Alexander Dugin is a Russian philosopher and political analyst famously known for being, in the words of Foreign Affairs, “Putin’s brain.” A recent ThinkProgress report outlines the rise of Dugin and his alignment with the far-right in America, including white supremacists such as Richard Spencer, who have offered him a platform outside of Russia (as it happens, Spencer’s wife, Nina Kouprianova, has translated some of Dugin’s writing into English). As one might imagine given such affiliations, Dugin’s views on gender politics can be extreme. In one article, Dugin states that “liberal ideology seeks to destroy the idea of man and woman,” and he takes an almost eschatological view of gay rights, stating “Approval of gay marriage has given me to understand where Europe is. It will soon reach its final point, and then it will [be] chaos, civil war, destruction.”
As a political philosopher, Dugin came to the attention of many with his 2009 book, The Fourth Political Theory. So it’s worth looking at this foundational text to see what Dugin says about sex and gender when he is at his most expansive. Let’s briefly outline what Dugin means by the Fourth Political Theory. Dugin argues that the past hundred or so years have been characterized by three key ideologies. First is liberalism, which Dugin sees as being defined by the centrality of the individual. Second is communism, which was a response to liberalism and its bourgeois-capitalist system. Third is fascism, whether focused on the state under Mussolini or race under Hitler. Dugin sees liberalism as the last of these ideologies standing, with communism having withered on the vine and fascism flaming out early due to Hitler’s insane objectives. The Fourth Political Theory is what comes next: it is a resistance to postmodernity, the post-industrial society, liberalism, and globalization.
So what of sex and gender in the Fourth Political Theory? Dugin dedicates a whole chapter to the subject, outlining first his perception of how gender evolved through the first three political theories, and then how it will unfold in the fourth. In short, under liberalism, gender is occupied with “man” (given that women are not really given any personhood), and not just any man but “the rational, rich, adult White male.” Under communism, gender was considered a bourgeois political construction that needed to be critiqued. Under fascism we see again the urban, white, wealthy man but with added exaltation in the form of Aryan masculinity and women relegated to the home and motherhood.
Given what we know about Dugin’s far-right affiliations, it is tempting to imagine that his presentation of sex and gender in the Fourth Political Theory will take those of the previous three in more extreme directions. But this is not the case. Having given an overview of gender in the previous three political theories, the very first thing Dugin states is, “The Fourth Political Theory represents an aspiration to overcome the gender construction of the three political theories of modernity.” In other words, Dugin signals from the start that he does not wish to perpetuate traditional understandings of gender.
Dugin initially grapples with the attributes of gender in the Fourth Political Theory, first through the process of negation (in other words, what it is not): “In the face of this construction of ‘man’ as he who possesses reason, wealth, responsibility, city, white skin color, and so on, we revolt. This image of man must die; he doesn’t have a chance to survive, as he is closed inside modernity’s historical deadlock.” So, traditional masculinity is gone. Dugin then looks to positive attributes of gender in the Fourth Political Theory: to the “pre-logical” world of children, madness, intellectual transgression and, more generally, those who are “non-White/European, insane, nonurban or defined by a constructed landscape … the ecologist or aboriginal.”
It is in his discussion of the gendered subject of the Fourth Political Theory that Dugin starts to sound eerily like a queer theorist as he suggests it should be in a state of “between.” Dugin opts for the model of “Dasein,” referring to Heidegger’s understanding of existential being, which “can somehow be sexualized, but that sex which it has cannot be either male or female. It may make sense to speak about it in terms of the androgyne.” Even then Dugin does not want us to get stuck in the rut of thinking the androgyne is a combination of a binary sex or gender: “Should we say that the Fourth Political Theory may be addressed to the androgynous being, and its gender is the androgyne? Perhaps, but only if it is possible not to project onto the androgynous the obviously split models of sex as halves of a whole.” He wants us to think of the androgyne “not as a result of a combination of the man and the woman,” rather “primordial, untouched unity.”
Dugin’s presentation of sex and gender in the Fourth Political Theory bears a resemblance to a queer theory PhD dissertation from the late 1990s. So how do we get from someone who states “By going beyond the limits of gender which we know, we get to the domain of uncertainty, androgyny, and sex as practised by the angels” to someone who frames gay marriage as a sign of the end times? There are various possible explanations.
First, when writing The Fourth Political Theory Dugin strategically opted for language that could be interpreted in various ways, thus reeling in a potentially diverse readership. Second, Dugin’s worldview has genuinely become more extreme over the years. Third, Dugin has learned lessons from the alt-right and chosen to distil his message into clickbaity rage, even if it is not necessarily representative of his views.
And then there is a fourth explanation that is worth considering (with tongue firmly planted in cheek). Could it be that Dugin has been an undercover queer theorist all along and is playing a long game, positioning himself as an intellectual heavyweight on the far right in order to subvert it from within? If you think that is far-fetched, consider the following, as chronicled in Masha Gessen’s recent book, The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Dugin’s first wife was Evgeniya Debryanskaya, who he taught English by reading the suspiciously queer The Picture of Dorian Gray. They eventually broke up, after which Evgeniya Debryanskaya went on to become a prominent feminist and LGBT activist in Russia. This part is not in Gessen’s book: shortly before they parted ways, the young couple made a pact: “Sasha, darling. I will fight openly for the rights of women and gay people. Your task is far more difficult. You must pretend to be an ultra-nationalist until the time is right. Then we will reveal to them the joy of androgyny and sex as practised by the angels.” Stranger things have happened.