During last month’s frantic scramble to find a mysteriously disappearing Vladimir Putin, many Russia-watchers were forced to face the reality that one day Putin himself will not be head of the Russian state. That day may not be soon, but according to Ryan Steele, we should all be thinking about what form of government could replace his.
With Russia’s economy weak, its foreign policy far-reaching and its politics unstable, one could easily see the same chaos that afflicted Yeltsin’s Russia ensuing after Putin is no longer in office. The difference between the 90’s and now is that there is now an intense nationalism bubbling not far from the surface, in large part embodied by the ‘Eurasianist’ philosopher Alexander Dugin. Dugin argues that the only true path for Russia – and eventually the world – is following what he calls the “Fourth Path” (Chetvortii Pyt’), an ideological position put forth in his book of the same name.
In the book he argues that there have been three political ideologies the world has followed: Fascism, Communism, and (neo-) Liberalism. His critique of these paths is by no means a weak one. His understanding of the obvious flaws of Fascism and the sad path of Soviet Communism are relatively standard fare; however, it is his critique of liberalism, and more specifically neo-liberalism, which catches ones attention. Specifically, he attacks the notion of the ‘end of history’ (he often calls it the end of ideology), advanced by Francis Fukuyama, which posits that liberal democracy and neo-liberal economics are the only game in town when it comes to governance. Dugin argues:
“It is clear Russia needs to take another path…but then there is a difficulty. To avoid the logic of post-modernity in one ‘individual country’ will not be easy. The Soviet model collapsed. After this the ideological system changed irreversibly, as did the strategic balance of power. In order for Russia to save itself and others it must foster any assistance possible. World history follows its own logic and the ‘end of ideology’ was not random, but the beginning of a new phase.
He then goes on to state the ideology which he believes can topple the currently hegemonic neo-liberal capitalist one, ‘Eurasianism.’ This ideology calls for the reassertion of a Slavic-Orthodox Russia, whose responsibility it is to provide a counter-hegemonic narrative of how the world should be arranged. It echoes the Tretti Rim (‘Third Rome’) narrative, which postulates that the Russian Orthodox Church is the only true Christianity because the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches have become too open to outside influences for the sake of their survival. Dugin goes on to postulate that when Russia exhibits this anti-(neo) liberal mode of governance the world will follow. What form this ‘Eurasianist’ alternative will take remains vague, but then again, this may be the point.
What is worrying about Dugin’s ‘Eurasianism’ is that it gives meaning to an angst that the Russian people currently feel. Their economy is suffering, and everywhere they look in the West they see what appear to be unfriendly faces with nefarious intentions. Aside from what any Western reader may feel about the conflict in Ukraine, many Russians feel that it is due to Western meddling in the affairs of the Former Soviet Union which created the current crisis in Ukraine. As a result, many sane, Western-minded Russians have become sympathetic to the resultant growth in nationalist sentimentality. They feel that no matter what they do they will never be considered European and therefore find some catharsis in the fact that it was never really an option for them in the first place. Dugin speaks to this reality by giving a reason why this may be the case.
The good news is that Putin is able to keep a lid on this nationalist sentiment boiling over, due to the fact that he is above all else a pragmatist who knows it is not in Russia’s interest to alienate her allies in the near abroad through openly acknowledging an ideational concept which insinuates their inferiority. However, the problem is that domestically, and especially in the media, the nationalism of people like Dugin is an all-too prominent means for the Russian people to channel their anger at the difficulties they are currently facing (soaring food prices, cuts to medical services, western sanctions, falling oil prices, the weak rouble, etc.).
With Putin’s system in place it is unlikely that anything which Dugin advocates for will be put into practice; however, should the system crumble one can see a situation developing whereby a large portion of the Russian population will be advocating for a new path, and, in a country where alternative narratives to ‘Putinism’ are rarely allowed to be heard by the masses, many may well advocate for a narrative which they have been allowed to hear something of in the media, and which presents their historic struggle as a noble one. In a time of crisis people turn to ideas with which they are (relatively) familiar and which speak to their insecurities; the ‘Fourth Path’ presented by Dugin is slowly beginning to fulfill both of these criteria. We should all hope for Russia’s sake that such a crisis does not present itself before alternative narratives can be established.
 Dugin, A.G. Chetvortii Pyt’: VVedenie V Chetvyortuyu Politicheskuyu Teoriyu. Moskva. Akademicheskii Proekt. P.40