Leiter on the Recurring Myth About Nietzsche and Fascism

The Recurring Myth About Nietzsche and Fascism
Brian Leiter
The Huffington Post
June 6, 2014

Benighted student members of the Union Council at University College London have made headlines internationally after voting to ban a student group, "the Nietzsche Club," on the grounds that Nietzsche is "on the extreme-right," a "racist" with connections "direct or indirect, with Italian fascism and German Nazism." The ban is on hold, given its dubious legality.

The student action betrays profound misunderstandings of both Nietzsche and of universities. The latter can be dispensed with quickly. Freedom of inquiry and thought must surely encompass the right of students to discuss and think about ideas, including illiberal ideas. Universities may put constraints on racist abuse and discrimination, but they can not, consistent with the mission of a university, put constraints on the right to discuss any and all ideas, including ideas that others deem offensive or immoral.

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. Nietzsche and Marx are the two most important philosophers of the 19th century whose ideas have exercised enormous influence in literature, art, politics, psychology, historiography and philosophy. Is discussion of the work of Mann, Freud, Weber, Hesse, Sartre, and Foucault off-limits as well, since all of these thinkers (among many others) were profoundly influenced by Nietzsche?

Brian Leiter