Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences



René Guénon 1925

Readers of this website and this column are likely to be familiar with the notion of Traditionalism. Indeed, the subject might be as interesting to readers as it is to me. Traditionalism, the metaphysical movement that is identified with the French-born writer and thinker René Guénon and his successors which was founded in the 1920s, is alive and well today.

Indeed, it was the focus of a two-day conference organized by Ismaili Muslims in Edmonton, Alberta, in September 2006, which brought together the world’s leading Traditionalists and Primordialists, led by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, including Huston Smith, William Chittick, Jean-Louis Michon, James S. Cutsinger, Harry Oldmeadow, and even the widow of Frithjof Schuon. The papers presented by these scholars and a dozen others offered insights into a number of aspects of Traditionalist thought. As a member of the audience, I listened carefully to the proceedings. There were no references to Gurdjieff; the single reference to Theosophy was one made in passing and disparaging. Innumerable Arab-language and Farsi-language theologians were mentioned, but nobody referred at all to Israeli metaphysicians.

Also conspicuous by their absence were any references to attempts to translate Traditionalist thought into social practice or political action. I do not recall any mention being made of the Italian fascist Baron Julius Evola who was a torchbearer in this regard. Nor do I recall anyone mentioning Alexander Dugin, the Russian writer and ideologue who is the creator and current leader of the Pan-Eurasian Movement.

Dugin, who was born into a military family in Russia in 1962, has been much influenced by Traditionalist thought. His name is now mentioned in the same breath as that of Vladimir Putin, though not in Edmonton. It is probably wrong to stretch this point, but it is probably true that Dugin has introduced to Putin and his entourage the ideas and ideals of Traditionalism and Pan-Eurasianism in the same way that Philip Sherrard has influenced Prince Charles, the Duke of Windsor. Now and then Dugin’s name crops up in newspaper and magazine articles about Russian politics. But for background information the reader is advised to turn to Mark Sedgwick’s comprehensive study Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2004) which offers the reader a chapter titled “Neo-Eurasianism in Russia.”

I want to take a casual look at Dugin and the Eurasian Movement from the vantagepoint of a monograph that came into my hands. It is an eighty-page work titled Eurasian Mission (Program Materials) and its subtitle reads “International Eurasian Movement.” It was published in English in Moscow in 2005. It is very clearly translated from the Russian language (and signs of this are the relative absence of definite and indefinite articles in the syntactically sound sentences). The author is none other than Alexander G. Dugin, who is identified as a Doctor of Political Sciences, leader of the International Eurasian movement, Chairman of the Eurasian Committee, and founder of the Russian School of Geopolitics.

Dugin is one busy fellow, and judging by the photograph of him that appears on the back cover of the monograph, he is an activist: a bearded guy, something of a firebrand. The bee in his bonnet is that there is the need for a new way to order the world, a way that thwarts the current New World Order of George Bush. The present “world order” is unipolar; Dugin wants a multipolar world. The interests and values of the West dominate and hence distort the interests and values of the East. Russia and Asia have borne the brunt of this.

The way to rectify this sad state is to set up a countervailing force: instead of accepting the concept of the one-world market, Dugin is working to divide the world into four “spheres of influence” so there will be at least four marketplaces instead of one big market. The European Union is one small step in the right direction. Dugin wants Russia to take a number of giant steps well beyond the EU toward the end of local sovereignties and the recognition of local autonomies.

The monograph includes a series of coloured maps that illustrate his thinking in regard to power blocs. His Mercator projection of the continents is divided vertically into four zones or spheres of influence which go North-South and which range from East to West in this fashion:

(1) Anglo-American Zone (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America excluding Greenland but including the United Kingdom and Australia and New Zealand);

(2) Euro-African Zone (Greenland with all of Western Europe plus the addition of the African continent);

(3) Pan-Eurasian Zone (Eastern Europe, Russia and the federated states, Caucasus, Central Asia, and India);

(4) Pacific Far East Zone (China, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, etc.).

The wholesale rejigging of alliances, trade zones, communal centres, and “great spaces” has been in the minds of Russian ideologues and geographers since about 1900. The idea came to be known as Eurasianism. But it was not until the mid-1980s that, under Dugin’s influence, it became known as Neo-Euasianism or Pan-Eurasianism. Dugin is almost single-handedly responsible for reviving the notion and renaming it. The motives behind this conceptual reorganization of spheres of influence along these lines – geo-social, geo-economic, geo-cultural, geo-political – are many. One of them is as simple as Russian patriotism. Another is the fear of the West.

Dugin lists among the “stages of development” the publication of the first Russian translation of René Guénon’s The Crisis of the Modern World with his own commentaries. (The work first appeared in French in 1927, first appeared in English in 1942, and has seldom been out of print in either language since then.) Dugin also lists as important the first appearance in 1993 of his own work, The Paths of the Absolute, “with the exposition of the foundations of the traditionalist philosophy.” Both works offer thorough-going critiques of the values of the West and strike many readers as being sympathetic to fascism if not to anti-Semitism.

A social or political movement may be highlighted by placing it alongside its opposite movement. Eurasianism’s twin sister is Atlantism. This is Dugin’s term for American-led globalism, globalization, or mondialism. Many of these ideas are explored in detail on Dugin’s English-language website Arctogaia, but here they will be expressed in a somewhat impressionistic fashion.

Eurasianism is opposed to Atlantism in the following ways:

* It is a criticism and a rejection of the values of the West, hand in hand with the search for a global alternative to globalism.

* It favours autonomy over sovereignty, the former being autochthonous and authentic, the latter political and economic.

