Research Excellence Lecture on Dangerous Minds

Photo of Political Science Professor Ronald Beiner
Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 7:11am
Carla DeMarco
Award-winning researcher delivers thoughtful and engaging discourse on how far-right politics has made a huge comeback in the past decade

With a name for a talk like “Dangerous Minds,” that might have been reason enough to attract an audience, but add in a world-class researcher like Professor Ronald Beiner delivering an astute meditation on the recent rise of far-right parties based on his expertise, and we were all hooked on the afternoon lecture.  On January 30, faculty members from the U of T Mississauga and the St. George campuses, as well as UTM staff and students assembled to commemorate the extensive and exceptional work of Beiner from UTM’s Department of Political Science, who was recognized with the 2017 Desmond Morton Research Excellence Award.

“I am delighted to introduce Professor Ronald Beiner, who is one of Canada’s top political philosophers, and a scholar recognized internationally for his pioneering studies of citizenship, liberalism, nationalism, religion, and the history of political thought,” said principal nominator and Political Science Chair Professor Ed Schatz in his introduction.

“Ronnie’s research boasts astounding breadth and depth, and his reach is truly global. He continually demonstrates an insatiable intellectual appetite, and a unique ability to link political philosophy to the major public debates of the day.”

A prolific author, Beiner has seven scholarly books to his credit as single author and another seven that he has either edited or co-edited, however his latest output, Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right, which is available as of March 2018, formed the basis of his Research Excellence talk.

In this book, he explores the roots of right-wing ideology in the writings of 19th and 20th century German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, and their influence on contemporary proponents of the far right in such notable figures as Steve Bannon, Aleksandr Dugin, and Richard Spencer. Beiner also tied in other recent political occurrences such as the Brexit vote in Great Britain in 2016, the upswing of right-wing populist parties in Europe, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States as testament to the official decline of liberal-democratic views that were more widespread after World War II.

“Nietzsche is one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century and he influenced and shaped contemporary culture and intellectual life to a staggering degree,” said Beiner in the lecture.

“Currently Nietzschean notions, mediated by supposedly emancipatory appropriations of Nietzsche, seem to have left us vulnerable to harsh new ideologies that appear to regard respect for truth as a snare for the strong set by the weak, as Nietzsche largely presents it.” Beiner went on to argue that right-wing extremists like Richard Spencer, who it is documented was exposed to the teachings of Nietzsche while completing a Masters’ degree at the University of Chicago, gained strength in their positions with the election of Trump, and that Chief Strategist for the Trump Administration Steve Bannon boasted that the Trump regime under his guidance entails “the birth of a new political order,” and Beiner theorizes that this new order has been able to gain ground with the “rush of adrenaline” that the alt-right offers a young disenfranchised American public.

“Many of us are reeling these days,” says Beiner. He cites the various global “isms” that further indicate a move away from liberal democracy: along with Trumpism and Bannonism in the US, there’s Putinism in Russia, Orbánism in Hungary, Erdoğanism in Turkey, Modiism in India, Xiism in China, Duterteism in Philippines, etc.

“Admittedly, none of these people are as bad as Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin, but at the same time, none of them are reliable guardians of liberal democracy either.”

Beiner did not want to come across as alarmist, but he encouraged the audience to read as much as possible and educate themselves, to take these ideologues and the rise of the parties very seriously, and to recognize that “if something is dangerous we need to be aware that it is dangerous.”

To read the full text of Professor Beiner's lecture, see Dangerous Minds.

The talk concluded with a few questions from the assembly before a reception, hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research, was held in Beiner’s honour.

The Research Excellence Award is given annually to a UTM professor and recognizes outstanding career achievement in research and scholarly activity. Recipients of this award demonstrate significant and sustained impact through contributions in their field of study, they stimulate and challenge the research of students, and communicate research results effectively to maintain a mastery of their specific subject area and be recognized as experts of the highest order in their work.

“With over 33 years under his belt as an educator at UofT, and as an influential thinker and researcher in his own right, Professor Beiner embodies this award for his significant body of work and his admirable contributions to his field of study and the UTM campus,” said Vice-Principal, Research Professor Bryan Stewart.