Issue 163, April 2021: Philosophy and the Far Right

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament (1834-5) Joseph Mallord William Turner Tate Collection, Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Guest editor: Matthew Sharpe (Deakin University)

The last decades, with the terrorism, refugee, financial and sovereign debt crises, have seen the widespread mainstreaming of far-right ideas, policies, and political movements led by Mr Trump’s “MAGA”.  We are witnessing the ongoing growth of an “Alt-” Rightwing virtual mediascape, reaching more and more people globally, in ways previous generations could scarcely have imagined. Ideas associated with the interwar fascist movements and radically anti-democratic “conservative revolution”, including ideas from leading philosophical thinkers from Nietzsche and Heidegger to Schmitt and Junger, are increasingly finding newly sympathetic readers, and influencing political agents, from Generation Identity in Europe, via the AfD in Germany, to neofascists like Aleksandr Dugin in Russia. This edition of Thesis Eleven examines the philosophical bases of far-right ideology, the radicality of these ideas, their penetration into rightwing media, and the psychosocial dimensions of this return of the antiliberal, antidemocratic Right in the new century.

Synopsis:

The articles collected here hail from two public events in November 2019. The first event specifically addressed philosophy and the Far-Right. The second, more interdisciplinary event looked at the global dimensions of the return of the Far-Right in the new millennium, bringing together historians, philosophers, critical theorists, criminologists, and political scientists. The opening two papers are the keynotes from those two events; the first, by Ron Beiner, outlines many of the claims of Beiner’s 2018 study Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger and the Return of the Far Right, with a focus on Nietzsche and his Alt-reception; the second, by Tamir Bar-On, author of Where Have All the Fascists Gone? (2007) and other leading studies on the French nouvelle droite, gives a close analysis of the ‘Charlottesville Manifesto’ issued by Richard Spencer, fatefully, at the time of the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally which would lead to the murder of one young anti-fascist protester.

Matthew Sharpe’s paper, which comes next, proposes a critical reading of Deleuze’s influential study Nietzsche and Philosophy in the age of Trump, drawing on the growing body of non-post-structuralist, political readings of Friedrich Nietzsche as an ‘aristocratic rebel’. It asks how Deleuze deals with the many ‘hard’ passages in Nietzsche’s works damning liberalism, socialism, democracy, egalitarianism and feminism, and praising war, martial valor, and selective ‘breeding’, and then asks what the appeal of these same passages to today’s New Far -means for the stocks of Left Nietzscheanism and the Left more widely.

The final two papers come from the second event, and reflect its interdisciplinary character. They bring to bear different perspectives on today’s return of the Far-Right. Geoffrey Boucher’s paper examines critical theoretical understandings of the Far-Right, focusing in particular on the psychodynamics at play in supporters’ deep existential (and libidinal) investments in these movements, their leaders and ideologies. The contribution by Imogen Richards, Maria Rae, Matteo Vergani and Callum Jones takes an interdisciplinary, including quantitative, look at the spread of Far-Right philosophical ideas, especially those drawn from Right-wing receptions of Nietzsche, in two outlets (XYZ and The Unshackled) in the Australian ‘Alt-media’.

Editorial:
Thesis Eleven: In transition

Peter Beilharz, Sian Supski

Introduction:
A disturbance of vision on the Capitol: Philosophy and the Far-Right – Towards an interdisciplinary inquiry

Matthew Sharpe

Articles:
Dangerous minds in dangerous times

Ronald Beiner

Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger hold firmly entrenched places within the canon of modern philosophy. And rightly so: both are penetrating critics of liberal modernity. Yet we need to ask ourselves whether, as academics teaching these thinkers, we are doing full justice to the more disturbing aspects of their thought. They don’t simply interrogate the axioms of modern life as a subject for intellectual reflection; they have a praxis-oriented project to demolish the post-1789 moral-political dispensation that we tend to take for granted and replace it with a new radically illiberal and anti-egalitarian dispensation. The task of reconsidering the perils of going too easy on these thinkers, or giving them the benefit of the doubt, is made more urgent by the apparent return of fascist or ‘fascoid’ modes of politics, and in particular, the emergence of a far-right intelligentsia all too keen to appropriate these thinkers for far-right purposes.

