Strange Delusions of Leftist Academic Philosophers
reason goeth against a man, a man goeth against reason."
few weeks ago my one-time colleague Professor Tibor R. Machan emailed
a prospective letter to the editor of a British philosophy journal
to a number of us in his address book. His letter quotes a leftist
British philosopher named Jonathan Ree, writing in the Winter 2002
issue of The Philosopher’s Magazine devoted to the events
of September 11 and their aftermath, that "philosophy as a
whole has been solidly and securely right-wing and libertarian in
the last thirty years. I don’t think that leftist anti-Americanism
has been exactly the majority view."
Machan, perhaps the most widely published libertarian philosopher
in the English-speaking world and more than competent at analytic
philosophy generally, found Ree’s remark confusing and flabbergasting.
Confusing, because "philosophy as a whole" could be almost
anything. What it means to characterize areas of the discipline
such as, say, philosophy of mind or of science as "right-wing"
or "libertarian" is anyone’s guess. However, if Ree is
referring to areas of philosophy where applying such categories
at least makes sense, then as Professor Machan puts it, "Professor
Ree is telling us something that is blatantly false."
is more like it. Of American philosophers who have made major contributions
to libertarian thought, only the late Robert Nozick was positioned
to be influential, having been at Harvard. Nozick’s Anarchy,
State and Utopia
got libertarianism on the philosophical radar screen. Besides
Nozick, the list of professional philosophers who have made worthy
contributions to libertarian, Objectivist (Ayn Rand’s philosophy),
neo-Aristotelian, or Austrian School thought, or somewhere in between,
is fairly substantial. It includes (besides Machan): John Hospers,
John O. Nelson, David Gordon, Jan Narveson, Barry Smith, Douglas
Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Eric Mack, David Kelley, Fred Miller,
Jeffrey Paul, Ellen Frankel Paul, Barry Smith, N. Scott Arnold,
James Chesher, Loren Lomasky, Daniel Shapiro, and Chris Matthew
Sciabarra, as well as up-and-comers such as Tara Smith, Gregory
Johnson, Roderick Long, Aeon Skoble, and myself.
a one of us is at a prestigious Ivy League or Ivy League-type institution.
Moreover, many would-be up-and-comers have hung onto livelihoods
by their fingernails, keeping their mouths shut about their libertarianism
or Objectivism while they had to change university affiliations
every one to three years and hoped. Others are at "think tanks"
(occasionally, I observe in fairness, this is by choice). But some
have been forced to seek employment outside intellectual professions
altogether (this, to a scholar, is almost never voluntary).
this stands very much in contrast to the major liberal and leftist
philosophers of the past 30 years: John Rawls (Harvard), Ronald
Dworkin (Harvard), Richard Rorty (Stanford), Peter Singer (Princeton),
and so on. Harvard is notorious for courting the most radical leftist
writers in the country in whatever discipline, having once made
a bid to hire militant feminist "legal theorist" Catharine
MacKinnon away from Michigan. Harvard’s Afro-American Studies department
has, of course, gained recent notoriety due to the antics of its
is clear is that these people can return to Princeton whenever they
want. Or go back to Duke, for that matter. They would be welcomed
with open arms. Ree, of course, is not in this category. He is one
of the "footsoldiers" who can be counted on to say the
right things. Such people, I am more than convinced, are far more
likely to integrate into the vast majority of philosophy departments
in the English-speaking world simply because it is common knowledge
that in these departments liberals and leftists predominate. All
one need do to test this claim is get the issue of The Chronicle
of Higher Education which surveys political affiliations. Liberals
are the majority. Leftists with more radical views than the liberals
come in second, and as statists, the two usually get along smashingly.
Libertarians are well down on the charts, and conservatives in academe
are virtually an extinct species.
other words, all we need do is compare the comfortable situations
for academic leftists and liberals with scholars of the various
libertarian, Objectivist and Austrian-school orbits. We find that
those Jonathan Ree labels "right-wing" and libertarian,
far from dominating the profession "solidly and securely,"
are barely visible at all. Many are barely surviving. As a veteran
of the multi-year academic job search, I can certify that association
with such perspectives is often a kiss of death.
time ago I noted a delusion that seems unique to our times, in which
leftists are able to portray and possibly actually perceive themselves
as a beleaguered minority surrounded by the academic equivalent
of Hillary Clinton’s "vast right wing conspiracy." Perhaps
the purveyors of tolerance really do not want any voices in the
academy except their own. Or perhaps it is more than even that,
and we are seeing one long-term effect of the warping of higher
education itself, resulting in a literal inability of some so-called
scholars to perceive reality correctly, much less investigate and
evaluate ideas and stances other than their own fairly and responsibly.
investigate this point further, I draw attention to a letter to
the editor that appeared in the November 2001 issue of the American
Philosophical Association’s Proceedings and Addresses. The letter
was a response to a link I published to my article
on the current state of academic philosophy. I discuss this
not to win anyone’s sympathy but because the letter is a textbook
illustration of the paucity of thought that might explain delusions
about a libertarian or right-wing dominance of professional philosophy.
