The National Post wrote an article about my experience as a PhD student in political science (political theory) at the University of Toronto.
Here’s how it starts:
- “When Michael Millerman arrived at the University of Toronto as a graduate student with an interest in an obscure Russian geopolitical theorist, the university’s senior faculty was bitterly divided.”
I arrived at the U of T in 2012 for an MA in political science (theory). By then, I had co-translated Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory, which was released by Arktos July 2012. I never heard that the faculty was already “bitterly divided” over me at that time. That comes as news to me. I did hear once that a faculty member’s spouse, who works on Russian literature, raised some concerns quite early over my work on Dugin – not because of me, but because of Dugin – but everyone assured her I’m fine.
- “Some saw the tall, clean-cut student as an intelligent but naive philosopher whose arcane interests could be steered toward productive scholarship. Others saw Millerman as a malicious far-right propagandist pushing an anti-liberal ideology that — thanks in part to the work Millerman has done as a freelance translator — has become an inspiration to far-right movements in Europe and America.”
Tall? Yes (6’7). Clean-cut? Mostly. Intelligent? I won’t argue. Naive? I’ll come back to that.
Calling my interests “arcane” is strange: at that time I was primarily interested not in Dugin but in Leo Strauss, a respected figure among the political theorists at the University of Toronto.
Indeed, high-profile Straussians Thomas Pangle and Allan Bloom had U of T affiliations. Incidentally, nobody ever challenged my interest in or work on Dugin until 2014, as I recall. So it’s hard to understand how at that time anyone could have seen me as a “malicious far-right propagandist.”
Note the suggestion that translating a thinker is equivalent to propagandizing him, and that if the thinker is malicious, the translator must be, too. If professors at the University of Toronto’s department of political science really thought that, that’s embarrassing for the University. Scholars should know better.
- “Over the course of his studies, Millerman emerged as the world’s leading conduit into the English language for the work of Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian neo-fascist who is under sanctions by Canada for his role in the annexation of Ukraine.”
Yes, I am the world’s leading English-language translator of Dugin’s political theory. Dugin was not under sanctions when I started translating him. At that time, he was a professor at Moscow State University and his lectures were available online.
- “Now that the University of Toronto has awarded a doctorate to Millerman for his research on Dugin and others, there is a sense of relief on both sides. Several professors are glad to see the back of him. The feeling is mutual.”
There’s definitely a sense of relief on my side.
From 2015-2018, I was in a toxic environment. There were suggestions that I support anti-Semitism and even Islamic radicalism through my research and translations. That was rough to endure, and I was glad to complete the program and move on.
It’s strange, though, that “several professors” are “glad” to see me go. I never accused any of them or made their lives a toxic hell, as far as I know. Although defensive at times, I was usually courteous, patient, and respectful when responding to false charges and insinuations. But if they’re trying to enforce ideological conformity and I don’t conform to what they want, I can understand why they’d be glad to get rid of me. It’s easier to brainwash people when critical thinkers aren’t around.
- “Millerman, 34, describes his studies as a disappointing ordeal in which he was insulted and shunned for his interest in someone he calls a controversial but serious thinker. He argues that his treatment raises deep questions of academic freedom — and in this he is supported by the self-described “left of liberal” professor who eventually agreed to supervise his dissertation.”
That is true. My studies were, overall, a disappointing ordeal. I was insulted and shunned for my interest in a controversial but serious thinker. And yes, my treatment does raise questions of academic freedom. After all, the professors didn’t only freely choose not to work with me. They quit my committee after signing a form saying that they accept my dissertation proposal, and they did so for non-academic reasons. They didn’t focus on the quality of my dissertation, but on the supposed content of my beliefs, it seems, which they misattributed to me.
The “left of liberal” professor who supervised my dissertation, Ruth Marshall, is the hero of this story, for me. Although she strongly dislikes some of the figures I was studying, she defended the academic merit of a comparative study into first principles all the way to the end. Without her courageous, principled willingness to choose inquiry over indoctrination, there’s no way I would have stayed in the program.
