By Mark Sedgwick
München–Berlin 2012 Anno Domini
Traditionalism in Russia followed two lines of development, one unusual (in international terms) under Dugin, and one more usual under Iurii Stefanov (1939–2001) and then Artur (Arsenii) Medvedev (1968–2009). This second line is a post-Soviet development, and so does not show the influence of Soviet occult dissident culture. The differences between the first and second lines, then, are instructive.
Stefanov discovered Guénon in the Library of Foreign Languages, (50) rather as Stepanov discovered him in the Lenin Library, but was a well-regarded translator of French literature, not a dissident, and not a member of a circle such as the Iuzhinskii Circle. Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Stefanov published a number of articles on Guénon in the journal Questions of Philosophy (Voprosy filosofii), a serious philosophical journal published by the Russian Academy of Sciences but with a somewhat wider readership than such journals normally have. A number of Russian intellectuals who read this journal became interested in Traditionalism, including Artur Medvedev, then a young history graduate from the Russian State Humanities University. After Stefanov’s death, Medvedev became Russia’s most prominent non-political Traditionalist, (51) as founder and editor of the journal Magic Mountain (Volshebnaia gora), which has published one or two issues each year since 1993, (52) each containing around 300 pages.
Magic Mountain acts as a focus for non-political Russian Traditionalism, following a pattern well established in the West, where Guénon’s own journal Études traditionnelles formed the initial focus for the development of Traditionalism, and where similar journals have been established in every country where Traditionalism has become established. (53) Like its Western equivalents, Magic Mountain contains translations of classic Traditionalist texts, translations of classic non-Traditionalist spiritual writers such as Mullah Sadra, new articles, and book reviews. Most of the new articles are by Russian or Russian- speaking Traditionalists, but Magic Mountain also translates articles by contemporary Western Traditionalists, linking Russian Traditionalism with that elsewhere. (54) Medvedev estimated that over the years he has published some 200 different authors. (55) Medvedev did not in general accept purely political articles, but did publish Golovin and some followers of Dugin and Dzhemal. (56)
The non-political Traditionalist circle around Magic Mountain also resembles Western models with regard to the type of person who contributes to it, though perhaps with a heavier than usual emphasis on poets and academics, probably as a result of the lower bar to entry for ideas into Russian intellectual life noted above. Like non-political Traditionalists in the West, many of Magic Mountain’s authors also publish books on various subjects which are not Traditionalist, but in which Traditionalist perspectives are reflected. (57)
Post-Soviet Russia, then, provides conditions in which Traditionalism can flourish in much the same way that it has flourished in the West. Where the Magic Mountain circle differs from Western models, however, is that it is not associated with a Sufi order or any other distinct spiritual community. In the West, such groups normally follow Guénon’s example in matching their intellectual interests with spiritual activity, most frequently in the form of a Sufi order, but sometimes also in the form of a Masonic lodge. This is not the case for either line of Russian Traditionalism, that associated with Magic Mountain or that associated with Dugin. Only very few Russian Traditionalists have converted to Islam over the years, and in general they have been drawn to Shi’ism rather than Sufism, largely as a result of the influence of Dugin’s associate from the Iuzhinskii Circle, Dzhemal, who is himself Shi’i. (58)
Both Dugin and Medvedev explain this difference between Russian and Western Traditionalism in terms of Russian Orthodoxy. According to Medvedev, Stefanov was interested in Kabbalah and Gnosticism, but always saw himself as an Orthodox Christian. Similarly, the spiritual consequences for Medvedev himself of his encounter with Guénon and Stefanov were that he began regular Orthodox Christian practice (at baptism he assumed the name Arsenii). (59) Dugin, too, follows Orthodox Christian practice, though as an Old Believer, of the Edinoverie. (60) He argues in Metaphysics of the Gospel that the Christianity that Guénon rejected was Western Catholicism. Guénon was right in rejecting Catholicism, Dugin argues, but wrong in rejecting Eastern Orthodoxy, of which he knew little. Orthodoxy, unlike Catholicism, had never lost its initiatic validity and so remains a valid tradition to which a Traditionalist may turn. (61)
This emphasis on Russian Orthodoxy is the one way in which both lines of Russian Traditionalism differ from Western norms, and the explanation seems to be Russian (rather than Soviet). This is suggested partly by the fact that it is common to Dugin’s Soviet-era Traditionalism and to Magic Mountain’s post-Soviet Traditionalism, and partly by parallels outside Russia. Traditionalist Sufism is also unknown in Turkey, where its absence is explained by the abundance of pre-existing non-Traditionalist Sufi orders, (62) and in Iran, where Sufism has a different history, and where the absence of Traditionalist Sufism (63) is explained by the abundance of pre-existing alternative expressions of Islamic esotericism. (64) In the West, pre-existing Catholic alternatives have attracted only a tiny handful of Traditionalists, and pre-existing Protestant alternatives have attracted none. There have been a number of Traditionalists in the West who have turned to Christianity rather than Sufism, but in its Russian or Greek Orthodox forms. One of these, the French writer Jean Biès (b. 1933), has made much the same arguments as Dugin, and was evidently a source for the first version of Dugin’s The Metaphysics of the Gospel. (65) The implication seems to be, then, that Western Traditionalists create Traditionalist Sufi orders because they cannot find a pre-existing religious practice that satisfies them, but that when a satisfactory esoteric religious practice does already exist—in Turkey, Iran, and evidently also in Russia—this need does not arise. The substitution of Russian Orthodoxy for Sufism, then, reflects Russian conditions.
