Ideologies: Swimming against the current

Understanding Alexander Dugin and Nalin de Silva as two ideologues challenging the West

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Dr. Alexander Dugin of Russia and Professor Nalin de Silva [ Photos: Special Arrangement]

In general, the dissolution of the USSR was marked as the triumph of liberal democracy over Communism by creating a rift in the ideological realm of the West. However, the euphoria erupted from the West, which was exaggerated as the end of history by Fukuyama was short-lived with the emergence of different narratives from the different corners of the earth. Especially, the ideologies appealing to civilizational romance replaced the vacuum created by Communism in the most fervent manner, which vehemently critiqued the pitfalls of the Western liberal discourse as a decadent machinery reflecting the demerits of crony capitalism. It was an interesting phenomenon that some of the intellectuals who hailed and nurtured themselves under the bliss of Communist ideology felt enthusiastic in seeking different approaches to confront the West.

The common feature which is palpably evident in tracing the ideological avenues between Alexander Dugin of Russia and Nalin de Silva in Sri Lanka is their initial encounters with Communism regardless of their later disinclination towards it. It may appear to be rather ironic in viewing both of their philosophical contributions to their own state apparatus. Silva has been largely hailed as the sage of current Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism which was used as the populist trumpet for the political victory of the ruling regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa in post-war Sri Lanka and Dugin is personified by the Western media as Putin’s Rasputin with his wider influence in creating Russia’s nostalgia for its imperial pre-Soviet past. The most vivid and consequential formulation of Dugin and Silva’s ideological narrative needs to be examined in the context of the socio-political unrest that pervaded their home spaces. Both Russia and Sri Lanka were swallowed by an unprecedented wave of discontent after both countries embraced the pure form of Western liberalism as the last resort at different junctures. A conspicuous step taken was the dismantling of all the traditional forms that existed in both countries as the hoorah for Liberalism that resulted in creating an ideological limbo and it was the moment both Dugin and Silva gave birth to the potency of their ideologies which were interwoven with the native culture in their respective countries.

Nalin de Silva took a rapid shift from his initial hobnobbing with Communism after authoring his seminal work “ MageLokaya” in the 1980’s, which remains to be his prime text questioning the Western perception in knowledge. In developing his theory on how the mind affects knowledge creation, Prof. Nalin de Silva applies his stance on the intrinsic relationship between the observer and the observation to the whole sensory world. In explaining this anomaly, Prof. Silva gives prominence to the cultural tradition that generates knowledge. The Indic and Buddhist traditions that prevailed in South Asia provided no ground for the construction of knowledge devoid of mind.  Contrary to the traditional Popperian manner of falsification, Silva admits the presence of mystical knowledge as the foundation of Sinhalese Buddhist knowledge, which is a stark reflection of how Dugin tries to bring Orthodox mysticism and other forms of occultism to his views on knowledge.

Also, it should be noted that his writings often critique the knowledge in the West as a hegemonic discourse which is confined to a set of intellectuals devoid of Non-European upbringing.  In Silva’s lexicon, this process is called “Greco-Jewish Christian” discourse, likewise, it has been reiterated by Dugin from a different term in his writings. His views posit Russia as a unique civilization, which is neither Western nor Eastern and his depiction of the West as modern-day Carthage, a decadent civilization echoing the need materialistic economic market approach relates to Nalin de Silva’s stark criticism of both Liberalism and Marxism which are endemic to the Western discourse. In making his criticism of the Western knowledge and sciences, Silva affirms the importance of creating a different knowledge system based on Sinhalese Buddhist ethos.

There is no doubt in denying any possible intellectual collaboration between these two ideologues living in two different geopolitical spaces, in a context both of them have carved their narratives on completely different premises. But, the commonality that links two them is rooted in their sheer reluctance to the Western ideology. Given their appealing nature, which tends to restore the nostalgia in their countries, both of these ideologues have become vocal advocates for nationalist politics in Russia and Sri Lanka. In particular, Putin’s legitimacy of his invasion of Ukraine has been frequently viewed as a gesture stemming from Dugin’s idea of a religiously tinged civilizational clash: Russia against Atlantism. In Putin’s view, bolstered by Dugin, a unified Ukraine without Russia is a pervasion of the spirituality of Ruskimir. In Sri Lanka, Nalin de Silva’s writings became stimulating rhetoric for the Rajapaksa administration in the post-civil war context in a situation where the government was lampooned by the West for alleged human rights violations.  Especially, the political emergence of Gotabaya Rajapaksa was imbued with Silva’s favourable views that elevated Gotabaya to a strong candidate who has the competency in confronting the Western influence on Sri Lanka.

All in all, making a short comparative analysis between Alexander Dugin and Nalin de Silva raises our concern on the new ideological front arising outside the West as a significant factor influencing the non-liberal discourse. When “Sinhalese Buddhist chinthanaya (ideology ) becomes Silva’s main instrument in his narratives, Dugin yearns for Russia’s Orthodoxy and these two elements have solidly altered and impacted the early 21st-century socio-political consciousness in both Russia and Sri Lanka, which further proves the futility of liberal mantra in the political praxis of both countries.

Punsara Amarasinghe

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe is a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. His co-edited book “Thirty Years Looking Back: The Rule of Law, Human Rights and State Building in the Post-Soviet Space was published in 2022 .

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