One more quick note on her.
My dissertation compared how Strauss, Rorty, Derrida and Dugin read Heidegger, in short. At first, I had assumed that Derrida was a leftist hack who put his philosophical brilliance into the service of leftist political aims. I was highly dismissive of him and was sure in advance that I’d “refute” him easily. By the end of the study, I had a much greater appreciation for him. Ruth’s patient guidance contributed to my genuine education in that and other ways.
- “I’m not a pamphleteer,” Millerman said in an interview. Dugin’s views, he said, “are more sophisticated than some of the people he associates with.”
I’ve always regarded my work as scholarship, not activism. And although I acknowledge that Dugin combines scholarship and activism, and has, as an activist, associated with some lowly types, and himself acted in a lowly manner, unbecoming of a philosopher, he also has, as a scholar and philosopher, produced works that I find genuinely interesting, in many cases much more interesting than those written by professional faculty at the U of T. Dugin’s second Heidegger book, for instance, is not ideological trash. It far exceeds Beiner’s Dangerous Minds in theoretical merit. Nor is it absurd to find value in Dugin’s book In Search of the Dark Logos. His Ethnosociology, which I translated, may not be perfect, but it is not worthless garbage or malicious propaganda. People don’t usually know that, because they haven’t studied those books. But then why do they rush to judgment instead of having a respectful conversation with me about the nature of my interest in his theoretical works? I have written about various aspects of his thought, interviewed him twice, and translated a lot of his books. You’d think some academics would see that as an opportunity for conversation, rather than denunciation.
- “Millerman’s PhD research was controversial from the start, and several faculty, such as the political theorist Clifford Orwin, resigned from his supervisory committee in protest at his endorsement of Dugin’s ideas.”
Orwin knew about my interest in Dugin for many years before resigning from my committee. When he did resign, he told me that because his son is fighting against ISIS in the Middle East, whereas I translated Dugin, who supports ISIS, there’s an unbridgeable gap between us. That is insulting, absurd, idiotic, and untrue. Orwin knows that I support Jewish life and the State of Israel and not radical Islam. Orwin also knows or presents himself to the world as knowing that the sympathetic theoretical consideration of a thinker is not equivalent to support for his low political activism or rhetoric. Here’s the thing. You can find two thinkers interesting, and learn from both of them, even when they disagree deeply about things. If to find a thinker interesting meant to support everything they say, that would lead to a contradiction. You’d be supporting a thesis and its anti-thesis. You might as well ban anyone from reading anything they don’t already agree with, and forbid learning altogether. To say that because I support some aspects of Dugin’s thought, I therefore oppose the war against ISIS, is scandalous and idiotic.
And isn’t it strange that “controversial research” in the field of political theory can culminate in such a saga? Do “political theorists” “political philosophers” and “political scientists” want non-controversial research only? Only the right questions asked in advance? Only the right answers allowed at the outset? Is that the “education” that Canadian students can expect from one of Canada’s top educational institutions?
- “Those advisors knew that Millerman’s translations, from the first in 2012 to the forthcoming Foundations of Ethnosociology, are all published by Arktos, the European “new right” publishing house founded and run by Daniel Friberg, a Swedish former neo-Nazi who has built an “identitarian” alliance with the American alt-right.”
Arktos publishes the English translations, as a rule. Dugin has also been published by Rowman & Littlefield. His Russian books are often published by Academic Project (Moscow). I don’t know about the presses that publish him in other languages. But anyway, you can see where the argument about Arktos is going.
- “Other Arktos authors include the American “paleoconservative” William S. Lind, the British “national-anarchist” publisher Troy Southgate, and Andrew Fraser, a Canadian-born Australian retired professor and opponent of non-white immigration.”
I don’t know who these people are (no offense). I’ve heard Troy Southgate’s name before, but never read anything of his. I could never quite see this kind of “argument” as a relevant reason for academics to punish me.
- “Millerman said Friberg is his main contact at Arktos, and over the years he has worked for all three Arktos editors-in-chief.”
