Posts Tagged ‘Narendra Modi’

Book Review: Ronald Beiner’s Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right

July 27, 2018

beiner

First published on Marx and Philosophy, 27 July 2018

This volume presents compelling critiques of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger as far-right agitators who inspired (Nietzsche) or actively supported Nazism (Heidegger). Author Ronald Beiner connects Nietzsche’s affinities for feudalism with the philosopher’s critique of compassion, morality, and egalitarianism, and he shows how such despotism of thought was reproduced by the Nazi enthusiast Heidegger as well. Beiner details Heidegger’s disturbing commitment to Nazism not only under Hitler, whom he wholeheartedly welcomed in his infamous inaugural address as Rector of the University of Freiburg, “The Self-Assertion of the Germany University” (May 1933), but also within the post-war context and for decades thereafter. In light of the menace posed by the neo-Nazi alt-right, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán, and Narendra Modi, Beiner is rightly worried that the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger, as anti-liberal critics of modernity, are coming back in a rude way. However, it is doubtful whether the Rawlsian or Habermasian liberal alternative Beiner endorses is the correct treatment for this diagnosis, or rather part and parcel of the same disastrous problematic that is driving the consolidation of neo-fascist forces.

Besides the acute political-philosophical commentary to be found in Dangerous Minds, the author reflects movingly on the inevitable difficulties related to death within the context of Heidegger’s identification of the everyday suppression of the recognition of our individual and social finitude, or finiteness, as raised in Being and Time (1927).

In Dangerous Minds, Beiner discusses the influence Nietzsche has had on notorious contemporary ultra-rightists such as the U.S.-based white supremacist Richard Spencer and the Russian neo-fascist Aleksandr Dugin, as well as the historical Italian fascist Julius Evola, who was an “explicit disciple of Nietzsche” (3). Like Evola, Spencer declares himself a Nietzschean, and Dugin swears by the iconoclast’s ominous statement that “man [sic] is something that should be overcome” (2, 12). These prominent figures of an increasingly powerful Fascist International find inspiration in Nietzsche’s aristocratic differentiation between the putatively “elect” and “unfit peoples” (4) as well as the philosopher’s anticipation of Nazism’s practice of große Politik (“great [or noble] politics”) in his militaristic critique of Otto von Bismarck from the right, as György Lukács points out in The Destruction of Reason (1952), and his “imperialistic critique of nationalism” (136n2). Today’s far-rightists also admire the Nazi Heidegger, who himself took a great deal from Nietzsche, particularly his critique of liberal modernity as nihilistic. To date, reports Beiner, Dugin has dedicated four volumes to discussing Heidegger, with “more to follow” (139n27).

Yet it has not just been the right which has found Nietzsche and Heidegger of use; in fact, Beiner endorses Geoff Waite’s view that Nietzsche also left his mark on the Frankfurt School critical theorists, Albert Camus, and post-structuralists like Michel Foucault, Félix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze, among others. Whereas one finds few positive references to Nietzsche in Herbert Marcuse’s oeuvre, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno admittedly incorporated a Nietzschean skepticism toward instrumental rationality, though they both, like the other Frankfurt School thinkers, held an overall more Hegelian view of rationality, viewing it as also having strong emancipatory potential. As for Camus, his position is ambiguous, given his view in The Rebel (1951) that, on the one hand, Nietzsche’s appropriation by the Nazis represented a great injustice to the philosopher, while also acknowledging that “Nietzscheism was nothing without world domination” and that, when “[p]laced in the crucible of Nietzschean philosophy, rebellion, in the intoxication of freedom, ends in biological or historical Caesarism” (Camus 1951, 75-80). For his part, Beiner illustrates the relevance of Foucault’s adoption of Nietzsche’s critique of truth as power, yielding “post-truth” and “fake news.” Notably, Foucault’s Nietzschean-Heideggerian preference for pre-modern alternatives to capitalist modernity may help to explain his uncritical support for the Khomeinist faction of the Iranian Revolution, whose seizure of power in 1979 effectively put an end to the revolutionary process, as Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson (2005) detail.

