Taking No Chances

06.05.14

University College London’s Nietzsche Club Is Banned

Can debates about right-wing philosophers encourage fascism? That’s what the University College London students’ union decided when it barred the Nietzsche Club from holding meetings.

More than a century after Friedrich Nietzsche urged us to cast aside the standard rules of morality and move Beyond Good and Evil, a college philosophy society named in his honor has been banned for being too nasty.

The Nietzsche Club was barred from holding meetings at University College London after a ruling that discussions about right-wing philosophers could encourage fascism and endanger the student body. As well as Nietzsche, a favorite of Benito Mussolini, the philosophers to be studied included Julius Evola and Martin Heidegger, who have been cited as inspiration by far-right politicians.

The student society was never allowed to hold a public meeting after a series of posters advertising the new group appeared on campus. One asked if there was “too much political correctness?” Another claimed: “Equality is a false God.”

Before those ideas could be explored on university property, the student union stepped in. The fledgling group was banned after the Union Council approved a motion arguing that “there is no meaningful distinction to be made between a far-right and a fascist ideology” and that “fascism is directly threatening to the safety of the UCL student body.”

Mussolini, the Italian dictator, was certainly a fan of Nietzsche’s work, and Adolf Hitler visited his archives in 1934, but many political scientists have since argued that any links to fascism resulted from a fundamental misreading of the German philosopher’s writings.

One of the common driving forces behind Nietzsche’s thinking was the desire to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” he wrote in 1888, but the UCL students’ union wasn’t taking any chances.

While Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, the Nazi-sympathizer Heidegger are considered giants of philosophy, another thinker cited on the group’s posters is more commonly consigned to the backwaters of extremism. “It is the latter name that gave them away completely,” said Timur Dautov, one of those who formerly proposed the ban to the students’ union. “It is like starting a society to study Hitler.” 

“Julius Evola criticized fascism from the right, was a rabid anti-Semite, and wrote of the superior ‘Nordic race,’” Dautov told The Daily Beast. “Far-right racists, sexists, and homophobes trying to organize on campus is a direct threat to the student body, and if our efforts at their disaffiliation have been at all successful in preventing them from organizing, then, yes, we are pleased.”

No one from the Nietzsche Club responded to requests for comment, and the group has chosen not to address allegations that it was formed to promote fascism or might have links to fascist organizations.

Tom Slater, whose “Free Speech Now!” campaign calls for open dialogue on campuses, said the Nietzsche Club had joined an increasingly absurd list of objects, people, and pop songs banned from colleges. “In the U.K. over the past year alone, we’ve seen everything from Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ to tabloid newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Star banned by scores of student unions on just as tenuous grounds,” he said.

“Not only does this censorship undermine the very ideal of a university as a place where even the most abhorrent ideas are aired and contested, but it projects a lowly view of students.”

“Not only does this censorship undermine the very ideal of a university as a place where even the most abhorrent ideas are aired and contested, but it projects a lowly view of students,” he said. “The notion that one wacky reading group could somehow pose a direct threat to ‘student safety’ just shows how little the union believes in the mental capacity of its members to take part in the cut and thrust of politics and debate.”

The motion to ban the group from UCL, which emerged this week, was passed by a vote of the union council on March 11. On Wednesday night, a union official said the ban had been temporarily suspended while the union awaited advice on the legality of their intervention.

As well as proscribing the philosophical group, the “Fight Fascism” motion, which was adopted by a narrow majority, compelled the student union to take part in a wider battle against right-wing politics.

“This Union resolves…to commit to a struggle against fascism and the far-right, in a united front of students, workers, trade unions, and the wider labor movement, with the perspective of fighting the root cause of fascism—capitalism,” the document concludes.

It should have been clear to the council members at this point that Dautov was not simply a concerned second-year history student; he is also president of the University College London Marxist Society.