclusive and inclusive. Inclusive means that we are not only a people - cultural, historical - but also a civilization, Eurasian civilization, that is based on some hierarchical order, on vertical organization, as well as the sacred monarchy, because we considered, normatively, including in Soviet times, the tsar as a
For example, what is a subject? In the European mind, you are the subjects - the individual is the subject. For us not at all. The tsar is the subject. The leader is the subject. And we are a kind of part of this subject. The subject, subjectiveness, is not distributed as in the case of the modern democratic West.
Our identity is a holistic one.
This is another difference. It is not authoritarianism imposed from the top. It is authoritarianism demanded from below. It is a kind of monarchism before the monarchy. It is not a dictatorship that is projected by the dictator, but is a kind of dictatorship demanded by the majority, because it is a demand for a subject. Our subject is not individualistic, but holistic.
There is the French sociologist Louis Dumont, that has written an excellent book about hierarchy - Homo hierarchicus. He has divided all kinds of political organizations into holistic and individualistic. The most important thing is identity - individual or holistic. We Russians belong to the type of society where identity is collective or holistic. For us, man is not myself. I am only part of man. My people, my country, my state, my tsar - if there is a tsar, or leader - is man. The understanding of what is human is different. For us, human rights are the rights of the tsar, Putin’s rights, not mine, because I’m not the subject. I’m part of the subject. But my freedom depends on the freedom of my country and my people. I could not be individually free when my country and my people are enslaved. That is our identity.
So, we are double contrary to the Occident. We are not willing to lose our identity, first of all, and we are willing to preserve our collective identity as we Russians have had in history. That makes us really different or, if you will, it makes us enemies of the West as a liberal project - not the West as a civilization, because the West has had different phases of affirmation, denial, inner problems, etc. during history. But now we belong to two camps of humanity. One part of humanity is following this liberal, Western, modern, individualistic, Anglo-Saxon and globalist agenda - a new world emerging before our eyes, a global world with all these originally Scottish concepts of the individual and rational that were originally a version of the Anglo-Saxon form of identity and were taken by the United States and put in the Constitution by the founding fathers. After that, the circle became larger and larger, and today globalization is the projection of this understanding of the individual developing an identity as a norm for humanity. All the institutions in the east as well as in Africa and all over the world are to be a repetition, a re-make of something like a cut and paste of Britain or Scottish Protestants or post-Protestants as Max Weber has explained this type. Everybody is Anglo-Saxon today. We are against all that.
We are against the Anglo-Saxon understanding of what is good and what is bad and what is rational and what is irrational, and so on.
This is the great game which Mackinder explained concerning two kinds of civilizations - sea power and land power, as strategic manifestations of two kinds of deep ideologies - the ideology of progress, of sea power, and the ideology of eternity, or conservatism represented by the continental block of Russia and Germany in his time.
That has very deep roots, but now it is represented as Russia defending identity, Russian identity, and collective identity against globalization. Globalization is a kind of universalization of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant mission - sea power against land power in new circumstances and conditions.
The Economist: Do you think these two profoundly different visions can coexist?
Dugin: We could coexist peacefully, or we could coexist in fighting. Humanity has both solutions, and peace has meaning only when there is the possibility of war. War has reason and ontology when there is the possibility of peace. We cannot separate both. If we have no peace, we have no war. If we have no war, we have no peace. These two concepts are strongly linked to each other. We could, being different, coexist, but in order to peacefully coexist, we need to enforce, to oblige the other to recognize the human dignity of such attitudes. That is not always the case because there is a very thin aspect. For example, we could understand the truth of the Anglo-Saxon world, of sea power, easily, and we could recognize that as a possible way. But I don’t think that globalization has the possibility to accept the other with the right to exist.
Maybe we are wrong, but we have the feeling that you try to annihilate, to destroy this other identity because you blame it in a theoretical way. You think that there is universal progress, and everybody should become exactly as you are and think. When there is this feeling, we are prepared to fight, defend, and to oppose. If you, sea power, or the Anglo-Saxon attitude or the globalists could recognize the right of the other, ourselves, to conserve our monarchy, dictatorship, our understanding of human rights as Putin’s rights - that is the way to coexist peacefully, if you leave us alone. But that is not the case and it never was the case. Always, in order to impose our dignity and your dignity on others, you fought for that and we fight for that - not always, not drastically, as we could fight for lesser aspects, for smaller problems such as natural resources, control over territories, and the history of humanity shows that that was the case so many times.
Now, we consider our confrontation with the West as a kind of eschatological final battle.
If you leave us alone, we will leave you alone. But we will fight for conserving and affirming our identity. We suspect that you are trying to destroy it, you are trying to impose on us some universal rule, some universal concepts of human rights and democracy. You oblige us to accept your rules and values.
The Economist: Russia accepted the universal declaration of human rights.
Dugin: That was a mistake. We were obliged, and now we are trying to repair all of this damage made during Soviet times and Yeltsin’s time. We are returning to our identity. We were obliged to defend this identity in an elusive way, not in a straight way.