Crucially, Beiner clarifies Nietzsche and Heidegger’s philosophical critiques of the modern world as being reactionary assaults on the egalitarian legacy of the French Revolution which quite openly sought to entrench imperialistic domination and re-establish feudalistic modes of social organization. Hence, Beiner argues, we should take Nietzsche seriously when he endorses the ideas of social castes and slavery (18, 144n35), just as we should take seriously Heidegger’s explicit admission in 1948 to his former student Marcuse of his uncritical view of Nazism, from which he had reportedly “expected […] a spiritual renewal of life in its entirety, a reconciliation of social antagonisms, and a deliverance of western Dasein [‘Being’] from the dangers of communism” (Marcuse 1998, 265-7). Such pseudo-radical posturing by a thinker who sides with the Nazi dictatorship is precisely what many far-rightists find so attractive in Heidegger: this dramatic perspective, shared by Nietzsche, Dugin, and also the Counter-Enlightenment traditionalist and irrationalist Joseph de Maistre, amounts to the paradoxical concept of ‘conservative revolution,’ whereby the socio-political goal becomes the overthrow of liberal society, the cancellation of the ideas of the French Revolution, and even the abolition of Christianity due to the egalitarianism of the doctrine of Jesus the Nazarene.

Indeed, Beiner argues that, for Nietzsche, “repudiation of Christianity constitutes the necessary condition of a return to an aristocracy-centered culture” (27 emphasis in original). Little surprise, then, that his The Anti-Christ (1895) has been adopted by contemporary white supremacists as a neo-pagan tract—and that his celebration of the idea of the Supermen (Übermenschen) who would overthrow egalitarianism necessarily presupposes “subhumans” (Untermenschen), as the Nazis rather catastrophically put in practice. Moreover, neo-Nazi movements have appreciated Nietzsche’s classification of Judaism and Christianity as ‘slave religions,’ a position that is inseparable from the philosopher’s analysis of compassion as reflecting resentment and weakness—a view which is arguably itself a reflection of rightist resentment. Nietzsche’s explicit affirmation of the “protracted despotic moralities,” which on his account predominated in premodern contexts, demonstrates the degree to which his philosophy is an inversion of that of Arthur Schopenhauer, who emphasizes compassion as being the basis of morality (32 emphasis in original; 161n72). Steeping himself in irrationalism, Nietzsche expressly saw his philosophy as a wholesale destruction—or, to use contemporary parlance, ‘owning’—of “the left,” understood as German Idealism, the principles of the French Revolution, Christianity, and even Platonic and Socratic rationalism.

In contrast to Nietzsche, who died in 1900 and did not necessarily frame his concept of the Superman in ethno-racial terms, Heidegger clearly was a völkisch fascist, an enthusiastic Nazi, and a rabid anti-Semite, as the recently published Black Notebooks (1931-1938) attest. This so-called ‘intellectual’ displayed a swastika at the well outside his cabin in the Black Forest until the war’s end in 1945 (114), and we have already seen his view from 1948 as expressed to Marcuse above. Beiner correctly notes that “[o]nly a real Nazi […] could have written such a letter” to Marcuse, a left-wing German Jew (120). Moreover, in his 1947 response to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism, Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” contrasts the rationalism and humanism extending from Plato and Socrates to Johann Wolfang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller with the supposedly nationalistic attitude found in Friedrich Hölderin which emphasizes the overthrow of contemporary “uncanniness” (otherwise known as ‘homelessness’) and the goal of establishing a strong homeland, or Heimat. He clearly considers the latter approach more authentic, two years after the end of World War II, regardless of the genocidal implications of Nazism.

As Beiner writes, “[o]ne feels compelled to say that here is a man who experienced political events without really experiencing them” (101). Yet this is perhaps too kind an assessment, as Heidegger could not deny what Nazism had wrought on the world. Marcuse for one had brought it up to him in his 1946 meeting with Heidegger in the Black Forest, and then again during their subsequent correspondence. Still, as Beiner relates, never once did the author of Being and Time apologize for his collaboration with Hitler’s regime, let alone concede any wrongdoing. On the contrary, he would continue to publicly defend National Socialism until at least 1966. His friend Rudolf Bultmann reports that Heidegger utterly ignored his request that the philosopher write a confession, like Augustine of Hippo (119).

