"There are not many instances in history which show great and powerful states creating alliances and organizations to limit their own strength."
That's what the famous theorist of U.S. geopolitics, Nicholas J. Spykman, once wrote. Today’s Republican Party may be an exception to the rule.
The Trumpist wing of the GOP and its alt-right fan base is dedicated to curbing the power of liberals on the world stage, sabotaging U.S. influence abroad in favor of international, radical right-wing alliances, with partners who are explicitly enamored of the Kremlin.
It's hardly surprising, then, that Alexander Dugin, a leading Russian fascist ideologue and nexus for far right activists all over Europe and the U.S., welcomes Trump as the harbinger of a new world order. It's more surprising, and worrying, that the Trump foreign policy pivot is beginning to resemble some of Dugin's unsavory theories.
Because the U.S. has traditionally worked diplomatically to re-enforce ties with elected governments in Europe, this subversive effort by the GOP appears to stake the U.S.’s global position on the continued rise of the radical right.
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A key example can be found in Germany, where Trump’s loose-cannon approach has rendered the U.S. an untrustworthy ally in the public eye, making Putin look reliable by comparison.
When the U.S. ambassador to Germany effectively told Breitbart that he favored the resurgent "anti-establishment" populists – a hat-tip to the far-right party, Alternative for Germany - over the elected government, the news only further confirmed that the Trump Administration is more interested in undermining the U.S.’s own allies and liberal democracy, than it is in building credibility and solidarity.
The question then arises: Are America's post-war allies still the allies of the Trumpist GOP, and vice versa?
The GOP’s new diplomacy bases international alliances on ideological allegiances over diplomatic commitments and strategic interests. When nationalism is raised to the level of state ideology, like attracts like, and different authoritarian nationalist parties buoy each other up to achieve a particular balance of power.
A hint at the return of this form of sovereignty can be drawn from the names and places of far-right organizing. There is Paul Manafort’s "Hapsburg Group" and the 2014 Vienna Conference of oligarchs, aristocrats, and far-right politicians on the anniversary of Metternich’s 1814 Congress of Vienna. And then there is the bizarre and repeated identification of French President Emmanuel Macron with Napoleon, a much-loathed figure in the historiography of the Central and Eastern European far-right.
The set of "anti-establishment" far-right forces currently riding populism into power cares little for "the people" and much for the trappings of Empire.
What is most striking about these moves by the Trump wing of the Republican Party is its obvious shift in geopolitical doctrine. On the most fundamental levels, the U.S. is now subdivided utterly into two competing groups with two entirely different geopolitical aims.
In one camp, the Trumpist GOP exhibits strong isolationist tendencies, positing an "America First!" exuberant nationalism. In the other, the Democratic Party seeks and has sought, with mixed results, to contain the rise of Russian influence in Europe and Eurasia.
These two different strategic interests diverge so greatly as to represent two irreconcilable worldviews with totally contradictory sets of values and ideals.
Though isolationist, the Republican Party is also expansionist, at least ideologically, as it seeks to weaken its liberal opponents worldwide and to cultivate stronger ties with opposition populist far-right parties that are openly affiliated with the Russian Federation. Needless to say, this is a pivot for which the Kremlin devoutly wishes and a network it both openly and quietly facilitates and funds.
The explicitly geopolitical ideology underlying this right-wing alliance, which engages particularly the Austrian Freedom Party and the League in Italy, as well as Iran and Syria, is what's known as "neo-Eurasianism."
This so-called "philosophy," promoted by the likes of occult fascist Aleksandr Dugin, aims at developing a "traditionalist" federation of ethnostates throughout Eurasia, with Moscow as a kind of de facto imperial center.
It's no coincidence Dugin openly celebrated Trump's win in the U.S. elections: according to a YouTube video he produced in the president's honor, his victory stopped the expansion of globalism "at its very center." It inaugurated a newly multipolar world, an idea for which Vladimir Putin has "been the vanguard," in which America will be a "powerful and important [pole] but not the only one, and more importantly, one that has no claims to being exceptional."