The Economist: Why do you think that the other civilization, the Anglo-Saxon, is economically more successful than the Eurasian civilization?
Dugin: Precisely because the economy is, for you, destiny. For us, the spirit is destiny. If you put material value as the highest value, then you’re more successful in that.
The Economist: Can I ask you, in your honest opinion, if you leave aside the enemies of Russia in the West, if you just went out to Moscow and across Russia and did an opinion poll and asked people of active age - let’s say under 45 - if they would sacrifice their economic benefits and material goods for collective identity embodied in President Putin, Eurasian values, and the Orthodox Church, what do you think would be the answer?
Dugin: It all depends on how you formulate the questions, for example, if you put the same question as “To whom belongs Crimea?” Crimea is ours, and we suffer the sanctions. Are we happy to suffer the sanctions for this? Yes.
The Economist: Russia doesn’t suffer the sanctions really - not yet anyway. Incomes are back to 2010 levels, but if you said to people that you’d be back to 1997 levels of income, do you think they’d vote for you?
Dugin: It all depends. For us, the spirit matters much more than it does for you. In our identity, the ideological factor is almost decisive. But I doubt that all decisions in the West are only related to material wellbeing. I think that there is also a moral quality, but of a different type - of the individualistic, liberal type - that demands sacrifices from the Western population. In our situation it is the same. Nobody will accept something that will be contrary to the wellbeing and wealth growth, but when we decide, for example, that Ukraine is ours, then we understand the responsibility for that. For us, that really does matter. And that is the freedom or right of Putin.
That is our right. Putin is not some alienated being we are going to serve. He is ourself. He behaves as he does on behalf of ourselves. He does exactly what we are willing to do. He is not considered by us to be a kind of separate entity. That is the concept of the sacred king. If you say: “Would you sacrifice your wellbeing for abstract Orthodox church values?” No, nobody. But ask: “To whom belongs Crimea?” It is the same idea put from a different angle. I am a sociologist. I have a PhD in sociology, and I know precisely how the response to the answer depends on the formulation of the question. We have made millions of experiments, for example with the same meaning but formulating the questions in different ways. We receive completely different answers. To be precise, I don’t believe that everybody - if I formulate all the things that I have formulated for you, for everybody in Russia - would be in accordance with me. I think that nobody would be. That is normal, because the people always thinks differently, on a lesser scale. Only the philosophers see a dimension of the truth. But alternatively, if we put it symbolically, or use another language, then we would receive this support. Everything is based not on logic, but rhetoric. Rhetorically, you can make miracles. If I were to give the same speech with the same meaning, the same semantic core, in other words, everybody would be in accordance, including when you ask our people: “You are an individual. Do you want progress? Do you want an open society? Do you want to be as wealthy as in the West?” Everybody will say yes, including Russian patriots. Of course. But when the time comes for the decision, we are not obliged to support Putin. Putin is obliged to take Crimea. Patriotism and the defense of Russian identity are not so much something artificially imposed on our society now. That is the secret. It is logical that you could not understand that, since you consider Putin to be an individual who tries to use his position to get profit from his position, in order to create a rule based on patriotism in order to avoid criticism. That is a correct position from your point of view. We see that, that is completely right. But there is the other side that you should better understand. There is the view from the top and from below.
The Economist: What happens when Putin dies?
Dugin: Some other king will appear. The king is dead. Long live the king.
The Economist: How does the mechanism work? How do you avoid the Time of Troubles?
Dugin: It is impossible to avoid the Time of Troubles. It is a constant of our history that was and always will be. We cannot make our history easier by not repeating errors because it is a cyclical process. Putin will die, there will be a Time of Troubles, and then there will appear, sooner or later, a new king. Everything will repeat.
The Economist: You must be quite disappointed with Mr. Putin, because the Russian Empire has still not returned besides very small little pieces of small republics.
Dugin: Yes, I am very disappointed. For me, Putin is only an actor who plays the role of Tsar. I believe not in Putin, but in the eternal tsar that has many names and many forms. He could be called President, leader, tsar, king, emperor, but it is a function to be tsar. Putin has fulfilled this function much better than Yeltsin and Gorbachev. But he still makes too many delays. He thinks that this is realist. I think that this is cowardice.
The Economist: So he’s not a real tsar?
Dugin: Nobody is the real tsar. Everybody only plays the role of the tsar. The real tsar for us is Christ. Everybody else is a kind of representative of the tsar.
The Economist: How do you recognize the Tsar?
Dugin: By will. By the space. The tsar is innerly linked with the space. What is this space? For us Russians, the space is difference. He who can manage to make unity out of differences, is the real tsar. He who collects and does not lose. That is very important. It is an integration process. It is a kind of sign of the tsar. He who destroys is a bad tsar. He who constructs is a good tsar. Putin has frozen the split and the fall of the Russian Federation. He began to reconstruct step by step. He is much more of a real tsar than Yeltsin and Gorbachev because of that and many other things. But first of all, that is the first sign - if something begins to grow. At the same time, the tsar should defend our identity and defend the tsardom. If the tsar defends the tsardom, he’s a good tsar. If the tsar weakens the tsardom, and the concept, he is a bad tsar.
