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13. Lecture on ‘The Responsibility of far-right theorists for extreme beliefs’ by Christian Demmelbauer
Lecture on ‘The Responsibility of far-right theorists for extreme beliefs’ by Christian Demmelbauer. This video is part of the Extreme Beliefs & Responsibility Workshop Series, held at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Christian Demmelbauer has studied law and philosophy and is currently doing a PhD in legal philosophy at the University of Vienna. His dissertation project concerns illiberal political and legal theories. Broader research interests include selected topics in legal and political philosophy related to the notions of equality and authority, notably equality law and civil disobedience.
As other beliefs, extreme beliefs are subject to and not seldomly the result of reflection. In this contribution, I aim to inquire into the role and the (moral) responsibility of some of those who spend a large amount of time and energy on reflectively endorsing beliefs that are at the very least close to being extreme: theorists of the far-right. In other words, I will ask in what way far-right theorists who articulate complex ideological beliefs are (morally) responsible for extreme beliefs they may inspire in themselves and in others. Bypassing questions of the causal influence of theories on people’s beliefs and possible misappropriations, I will ask what it is precisely that far-right theorists do with extreme beliefs that makes it seem plausible to ascribe specific responsibility to them. Two clear ways of conceptualizing their role seem to be inadequate: neither do they come up with extreme beliefs exclusively on their own, nor do they just spell out ideas that are somehow present in society anyway. In other words, they are neither evil masterminds in secret control of extremist political movements, nor innocent hommes de lettres doing nothing but working out the implications of ideas which happen to be utilized by extremist political movements.
Rather, I argue, they draw on commonly held beliefs and widely experienced affective attitudes and transform them so that they fit into a comparatively more complex system of beliefs. I intend to analyze texts by far-right thinkers, such as Alain de Benoist or Alexandr Dugin, to show how precisely this is done. My hypothesis is that theorists interpret vague beliefs, such as belief in the value of a certain type of traditionally masculine behavior, and diffusely felt affective attitudes, such as a generalized feeling of anxiety, to give them sharper contours and make them serve as a basis for more precise beliefs, such as belief in the need to oppose “gender ideology” because of its detrimental effect to strong and creative (masculine) actions. These more precise beliefs are often themselves extreme or tend to lend support to extreme beliefs. Far-right theorists therefore derive extreme beliefs from rather vague and widely spread beliefs and affective attitudes.
On the background of this analysis, I aim to devise a standard for the responsibility of far-right theorists for extreme beliefs. Roughly, they are responsible for the extreme beliefs derived or derivable from their work only if (a) they interpret commonly held beliefs or widely experienced affective attitudes in a way that results in extreme beliefs where other interpretations would be available, or (b) they fail to criticize such beliefs or affective attitudes where such criticism would be available. Both are standardly the case yet viewing the matter in this way enables us to discern and evaluate the role of theories with regards to extreme beliefs more clearly.