Dugin’s principle work, Foundations of Geopolitics, is not available in English translation, but those able to read the Russian text will find, masquerading behind bromides of anti-racism, a fully-fledged Aryan mythos, complete with esoteric legends of Hyperboria (the legendary Arctic site of the origins of humanity and its giant "Hyperborian" root-race), as well as the essential superiority of "the people of the North." The Iranian connection is built on a supposed mythic connection between Persian and Russian ethnicities via a shared spiritual Aryan ancestry.
The neo-Eurasian worldview claims to support a multipolar federation of authoritarian traditionalists is deeply racially charged. It appeals to the racist nationalists, hardline Russian Orthodox clerics, reactionary Catholics, and far-right evangelicals that constitute the core of the global far right wing.
It's no surprise that Dugin has become an object of pilgrimage for members of both the alt-right and far left, having recently entertained far right YouTube 'celebrities' Lauren Southern and Brittany Pettibone, with whom he spoke on a panel in Moscow.
He the go-to guru for a long list of alt-right figures: Alex Jones of Infowars interviews him together with Mike Cernovich; Jack Posobiec exults that Dugin is his summer reading; Nina Kouprianova, wife of alt-right leader Richard Spencer, says "Dugin is one of the greatest minds of our time." Not to be left out, Dugin has repaid Richard Spencer's own high regard by tweeting approvingly an article by Spencer which functions as an alt-right catechism.
The Democratic Party seeks to contain the Kremlin’s expansionist "Greater Russia" that, having taken over Crimea, increasingly envisions Ukraine as part of its "heartland." Needless to say, Trump's recent pronouncement backed the Kremlin, and countered those challenging Russia's new imperialism: "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."
Part of Russia’s strategy relies on a theory of what the 20th century "father of geopolitics" Halford Mackinder called the "world island," an imagined collective territory ranging from the Cape to Kamchatka to Lisbon, to which the Eurasian "heartland" provides the key. "Whoever rules the Heartland will rule the World Island," Mackinder declared, urging the Atlantic powers to prevent a dangerous alliance between Germany and Russia.
One of the many geographers compelled by Mackinder’s arguments was Karl Haushofer, a German nationalist who seized the notion of a Eurasian force, added the notion of lebensraum, and provided the key influence for Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, from which came the Nazi Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East) and the Holocaust.
Dugin’s neo-Eurasianism recalls the precursors and originators of Nazi geopolitical theory. But in his hands it has become an anti-modern, imperial federation of Kremlin-backed ethno-states.
For Dugin and other fascists inspired by "National Bolshevism," Hitler would have succeeded in building the Third Reich if only he had been able to build a national-socialist bloc with the Soviets, instead of invading.
The question confronting geopolitics today, then, is not only that of alliances between Germany and Russia, but of the alliance between German and Russian nationalists against the North Atlantic powers. That is a meeting of minds that the Trump administration’s pivot toward Europe's populists, including the Alternative for Germany, is clearly facilitating.
It is important to emphasize that the necessary outcome of alliances between countries is never wholly predetermined by their relationship to the local ecology and landscape. But geopolitics matter. When nationalist forces build a geopolitical alliance - similar to an axis of far-right powers -pitted against the liberal ideas bequeathed by the American and French revolutions, we know where that leads.
What appears today to conservatives as the brio of a nationalist wave manifests itself tomorrow in targeted violence, pogroms and expansionism. When nationalist states expand into one another’s territory, massive and avoidable wars erupt. Those who suffer are the workers and their families - "the people" whom populists claim to represent.
If the Trumpist Republican strategy was to subvert the liberal world order, that would be one thing. But that subversion masks a determination to fuel a wider reactionary surge, one that threatens to undermine basic principles of self-determination, freedom, and equality.
So we should take their tactics of illiberal subversion seriously. But we should be more worried that this kind of populism is masking the formation of a deeply authoritarian empire-building that already led to the twentieth century's world wars.
Alexander Reid Ross is a Lecturer in Geography at Portland State University. He is the author of Against the Fascist Creep (AK Press, 2017). Twitter: @areidross