* It sanctions the land over the sea, the land being the steepland and rootedness, the sea being cosmopolitanism and rootlessness.

* It approves the certainties of the past and the present instead of the present and vagaries of the future.

* It endeavours to assist in the formation of an elite of traditionalists rather than a clique of cosmopolitans.

* It promotes the creation of “demotias,” or dynamic units that permit the “participation of the people in its own destiny.”

* It elevates the thesis of “ideocracy,” with the implication of meaning taking precedence over material.

* It finds sustenance in the philosophy of Traditionalism (Guénon, Evola, Burkhardt, Corbin) versus “the idea of the radical decay of the ‘modern world.”

* It favours “the investigation of the origin of sacredness” (Eliade, Jung, Lévi-Strauss) rather than the privatization and misuse of resources.

* It ennobles “the search for the symbolic paradigms of the space-time matrix,” the idea being that a people should live where they belong.

* It implies a reassessment of the development of geopolitical ideas in the West (H.J. Mackinder of the Heartland Theory and geopolitician Karl Haushofer, etc.).

* It promotes the assimilation of the social criticism of the “New Left” into the “conservative right-wing interpretation,” an intriguing fusion which might account for the movement’s ability to mobilize the language of geopolitics.

* It encourages the development of “Third Way” economics, or the “autarchy of the great spaces.”

Dugin contrasts sovereignty with autonomy. The former is characteristic of the political economics of the farflung Western world; the latter is fundamental to the land-based communities of the evolving Eurasian ideal. Sovereignties are hobbled by legalities and mercantile realities. Autonomies are to be based on nationalities, ethnicities, theocracies, religions, cultural-historical communities, social-industrial efforts, economics, and language-based and communal interests.

This is hearty and heady stuff – which to my mind smacks of first-year junior college conversation – but it should be borne in mind that it is powered by a conception of the land of Russia and the soul of its people as a steepland that is more Asian than European in character, of a country that has lost its way, of continuing traditions that are being eroded by the upstart “civilization” of the West. I suspect that lurking behind the façade of Pan-Eurasianism to the old and familiar notion of the “Third Rome” – the understanding that, following in the wake of Rome itself and its successor Byzantium, Moscow is the third seat of the Holy Roman Empire.

Dugin does not mention it but there is a film that may be used to illustrate his thesis that there will be an apocalyptic encounter (perhaps nuclear in nature) between the principles of Eurasianism and those of Atlantism. Let me call this idea “Storm over Asia.” It is the belief that Russia will foment the World Revolution, specifically an uprising beginning in Asia and directed against the Western world. It is the apocalyptic extension of the notion of Pan-Eurasianism. Dugin describes the idea not as “Storm over Asia” but as “The East in Revolt.” He reasons that the notion is more mainstream than has hitherto been believed. He once noted, “It is the people who do not vote who hold my views and favour them.”

The theme finds vivid expression in a surprisingly nuanced feature-length film known in the West as Storm over Asia (black and white, silent, 1929) directed by V.I. Pudovkin based on the script of futurist writer Osip Brik who in turn based it on an unpublished novel. The action is set a decade earlier than the production and it features the Mongol herdsmen of Central Asia who are Buddhist and Shamanistic in background and belief. Their land is occupied, their resources are being plundered, and they are being badly exploited.

Bair, a Mongol peasant and fur-trapper, cheated once too often by the occupiers, becomes a renegade, then a Bolshevik partisan, then a captive of the occupying English army, and finally a “puppet king,” or so it seems, until “blood wins out.” A High Lama had presented Bair with an amulet which identifies its wearer as “heir to Genghis Khan.” The English generals convince him he has been ordained to serve as the Emperor of the Altai Mongols. Perhaps recalling the theme of John Buchan’s short story “The Lords of Orion,” Bair becomes his own man, which means his own superman, which means that he rises to become the leader of his own people – he “comes into his own,” as the expression goes – with an unanticipated and unsuspected passion in an unexpected and unpredicted direction. (The film is indeed nuanced: Bair had never read the message of the amulet.)

Pudovkin’s film, known in the West as Storm over Asia but in Russia as Heir to Genghis Khan, is strategically situated between two other movies that Pudovkin indicatively titled: Mother and The End of St. Petersburg. The theme of a grand uprising among the Mongols or the Muslims finds many literary and subliterary echoes, and one of these is the once-popular 1932 movie called The Mask of Fu Manchu based on Sax Rohmer’s novel of the same name. In the movie, Fah Loh See (played by Myrna Loy), who is Fu Manchu’s beautiful daughter, has a vision of the up-and-coming apocalypse which is surprisingly close to that proposed by Dugin. Here is the boast of Fah Loh See to her father’s arch-enemy, Sir Denis Nayland Smith:

“I have seen a vision, the prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Genghis Khan, masked in his plate of gold, bearing the scimitar that none but he could ever wield comes back to us. I’ve seen a vision of countless hordes swarming to recapture the world. I’ve seen them victorious. I’ve heard the shouts of the dead and the dying drowned by the victorious cries of our people. Genghis Khan comes back! Genghis Khan leads the East against the world!”

It may seem to be “a stretch” to step from René Guénon to Genghis Khan, but a series of small steps, each taken in stride, may suddenly be recognized to be an army’s advance from an illiberal philosophy to an apocalpyptic scenario.

John Robert Colombo, who reads the demanding works of René Guénon and collects the popular fiction of Sax Rohmer, the creator of the Oriental menace Dr. Fu Manchu, is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto. Colombo is a regular contributor to this website of reviews and commentaries on consciousness studies. His own website is



March 27, 2008 at 8:51 am

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