The Fourth Political Theory and Structural Anthropology

I ended my post  Renaming the New Right?  by noting that the new term introduced by Alexander Dugin in the title of the first of his books published in English translation, The Fourth Political Theory (2012), in combination with certain formulations signaling a new kind of “openness” in comparison with the positions of the New Right, made a rapprochement seem possible between Dugin and Alain de Benoist, collaborating in the development of the Fourth Political Theory, on the one hand, and on the other the kinds of positions and traditions I have tried to point to as necessary to uphold and defend, in their political application tentatively under the name of a European post-paleoconservatism.

That, I suggested, would mark a decisive, historic shift. For, as I said, “[w]e certainly need a fourth political theory, but we also need this theory to go beyond the New Right. The new name should signal a new philosophy, or a philosophy in some important respects different from that of the New Right. I will come back to the question of the extent to which Dugin’s book bears out as reasonable the hopes for such a development.”

Now returning to Dugin’s book, I would like to begin, before proceeding to discuss that which I would like to support as the positive and valuable contributions of the Fourth Political Theory as this far formulated, by simply pointing out briefly what I still find problematic and untenable in the new project under the new name. I mentioned in the earlier post that Dugin described the theory as a collaborative project, a kind of open work-in-progress, and that he invited us to a dialogue about it and its further development. This was a nice and attractive way of presenting and introducing the new theory, and the most direct expression of what I discerned as the new openness. The criticism I will here set forth – in broadest outline only, since I can refer to several of my other publications for analyses of the kind that may be needed for a fuller understanding of it – is intended as a contribution to that dialogue. It is intended as constructive criticism that can hopefully be taken into account by the other participants in the dialogue.

From my perspective, the most obvious weakness in the Fourth Political Theory as it presently exists, i.e., as tentatively formulated in Dugin’s book, is the wholesale affirmation of structural or structuralist anthropology, implying a total relativism with regard to human civilizations and therefore also of values. “As one of its essential features”, Dugin writes,

“the Fourth Political Theory rejects all forms and varieties of…the normative hierarchisation of societies based on ethnic, religious, social, technological, economic, or cultural grounds. Societies can be compared, but we cannot state that any of them is objectively better than the others. Such an assessment is always subjective…This type of an attempt is unscientific and inhumane. The differences between societies in any sense can, in no shape or form, imply the superiority of one over the other. This is a central axiom of the Fourth Political Theory.” (p. 46; cf. 44-5, 62-4, 90-1, 100, 108-9, 120, 195.)

To reject this position in no way implies that the question of the comparison and evaluation of different cultures or civilizations is a simple one. Nor is the rejection made from any simplistic assumption that Western civilization (or in this context I should perhaps say Western European and American) civilization, not even as extended beyond and before modernity and its material achievements and claims of progress (what Dugin calls the “monotonic processes”), is obviously superior to all others. Nor is it even a matter of insisting on the need for a “normative hierarchisation” in definite practical, political respects in cases where one society might in fact come to be accepted as “objectively better” in some respects.

Quite the contrary. There are of course many criteria that need to be applied, and to many areas and dimensions of society and culture. The outcome will vary between the different fields enumerated by Dugin, and most obviously if we include spiritual life, practice, and achievement under the categories of culture and religion (and in the traditionalist sense with which Dugin is thoroughly familiar). These areas also need to be weighed against each other, and seen in a broad, historical perspective, in order for a general evaluation of the respective cultures or societies to be possible. “Normative hierarchisation” has certainly often been unscientific and inhumane, and not just when undertaken by members of Western societies.

The whole complex issue cannot even be safely approached without a solid grounding in an adequate philosophy of values and a philosophy capable of understanding the process of the kind of “totalizing” thought, in a certain sense, that can gradually and dialectically reach a perspective from which judgements about this kind of thing can reasonably be made, even though the position reached cannot be absolute. I claim the philosophy of value-centered historicism, as both being in some respects supplemented and modified by and in other respects itself supplementing and modifying idealism and personalism as I have suggested they be understood, at least begins to provide such a philosophy, the theoretical resources needed for doing justice to the plurality and particularities of cultures, traditions, and values, while at the same time transcending relativism and indeed precisely because of this appreciation of the manifold of human culture and experience being able to begin to affirm a true objectivity, a real universality concretely and more deeply apprehended.

It is certainly historically and, as it were, psychologically understandable that de Benoist and Dugin react against the not just premature but mistaken rationalist and ideological pseudo-universalist claims of Western modernity, liberalism, radicalism, globalism in its dominant form, etc. This reaction is what, from the beginning, explained the New Right’s partial endorsement also of the broader currents of poststructuralism and what came somewhat sweepingly to be summarized as postmodernism.

