HOLLYWOOD—An unlikely, enigmatic president of a superpower makes an audacious move on the world stage. Paid-up intellectuals and under-fed scribblers alike rush to understand the madness. Surely, that’s what this is: the king is mad?
Away from Freud’s couch, a smaller cottage industry develops: someone else is pulling the strings. Our royal is an intellectual naïf, or simple gangster, or both, and in the background lurks The Brain. This narrative, too, over time becomes problematic, and our latter-day Machiavelli is cast out of paradise.
Despite all the ink spilled and research conducted, the true nature of the relationship between these men and the presidents they orbit—and even directly serve—is perhaps only known to the duo itself. It is an enigma. And that is the way they probably like it.
The partnership is as close as fanboys imagine, not as far and unimportant as their lefty, historical-structuralist critics conjecture. The entendre gives the political executive intellectual cover, and the orbiting mind relevance. It helps square the circle of right-wing leaders as simultaneously stupid and evil. It’s great copy.
As a bored, locked-down Putin has made the gamble of his life, executing on his long lust for regime change in Ukraine, those struggling to understand what is happening could do worse than read the Kremlin’s shadow philosopher.
“The military operation is directed against Atlanticism and globalism, against a unipolar world. It is a preventive operation—timely and logical,” Dugin apparently writes on a Telegram channel. “Russia is creating a really multipolar world right now.… After Hitler and Stalin were gone in the world, the Bushes, the Clintons and the Obamas took over their functions.… The unipolar world is liberal Nazism. Russia rebelled against this world order. And Ukraine, seduced by liberal-Nazism, alas, believed it and succumbed to the provocation. For this it is now paying the price.”
It is easy enough to dismiss this dispatch as the ranting of a Rasputin impersonator.
But then you realize who else talks like that. “We will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin told his people last week. Putin implored his citizens to “take power into your own hands” and rally against depravity, or “this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”
In a complaint perhaps less alien to a Western audience, Dugin has also written in recent days that the “Ukranians are not our foes” and that this is an “anti-Soros war.” He says that “modern Europe, represented by its Atlanticist liberal elites, behaves like Ukraine. Ukraine is the future of Europe in every sense. A liberal-Nazi regime is also being established in in Europe – LGBT +, clowns in power, cancel culture + radical bestial hatred of Russians.”
Bannon has met Dugin on at least one occasion, as unveiled by Benjamin Teitelbaum in his book, War for Eternity. As the chronicler detailed, the two hit it off, and have much in common. Importantly, they’ve both been officially excommunicated from the fold in the past—Bannon denounced by Trump after a year in office, and Dugin conspicuously fired from his university back in 2014, even as his purported president pal ruled Russia as an autocracy. One interpretation of history is that both men are overstating their own importance and it has been a long time since they had their patron’s ear. But it is hard to state that so conclusively, when their public pronouncements seem to anticipate what’s next on the world stage.
Much of the discourse this past week has speculated that Putin has fallen ill or gone insane. How could he undertake this war and damage the Russian economy? But perhaps arguably the world’s richest man was never much of a capitalist, at least not in the “globalist” sense, a system he so openly derides.
Bannon and Dugin are both nationalists, and if the world were to split into spheres, as Dugin likes, the one-time dinner mates would have to part company on the fault lines of what’s best for Washington, and what makes sense for Moscow. Or as Janan Ganesh noted in the Financial Times in January of Mike Pompeo, a politician Bannon has championed, “No secretary of state since the postwar order began was less invested in its institutions and norms. But that nationalism makes him less likely to accommodate Russian sensitivities than a more conventional diplomat would be in his place.” Indeed, Bannon has called for Biden’s impeachment over the Russian invasion.
Still, if nothing else, figures such as these two help capture the zeitgeist of chaotic moments that catch the establishment off guard, in America in 2016, and tragically, in Kharkov in 2022. Bannon once told historian Ronald Radosh at a Washington party that he’s a “Leninist,” after the Russian Bolshevik leader.
Like what is coming out of Dugin’s mouth these days, one doesn’t have to be fully sure of what he means by that to be persuaded it matters.