Dugin’s Eurasianism as a post-Soviet phenomenon
Traditionalism, then, is of Western origin, but its unusual emphasis on Russian Orthodoxy is of Russian origin. The Magic Mountain circle is of post-Soviet origin, and in other respects close to Western Traditionalist norms. Dugin’s Traditionalism, in contrast, differs from those norms, and reflects the characteristically late-Soviet circumstances of the Iuzhinskii Circle.
The distance between Dugin’s Traditionalism and Western norms were justified by Dugin in his 2002 Filosofiia traditsionalizma. In the first chapter of this book, Dugin argues that what Guénon really developed was a form of language, a “meta-language”—in fact, though Dugin does not use the word, a sort of dialectic. Guénon’s distinction between modernity and tradition is, Dugin argues, as fundamental as Marx’s distinction between labor and capital, but “even more fundamental, even more radical.” Guénon’s dialectic has to be used, however, not merely repeated, and Dugin is highly critical of Western Traditionalists for simply repeating Guénon with “very small deviations,” which he sees as “a kind of intellectual hobby” like stamp-collecting, or a form of sadomasochism. (66) Dugin’s style, incidentally, sometimes shows something of the “literary shock tactics” found in Mamleev’s work, which Rovner ascribes to Gurdjieff. (67)
Dugin argues instead for what he calls “Post-Guénonianism,” the application of Guénon’s dialectic to changing and developing circumstances, which is necessary since “the modern world is degrading. As a set of anomalies, it is going from bad to worse.” This application allows, for example, the realization that “Soviet or Chinese communism contains more elements of the language of Tradition (however paradoxical and contradictory in expression) than modern Protestant theology.” (68) Post-Guénonianism is, according to Dugin, essential:
All the events around us (the crash of the ruble, military conflict, a government’s resignation, new discoveries in archeology) are the struggle between two opposing camps. One pole: a tiny Post-Guénonian camp, almost non-existent, like a grain of sand in the desert. The other: a giant liberal camp, the language of modernity, which claims global supremacy. (69)
As a result:
Implementation of the Post-Guénonian program is the single main state, national, social and cultural challenge. We have only one author, who must be read: René Guénon. We have only one objective: to understand what he meant to do. His thinking is our way of thinking, his language is our language… Without this, any change of government, any disaster and any social changes (even if positive) are metaphysically zero, because without Post-Guénonianism there is no spirituality, no social justice, no life–nothing. (70)
The principle vehicle for the implementation of “the Post-Guénonian program” is his Eurasianism. Eurasianism was originally developed in Prague, Berlin, and Paris during the early 1920s by Russian emigré intellectuals, notably the geographer Petr Savitskii, the linguist Prince Nikolai Trubetskoi, and Nikolai Alekseev, a legal philosopher, (71) building on the nineteenth century Slavophiles and Pan-Slavists. The Slavophiles defined a Slavic identity by contrast with that of Europe, emphasizing the Slavs’ religion and social solidarity in contrast to the supposed dry rationality and moral decadence of Europe, drawing on Romantic critiques of early modernity. (72) The Eurasians of the 1920s extended their criticisms of Europe, and replaced the Slavs with Eurasia, defined as Russia and the peoples of the Eurasian steppe. (73) Dugin modified this definition of Eurasia in line with the work of two non-Russian interwar intellectuals, the British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder and the German geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer, which pitted a “Eurasian heartland” consisting of Germany and Russia against an Atlantic world comprising maritime nations predisposed toward free trade and democratic liberalism. (74)
Dugin’s Traditionalism, which had already embraced Russian Orthodoxy, fitted well with this Eurasian-Atlantic model. Eurasia, as defined by Mackinder and Haushofer, and led by Russia, could be identified with Tradition and the sacred, building on the original Slavophile conception of the Slavic identity. The Atlantic world, in contrast, could be identified with decline, modernity, and the absence of spirituality, building on the original Slavophile conception of an “other” characterized by dry rationality and moral decadence. The result of this combination was the geopolitical philosophy underlying Dugin’s 1997 Geopolitical Foundations, the book which—as has been noted—first drew public attention to him. The same geopolitical revision of Traditionalism forms the basic creed of the Eurasian Movement, which has been modified further to accommodate perspectives associated with the Western New Right, and especially with the French writer Alain de Benoist (b. 1943). (75)
One reason why Geopolitical Foundations and Dugin’s Eurasianism have enjoyed such success is that the definition of the opposing Atlantic and Eurasian blocs reflects well-established pre-Soviet Russian and, especially, Soviet models. The identification of America as the chief representative of modernity, and so as Russia’s chief adversary, is a comfortable continuation of Cold War realities. The Eurasian bloc is a continuation of the old Soviet Union and Waryeah,saw Pact, changed principally by Dugin’s inclusion of Iran and Turkey, a change in which Dugin follows a long-established trend, since Russian rulers from Catherine the Great to Stalin have seen these two countries as natural appendages to the Russian sphere.