Beiner’s “call to arms” to liberals and leftists about Nietzsche and Heidegger’s very “dangerous minds” and the resurgence of ‘conservative revolutionary’ rightism is certainly an important and relevant study. The author is justified in finding it “bizarre” that the Nazi Heidegger became one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, and that several leftist intellectuals take after his thought and even describe themselves as Heideggerians (21). Nonetheless, in light of Heidegger’s fascism, Beiner has a point in arguing that left-Heideggerianism should “close up shop” (67). Considering in turn that Heidegger clarified how decisive Nietzsche’s influence was in his becoming a Nazi (111), ‘left-Nietzscheanism’ presumably should do the same. Hence, if Beiner were to be heeded, post-structuralism and postmodernism would likely have to be rethought and overhauled—as they arguably should be anyway, given the ties between these schools of thoughts and the ideas of Nietzsche and Heidegger in the first place. In this sense, Beiner’s volume recalls Richard Wolin’s The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (2009), and has a similar critical force.

One qualification to this conclusion relates to Beiner’s ideological support for liberal capitalism as an alternative to Nietzsche and Heidegger’s ultra-reactionary actionism. The author of Dangerous Minds at times equates liberalism with egalitarianism, when clearly—as Marxists, anarchists, and other socialists have long noted—liberalism has in fact greatly violated egalitarian principles in upholding capitalism and its inevitably associated racial, gender, and labor hierarchies. Indeed, one cannot overlook Marcuse’s point in “The Struggle against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State” (1934) that fascism grew out of liberal-bourgeois society itself; Lukács makes a similar point overall in The Destruction of Reason. The ongoing transnational resurgence of far-right authoritarianism shows this playing out in real time. Taking all of this into account, instead of the minimalist demands for social-democracy made by Rawls and Habermas and endorsed by Beiner, we should advance and support egalitarian and transformative anti-capitalist critique and social reorganization.

Works Cited

Afary, Janet and Kevin B. Anderson Foucault and The Iranian Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

Camus, Albert. The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. Anthony Bower (New York: Knopf, 1956).

Marcuse, Herbert. Technology, War, and Fascism: Collected Papers Volume 1, ed. Douglas Kellner (London: Routledge, 1998).

Wolin, Richard. The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

 

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Sanhati’s “Moment of Clarity” about BJP and Modi

May 27, 2014

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Bengali protestor (@Sanhati)

I am here sharing Saroj Giri’s reflections on the recent electoral victory of the BJP and Modi in India, as written for Sanhati.

“The Modi victory is not a shock since it only reminds and brings to the fore the dominant system in all its social, lived and economic determinations. Why? Since with the Modi victory this dominant social system and these determinations are no longer in the background: they are in power now, hegemonising the political domain. It is as though, to use Ambedkar’s terms, public morality now directly asserts itself in the political domain, hegemonises it. Public morality now colonises constitutional morality […].

Take the BJP election ad ‘Kissey chunenge, Gau Raksha ya Gay Raksha‘ (What will you choose: cow protection or gay protection?). Here gay rights are no longer about gay people and their rights or about a democratic society and its ethos, but about society being internally weakened, about a larger conspiracy against which we must all rise up to defend our core values (defined as ‘gau raksha’)!

This makes the Modi victory a total victory – the prevailing socio-economic domination is now truly reflected in the political hegemony. It is a deep victory. The fractious order is here resolved into the One – everything has come together into one seamless network of power, a kind of a continuum of social-political-economic domination. A continuum of neoliberalism and communalism. We can call it growth-friendly communalism […].

But there is a double reminding at work here. Reminding us of the social determinations that then claim the political domain but also a second reminding: that the political domain, the liberal democratic electoral process itself is inherently skewed towards the dominant interests, towards big capital, towards gau raksha rather than gay raksha. The Modi victory is therefore a moment of clarity […].