What is interesting is that most of you consider our church to be servile, following the orders of the tsar, but one of the theorists of the tsardom, Joseph Volotsky, affirmed that if the tsar denies or weakens the tsardom, he should be killed. That was from one of the saints of the Russian Church - the most pro-tsardom. The tsardom is much more important than the tsar.
Principle is much more important than the person for us. If we compare Putin with what we expect and need to have now after this period of frozen time, this time of need for revival, he could not give that.
That transcends his limits. He is not a savior. He is only meant to repair. He is a manager for repairing, freezing what has fallen apart. He is fulfilling this mission excellently, but there are limits. He acts as if he’s eternal, he doesn’t believe in something in time existing after his death, after his end. So, he has no key for the future. For me, that is a real problem. We are entering the Time of Troubles now, not after his death, because he is approaching the end from the legalistic aspect.
Putin could not resolve this end of Putin. He is approaching his limits. We need a new stage, a new term in our history, but Putin is not working for the future. He is working for the present. He is an excellent representative of the tsar in a transition time, but that is not enough for the future, it is enough for the present. I think the future will be very problematic, because Putin’s system is absolutely fragile. It is based on his personality, and that is a kind of crime against the tsardom, because he should make an institution of our identity, he should make an institution of this tsardom.
The Economist: You mean start a monarchy?
Dugin: Not exactly. Not so much a formal monarchy. I would say that he should invest in the ideology of identity instead of imitating all that for pragmatic reasons as he does. He should be more serious and more deep.
The Economist: How do you institutionalize tsardom?
Dugin: First of all, by education. We have conserved education in a liberal way. We have an education that is half-Soviet, half-liberal from the 1990’s. Education is the preparation of the mind, and tsardom is a state of mind. It’s not only or not so much of a social form of government.
The Economist: Tsardom is related to the word tsar. You have the gosudar, so you have the gosudarstvo. Does that mean that basically to have a gosudarstvo, you have to have a tsar, so you need to crown him.
Dugin: Or at least we need to approach this, to go in this way. The apparition, the manifestation of the tsar is a gift of God. It is a response to the will of the people by god. So the tsar is a gift. But we cannot appoint the tsar. We could pray for the tsar. But we need to be prepared for that. Our will should be concentrated. Our education should work on this conservative way. This is not the case in all l7 years of Putin’s rule. He did nothing in education. Education is the same half-Soviet, half-liberal, half-copied from the West, a mixture and confusion of something incoherent. The same goes for our culture. Our culture is an imitation of the Western, liberal culture with a fragment of pure political propaganda that is very badly made. This is a kind of simulacrum, not preparation for tsardom. That is not a return to our identity. It is used purely pragmatically, like a PR company using something sacred for us. The more Putin stays in his position, the more it’s clear that he uses this, he doesn’t really sacrifice enough attention, time, and efforts, and his life force for this problem. He is beginning to think in this sense in his last term, but he has lost 17 years for preparing the future. Now he has no time to prepare it. We are entering a dark, troubled time.
The Economist: How often do you talk to Putin?
Dugin: There are some questions I don’t like to respond to.
The Economist: What should the boundaries of Russia be? You talked about peaceful coexistence, so let’s imagine that the West is prepared to do this, then what would the boundaries of Russia be?
Dugin: They should grow, they should keep growing.
The Economist: That’s not peaceful coexistence.
Dugin: They should keep growing up to the moment when they cannot grow anymore. We’ve reached moments when we could not grow, we fall, and after that, each time in our history, we grow more. Our empire is a kind of heart, a beating heart with systoles and diastoles. I think Eurasia is our natural boundary. We won’t touch England or Western Europe.
The Economist: So Eastern Europe is fair game?
Dugin: Yes, that is Rimland. We could not conquer Eastern Europe now. It’s out of the question, including in my imperialistic vision. My imperialistic vision is realistic.
The Economist: So Catholic Poland is out?
Dugin: Yes, out.
The Economist: Kazakhstan?
Dugin: It’s part of the Eurasian Union.
The Economist: On a voluntary basis?
Dugin: Absolutely on a voluntary basis. An empire is created in a situation. When we can reach our goals in a peaceful way, this is much preferable than by conquest. This time we have no power, not enough, to overrun anybody. We are obliged to use peace and voluntary adherence to our project. But I will remark that there are more and more friends around us, and when we are open and are fighting against globalism - not only for Russian national values - then we receive very important help from very different parts [of the world]. This is very important. When we declare ourselves a universal force, not only a nationalist force, then we acquire more and more friends. Then begins a new turn, a very interesting one. After Brexit, maybe Britain will be onour side.
Transcribed and copy-edited by Jafe Arnold.