Yes, when I discussed my translation timelines and edits with Arktos over the years, it was with whoever the editor was at the time, and with the editor-in-chief. Scandalous!
- “One of these editors, Jason Jorjani, once told a conference hosted by American white nationalist Richard Spencer: “Our authors offer constructive criticism of the ill-conceived and bankrupt sociopolitical ideologies of liberalism, democracy, and universal human rights.” The New York Times has reported his comment that, by 2050, he imagines Adolf Hitler will be recognized as a “great European leader” with his face on banknotes.”
OK, so maybe write an article about Jorjani, or interview him, or his professors? Ask him to explain his comment? Did I ever say anything about Hitler? What’s the argument? We know Dugin criticizes liberalism. Is the implication that he and I support Hitler because of Jorjani? Which professors at the University of Toronto, besides Ronald Beiner, think that this constitutes a good argument against translation and research?
- Millerman said he signed on to Arktos and kept working for them without a worry. “It didn’t really matter to me who else they were publishing,” he said, denouncing what he called “guilt-by-association logic.”
That’s accurate. Dugin already had a contract in place with Arktos when, as a result of a suggestion by my undergraduate supervisor, I contacted Dugin about publishing my first translation. Since he already had a publisher in place, I concentrated on the translations. The publishing was taken care of. Some of what Arktos publishes looks interesting to me (Schmitt, Junger, Benoist). Not all of it does. But even if they published the entire Verso catalogue of leftists, plus anything else, it wouldn’t change the content of Dugin’s books, right? The argument that Dugin is a neo-Nazis because of Arktos, and that I am doubly so since I work on Dugin and publish my translations with Arktos, is a bad argument.
I also think that the idea of guilt by association does not make sense when it comes to thinking about philosophical and political alternatives.
To entertain an idea is to associate yourself with it intimately. But you must entertain contradictory opinions to learn anything worthwhile. First-year undergraduate students are taught to consider counterarguments. You can also learn from many different sources and appreciate various aspects of their thought.
Through guilt-by-association logic, I am a leftist postmodernist (I worked on and admire Derrida), a Zionist neoconservative (I worked on and admire Strauss), a postmodern social democrat (I worked on and admire Rorty), and many more things (Heidegger! Dugin! Hakim Bey! Where does it end?), in my coat of many colours. I presume I am personally responsible for Occupy Wallstreet, the Holocaust, the Iraq War, polio, and much more.
Or…maybe there are limits to guilt by association logic? Maybe guilt by association logic, in scholarship, at least, is a lazy way of avoiding the work of actually studying primary sources? I spent 6-7 translating Dugin. My profs spent 6-7 weeks googling him and reading English Wikipedia. Which of us took the easy way out?
- “Am I supporting their views by allowing them to publish my translation?” he said
I’m not. And I haven’t heard any decent arguments to the contrary. I don’t even know what their views are, to be frank. Are their views are a function of what they publish? I haven’t done a comparative study of their publications. I understand that in general they publish works that challenge modernity and liberalism on various grounds. Well, not everyone who challenges liberalism and modernity is a neo-Nazi, people, unless you define “neo-Nazi” to mean “everyone who challenges liberalism and modernity”! Not a good definition, in my opinion. Are their views a function of what they say? But the few times I’ve heard their editors speak, it has contradicted on points of theory what the books I translated say. If someone wants to denounce a person for what they said, alright. Denouncing a person for what someone else said is odd.
- “If you deliberately place yourself in the company of politically toxic individuals like Daniel Friberg and Jason Jorjani, then you are unavoidably stained by their villainy,” said Ronald Beiner, a political theorist who was Millerman’s doctoral supervisor before also resigning. “You can’t profess innocence.”
Ronald Beiner. Ah, Ronald Beiner. He used to be a good scholar. It’s a shame what he’s become. You can’t defend “Political Philosophy” as he does in his second last book and, at the same time, defend guilt-by-association logic. (By the way, I learned from that book, too). The first review of Beiner’s latest book was by Greg Johnson, editor-in-chief at the online far-right site called Countercurrents. Beiner found out about that and wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called, “When Neo-Nazis Love Your Book.”
