When Tucker met Dugin

His interview with the Russian ideologue conveniently overlooked his darker side.

Benjamin Teitelbaum

Topics Politics USA World

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Tucker Carlson published his interview with notorious Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin on Monday. The responses were predictable.

Outspoken opponents of Dugin, like Daily Beast journalist Allison Quinn, seemed outraged that Carlson had given a platform to the ‘Russian fascist philosopher’. Elsewhere, there were laudatory takes from off-centre Westerners like Sohrab Ahmari, who said that ‘Dugin’s critique of liberalism… is completely unobjectionable’. Such viewers seemed surprised to note that Dugin didn’t sound fully crazy.

Granted, the interview gave a skewed picture of Dugin and his thought. During his introduction, Carlson claimed that though he’s often dubbed ‘Putin’s brain’, ‘[Dugin] is not a political figure, he is… a philosopher’. But Dugin, whom I interviewed at length for my book, War for Eternity, is and has been many things. A musician, a teacher, a theatre producer and – indeed – a multifaceted political operative who has founded both political parties and extra-parliamentary political organisations. He has also functioned as a clandestine diplomat for Russia.

Carlson further claimed that Dugin’s ‘book’ ‘is not a manual for bomb-making or invading Ukraine’. Which single book he was referring to among Dugin’s dozens of published monographs isn’t clear. Let’s give Tucker the benefit of the doubt and assume it wasn’t one of the multiple books Dugin has published – like Putin vs Putin or Foundations of Geopolitics – in which he really does outline a rationale and strategy for Russia to subjugate former Soviet states while confronting the West.

No, instead of the Russian imperialist, the Dugin we met in this interview was someone who, on paper, would be more endearing to Carlson’s audience: the anti-liberal. During the short interview, Dugin summarised his criticism of liberalism, the fatal flaw of which is its alleged core of individualism. As he put it, ‘Liberalism is, in my reading… a kind of historical… cultural and political process of liberation of [the] individual from any kind of collective identity or [anything] that transcends the individual’. Liberation, that is, from the church, from the nation and eventually from your gender. It doesn’t even end there, according to Dugin. This process supposedly leads further, from transgenderism to transhumanism. Or as he put it, ‘now you in the West are choosing the sex you want, and the last step in this process of liberalism… will mean precisely that [being] human is optional. So that you can choose your individual identity to be human or not to be human.’

A key moment in the interview came when Carlson broke Dugin’s narrative, which, as I know from personal experience, is no easy feat. He pointed out that Dugin’s idea of liberalism did not match the American understanding of liberalism, which centres on emancipation from government tyranny.

Dugin responded by distinguishing a ‘classical liberalism’ of democracy – of freedom of the individual and the rule of majorities – from the ‘new liberalism’ which institutes a rule of minorities. A contrast between the good ‘classic’ liberalism and the bad ‘new’ liberalism? Well, I’m sure many of Carlson’s core viewers appreciated this, smugly assuming that their nostalgia for a lost liberalism had just won endorsement from an edgy dissident.

But this interview skirted over Dugin’s broader claim that the classical and the new liberalism are connected – that the latter is the fulfilment of the former. In a conceptual move likely to repulse virtually every side of our culture war, he implies that trans (regardless of suffix) is the child of Western democracy and capitalism. That it is merely a further stage in the insatiable, onward march of individual emancipation.

That point remains obscure in the interview, however, meaning that this dispatch from Tucker’s Trip to Moscow might escape the notoriety of the others – from his foolish visit to a Russian supermarket where he was astonished by the abundance on show, or his ill-fated interview with Putin that was supposed to pin responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine on NATO.

In contrast, this interview is poised to bring Dugin additional sympathisers who will find his claims novel enough, intelligent enough and – at the same time – familiar enough to merit a hearing. Yet as one surveys the positive reactions to the Dugin interview, it appears that he may be benefitting from something beyond Carlson’s selective characterisations of his career. Something beyond even the ambiguities and obscurities that dotted the interview.

Many celebrations implicitly responded not so much to the interview itself, but to a phantom narrative about Dugin that predated the interview; a genre of narrative we apply ever more frequently to those we deem political enemies. It is the proclamation that the enemy is going to be completely wrong in everything they say in all ways, at all times.

It’s an impossible standard for your enemy to uphold. And it inadvertently gifts them remarkable affective and rhetorical power. For whatever unremarkable insights, truth or virtue they voice will come as a shocking, transformative revelation.

Things don’t have to be this way. If there is something good to come from this particular interview, it should be an invitation to question whether we can base our politics on something other than seeing our opponents as having superhuman depravities, and whether virtue might sometimes be found in the small differences rather than ideological chasms.

Benjamin Teitelbaum is the author of War for Eternity: The Return of Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right.

Picture: Tucker Carlson / X.

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Topics Politics USA World


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