The author of the piece, Colin Allen of Texas A & M University,
had little to say about the issues I raised. Rather, he attacked
organizations I am or have supposedly been associated with, to insinuate
that since I must be a covert racist, my criticisms of academic
philosophy can safely be ignored. In other words, Allen attacked
ad hominem a strategy I used to teach logic students was fallacious
and to be avoided in responsible debate. Moreover, his ad hominem
also supplied information that was simply wrong. For example, he
wrote that the site "hosting [my] web pages" is named for "one of
the founders of the League of the South." Lew Rockwell, however,
is not a founder of the League of the South. Nor does the Mises
Institute mechanically "advocate secession" though many LewRockwell.com
writers (myself included) are willing to examine the potential of
secession as a strategy for checking otherwise unlimited government
power. This sort of live-option treatment does not equate to advocacy something
liberals appear to understand if the topic is something dear to
their hearts, like abortion.
us dwell on the idea of secession for a moment. Allen certainly
has a hornet-sized buzzing critter in his bonnet about the subject.
State-worshipping liberals and leftists (and probably all neocons
as well) regard it as taboo. They seem literally unable to discuss
it rationally and analytically. Allen thus fails utterly to note
a distinction implicit in my earlier discussion between the concept
of secession itself and particular secessions. The former has an
explicit definition: secession is the act of jurisdictional
separation by a distinct people from an established government to
achieve self-rule. It is therefore to be distinguished from civil
war, in which two factions fight over control of a single government.
In this case, our use of the term Civil War is a straightforward
misnomer. The Northern states and the Confederacy were not fighting
for control over the Washington government; the Confederacy was
fighting for freedom from that government. Secession and
civil war are therefore separate categories.
separation of the Southern states and formation of the Confederacy
is not history’s only act of secession; it is not even the only
secession in our history. The separation of the original 13 colonies
from the British Empire, formally announced in the Declaration of
Independence, was an act of secession. Other acts of secession occurred
more recently when the Baltic States (Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia)
achieved independence from the former Soviet Union, when Slovenia
separated from the soon-to-disintegrate Yugoslavia, and when regions
such as the Ukraine and Byelorus became separate countries instead
of parts of Mother Russia. Efforts at secession do not always succeed,
of course. The Confederacy did not survive the North’s assault;
so far, Chechnya has failed to gain independence from Russia, Tibet
is still a part of Mainland China, the Kurds are not free of Saddam
Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and Quebec is still part of Canada. Secession
is contemplated whenever a distinct people with a distinct culture
desires freedom from a larger government and culture perceived as
hostile to its interests. Notice that it is possible to discuss
secession in this general way without mentioning chattel slavery.
But if anyone is enslaved, it is a people forced to live under,
and pay taxes to support, a regime not of their choosing.
though, just to raise such a topic before the Colin Allens of the
academic world is to invite automatic associations with "neo-Confederate
hate groups" and calls for monitoring by the Southern Poverty
Law Center. This is symptomatic of the cognitive malaise that has
fallen over much of higher education over the past 40 years or so.
It is part of what has turned campuses into war zones. In my book
(ICS Press, 1994) I connected the rise of affirmative action
as a systematic policy offering federally-mandated race and gender
preferences to the rise of multiculturalism, militant feminism,
and political correctness. One of the primary raisons d’etre
of the latter was to silence the mounting criticisms of preferential
policies, after all. Given the irrationality inherent in snowballing
"feminist critiques" of this or that, we saw further assaults
on standards of objectivity, truth, rationality, and on the concepts
of merit and desert.
egalitarianism inherent in affirmative action ideology required
attacks on these standards, because their consistent application
solidly refutes egalitarianism. Hence the Hobbes quote at the outset.
Of course, denials that anyone is ever "really" objective,
rational or acquires at least some truth literally do not make sense.
They involve the logical equivalent of a boomerang, having implications
for themselves. The radical feminist who dismisses objectivity as
a "male-biased" superstition, for example, is implicitly
denying that she is ever objective. In that case, there is
little reason to take her seriously. Such arguments were once a
staple of the best of traditional Western philosophy going all the
way back to Plato and Aristotle. The classical philosophers developed
them in great detail and wielded them with great skill against such
notions as Protagorean relativism, the remote ancestor of today’s
postmodernist sophistries. Such reasoning is not often seen today,
and when someone does employ it, he often receives blank stares
of noncomprehension. This, too, goes along with the demise of the
the rise of the leftist notion that everyone should be economically
and educationally equal, no other results could have been obtained
than a general dumbing down and the production of a delusional consciousness.
The left-liberal axis has lowered educational standards across the
board and created a kind of insular environment in which a leftist
or liberal, just sane enough to perceive that not everyone thinks
the way he does, can imagine a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
The facts don’t matter, because in this environment there are no
"facts," no one is ever really objective, and (with a
nod to Bill Clinton, for whom the majority of academic philosophers
voted twice) it all depends on what the meaning of "is"
is. In this environment, a Jonathan Ree can contend, with all seriousness,
that American philosophy is "solidly and securely right-wing
and libertarian," and a Colin Allen can go off the deep end
about slavery and "neo-Confederate hate groups" when someone
such as myself treats secession as a valid concept for philosophical
examination and a potential strategy for achieving freedom from
Yates [send him mail]
is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
He has a PhD in philosophy, and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and dozens of articles in both academic and nonacademic
© 2002 LewRockwell.com
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