The Alt-Right’s continuation of the ‘cultural war’ in Euro-American societies

Tamir Bar-On

In this paper, I argue that the Alt-Right needs to be taken seriously by the liberal establishment, the general public, and leftist cultural elites for five main reasons: 1) its ‘right-wing Gramscianism’ borrows from the French New Right (Nouvelle Droite – ND) and the French and pan-European Identitarian movement. This means that it is engaged in the continuation of a larger Euro-American metapolitical struggle to change hearts and minds on issues related to white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and racialism; 2) it is indebted to the metapolitical evolution of sectors of the violent neo-Nazi and earlier white nationalist movements in the USA; 3) this metapolitical orientation uses the mass media, the internet, and social media in general to reach and influence the masses of Americans; 4) the ‘cultural war’ means that the Alt-Right’s spokesman Richard Spencer, French ND leader Alain de Benoist, and other intellectuals see themselves as a type of Leninist vanguard on the radical right, which borrows from left-wing authors such as Antonio Gramsci and their positions in order to win the metapolitical struggle against ‘dominant’ liberal and left-wing political and cultural elites; and 5) this ‘cultural war’ is intellectually and philosophically sophisticated because it understands the crucial role of culture in destabilizing liberal society and makes use of important philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Schmitt, Julius Evola and others in order to give credence to its revolutionary, racialist, and anti-liberal ideals.

Golden calf: Deleuze’s Nietzsche in the time of Trump

Matthew Sharpe

This paper examines how Gilles Deleuze addresses, and fail to address, the darker strata in Nietzsche’s work which has enabled his work to be claimed by almost every far-right European political movement since the 1890s to the Alt-Right today. Part I argues that four rhetorical strategies are present which serve to domesticate Nietzsche’s ideas concerning class and caste, race and sexuality, and his opposition to forms of liberalism, democracy, feminism and socialism: avoiding directly political subjects which Nietzsche returned to; catachrestic use of political words to describe ostensibly supra- or non-political data; denials of Nietzsche’s rightist positions, followed by justifications which, upon analysis, do not support the denials but ‘change the subject’; openly erroneous misrepresentations of divisive subjects, led by Nietzsche on war. Part II looks at how these sophistical strategies are played out in two key passages in Nietzsche and Philosophy, concerning the second ‘selection’ in the eternal recurrence, with its ‘annihilation of all parasitical and degenerate elements’. Closing remarks address the situation today, and the paradoxes and limitations of Left Nietzscheanism in the academy.

The Frankfurt School and the authoritarian personality: Balance sheet of an insight

Geoff Boucher

Frankfurt School critical theory is perhaps the most significant theory of society to have developed directly from a research programme focused on the critique of political authoritarianism, as it manifested during the interwar decades of the 20th century. The Frankfurt School’s analysis of the persistent roots – and therefore the perennial nature – of what it describes as the ‘authoritarian personality’ remains influential in the analysis of authoritarian populism in the contemporary world, as evidenced by several recent studies. Yet the tendency in these studies is to reference the final formulation of the category, as expressed in Theodor Adorno and co-thinkers’ The Authoritarian Personality (1950), as if this were a theoretical readymade that can be unproblematically inserted into a measured assessment of the threat to democracy posed by current authoritarian trends. It is high time that the theoretical commitments and political stakes in the category of the authoritarian personality are re-evaluated, in light of the evolution of the Frankfurt School. In this paper, I review the classical theories of the authoritarian personality, arguing that two quite different versions of the theory – one characterological, the other psychodynamic – can be extracted from Frankfurt School research.

Political philosophy and Australian far-right media: A critical discourse analysis of The Unshackled and XYZ

Imogen Richards, Maria Rae, Matteo Vergani, Callum Jones

A 21st-century growth in prevalence of extreme right-wing nationalism and social conservatism in Australia, Europe, and America, in certain respects belies the positive impacts of online, new, and alternative forms of global media. Cross-national forms of ‘far-right activism’ are unconfined to their host nations; individuals and organisations campaign on the basis of ethno-cultural separatism, while capitalising on internet-based affordances for communication and ideological cross-fertilisation. Right-wing revolutionary ideas disseminated in this media, to this end, embody politico-cultural aims that can only be understood with attention to their philosophical underpinnings. Drawing on a dataset of articles from the pseudo-news websites, XYZ and The Unshackled, this paper investigates the representation of different rightist political philosophical traditions in contemporary Australia-based far-right media. A critical discourse and content analysis reveal XYZ and TU’s engagement with various traditions, from Nietzsche and the Conservative Revolution, to the European New Right and neo-Nazism.

Book Reviews:
National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy

Chamsy el-Ojeili

Antonio Gramsci – Towards an Intellectual Biography

Peter Beilharz

Anthropology and Civilizational Analysis: Eurasian Explorations

Jeremy Smith

Debt and Guilt: A Political Philosophy

Scott Robinson

Downtown Revitalisation and Delta Blues in Clarksdale Mississippi: Lessons for Small Cities and Towns

Melissa Kennedy

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