Yet this endoresment went much too far. The New Right came to join the impossible project of deconstructing not only the modern forms – and excesses – of rationalism, but reason as such, including the higher reason of pre-modernity as well as idealism broadly conceived and of course as affirmed in the proper context of will and imagination as alone making possible a true understanding of human nature. Along with this, what is deconstructed is of course also the moral law, natural law in the sense I have suggested it must be upheld and defended. The relativism of structural anthropology and subsequent theoretical developments is quite as untenable as the rationalism and ideological abstractions against which the New Right and the Fourth Political Theory mobilize them.

The absence of analysis and criticism of the whole modern current of thought and cultural sensibility in which Lévi-Strauss is firmly established, indeed of what in some respects at least must clearly have been his intentions, reveals as clearly as ever that the New Right, and now the Fourth Political Theory, belong squarely in this current too. The abstract theorizing of structuralism cannot disguise its irrationalist nature and purposes in Lévi-Strauss’s case and many others’ too. Assimilating structural anthropology, the Fourth Political Theory risks in this respect, and in combination with other elements similar in substance, to be dismissed as just another lower romantic, Dionysiac intellectual extravaganza, utterly incongruous not least with the Guénonian traditionalist elements which Dugin in particular seems to wish to retain.

That “[t]he differences between societies in any sense can, in no shape or form, imply the superiority of one over the other” is a truly extreme, and extremely untrue, position. As this far developed, the Fourth Political Theory unfortunately still builds on – and indeed elevates, as further exaggerated, to a “central axiom” – the weakest teaching of the New Right. A viable Fourth Political Theory must, I submit, stand on firmer philosophical ground than that.

1 Response to “The Fourth Political Theory and Structural Anthropology”

  1. 1 Anonym May 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Utan att vara särskilt beläst om den s.k. nya högern så kan jag säga att dessa tänkare har satt fokus på en viktig svaghet hos liberalismen. Denna svaghet hos liberalismen är att då ideologin går från att vara en ideologi bland andra ideologier till att bli en överideologi får denna i grunden frihetliga ideologi ibland närmast totalitära tendenser. Det jag tänker på där är främst att det finns en tendens att avkräva också icke-statliga organisationer att de ska genomsyras av liberala principer.

    Ett mycket tydligt exempel på detta är när den liberala överideologin smyger sig in i religiösa sammanhang eller i sällskapssammanhang. Det är enligt min mening fel att exempelvis kräva att könssegregerande klubbar (herrklubbar är ju vanligt förekommande) ska ge tillträde till kvinnor eller att alla religiösa sammanslutningar ska likabehandla människor genom att tvinga dem att viga samkönade par. Detta är exempel på där liberalismens egalitära principer överförs från sitt ursprungliga sammanhang – statens förhållande till medborgarna – till ett helt annat sammanhang.

    Libertarianismen, eller om man så vill den klassiska liberalismen, hade aldrig anspråk på att de principer de hävdade skulle råda i förhållandet mellan stat och medborgare också skulle prägla privata klubbar, religiösa samfund eller privata företag. Lika självklart som det är att ett privatägt bolag (typiskt sett) inte styrs av en demokratiskt vald styrelse lika självlart borde det vara att en religiös sammanslutning får behandla sina medlemmar enligt andra principer än de som gäller för relationen stat-medborgare i ett liberalt samhälle. Ett religiöst samfund styrs typiskt sett av sina religiösa urkunders principer och inte efter liberala principer och så måste det få förbli. Det är alltså när liberalismen lämnar sin ursprungliga sfär och krav ställs på att varje organisation, särskilt civilsamhällets organisationer, ska präglas av samma principer om likabehandling som gäller för staten och myndighetsväsendet som den liberala ideologin blir totalitär. Det blir då frågan om en ideologi som inte tål närvaron av några andra utgångspunker och principer än de egna och klankar ned på allt som inte är liberalt.

    Däremot delar jag din uppfattning om att alla kulturer inte är lika bra då detta blir en form av nihilism där den mest primitiva stamkultur ska anses vara lika god som en högkultur. Det vore helt fel att inta en sådan ståndpunkt då, för att ta ett trivialt exempel, en fredlig kultur präglad av läskunnighet som alstrar litteratur objektivt sett borde kunna ställas högre än en våldsgenomsyrad kultur utan skriftspråk och till och med muntlig berättartradition. Kritiken mot liberalismen är dock nyttig då den får en att tänka till och ifrågasätta vissa antaganden man gör om vad som gott och ont, fel och rätt. Att avvisa den klassiska liberalismens syn på hur en stat ska behandla sina medborgare och hävda att alla olika inställningar som staten kan inta till sina medborgare är lika goda tror jag dock är tokigt. Där går den nya högern vilse i sin relativism.

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Jan Olof Bengtsson D.Phil. (Oxon.)


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