You cannot make any real transformation or change through the vote – no matter who wins. It is still relevant to talk about Bhagat Singh’s insight that India needs a social and economic revolution and not just a secular outcome in the next elections!

As we can see, the vote is good enough for the right wing or fascists to come and capture power or to eliminate the social and political gap. The vote works for the right, not for the left. This, if you like, was a key insight of the Naxalbari movement and that is why they called for boycotting elections. Thanks to this, perhaps the Maoist movement is the single large left movement in the country today. Given its extra-parliamentary nature, it is like the reserve army of left revolutionaries, beyond the contingency of electoral defeat or victory, beyond the long arm of a Modi!

Hence we cannot simply fight to get a Congress or the left or seculars back in government. Let us also not harangue with the big media and big corporates and complain about their pro-Modi stance. Let us accept that the present democratic order is inherently skewed against any possibility [of] real social transformation – or else one only indulges in an untruth. Let us reject both Modi and Nehru and revise ‘the idea of India’ from a left-wing perspective instead of defending this status quo.”

Meanwhile, the international ruling-class Economist hails Modi’s accession as helmsman of India.  This raises the important theoretical work done by Herbert Marcuse and many other critical intellectuals to show up the links between liberalism and fascism–as Giri does well for Sanhati in the above.

Economist luvs Modi

Sanhati Collective’s Statement “On Upcoming General Elections” in India

May 7, 2014

 police_attack

Last month, the radical Bengali collective Sanhati published a profound reflection on the current election cycle in India, which threatens to bring fundamentalist Gujarati Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power as the country’s new Prime Minister.  Modi is a proud member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a notorious right-wing paramilitary organization.  Sanhati argues that, were the BJP to come to replace the dominant Congress Party at the national level this year, such a change in the Indian State would signal the beginning of a marked intensification of the brutal liberalization policies initiated by Congress during Rajiv Gandhi’s administration (1985-1991).  As the collective observes,

“RSS-BJP and Modi have been making huge sound and fury about “nationalism”. Their proven brand of “nationalism” means workers would work silently for fifteen hours a day at low wages so that big corporates would make super profit and the “nation’s” wealth would go up; their brand of “nationalism” means that the poor peasants and tribals would be evicted from their homes so that big dams can provide water to the industrial plants of Tata, Suzuki etc.; their brand of “nationalism” means that the frequent massacres of the people of Kashmir by the Indian army should be clapped at and cheered as “patriotic heroism” of the soldiers. These features are recognized as classic indicators of Fascism.”

Sanhati notes that, for the masses of India, no hope can be found in elections: “the parliamentary political parties have become a vehicle of corporate/mafia/landed elites’ interest.”  These elections, in Sanhati’s analysis, serve merely as adornment for the effective hegemony exercised by the national and transnational oligarchy over the peoples of India.  In particular, they distract greatly from the fact that

“a substantial part of India today is under military occupation [and that,] in fact, state machineries are heavily clamping down on all forms of dissent. Apart from the continuing Indian military occupation of Kashmir and many North-Eastern states for decades, armed forces have been let loose in large parts of central India to crush peoples’ struggle against national and multinational corporations. Killing, fake encounters, rape by the police and armed forces have become daily occurrence in these areas. Thousands of people are languishing in jail under false cases. Not only armed resistance, even completely unarmed struggles are being crushed by the state. Anti land-acquisition movements, anti-nuclear movements, resistance against slum eviction, trade union activities, movements for environment protection, movements for women’s rights, anti-caste atrocities movements –all kinds of possible democratic challenge to the current state power have met the same fate.”

Despite this discouraging context faced by the oppressed of India, Sanhati still holds out the possibility that “a real change is still achievable. Only a united struggle of all the working people across caste, religion and gender can pull India out of this terrible situation. It is not sufficient to vent our anger by voting against the incumbent in the next election – it will change nothing – let us get united in a struggle for a real change of the system.”