Student members of the Union Council at University College London recently banned the “Nietzsche Club” from campus. Well, not really “banned,” as much as told the group it can no longer proclaim an affiliation with the school. The Council reasoned that the club was promoting a fascist ideology. Nietzsche fanboy Brian Leiter took a break from making up s**t from whole cloth to pen a stirring defense of the Nietzsche Club, pointing out that Nietzsche wasn’t really a fascist and noting that true Nietzsche scholars understand that he’s not the racist Nazi inspiration that everyone thinks he is.
Unfortunately for Professor Leiter, the student group in question totally digs Nietzsche for all the racist and fascist reasons.
Brian Leiter went off half-cocked on the internet? Wonders will truly never cease…
Professor Leiter is indeed correct that Friedrich Nietzsche is not the proto-Hitler you hear about when you’re learning your philosophy on the streets. Instead it was Nietzsche’s sister, a big Nazi fan, who bent over backward to turn her brother’s work into something her new Nazi buddies might like. Prior to this, Nietzsche was claimed as an intellectual light for a variety of ideologies:
The Nazi takeover in 1933 settled these debates by political force, and nothing less would have made the Nazi misappropriation of Nietzsche possible. After all, as actual readers of Nietzsche know, he hated Germans most of all, famously titling an entire chapter of one of his last books, “What the Germans Lack.” He ridiculed the German militarism and nationalism of his own day — in terms equally applicable to the Nazi version — and, most importantly, was a scathing critic of anti-Semitism, endlessly baiting anti-Semitic readers in his books.
So we’re all on board that Nietzsche wasn’t so bad. Hell, he can even help you get laid. Hence the outrage over the decision to ban this club:
The idea that a “Nietzsche Club,” in particular, is not appropriate for a serious university (one with several Nietzsche scholars on its faculty, ironically enough) is astonishing.
Hmmm. See, the fact that the school employs several real Nietzsche scholars and students still see this particular group as a problem would seem to raise red flags that there may be more to this story worth investigating. Leiter didn’t. Other people did:
[I]t seems the UCL Nietzsche Club is in fact celebrating that manipulated, racist, legacy. The official university motion accuses the group of promoting “far-right” and “fascist” ideologies.
One poster for the group read: “Too much political correctness? Student club about traditionalist art and philosophy (Benoist, Heidegger, Evola). Interested? firstname.lastname@example.org.” Another read: “Equality is a false god.”
Alain de Benoist, was a French philosopher credited with founding the New Right and deeply opposes multiculturalism. He prefers instead a kind of “separate but equal” approach to civilization.
Oh dear. That Evola guy they say they like was also a delightful chap, often writing about his admiration for the SS. He actually moved TO Germany during WWII! Heidegger is obviously a complex figure that many lefties love because they get their rocks off on guys who can write 600 pages about the verb “to be,” but he was, in fact, a card-carrying member of the Nazi party, so it wouldn’t require much of a leap to think this group wasn’t reading him for his influence on post-structuralist thought.
So, to borrow from Archer, “Now who’s racist?” Those guys, Brian. Those, exact same guys you just described.
Now, another response to the school’s move to ban the group would be citing the run-of-the-mill free speech concerns, and go all Evelyn Beatrice Hall “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” over it. But when the club is founded on the myth that Leiter is correctly debunking, it’s hard to argue that anyone in the UCL community should be forced to bestow the imprimatur of academic approval upon bad scholarship.
UPDATE: The full motion suggests that they think the “Nietzsche Club” is really just a front group for some fascist/reactionary group. If so, it’s a shame this has been presented, either by some of the students or by the media, as a smear of Nietzsche as a fascist.
Fun fact: the “full motion” is A PAGE AND A HALF LONG. It would have taken 30 seconds of basic research to avoid posting an impassioned defense of a fascist front group on one of the largest internet news outlets in the world.
But he’s Brian MFin’ Leiter! He doesn’t do research before going on the internet! As Nietzsche wrote, “Research is for the herd.”
I think, I mean, I’m not going to look it up.
The Recurring Myth About Nietzsche and Fascism [Huffington Post]
University College London students embarrass their school internationally… [Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog]
Nietzsche Club Banned [Critical-Theory]