Eurasianism provides, to those who want it, an ideological explanation of the continuation of a pattern of confrontation that has lost its original, Soviet-era ideological justification. It is also well adapted to post-Soviet conditions because of one feature it takes directly from Guénonian Traditionalism, the belief in the existence of a single original and perennial Ur-religion. This is an excellent basis for religious pluralism, and religious pluralism is urgently needed in post-Soviet Russia. One of the most popular forms of Russian nationalism has always been based in, or at least expressed in terms of, Orthodoxy. This, however, necessarily excludes Russia’s non-Orthodox inhabitants, and thus easily becomes a force towards fragmentation—the precise opposite of what most nationalists seek. Traditionalist perennialism, however, provides the solution. On the basis of a shared perennial truth, Dugin can easily include Muslims and Jews in his Eurasian Movement (as he does), and propose an Orthodox alliance with Muslim nations, whether former Soviet republics or neighboring states such as Iran and Turkey. The Eurasian approach to Jews is complex, welcoming “traditional” Jews while rejecting “cosmopolitan” ones, concerning whom established anti-Semitic discourse may be used.
This seems to be one reason for the adherence to the Eurasian Movement of Mufti Talgat Taj al-Din, the shaykh al-Islam of European Russia and Siberia, an office first established by Catherine the Great in 1789, and then re-established in 1942. Some of Taj al-Din’s views are close to perennialism, possibly for political reasons. He suggested in 1992, for example, that the Tartars’ pre-Islamic worship of Tengri (Tengriianstvo) should be regarded as an early form of monotheism, and was instrumental in the 1998 construction of a mosque adorned with stained-glass windows bearing the image of the cross and of the Star of David. (76) Other reasons for Taj al-Din’s participation in the Eurasian movement include the characterization of Salafism (what he calls “Satanic Wahhabism”) as modernist which Dugin shares with most other Traditionalists, and Dugin’s anti-Americanism, which Taj al-Din shares. He announced after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, that resistance to the Americans constituted jihad and was thus a religious duty. This caused some consternation in the Kremlin, which for a while boycotted him. (77)
A further feature of Dugin’s Eurasianism that may be a response to post- Soviet conditions is its apocalypticism. All Traditionalists are apocalyptic in some sense, since the decline that they see as producing modernity is irreversible and marks the start of a new cycle. Dugin’s work (if not his public media pronouncements), however, has an unusually strong emphasis on the apocalypse, from the title of his 1997 hit radio program “Finis Mundi,” to remarks made in conversation. (78) The reasons for this are not clear, but may well be related to Russia’s traumatic history since the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Dugin wrote in Geopolitical Foundations, these events “are difficult to understand unless interpreted as a sign of the times, announcing the proximity of the climax.” (79)
Dugin’s public positions, then, may seem unremarkable, but are informed by political positions that are more remarkable, and which themselves derive from central intellectual positions of Western origin, modified partly in accordance with Russian and post-Soviet conditions, but still bearing the stamp of Soviet occult dissident culture. Soviet occult dissident culture produced the hothouse atmosphere of the Iuzhinskii Circle within which the young Dugin read an unusually eclectic variety of occultist works of Western origin, including Guénon and Evola. The intellectual preparation of the members of that Circle made such authors more acceptable than they would have been in the West, and the highly problematic Soviet version of modernity may have made them especially appealing.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, with access to both a wider range of sources and a wider public, Dugin developed his Soviet-era Traditionalism into post-Guénonian Eurasianism, bringing in pre-Soviet Russian elements such as the Eurasianism of the 1920s emigration and Russian Orthodox practice. The result was then adjusted to post-Soviet conditions by the definition of Eurasian and Atlantic blocs that reproduced the battle lines of the Cold War.
