Two of the most important directions of anti-Western thinking in today Russia are classical Eurasianism that originated outside the Soviet Union, in the 1920s-1930s, and post-Soviet, so-called “neo-Eurasianism.” The latter school of thought is far better known in the West than the former, and often also simply called “Eurasianism.” It has been, from the end of the 1980s, principally shaped by hundreds of publications and presentations of the, by now, infamous neo-fascist Russian publicist Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin (b. 1962) as well as by a number of texts of his followers.
Contrary to what its name suggests, “neo-Eurasianism” is, however, not a continuation or extrapolation, but rather a distortion of originally Eurasianist views. Classical Eurasianism and “neo-Eurasianism” are both, to be sure, partially built on Russian anti-Western ideas of the 19th century, including the ideas of the Slavophiles of the 1840s-1850s, or the theories of Nikolay Danilevsky (1822-1885) and Konstantin Leontyev (1831-1891). Nevertheless, as can be glimpsed from Marlene Laruelle’s seminal 2008 monograph Russian Eurasianism, the ideological content, geographic focuses and ultimate goals of Eurasianism and “neo-Eurasianism” differ from each other.
Classical Eurasianism was an isolationist ideology and represented a complex cultural-theoretical construct developed by some of the most remarkable Russian émigré scholars after the October Revolution, including Nikolay Trubetskoy (1890-1938), Petr Savitsky (1895-1968), Lev Karsavin (1882-1952), Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), Georgy Vernadsky (1887-1973), Georgy Florovsky (1883-1979) and Petr Suvchinsky (1892-1985). (Some of them, to be sure, later on in their lives, withdrew from their earlier Eurasianist views.) Based on various academic approaches and significant empirical research, the classical Eurasianists believed that they had uncovered a third continent between Europe and Asia – “Eurasia,” i.e. a separate civilization that is neither European, nor Asian.
The Eurasianists diligently sought and believed that they had found various historical, geographical, linguistic and other unifying characteristics of the territory of the tsarist and Soviet empires that where sufficiently unique to declare the existence of a separate Eurasian civilization, different from what they called the “Romano-Germanic” culture of Central and Western Europe. To further their cause, the Eurasianist émigrés even founded a short-lived intellectual movement that operated, for about two decades, in East-Central and Western Europe between the two world wars. As the Eurasianists argued, the Eurasian civilization – unlike the Western one – is non-liberal, undemocratic and anti-individualistic. Therefore, it should be separated from both European values and universalistic ideas, as norms alien and in fundamental contradiction to Russia’s Eurasian identity. With such a vision, classical Eurasianism was – as argued in papers by, among others, Leonid Luks, Stefan Wiederkehr or Martin Beisswenger – partially similar to the German “conservative revolution” that emerged parallelly, during the same period, in the Weimar Republic (1918-1933).
Although Dugin’s “neo-Eurasianism,” like classical Eurasianism, is radically anti-Western and claims the status of a new geopolitical paradigm, its academic clout is far more modest. Dugin often simply copies, freely paraphrases and boldly mingles ideas of various anti-liberal international philosophical currents. “Neo-Eurasianism” is, in many regards, a purposefully designed misnomer, and – in contrast to what its name suggests – not an adaptation of classical Eurasianism to the post-Soviet period, but rather a peculiarly post-Soviet and essentially European “new right” ideology of its own. Instead of elaborating and developing classically Eurasianist ideas, the Duginian outlook is the result of a compilation of various non-Russian anti-liberal theories and their purposeful “Russification” as well as with reference to classical Eurasianists – so as to construct a link to a reputed Russian native tradition. Most of Dugin’s rabidly anti-Western ideas are derived from Western rather than Russian philosophies and theories.
Among them are the Anglo-Saxon school of mystical (“heartland”) geopolitics of the late 19th and early 20th century, the mentioned German “conservative revolution” including its National Bolshevik permutations outside and within the NSDAP (e.g. the ideas of the Strasser brothers), British Satanism, the post-1968 French New Right, Italian neo-Fascism, the secretive international religious movement of Integral Traditionalism, as well as various conspiracy theories from some other radical intellectual and political movements.
Therefore, for readers of the historiography of Western intellectual anti-rationalism, ultra-nationalism and voluntarism, Dugin’s basic ideas may sound familiar. The main conflict of world history, according to “neo-Eurasianism,” consists in the confrontation between the collectivist and traditionalist Eurasian land powers or tellurocracies, on the one hand, and individualistic and liberal Atlantic maritime powers or thalassocracies, on the other. The centuries-old hidden war of their current leaders – Russia, on the one side, and the United States of America, on the other – is now entering its final battle or Endkampf (Dugin sometimes uses the German word without translation). The deep world-wide transformation involved in this epic confrontation implies both a domestic socio-cultural revolution in Russia, and global geopolitical revolution. The changing worldview of Dugin has been recently renamed by him as the “fourth political theory” – apparently, in order to distance his ideology from fascism which, in his enumeration, is the “third theory.”
In Dugin’s terms, the meaning of the concept of Eurasia is less clear than in classical Eurasianism, as, for instance, illustrated in Alexander Höllwerth’s massive 2007 German-language study Aleksandr Dugin’s Sacral Eurasian Empire. Dugin’s Eurasia can include a variety of territories outside the former tsarist and Soviet empires, such as central and continental western Europe. Dugin’s “Eurasia” may also include various Asian countries and, curiously, even more remote parts of the world outside the Euro-Asiatic landmass, if they only adhere to – in Dugin’s interpretation of these vague concepts – tellurocratic or integral-traditionalist values.
The various non-Russian Western and Eastern sources of “neo-Eurasianism,” as well as the flexibility of its geographic orientation and practical implications, are among the reasons why Dugin and his various organizations have been able to develop especially far-reaching international ties in Europe and Asia. In recent years, Dugin & Co. have actively participated not only in creating contacts between various radical nationalists in Western and East-Central Europe, on the one side, and Russia, on the other. As indicated in, among other investigations, Anton Shekhovtsov’s seminal 2017 monograph Russia and the Western Far Right, Dugin’s extensive networks in the West have also played a certain role in establishing links between representatives of the Putin regime (politicians, diplomats, propagandists, etc.) with far-right forces in the EU, United States, Turkey and other countries.
*Andreas Umland is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and editor of the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” published by ibidem Press in Stuttgart and distributed by Columbia University Press in New York. An earlier Russian version of this text appeared on the website Gefter.ru, and was followed by a Russian reply from the philosopher Mikhail Nemtsev titled “Aleksandr Dugin’s ‘Neo-Eurasinism’ and Eurasianism.”