Ronald, you can’t profess ignorance! Neo-Nazis love you. I wonder why? You’re “unavoidably stained by villainy.” Unless we intelligently agree to judge each other’s writings on their merits, like we should.
The article goes on to say that I won a major national research scholarship and have great student reviews. That’s true. My reviews are available here for you to read.
Then there are a few paragraphs on Dugin’s influence on the far-right and the context of his rise in prominence over the last few years. I won’t provide any commentary on that. You can read it and review it yourselves, if you want. The summary of Dugin ends on the note that he’s influenced by Heidegger, which is where I pick up the thread:
- This was the focus of Millerman’s PhD research — readings of Heidegger from across a geopolitical and ideological spectrum, from the French post-structuralist Jacques Derrida through two Americans, social democrat Richard Rorty and the more conservative Leo Strauss, to Dugin.
- As Millerman tells it, he started translating Dugin in 2011 as an undergraduate project at UBC. He said he was seeking both to develop an ability to translate technical philosophical vocabulary and to pursue his interest in mysticism.
Yes. I started translating Dugin as an undergraduate. Before then, I had tried to do a self-directed study of the Russian mystical philosopher Vladimir Solovyov. But it was too hard. So I took some Russian classes and ended up translating a different Russian mystical philosopher instead, Dugin.
- He had also been reading Strauss, a philosopher who had a sinister reputation among the left during the George W. Bush years as an inspiration to neoconservatives.
- Another thing that marked him as a campus outsider was that he is, as he puts it, favourably but not fanatically disposed to Israel. He is Jewish, and his parents immigrated from Soviet Moldova.
At UBC, the people around me tended to be anti-Zionist, regarding Zionism as fascism. By contrast, I was then and am now a Zionist. But wait! Didn’t my U of T profs imply that I support anti-Semitism and Islamic radicalism? Yep.
- (Dugin is more anti-Semitic even than the typical Russian nationalist in that he considers opposition between Jews and ethnic Russians to be “fundamental.” But he has said Israel is the only country to successfully apply many of the “principles of conservative revolution,” according to an academic review edited by Marlene Laruelle of George Washington University.)
Let’s see. On one hand, Dugin is more anti-Semitic than even very anti-Semitic Russian nationalists. On the other, he sees Israel as the only conservative revolutionary country. And he often describes himself as a support of conservative revolutionary principles. On the face of it, that’s a puzzle: anti-Semitic, but pro-Zionist (i.e. pro-Israel as conservative revolutionary country). He has shifted on Zionism, I know, putting out low propaganda videos critical of Israel. That’s another factor. We can either try to distinguish all of these considerations from one another and assess them, or not. I prefer to make the effort, not only in the case of Dugin. Incidentally, Jewish political thought has long benefitted from philosophical and theoretical writings of people who are not necessarily good friends of the Jewish people.
- Millerman was attracted by what he called Dugin’s efforts to “expand the notion of what it means to be human.” After the failures of fascism, communism, and now, some argue, liberalism, Dugin offers “The Fourth Political Theory,” the title of his best-known book. Millerman said it offers a welcome new “conceptual space.”
True. Mystical thought in general expands the notion of what it is to be human. Dugin often refers to Henry Corbin’s studies of Islamic mysticism in that connection. But he also writes and lectures about Jung, Durand, and many, many others who, together, can enrich our appreciation of the “blossoming complexity” of human existence.
- Millerman thought it should be uncontroversial to pursue a deep academic inquiry into a thinker whose ideas were being “operationalized,” especially if their work is “unjustly even though understandably limited to one approach or interpretation.”
Of course it should be uncontroversial in a political theory program to study a political theorist who is interesting, learned, and politically relevant. Isn’t that obvious?
- He was more interested in identifying problems than in advocating solutions, he said.
Advocating solutions is policy. I am not an activist with ready-made solutions to self-evident problems. There’s a place for that kind of activity, in and out of academia, to be sure. But there must also be a place for theoretical inquiry, for trying to get the questions and the concepts right, experimenting with comparisons and other methodologies, and so on.
The first problem that launched my dissertation research , for instance, was why the postmodern left and the postmodern right read Heidegger so differently. I agree with the view that you should try to understand something before criticizing it, if you are a scholar or theorist and not merely a policymaker or activist.
- So he contacted Dugin, who said a translation project was already underway with Arktos, carried out in part by Nina Kouprianova, the wife of Richard Spencer. (She also has a doctoral degree from the University of Toronto, in history. Millerman said he has never met her, and claimed to be unaware of what she contributed to the translation of The Fourth Political Theory, even though both are thanked in the editor’s note.)
My undergraduate supervisor suggested I contact Dugin. I had no plans to do that before his suggestion. Dugin had a contract in place already with Arktos. I had no idea Nina had a role in the translation of the Fourth Political Theory, even if she was thanked in the editor’s note. At that time I probably had no clue who she was. As I recall, when I got my copy of the Fourth Political Theory, I was just proud to see my own name listed as the translator. I recall seeing John Morgan’s name: he was the editor I worked with then. When the journalist showed me the acknowledgements, I saw that they do not say that she translated the 4PT (I was pretty sure that only I and Mark Sleboda were involved in the translation). I don’t know what she did, and it doesn’t matter to me. I know that she translated Dugin’s first Heidegger book, “Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning.” It’s a coincidence that we both attended U of T. We never met. At times the journalist seemed to find it hard to believe that I actually just did my translation and that’s all. There’s no need to discover the networks here. There are none.
- At U of T for his masters, Millerman made his interest known. “I didn’t think there was anything to hide,” he said. Dugin himself even wrote Millerman a letter of reference — which he has not seen, as is the normal protocol.
I was proud of my translation, naturally. And when Dugin wrote me a letter of reference, he was a professor at Moscow State University. I.e. he was in an academic position. It didn’t seem inappropriate. This was before 2014.
- “I admit that then, and possibly now, there’s a sense of naiveté,” Millerman said.
Naïve to think professors would support independent study, free of ideological tests.
- Things finally blew up in 2014 when Millerman was invited on the television show The Agenda to explain Dugin’s ideas.
I was on the Agenda in December 2014. The video has been viewed over 70,000 times.
- “That’s where things went downhill,” Millerman said.
- He told the show’s host Steve Paikin that he admires Dugin and embraces his positions. He said he is grateful for the freedoms of a liberal world, but thinks its understanding of history and humanity is unnecessarily limited, missing out on the richness of human experience. Dugin helps to bring this out, he said, to show that Western liberalism is not the “end of the story.” (He also subsequently wrote an op-ed for the National Post, arguing that to defend itself against Russian propaganda, the West needed to find a philosophical basis for liberal democracy.)
The interview was 22 minutes. Most of it was expository. In the last few minutes, I said I embrace Dugin’s positions, and I specified in which respect I meant that. Since I studied Dugin as a theorist, and not as an activist, I meant that I support those parts of his theoretical studies that provide a richer understanding of what it means to be human than liberal, leftist, or fascist political subjectology does. I still think that. For instance, I learned about Henry Corbin through Dugin. Corbin’s book on the Creative Imagination in Ibn Arabi is a good example of a notion of what it means to be human that I’ve learned from and think merits attention.
Scandal? Not really. Since before starting undergraduate studies, I’ve been reading about mystical perspectives on what it means to be human. My first few undergraduate papers were written long before I’d ever heard of Dugin are about how we can enrich our understanding of the person by studying mystics. For example, here’s a paper I wrote in my first year called “Introvertive Mysticism and the Search for the Soulful Self.”
Unfortunately, most of my professors didn’t bother to learn the context of my remark.
- Clifford Orwin was one of several of Millerman’s doctoral advisors to call him in for a meeting after the show aired. Millerman claims Orwin asked how he could promote someone (meaning Heidegger as read by Strauss, the subject of one of his chapters) who would send his wife and children to the gas chambers.
