- Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Rightby Ronald Beiner
“Many of us are reeling today,” declares Ronald Beiner in Dangerous Minds. Populist political movements are sweeping Europe and the U.S., and they seem to go hand in hand with a resurgence of fascist ideologies thought long dead. Some of the theorists of these ideologies—Aleksandr Dugin and Julius Evola, for instance—claim to have been influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger. Beiner thinks this is no accident. Fascist appeals to Nietzsche and Heidegger may be an “ideological appropriation” of these figures, but it is one to which their work “quite readily lends itself.” Dangerous Minds asks what this fact implies for our views of Nietzsche and Heidegger. He argues that both are great [End Page 588] philosophers and that we should continue to read them—but “with our eyes fully open” to their dangerous sides.
Dangerous Minds consists of two chapters, bookended by a brief introduction and conclusion. The introduction sets the book’s agenda by surveying the pronouncements of ideologues such as Dugin and Richard Spencer. These ideologues criticize the “soullessness of modernity” and seem willing “to embrace any politics, however extreme, that [seems] to them to promise ‘spiritual renewal.’” The Nietzschean and Heideggerian echoes of their rhetoric do not surprise Beiner at all. Like the contemporary far right, he argues, Nietzsche and Heidegger are committed to a “the root-and-branch rejection of the way of life embodied in liberal, bourgeois, egalitarian societies.” Chapter 1, devoted to Nietzsche, fleshes out this claim by examining a handful of Nietzsche’s texts in order to highlight “the ultra-right dimensions of his thought.” As Beiner reads him, Nietzsche thinks the modern West is doomed by its “horizonlessness” and its stifling of a “tragic experience of life.” Beiner supports this reading with brief discussions of two essays from Untimely Meditations, as well as selections from Beyond Good and Evil, The Gay Science, and Ecce Homo. Nietzsche’s unsystematic style turns out to be part of the problem: “there’s so little content to Nietzsche’s conception of nobility,” for instance, that readers are left to determine for themselves what a more noble culture might look like. Chapter 1 concludes with a highly interesting discussion of Nietzsche’s influence on his “heirs,” Freud and Weber.
Chapter 2 turns to Heidegger, arguing that his critique of modernity is substantially the same as Nietzsche’s, though the solutions he proposes are different. Heidegger has a “political standard for judging the worth of different cultures”—namely, to ask to what extent they “measure up to the question of Being”—and this standard lies behind his involvement with Nazism and texts such as the rectoral address. In Beiner’s view, it is just not plausible to suggest that Heidegger was not a real Nazi. He may have rejected their “biologistic ideology,” but he “truly believed in the greatness of Hitler,” hoping that Nazism had “the cultural power to plumb the depths of the mystery of Being.” Beiner supports these claims with a brief reading of chapter 30 of Being and Time and a somewhat longer discussion of the “Letter on ‘Humanism.’” Chapter 2 also contains an interesting discussion of the “politically and strategically motivated doctoring of texts in Heidegger’s postwar period”—his inclusion, in the Gesamtausgabe versions of certain texts, of politically charged remarks excluded from the original editions. The book’s conclusion turns to the question of “How to Do Theory in Politically Treacherous Times.” We must recognize, Beiner argues, that “ferociously antiliberal views of life are still very much in play,” and think seriously about why so many of our fellow citizens find them attractive. We must also recognize that theorists such as Fukuyama and Habermas have concluded too hastily that liberal democracy is the only live option. Now that we know it is not, we may “anticipate a [End Page 589] renaissance of political philosophy,” as fundamental questions about the best society are reopened.
Dangerous Minds is a slim...