Dugin is also a product of Soviet culture in one other way: the extent to which he attributes power to ideas. When I first met Dugin, he described Guénon to me as “an undiscovered Marx,” (80) borrowing (I later learned) from the French Traditionalist René Alleau. (81) Soviet Marxism embodied the power of the idea, if not in quite the way that had originally been intended. Dugin’s belief in the potential power of another idea, in the power of correct analysis, is not without parallel outside Russia, but is still redolent of Soviet culture.
50 Artur Medvedev, interview, Moscow, January 2006.
51 This article uses “non-political Traditionalist” in the sense in which I use “spiritual Traditionalist” in Against the Modern World.
52 Medvedev, interview. Where no other source is given, information on Medvedev and his group comes from Medvedev. This journal, named after Thomas Mann’s novel, was initially intended to be a literary and philosophical publication, a summit where intellectuals of various persuasions might meet, but from its second issue it became increasingly Traditionalist.
53 In 2010 there are similar journals in several languages, of which the most important are Con- naissance des religions and La Règle d’Abraham (in French), Sophia and Sacred Web (in Eng- lish, published in the United States and Canada, respectively), Symbolos and Revista de Estu- dios Tradicionales (in Spanish, published in Spain and Argentina, respectively), and Rivista di Studi Tradizionali (in Italian, 1961–2003).
54 Comments based on a review is issues 9 to 11 of Volshebnaia gora. The Western authors do not always know they are being translated (I myself did not at the time).
55 Medvedev, interview.
56 Dzhemal, for example, first published what is generally considered his most important spiritual work– Orientatsiia Sever (now available at kitezh.onego.ru/nord) – in Volshebnaia gora. These comments are based on a review of the tables of contents of several issues, and discus- sions with Medvedev about the various authors.
58 Ali Turgiev, interview, Moscow, January 2006.
59 Medvedev, interview.
60 Vladimir Karpiets, interview, Moscow, January 2006. Edinoverie, unlike most varieties of Old Belief, recognizes the authority of the Patriarch, and is in return recognized by the mainstream Orthodox church. Dugin’s political action may be inspired by Traditionalism, but it takes place within Russia, and is facilitated by good relations with the Church.
61 Dugin, Metafizika blagoi vesti (2000) chapter 22, arctogaia.org.ru/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=270.
62 Turkish informant, Istanbul, April 1999.
63 Apart from one very small branch of the Maryamiyya.
64 Shahram Pazuki, interview, Tehran, January 2001.
65 The original URL of Dugin’s “La Métaphysique de la bonne nouvelle” was web.redline.ru/~arctogai/bies.htm (accessed May 31, 1997).
66 Dugin, Filosofiia traditsionalizma, 43.
67 Rovner, “Gurdzhievskoe dvizhenie.”
68 Dugin, Filosofiia traditsionalizma, 46.
69 Ibid., 49–50.
70 Ibid, 50.
71 Marlène Laruelle, L’ideologie eurasiste russe, ou comment penser l’empire (Paris: L’Harmattan,
72 For the Slavophils and Pan-Slavists, Laruelle, L’ideologie eurasiste russe, 34–39.
73 Ibid., 39.
74 Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, 226.
75 Anton Shekhovtsov, “Aleksandr Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism: The New Right à la Russe,” Reli- gion Compass 3/4 (2009), 697–716.
76 Marlène Laruelle, “L’appartenance à l’Islam comme critère politique? La politisation des directions spirituelles et la constitution de partis musulmans en Russie, ” In: Islam et politique en ex-URSS (Russie d’Europe et Asie centrale) eds. Marlène Laruelle, S. Peyrouse (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005).
78 For example, in January 2006, Dugin commented on the common ground between him and American Neo-Conservatives, and I suggested that his views were hardly likely to encourage good relations with them or with America. Dugin’s response was “You forget that I am an apocalyptic.”
79 Dugin, Osnovy geopolitiki, 97, quoted in Marlène Laruelle, “Aleksandr Dugin: A Russian Version of the European Radical Right?” Woodrow Wilson Center Occasional Paper #294 (2006), 6.
80 Interview, Moscow, August 1999.
81 René Alleau, “De Marx á Guénon : d’une critique ‘principielle’ des sociétés modernes,” in René Guénon (Les dossiers H, vol. 3), eds. Pierre-Marie Sigaud, Jean Tourniac (Paris: L’Age d’homme, 1984), 192–202.