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Publisher's Summary

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and demise of the Soviet Union, prominent Western thinkers began to suggest that liberal democracy had triumphed decisively on the world stage. Having banished fascism in World War II, liberalism had now buried communism, and the result would be an end of major ideological conflicts, as liberal norms and institutions spread to every corner of the globe. With the Brexit vote in Great Britain, the resurgence of right-wing populist parties across the European continent, and the surprising ascent of Donald Trump to the American presidency, such hopes have begun to seem hopelessly naïve. The far right is back, and serious rethinking is in order.

In Dangerous Minds, Ronald Beiner traces the deepest philosophical roots of such right-wing ideologues as Richard Spencer, Aleksandr Dugin, and Steve Bannon to the writings of Nietzsche and Heidegger - and specifically to the aspects of their thought that express revulsion for the liberal-democratic view of life. Beiner contends that Nietzsche's hatred and critique of bourgeois, egalitarian societies has engendered new disciples on the populist right who threaten to overturn the modern liberal consensus.

The book is published by University of Pennsylvania Press.

"Staggeringly impressive and deeply needed...elegantly structured and beautifully written. It will be widely read and debated in this frightening age of fascist resurgence." (John P. McCormick, University of Chicago)

"This is a great book. If it proves anything, it's that ideas have consequences, often profound and dangerous ones." (Steven Smith, Yale University)

©2018 University of Pennsylvania Press (P)2018 Redwood Audiobooks

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 07-19-18

It's okay not to tolerate the extreme right wing

Tolerance, reason rather than authority, valuing diversity, equality and dignity for all human beings and seeking rational solutions for human problems are at the core of modernity and humanism. Nietzsche and Heidegger lay the foundation for the antithesis of modernity (Enlightenment thought) and humanism. They typically are not read today by the modern day main stream political party members, but they capture the hate that is prevalent in today’s politics and they go a long way towards explaining it.

The author started out with a quote by Allan Bloom. For those who don’t know, Bloom wrote the book ‘The Closing of the American Mind’. Bloom’s book is mostly a screed against Nietzsche and Heidegger (two thinkers most people can’t even spell their names let alone speak in depth about their philosophy) and how their ‘relativism’ is destroying American colleges in the 1980s. This author points out correctly how Bloom is anti modernity and humanism and doesn’t realize the debt he owes to those thinkers.

Tolerance (or any of the other values from the Enlightenment) is not a suicide pact. The value of tolerance does not mean to roll over and look the other way when hate of the other for its own sake of the other is the only motivation. For example, when a fascist runs his car into a group of anti-Nazi protestors, the response should not be ‘both sides have good points and both sides are to blame’. The response is to be intolerant towards the fascist and his beliefs. (Call me a hypocrite; I don’t care about consistency when it comes to standing up against fascist).

The foundation for fascism and the beliefs espoused by these two thinkers and how they align with a large segment of today’s haters is laid out by this author by considering what Nietzsche and Heidegger actually said and meant overall.

Heidegger and Nietzsche are not happy people. They cannot stand democracy and equality. They believe democracy is nihilism. It’s not the death of God that takes away our meaning in living. They’ll say it’s the ‘last man standing’ (the ‘man’ who is watching old movies on his TV while eating potato chips, drinking beer and never thinking beyond the moment and will never have an original thought in his head and so on, probably a lot like me) and for the world to have meaning it needs an Ubermensch, a Superman or Overman, Nietzsche’s Napoleon or Heidegger’s Hitler, and most importantly they can never fail they can only be failed because in the end their fascist foundations only criticizes and offers no constructive solution and they will always say that the leader just got it wrong while never realizing that their leader is just an ordinary man who channels the hate of the people because he is no better than the rest of the mob, he is just one of the mob itself (‘War and Peace’ is an extremely good book that gets this point). To them modernity and humanism have taken away our values and meaning and it’s up to a fascist totalitarian leader to restore it. (I would suggest Hannah Arendt’s book ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ for further clarification on the nature of fascism and totalitarianism. BTW, she will say that Nazi’s, Nationalist Social Workers Party, are neither socialist nor nationalist).

In their terms, there is a ‘forgetfulness of Being’ (Heidegger) or a ‘homelessness’ for existence (Nietzsche). Our true nature needs a visionary to guide our hate, they think. They both have a ‘caste’ system which transcends the dignity of all humans and for what they think the true ‘authentic’ human based on their instinctual values should be told to believe. The values they espouse may be relative values, but the myths they embrace are their myths, and believe that their myths are the only myths that should be believed. The Frankfurt School’s founding book, ‘Dialectics of Enlightenment’ cannot stand relativism as espoused by Nietzsche and Heidegger but they each reach the same conclusions but with different starting premises. Allan Bloom and his teacher, Leo Strauss, are usually considered within the Frankfurt School of thought. Enlightenment principles are anathema to them as well as Nietzsche and Heidegger.

Nietzsche and Heidegger want a return to our primal instincts; they want a return to what they would call our authentic selves derived from our feelings which emanate from our gut. Heidegger loved the ‘Volk’, the German Peasant since he thought that they were least tainted by culture and the principals of the Enlightenment. The author quotes mostly from Division II (the Time part, the ‘existentialist part’) of ‘Being and Time’ to defend his thesis, but he could have just as easily quoted from Division I (the Being part) because Heidegger’s most ‘authentic man’ and ironically most philosophical is the one who doesn’t think what the door knob is but just uses it to open the door, and he will basically say that metaphysics is dead (it was laid to rest with Hegel, he will say) and instinct trumps contemplation and existence comes before essence. There is a real telling line in Heidegger’s ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’ (written in 1931) describing the Nazis as not going far enough in their fascist thought that goes like this, 'the works that are being peddled about nowadays as the philosophy of National Socialism but have nothing whatever do with the inner truth and greatness of the movement (namely the encounter between global technology and modern man)'.


This author has done a very good job of showing these two thinkers for who they really are and how they relate to today. I read a lot of Nietzsche and Heidegger because it helps me understand where today’s fascists are coming from and they give me insights into how others might think. I can also gain insights from their assessment of what is wrong while rejecting their solutions.

9 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Passionate re-evaluation of Nietzsche and Heidegger

I agree with the author that the West’s liberal vision needs a creative rethinking in order to not slip into dangerous political radicalism. He focuses on the way Nietzsche and Heidegger can be employed by the ethno identitarians to bolster their legitimacy, and also their charisma (that’s my word, not his). He focuses exclusively on the right. I think he avoids this critique regarding the same type of thinking on the left. Essentially, you cannot have people finding meaning through blood and soil. Yet people are inevitably tribal. So, the next movement can either be a recapitulation of the 20th century (big war!), or we have to invent something new that unifies people beyond ethnicity and nationality. I can’t think of anything, and that’s scary.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful