Pre-Modern Values, Post-Modern Eugenics

How and Why „Dune“ Appeals to the Far-Right

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Nearly 60 years after it was first published, Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune (1965) continues to command the attention of scifi fans around the world. Consisting of six volumes and now the subject of a 3-part television mini-series produced for the Syfy channel in 2021, two different film adaptations – one from 1984 directed by David Lynch, and one from 2021 directed by French filmmaker Denis Villeneuve[1] – something about Dune’s story continues to appeal to a wide readership and viewership. Many of the components of the narrative conform to a standard epic, filled with intrigue and several powerful families vying for power, but also elements of modern society, represented by the wealth disparities created by the powerful intergovernmental trade organization CHOAM (Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles) and the monopoly on intergalactic travel by the Space Guild. The story revolves around the young Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides. When the story opens, the Duke has recently been put in charge of administering the desert planet of Arrakis, which would mean taking over for the Harkonnen family, who previously ruled the planet. This planet is nearly uninhabitable, with a scarcity of water and home of giant sandworms capable of swallowing men whole. Only the Fremen, a nomadic people indigenous to the planet, have successfully managed to survive in this hostile environment. But the planet is valuable to the wealthy because it is the only place where spice can be harvested – a drug that enables interstellar transportation. Due to a revolt of AI against mankind, in the Dune universe computation is done by superhumans, known as Mentats, rather than machines. Without the presence of computation, spice enables humans to navigate interstellar travel by heightening their awareness and increasing their lifespan. Duke Atreides  believes he has been put in charge of Arrakis, because the Emperor thinks he will be more successful at running the spice industry, by treating the Fremen humanely. However, the Emperor has made a deal with the former ruler of Dune, Baron Harkonnen, to assassinate the Duke, kill his family and take over Arrakis in order to enslave the Fremen. The Harkonnen have ruled Dune brutally, killing off thousands of Fremen in their pursuit of domination before.[2]

But as we learn at the very beginning, the Baron and the Emperor’s plan does not go as smoothly as hoped, namely because the Duke’s son, Paul, does not perish when he and his mother Jessica escape the assassins by heading for the desert. Rather, Paul and Jessica are taken in by the Fremen and Paul soon takes what his mother believes to be his destined place as a leader among them. For Paul is not just the ordinary son of a noble house, he is believed to be the one, the Kwisatz Haderach – the Messiah who, according to the Bene Gesserit, an elite group of female leaders who determine who breeds with whom in an attempt to create the perfect human, is supposed to change the balance of power in the universe due to their ability to see into the future. Jessica is a member of the Bene Gesserit and had long believed that he would fulfill this role and therefore trained Paul in the way of the Bene Gesserit, even though that is not allowed for males. Due to Paul’s unique power of seeing into the future, he can see that he will be the one to lead the Fremen to rebel against the Emperor and liberate themselves. But Paul is not entirely comfortable with this responsibility, because he knows it will come with unprecedented violence. 

When one scours the internet to get a better understanding of Dune’s fan base, forums like Reddit are actually largely dominated by liberal, possibly even left-leaning fans. However, in this essay, we will explore what it is about this narrative that appeals specifically to right-wing audiences. We argue that it’s Dune’s combination of high fantasy – a medievalist, anti-modern world – its Orientalist semiotics and its fascist saviorism that makes it possible for a right-wing fan base to adapt the story for its own needs. 

High Fantasy’s Appeal to the Right

We begin with a discussion of high fantasy, a genre established by JRR Tolkien, because a lot of the discourse connecting fantasy writing to a right-wing fan base revolves around fans of Tolkien’s books.[3] In fact, in 2023, “Prevent, the UK counterterrorism programme, added the [Lord of the Rings] books to a list of ‘key texts’ for white supremacists.”[4] Part of what has shone a light on Tolkien’s right-wing appeal is how Italy’s newly elected Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d‘Italia) party, frequently discusses her affinity for the author.[5] Meloni has been described as the country’s most fascist leader since Benito Mussolini. Remarkably, when she became interested in right-wing ideologies as a young student, she simultaneously developed an interest in fantasy literature, because she felt novels like the Lord of the Rings trilogy presented her with a world that contrasted with the ills of modernity and change that had apparently ruined traditions. According to Tobias Hof’s article in this edition, Tolkien’s appeal to Italy’s far right already began when it was first published there in the 1970s. Furthermore, Meloni spoke in praise of Tolkien’s work in November 2023, at an exhibit on Tolkien at Rome’s National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. According to an article in the Times, the large showing at the exhibit by members of the Brothers of Italy party “reflected the status Tolkien acquired in the 1970s among members of Italy’s postwar fascist MSI party, which gave Meloni her start in politics and later became the Brothers of Italy.”[6] Italy’s senate speaker and co-founder of the Brothers of Italy, Ignazio LaRussa, stated about Tolkien’s appeal, “The battle between good and evil, with a big divide between them, is not something left-wing.”[7]

In addition to these news articles, there is plenty of academic scholarship on Tolkien that attempts to explain his right-wing appeal by drawing on his biography, his medievalist scholarly training and his world-building. C.W. Sullivan III defines high fantasy as follows:

The society of high fantasy is drawn from medieval romance as is much of the material culture and technology. The people live in castles and manor houses, the transport (unless magical) is by horse on land and by sailing ship at sea, both the domestic and military technologies (except for wizardry) are essentially frozen at a level which would be recognisable to a medieval Briton, and the ideals are a distillation of those which have come down to the twentieth century as the Arthurian tradition – the dream of Camelot. And although most of the main characters are from the upper classes – kings and queens, princes and princesses, wizards, knights and ladies – there is always the chance that the orphan will prove himself worthy (in which case, he, too, will join the elite at the end of the tale).[8]

High fantasy can refer to style, subject matter, theme or tone. It can also refer to the characters themselves – their elite or elevated social status or the moral or ethical philosophies which they espouse or exemplify. As indicated by the connection Meloni draws between Tolkien and anti-modernity, by setting fantasy narratives in worlds that are highly influenced by medievalism, authors (un)intentionally appeal to people nostalgic for a homogenous world that allegedly existed prior to the modern beliefs that have disrupted archaic beliefs about gender, racial, ethnic and class difference. In the medievalist worlds of high fantasy, gender is typically approached from a binary perspective, where men and women have very distinct roles and women tend to fulfill roles of servitude, led by “strong” and capable masculine leaders. In these worlds, biological races exist, as opposed to our modern understanding that race is a social construct. Furthermore, different racial and ethnic groups insist on living separately from others, in order to preserve their distinct cultures. What enables an easier separation between races is they tend to populate vastly different geographic spaces. Although the right’s fantasy of the medieval world may be one of homogenous cultures living separately, Medieval scholars of Color like Geraldine Heng have long pushed back against this notion that medieval Europe was a homogenous space absent of the idea of “races.”[9]

Finally, in these medievalist fantasy worlds, pre-modern hierarchies are alive and well. In the medieval and early modern eras of Europe, people believed in a God-given, ecclesiastical hierarchy. Whether one was a peasant, a priest or part of the nobility, people believed these were inflexible categories that could not be changed.[10] The dominance of Christianity in combination with a lack of general education and widespread illiteracy helped maintain the strict boundaries between the rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless. Nowadays, for people on the right who believe that different biological races exist and that some “races” are lesser and pre-destined for servitude, while others are superior and pre-destined to rule, this pre-modern world of inflexible hierarchies is very appealing. A final marker of these medievalist high fantasy worlds that appeals to the right is a rather archaic understanding of morality and justice. Our modern penal system is greatly influenced by modern debates on humane treatment (i.e. no use of torture) and the need for reform over punishment.[11] However the pre-modern worlds of fantasy often exist in worlds where such Enlightenment-era debates never took place. Prisoners are tortured, the marginalized – the poor, the disabled, the infirm and uneducated – are exploited and abused. And such practices are viewed as morally acceptable, something that would certainly appeal to right-wing populists advocating for more “law and order.” Meanwhile, the core of the conflict and drama revolves around a handful of powerful, noble families, who may choose to enrich themselves at the cost of the lives of millions of people.

High fantasy was a new category, used to describe JRR Tolkien’s works, due to the unique world-building in his novels such as The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (published in 1954 and 1955). There are a variety of reasons why Tolkien’s work has a right-wing appeal. First of all, Tolkien was writing his novels at a time when racial politics in the UK were very volatile, and he was ultimately in part influenced by that, even if he himself was staunchly anti-fascist. Secondly, in Tolkien’s novels, morality is often associated with physical beauty or ugliness according to Eurocentric norms. The evil creatures in Tolkien’s novels are hideous, and dark-skinned with large noses and ears. Third, Tolkien, whose academic background was in Medieval literature, infused fantasy literature with medievalism. In Tolkien’s fantasy worlds, powerful, noble houses feuded with each other, characters care about honor. One finds similar conditions in Dune.The world of Dune is not ruled by the same morality as ours. For example, prisoners are sent to a “prison planet”, Salusa Secundus, that has the most inhumane conditions. As Hawat tells Baron Harkonnen “You hear that the mortality rate among new prisoners is higher than sixty percent. You hear that the Emperor practices every form of oppression there. You hear all this and do not ask questions?” (605).

In Dune, the battles for power are often brutal, with a lot of intrigue, backstabbing and deceit. For example, when Baron Harkonnen realizes that his nephew Feyd-Rautha recently tried to poison him, in order to take over, he does not react angrily. Rather he simply says, “‘Tell me, Feyd, why didn’t you strike me down yourself? You’ve had opportunity enough.’ Feyd-Rautha found a suspensor chair, accomplished a mental shrug as he sat down in it without being asked. I must be bold now, he thought. ‘You taught me that my own hands must remain clean,’ he said” (597). Baron Harkonnen is not upset with his nephew because he understands that in this harsh world, it is kill or be killed and even though his nephew has been chosen to be his successor, he worries his uncle will never step down. 

A Misogynist World? The Women of “Dune”

Part of this medievalist society is not just hatred and disinterest for the weak, but also a hatred of women. Women are viewed as objects who are disposable. When Baron Harkonnen wants to punish Feyd for his assassination attempt, the Baron punishes him by killing his female concubines: “‘And now,’ the Baron said, ‘we will go down to the slave quarters, we two. And I will watch while you, with your own hands, kill all the women in the pleasure wing.’ ‘Uncle!’ ‘There will be other women, Feyd. But I have said that you do not make a mistake casually with me.’ Feyd-Rautha’s face darkened. ‘Uncle, you—’ ‘You will accept your punishment and learn something from it,’ the Baron said” (602). And even though Paul and his father Leto do not share the same misogynist thoughts as the Harkonnens, they still act in accordance with a society that divides women into wives and concubines. Paul’s mother Jessica was never married to Duke Leto. She describes herself as a “bound concubine” (84). The reason Duke Leto never married her was because she is not born noble, and just as was the practice in Medieval societies, marriages in the Dune universe are political and for consolidating power across wealthy families. This is why, even after Paul falls in love with the Fremen woman Chani and she bears him a son, at the end of the novel he marries the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Irulan. Marrying Princess Irulan is necessary for consolidating power in Paul’s hands, and he asks Chani to understand that her title as his “concubine” is simply a necessity of their societal norms. Paul tells Chani, “That woman over [the Princess] there will be my wife and you but a concubine because this is a political thing and we must weld peace out of this moment, enlist the Great Houses of the Landsraad. We must obey the forms. Yet that princess shall have no more of me than my name. No child of mine nor touch nor softness of glance, nor instant of desire” (794). Meanwhile, the Fremen do not share this same misogyny, most notably because they look to a Reverend Mother for guidance, a role Jessica eventually takes over. Nonetheless, for Jessica and the Fremen, most women are subordinate to the men in their society. When Paul kills the Fremen Jamis in a duel to prove his worth, he inherits Jamis’ wife and children, as is customary among the Fremen. Jamis’ wife, Harah, has no say in the matter. In fact, it is up to Paul to decide whether Harah will be his wife, or a life-long servant. He chooses the latter because of his love for Chani, but ultimately even she must agree to be Paul’s concubine.

In an interpretation of Dune, the role of women allows for different readings. One is the enforcement of a traditional, misogynistic role of women as caretakers, objects of desire and reproducers of society. However, the powerful organization of the Bene Gesserit also allows for a reading of – some, elite – women as steering the politics of the world with their secret powers and strong loyalty and devotion to their sisterhood. 

The Cult of the Übermensch

Because in the world of Dune, the roles of women are limited, a woman can either become a concubine, a whore, or a member of the Bene-Gesserit, a powerful, gifted sisterhood, trained from childhood onwards, as Paul’s mother, Jessica. The powerful Bene-Gesserit religion is exclusively organized by and for women. They have predicted a male Messiah will come, and they spread this myth for centuries among the Fremen. When Jessica believes her son could not be the Kwisatz Haderach, the Fremen believe it based on the myth – which enables Paul to become their leader.[12] For the Bene Gesserit, this is the core of their mission: to create a god-like figure through a breeding program, aiming for improved humankind. The Bene Gesserit subscribe themselves to the goal of creating the Kwisatz Haderach through eugenics: a male, “who can gain access to both feminine and masculine memories and bridge space and time through prescient visions.”[13] Both, the limited roles of women and the role of the Bene Gesserit as caretakers for humanity and responsible for reproduction are close to right-wing ideas of female responsibilities, set within binary gender identity and heteronative organization of family, closely aligned with the idea of genetic engineering and eugenics, as for producing the ideal human and society.[14]

The environment, in which a narrative like Dune is set, is brutal and unforgiving. Whether the Fremen or the Harkonnen, the strongest, most cunning fighter beats his opponent. And while there are rules about how to fight honorably, ultimately whoever ends up on top is able to enjoy his spoils. The reason Paul ultimately emerges as the most powerful figure in the novel is not just due to his fighting techniques, but also his ability to see into the future; a trait that brings him in close proximity with fascist ideals. The notion of the superhuman [Übermensch], made famous by Friedrich Nietzsche, is what makes Dune’s universe particularly attractive to the right-wing. In the Dune universe, eugenics is not only embraced, but taken to an extreme. First of all, because of this ability, Paul is a marvel of eugenics. He is the very specimen which the Bene Gesserit have been engineering. Secondly, Paul has the responsibility of having to decide whether or not to enable a Jihad that he knows will kill millions of people. As uncomfortable as he is with this prospect, a part of him recognizes that this may be necessary in order to take power from a corrupt Emperor and keep the Fremen from being enslaved. Thus, Paul alone must ultimately decide if the death of millions of people is justified for the greater good, and this is also a core element of fascist thought.

A close-up of the Fremen at the start of Dune (2021). They wear Bedouin clothes to protect themselves from the desert winds. Zendaya (as Chani) kneels above the men.

After Duke Leto, Paul and Jessica land on Arrakis, they see a crowd of Fremen in a large mass chanting something they don’t understand.

Hierarchy and Colonialism 

Audiences who believe in racial hierarchies are often drawn to Dune because of its colonial aspects. As several scholars have already demonstrated, the Fremen are clearly coded as Middle Eastern. They speak a language that draws from Arabic and different Central Asian languages.[15] They live a nomadic lifestyle in the desert. But it’s not the case that Herbert depicts the Fremen in a manner that is racist or a caricature. If anything, their depiction might best conform to the phenomenon of the “noble savage.” The evil characters in the novel belittle them and view them as barbaric, but Paul clearly admires their strength and survival instincts and treats them with respect, resembling the myth of the “good colonizer.” Nevertheless, there is indeed something colonial about a people like the Fremen waiting for a white Messiah who will lead their Jihad against the emperor. In fact, in his book, The Orientalist Semiotics of Dune, Frank Jacob[16]compares Paul’s story to that of Lawrence of Arabia, suggesting that part of Paul’s appeal to readers is that he successfully “goes native” and is able to live among and lead a culture that is so different from his own, which plays on tropes as old as Robinson Crusoe or Tarzan.

According to C.W. Sullivan III, one of the distinctions of high fantasy is that its “secondary world cannot be totally fantastic, otherwise the reader would not be able to understand a word of what was written. There have to be elements of the secondary world which the reader can recognize and understand, and no small amount of critical effort has been expended over the years in enumerating the traditional sources on which high fantasy has drawn for its reality.”[17] Dune follows this model of high fantasy by creating a fantastic first world, but within that is a secondary world that reflects Western understandings of and engagement with the Middle East. In particular, its primary setting, the desert planet of Arrakis (Dune), is largely based on Western tropes of the Middle East, which explains why one can find so much Orientalist semiotics in the novel. But it would be too simplistic to describe the narrative perspective as Islamophobic, because the negative ideas about the Fremen are largely anchored in a very particular narrative perspective, namely that of the villainous Harkonen family. The Baron Harkonnen, who at the start of the novel is responsible for having Paul’s father, Duke Atreides, killed and for sending Jessica and Paul on the run in the desert, has very negative opinions of the Fremen that one could understand as Islamophobic. For example, Baron Harkonnen greatly underestimates the Fremen’s capability for strategy and finds surveilling them a useless endeavor. He says, “I’ve lived for a time on this planet [Arrakis], cher cousin. One does not spy on those ragged scum of the desert” (292).

But as Frank Herbert noted, even though Paul respects the Fremen and integrates into their society, he could be considered ethically even more dubious than Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence), who fought with Arabs in an uprising against the Ottoman Empire because it was strategically beneficiary to the British Empire while also pursuing the Arabs’ political goals. Paul, however, is most concerned with dominating the universe himself, and he sees no problem with using the Fremen as his army to do so. This might in fact be what allows right-wing fans of Dune to identify with Paul, despite his respectful view of the Fremen. One could argue that Dune’s instrumentalization of the Fremen, as signifiers for Muslims, is comparable to Germans’ (both prior to and during the “Third Reich”) interest in mobilizing a Jihad against their European enemies in order to weaken the British, French and Russians. As Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz argue in Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, German nationalists’ Middle East strategy of instrumentalizing Muslims began well before the Nazis rise to power in 1933. Already in the 1880s, Germans hoped to align themselves with Muslims and portray Germany “as champion of the downtrodden Muslims and the promote Jihad against Germany’s enemies.”[18] In particular, Emperor Wilhelm II “dreamed of being an oriental potentate or reincarnation of Alexander the Great.”[19] This German attitude towards the Middle East not only influenced Germany’s working together with Turks (whom Germans considered the “Germans of the Middle East”)[20] during WWI, but also Hitler’s attitudes towards the Middle East. According to Rubin and Schwanitz, Hitler’s notion that Germans could befriend Muslims and lead them to fulfill Germans’ goals were largely inspired by the Orientalist novels of Karl May, such as Durch die Wüste (In the Desert, 1892) whose main protagonist, Kara Ben Nemsi, was a German, fully integrated in Muslim culture and to whom Muslim characters were subordinate, loyal servants. The Nazis’ Orientalist, paternalist view towards Muslims is also evident in the Nazis’ treatment of Muslim P.O.W.s who happened to be captured while they fought against their Allies’ colonial troops. In the documentary Die Leere Mitte (The Empty Center, 1998), for example, director Hito Steyerl includes footage of Nazis training Indian P.O.W.s, whom they hoped to use as allies in a fight against the British.

The Misfit Becomes the Hero

Paul’s heroic arc resonates not just with a past which fascists revere, but also with recent, contemporary political movements. One of the unforeseen ways in which the Covid pandemic contributed to the rise in right-wing populism in Europe, is the manner in which protests against Covid regulations brought together a strange coalition of voters. When the “Querdenker” (contrarian thinkers) movement in Germany staged protests against the country’s Covid politics, it became clear very fast that a collection of diverse groups, many of them believing in conspiracy myths, open to right-wing ideologies, including far-right organizations, antisemitic QAnon conspiracists, as well as left-wing hippies, were willing to work together in the protests.[21] What they had in common: they considered themselves as outsiders, as misfits and outcasts who challenged common beliefs and values, gaining their strength from believing in their quest, as heroes who will save the world from the “corrupt system” or the “elite.” 

This trope of misfits becoming heroes is not new to right-wing movements, it is a central access point to right-wing ideologies, as it caters to an audience that feels misunderstood and not cared for by society. A story of “one like us,” someone who was always underrated becoming the savior against an imagined (Jewish) elite, resembles antisemitic tropes and makes the story of Paul of House Atreides attractive to right-wing circles. Paul, heir of the house of Atreides, is shown as a slim, young boy, sheltered and not ready for the “real” world yet. However, the narrative, spread by the Bene Gesserit before his arrival, of the one savior coming to the planet, makes it possible for him to become a hero, after his family was betrayed by the conspiring elite of the Harkonnen and the Emperor, and his father was murdered. When Paul and his mother take refuge in the desert, they have to face the rules of the native Fremen world, where arguments are resolved with violence and fights for life and death. By proving himself in killing a man, Paul receives recognition by the Fremen and evolves into the hero he is destined to become: the chosen one, the Kwisatz Haderach, the Messiah who will lead them toward a better future.

The wish for a strong leader who is saving the world from those who are oppressed can easily be connected to right-wing ideologies promoting the belief in a strong leader, authoritarian rule and the understanding that democracy is not required in times of crisis.[22] Paul’s crisis is personal, as his own world was shattered and his father murdered, as well as a crisis of his environment, with the evil house of Harkonnen being back in power and stealing the Spice from the planet and the Fremen. This crisis justifies drastic means: as the world is collapsing, violence becomes not only an option, but it is also the only choice to make. Only leaders who are dictators can take the necessary steps to overcome the challenges of the world. Democracy makes leaders receptive to the people’s demands and prevents them from foresight. Paul’s plan includes killing billions of people for the long-term plan of a renewed civilization. In fighting his righteous war, Paul becomes the main character of a medieval heroic story.

However, one could argue that if Paul really is the Kwisatz Haderach, the Messiah and savior, shouldn’t he have the power to find a way aside from outrageous violence, sacrificing the sixty-one billion lives, to save the world? Here the role of belief systems and religion comes into play: as he continues to prove that he is the chosen one, Paul becomes subject to his own destiny. He has no agency, as his journey has already been decided before – he is just becoming who he already is. This dominance of religion is another link to right-wing ideologies and their close connection to conservatism and radical Christian movements, as one can currently see in the USA but also in other parts of the world where Christianity is still dominant. According to such religious beliefs, all of us are following a predetermined path, a place in society, that cannot be changed without great risks for one’s soul. This is similar to the caste system in Dune, where everyone is born and trained to fulfill specific roles – as assassins, mentats, doctors, pilots, or Bene-Gesserit.[23]


As we have demonstrated, despite its setting in the future in another universe, Dune provides all elements of a medieval heroic tale and can, as other fantasy and science fiction writings, be connected to right-wing ideologies. Dune has a large fan-base amongst right-wing proponents of white-supremacy, such as activist Richard Spencer. The large fanbase of Dune is even used as a recruiting platform for right-wing movements. However, the reception of Dune goes far beyond the right, on the contrary, when Dune was written in 1965, it was “received as a countercultural parable, warning against ecological devastation and autocratic rule.”[24] In that reading, the oppressed proletariat is suffering, but develops specific skills and solidarity to survive their hardship and revolts against the fascist dictatorship of the Harkonnen. Paul represents the liberal/humanist part of the feudal system, who joins the proletarian, colonized Fremen in their struggle and with their skills combined, overcoming the feudal system, wins against imperialism and fascism. “Inhuman mass murders are defeated by self-organization of the masses around social and economic grievances,”[25] and the planet is saved.

Benjamin Clementine cast as the Herald of Change who has come to read the Emperor’s decree stating that House Atreides will take over Arrakis.

A progressive reading of Dune allows for a more nuanced perspective of the narrative. While some connect it with right-wing ideas, the narrative can also be understood as a criticism of them. As a complex story it does not present us with black and white characters, motives or conflicts, but rather the text allows for interpretation and discussion. This is perhaps best reflected in Villeneuve’s adaptation, for which he drew on a diverse cast of actors with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds including Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto, Javier Bardem as the Fremen leader Stilgar, Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho and Zendaya as Chani. Villeneuve’s movie also features women more than the book. Jessica (Paul’s mother) plays a bigger role in the movie and becomes Pauls “sidekick.” Liet-Kynes, an ecologist who in the book is a white male, is a Black woman in the movie, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster. Reflecting on the world and story of Dune can be a starting point for discussing the threats of right-wing ideologies and their connectivity to heroic tales we’ve loved for generations. Dune requires us to critically reflect on questions of gender relations and patriarchy, biological explanations, predetermination and eugenics, antisemitic and racist stereotypes, as well as the role of individuals in making a difference by choosing who they want to be and how to act. At a time of open political threats to democracy and rising racism, antisemitism and hate, the ongoing success of Dune and the upcoming movie (part two of Villeneuve’s adaptation) might provide an opportunity to discuss these topics in a fictional world – with very real meaning for our own world. 


[1] Villeneuve’s 2021 film is actually only part one of the novel. Part 2 will be released in 2024.

[2] Frank Herbert, Dune, Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, (607-8). All subsequent quotes from the book will be cited parenthetically.

[3] See for example the newspaper articles “Meloni ally: Tolkien was right wing,” Times, November 17, 2023, p. 29 and “Fascists Twist Tolkien into Lord of the Right Wings,” Waikato times, January 1, 2024. See also the books Dimitri Fima, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and Robert Stuart, Tolkien, Race, and Racism in Middle Earth (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2022).

[4] “Fascists Twist Tolkien” 

[5] Jason Horowitz, “Hobbits and the Hard Right: How Fantasy Inspires Italy’s Potential New Leader,” New York Times, 21 September 2022, Accessed 28 January 2024. 

[6] “Meloni ally: Tolkien was right wing.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] C.W. Sullivan III, “High Fantasy” in International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, edited by Peter Hunt (London; New York: Routledge, 1996), 438.

[9] Geraldine Heng, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

[10] R. Le Jan, F. Bougard, Hiérarchie: le concept et son champ d’application dans les sociétés du haut Moyen Âge, (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2008), 7-14.

[11] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977).

[12] Kennedy, K. (2021). Reproduction and Motherhood. In K. Kennedy (Ed.), Women’s Agency in the Dune Universe: Tracing Women’s Liberation through Science Fiction (69-102). Springer International Publishing., 78

[13] Ibid., 79.

[14] Heinemann, I., & Stern, A. M. (2022). Gender and Far-right Nationalism: Historical and International Dimensions. Introduction. Journal of Modern European History, 20(3), 311-321.

[15] Jacob, Frank, The Orientalist Semiotics of Dune: Religious and Historical References Within Frank Herbert’s Universe (Büchner-Verlag, Marburg 2022), 24 and 43.

[16] Ibid. 

[17] Sullivan, “High Fantasy,” 438.

[18] Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 11.

[19] Ibid., 12.

[20] Ibid., 13.

[21] Beratungsstelle Rechtsextremismus. (n.d.). Thema Rechtsextreme Mobilisierung im Rahmen der Proteste gegen die Corona-Maßnahmen.

[22] Hirsch, M. (2022). Becoming authoritarian for the greater good? Authoritarian attitudes in context of the societal crises of COVID-19 and climate change [Original Research]. Frontiers in Political Science, 4.

[23] Manson, P. (2021). Is Dune fascist? Nope. But…the Harkonnens and the Proud Boys have a lot in common. How to stop fascism.

[24] Carroll, J. S. (2020). Race Consciousness: Fascism and Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. LARB. Los Angeles Review of Books.

[25] Manson, P. (2021). Is Dune fascist?