Dialogue with Ronald Beiner

Charlottesville "Unite the Right" Rally (wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
Charlottesville "Unite the Right" Rally (wikipedia CC BY 4.0)

Ronald Beiner, professor of political science at the University of Toronto and fellow of the Royal Society of Canada published Dangerous Minds in 2018.

How did Heidegger influenced the american philosophers Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt ? Did they influence the Alt right ?

Arendt was a pupil of Heidegger’s; Strauss wasn’t (though he attended some Heidegger seminars and lectures). Neither has anything to do with the contemporary far right. Both (especially Arendt) owe a very strong debt to Heidegger. Strauss had fascist sympathies up until 1933. But he wrote things in the 1940s that make crystal clear that he put all of that behind him. Arendt once claimed in a letter that Strauss was the intellectual product of Heidegger and Carl Schmitt. Maybe that was true in the 1920s, when Arendt knew him. But it’s a ludicrous characterization of mature Strauss, for whom Heidegger and Schmitt are glaring symptoms of the intellectual rot that results when one turns away from the wisdom of ancient philosophy. (Strauss’s view, not my view.)

Arendt herself is difficult to place politically, but overall, I would say that she belongs much more with the Left than with the Right in any sense. Her most significant political influence was in the 1960s, on account of her vigorous defense of ideas of participatory citizenship. Her masterwork, The Human Condition, is full of ideas drawn from Heidegger. Yet on what mattered most to her — the idea of a public world in which all citizens have a stake — she couldn’t be more far removed from Heidegger. Heidegger famously referred to “the publicness that obscures everything.” Arendt and Jurgen Habermas erected their whole political philosophies in direct opposition to that line in Being and Time.

Jacques Derrida’s concept of deconstruction based on Heidegger.’s concept of destructio, met an important audience in the USA. Do Americans make the connection between the two?
No one familiar with Derrida’s work can be unaware of his decisive debt to Heidegger. Heidegger’s star power in the US (i.e., in American academic circles) is totally bound up with the star power of Derrida. To put it very simply, Derrida’s view was that Western metaphysics gave us a set of binaries — true/false; good/bad/; just/unjust; free/unfree; beautiful/ugly; and so on — and the job of Derridean philosophy is to deconstruct those binaries. Supposedly, that’s a “progressive” project. The core idea — drawn directly from Heidegger — is that Western metaphysics is oppressive, and deconstructing Western metaphysics liberates us. This whole way of thinking seems to me thoroughly misguided and very unfortunate indeed. As Aristotle pointed out many centuries ago, all human beings cannot help being powerfully committed to notions of what’s true and what isn’t; what’s just and what isn’t; what’s morally and politically valid and what isn’t; and so on. That applies to Nietzsche and Heidegger; it applies to you and me; and it applies no less to contemporary exponents of the far right. The human project is to try to clarify what *is* true, what *is* just, what *is* beautiful, etc. Trying to deconstruct these binaries isn’t helpful.

Derrida was a genius and a person of enormous learning (I attended two lecture courses he gave in the 1980s at the University of Toronto), just as Heidegger was. But geniuses can have bad ideas, and those bad ideas can have pernicious effects.

What do you think of Julia Hahn, Trump’s personal assistant and specialist of psychoanalyst Leo Bersani, who tried to interconnect Foucault with Lacan, both influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger ?

Julia Hahn is not an intellectual. She’s 27 years old and a functionary in the Trump regime. She did philosophy at university and wrote a majors thesis on psychoanalysis. So what? Her route into the Trump administration was via Steve Bannon. I think the relevance of her undergraduate studies, such as they were, to her current position in the Trumpian universe is very tenuous indeed.