I used to think Orwin was a good professor, genuinely interested in the pursuit of the truth. His comments on my Heidegger paper showed me otherwise, unfortunately.
- In an interview, Orwin denied saying anything like this. But he acknowledged, as Millerman also claimed, he said he was in a moral conflict because Orwin’s son was serving with the American military fighting against Islamic fundamentalism, one of many movements Dugin seeks to recruit to his cause.
You read correctly. I study and translate Dugin and think he’s right that there’s more to being human than liberal political theory dreams of. Therefore…I oppose his son’s fight against ISIS. No, sorry, Cliff. Orwin does not know, wouldn’t care to know, and doesn’t deserve to know that if I did not get work in copywriting, I was planning to join the Canadian Armed Forces, having passed all the tests to be an Aerospace Control Officer. I’m a proud Canadian and am not against the West. My model in that regard is Leo Strauss, a great friend of liberal democracy, who would not be its flatterer.
- Beyond that, Orwin declined to comment. Other advisors also declined to comment publicly. Millerman said he avoided campus for half a year, blaming what he called the “toxic” environment in which he suddenly found himself.
- Ruth Marshall, however, a professor of religious studies and political science who describes herself as “left of liberal,” said she felt it was important to stay on Millerman’s committee and take over as his supervisor.
Hero. Did her job, did it well. Much respect. She redeemed academia for me.
- “I feel, just in principle, that we shouldn’t have ideological tests for our students,” Marshall said in an interview.
The key line from the article.
- “Of course, one would hope that people don’t become fascists,” Marshall said. But professors have a “pedagogical obligation to our students” to foster a “critical spirit.”
That’s what I thought was self-evident, especially among self-professed champions of free inquiry. Nope! It actually takes some spine to fulfill pedagogical obligations. Ruth went above and beyond in doing so.
- “Critical thinking is not compatible with ideological thinking,” she said. If Millerman were ideologically under the sway of Dugin, then he would be “uninstructable,” she said. But she found he was not. He responded seriously to her criticisms, and he did not fall into the common grad student trap of overestimating his own knowledge.
“Critical thinking is not compatible with ideological thinking.”
- “He is enamoured by philosophy. He is not interested in the politics. You could even fault him on that,” Marshall said.
- While she was not always sure that his interest in Dugin’s philosophy was definitely separate from the political context, as Millerman claims, she came to see that claim as “entirely plausible.”
- He is provocative, but he is a “proper philosopher,” she said.
That’s the professional estimation of the person I worked with most closely during the three years of my dissertation.
- Publishing with Arktos was a mistake, and she told him so, because people will assume he is part of their far-right movement.
Yes, they will. She’s right. She’s always had a good sense of how people will interpret or misinterpret a situation.
- “Professionally, it was a dumb idea,” she said. As to the dissertation, she said she is happy with the final product.
She’s probably right that it was a bad idea professionally. But I’m not sure I’d do it differently. On the other topic, it was a big accomplishment for me to gain her approval and the approval of the other committee members, as well as the external reader, on the dissertation itself, separately from all the drama about my Dugin translations. I’m truly indebted to those who let me discover what I wouldn’t have discovered without their support and encouragement.
- Meanwhile, his doctorate in hand, Millerman is now working as a copywriter with a company in the financial sector. He said he has been encouraged not to leave academia, but that the positions immediately available to him conflict with the demands of family life. He is not sure whether he will ever be back on a university campus. He has another translation of Dugin coming out with Arktos later this year.
Although it sounds like I’ve recently been translating new material, the translations coming out later this year, or next year, were done a while ago. I’m proud of the translations and look forward to their publication.
Those are some of my comments on the article. All in all, the journalist was not unfair to me. We spoke for two hours, and there’s only so much of my side of the story he can fit into a short article that must also take account of other people’s perspectives.
I hope these comments have helped answer some of the questions people might have about me and about what happened during my time studying political theory at the University of Toronto.