Practicing Safe Philosophy

In my last blog I wrote about political correctness. Here I want to reflect on the timidity of philosophers, and how they sacrifice their integrity for the sake of a job. Many years ago I wrote a piece which reflected my personal predicament of having accepted a teaching position at a women’s Catholic college. It is titled, Beware of the Handmaid Scorned, 1995. The predicament is that a fundamental problem of philosophy is whether there is a justification for any religious belief. And if one pursues this question too eagerly, one gets fired.

In secular colleges and universities, there are analogous perilous pursuits. Well, we know that in the United States there was a Red Scare, with two periods: the First Red Scare (1918-1920), followed by a Second Red Scare (1947-1957), also know as McCartyism. These Red Scares led to loss of jobs, imprisonment, and deportations.

In 1967, Noam Chomsky published an article, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,”, which is “to speak the truth and expose lies” of governments.

But for a political philosopher there is a more fundamental question: Is any form of a centralized government, i.e., a State, legitimate?

A political philosopher can evade this question by simply doing a sort of literary analysis of some historical political philosopher, and refrain from giving their own considered answer. As an example of this evasion, I came across a video by Tamar Gendler, Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, and Chair of the Philosophy Department, Yale University, whose video exemplifies this safe academic approach. Her lecture is titled: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Politics.

Both Rawls and Nozick assume the kind of liberal democracy we have in the United States, and their disagreement is over policies of such a government. Rawls is for a welfare state. Nozick is against a welfare state. But the fundamental question which was raised by Rousseau as to the legitimacy of a State is side-stepped.

Instead of beginning with Rawls or Nozick, I think it is more appropriate (though not as safe) to begin with Robert Paul Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchism (1970),

Here is a 2008 audio interview with Wolff on anarchism: Doing without a ruler: in defense of anarchism

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