It’s surely a mistake to start looking for philosophers under every bed.
That’s not the purpose of my book! Nietzsche and Heidegger were towering thinkers, and had a cultural and intellectual influence of unique breadth. They influenced people far and wide, including people of vastly different cultural and political persuasions. I wrote the book because the fans of Nietzsche and Heidegger who are dominant in the academy assume that Nietzsche and Heidegger will help them advance cultural and political projects of the Left. That looks like a shaky assumption at a time when the far right, after a period of dormancy of 70 years or so, is making a notable comeback  — whether in forms associated with outright fascism or in populist “fascism-lite” versions. Nietzsche and Heidegger themselves were ferocious anti-liberals who despised egalitarianism and yearned for a renewal of hierarchy and elitism. It’s important to be aware of that at our current historical moment. Though it’s a simplification, I would say that it’s not crazy to say that National Socialism, for instance, was a kind of synthesis of Nietzsche’s idea of a race of supermen and Heidegger’s idea of the spiritual depth of the Volk. If these ideas had remained in the trash bin of history, left-Nietzscheanism and left-Heideggerianism wouldn’t be much of a concern. But if the far right is rising (as seems to be the case), and is appropriating things from these thinkers that help its cause, it’s relevant to know that Nietzsche and Heidegger would have been appalled by the appropriation of their
philosophies by the Left.

Look: philosophy is philosophy and ideology is ideology. But ideologues have always sought to dress up their ideologies with intellectual/philosophical legitimization. The Jacobins claimed Rousseau; Stalin claimed Marx. And Hitler claimed Nietzsche as the guiding philosopher of *his* regime. Nietzsche wouldn’t necessarily have been happy with that. But Heidegger, we know, was an ardent Nazi in the 1930s.

He wore a Nazi uniform; he gave Heil Hitler salutes; and he celebrated Hitler in his seminars and lectures. He lost some of that enthusiasm in the 1940s. Yet what drew him to National Socialism never disappeared from his thinking, as we know from the famous Der Spiegel interview (1966). However, I would never claim that what these thinkers contribute philosophically is exhausted by how they bear upon this or that ideology.

Diego Fusaro, the M5S adviser of Matteo Salvini in Italy tries to build a tricky junction between Gramsci, Marx, Gentile and Heidegger. What do you think of Heideggerian philosophers in Italy these days as Giorgio Agmaben or Gianni Vattimo?
I’m not competent to answer this question. But my assumption is that nothing good will come out of any influence of Heideggerianism (including left-Heideggerianism) on the state of contemporary Italian politics.

Bernard Henri Levy thinks Iran changed its name from Persia because of its aryan roots. Do you think heideggarian philosophers influenced the islamic revolution in 1979?
I very much doubt that Heidegger or Heideggerianism had any influence on the Iranian Revolution of 1979. But it *may* have some influence on the current lunatic far-right project to pursue a de-Islamicized Persia: see my answer to the next question.

Who are among the American Alt right leaders, the most dangerous philosophers from your point of view, and could you mention their most dangerous books ?
These people (at least in the United States) tend not to write books; they disseminate their ideology via blogs and podcasts. But there are exceptions. Greg Johnson, editor of the white-nationalist site, Counter-Currents, has written and self-published a bunch of books. My impression is that they are focused on promoting his ideology, not on philosophical exploration — though he has a serious philosophical training, and is not to be underestimated intellectually. My guess is that
his political extremism has more to do with his biography than with his background as a student of philosophy.

Generally speaking, the North American far right takes its cue from French thinkers like Alain de Benoist and the Russian ideologue, Alexander Dugin.

In the US, the alt-right figure with the highest philosophical pretensions is Jason Jorjani who, like Greg Johnson, has a PhD in philosophy. Jorjani was editor-in-chief of the far-right press, Arktos. Then, after Trump was elected, and the far right convinced itself that The Revolution had commenced, Jorjani and Daniel Friberg (CEO of Arktos) and Richard Spencer formed a pan-far-right organization called the AltRight Corporation or However, Jorjani broke with both the Alt-Right Corporation and Arktos after Charlottesville. He said that contrary to his (clearly deranged) hopes for this project, Spencer had turned it into “a magnet for white trash”. That was clearly an accurate characterization.

Jorjani has lots of nutty ideas. Perhaps the most nutty is the idea of restoring the (pre-Islamic) Persian Empire. To measure the hubris,
consider that virtually the whole of Iran’s population of 80 million is Islamic, whereas Zoroastrians (which Jorjani himself claims to be) number not much more than 25,000. Dugin, too, yearns for an empire, but in his case the centre of the yearned-for empire will be Moscow, not Persepolis.

This underlines an important point: these ideologues are not conservatives in any recognizable sense. They are messianic revolutionaries, and anything that turns the existing dispensation upside down is attractive to them. That’s why they align themselves intellectually with what Armin Mohler dubbed “the Conservative Revolution” of the 1920s, the most important product of which was Heidegger.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.