The current dismantling of academic Humanities subjects across the West was always going to target philosophy. The charge sheet is by now familiar and reducible to one piece of evidence; Western philosophy was written by White men. This is now all the requirement a discipline requires to be defenestrated.
Western philosophy, from the pre-Socratics to the 2oth century, was indeed an exclusively White affair (the north African St. Augustine possibly excepted). Accordingly, for the progressives who wish to cull all record of Caucasian achievement, philosophy’s pure ethnic heritage is emblematic of historical racism and White supremacy, and so must be consigned to history.
The far Left have an uneasy relationship with history. They need it as it is a rich crop of White evil which yields a harvest of Black and White Liberal grievance. But they also require a revisionist version, a pop-up edition of history in which Blacks and Muslims invented everything from the plough to the Large Hadron Collider, taking breaks only to invent movable type and the internet, while Whites beat their slaves and gloated over their cotton margins. A new history book is what the far Left want, also the dream of Jacobins, Bolsheviks and Maoists. Well, if the revised edition of history does not include White Western philosophy and intellectual history, then to tweak a famous phrase from the film Jaws, we’re going to need a smaller library.
Philosophy had fallen out of favour culturally long before the ‘woke’ assault of the last decade. The last time there was a series on philosophy on TV in the UK was probably Bryan Magee’s Men of Ideas in the early 1980s. Philosophy simply can’t function in the current intellectual atmosphere. As a pursuit, it was never intended for the masses and now if something cannot be sold to the public it has no value. You can’t dumb down philosophy.
Historically, the schism between Western philosophy and science/technology during the Enlightenment bequeathed to philosophy the abstractions remaining after natural philosophy went its own way. Philosophy was left with metaphysics, morality, language and history. It could build no bridges, invent no engines, discover no surgical techniques. Accordingly, philosophy retired from the consultative capacity it had held within society and retreated to the universities, insular and remote like the students of the fictional city Castalia in Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, and becoming a far more antiquarian affair. In the 20th century, despite the razzmatazz of existentialism, structuralism, post-modernism and other fashions, philosophy finally sickened and died, and now the legions of woke have arrived at the battlefield to bayonet the corpse.
For anyone of even a mildly conservative tendency, philosophy is a part of the old world, wise and challenging and worthy of respect. For the intellectually negligible ideologues who now effectively run Western academia, philosophy is also a part of the old world, but one to be swept away just as Mao’s Cultural Revolution was designed to destroy much of China’s cultural heritage in order to rid the empire of the ‘Four Olds’: old customs, old culture, old habits, old ideas. In quite another context, Nietzsche writes in Schopenhauer as Educator: “I believe in all seriousness that it is to the state’s advantage to have nothing further to do with philosophy.”
There is also a vestigial trace of class enmity in the stripping of philosophy’s medals. Epictetus may have been a slave, Spinoza a lens-grinder, and Wittgenstein a hospital porter in London during WW2, but philosophers have generally come from the moneyed and even aristocratic class. At one time, Leftist cultural revolutionaries would have sniped at philosophy on behalf of the working class. But that working class is now too White, and progressives have found a new pet.
The banishing of philosophy has an additional benefit for the curricular revolutionaries; it saves actually reading it. So there is no need for a campus diversity officer to plow through, say, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, because Kant’s work has already been found racially guilty. From Kant’s Lectures on Physical Geography;
‘The White race possesses all incentives and talents in itself. … The race of Negroes can be educated, but only as slaves. The [indigenous] Americans cannot be educated, they care about nothing and are lazy’.
Philosophy and the current crop of grievance studies students are a poor fit, not least because traditional White Western philosophy is hard work. I remember at my alma mater, The University of Sussex in England, when English literature students would take a philosophy module for a few weeks before realizing that a feminist critique of Jane Austen was a good deal easier than 600 pages of Hume, and they would scurry back to their safe little box of leaves.
The universities, as the engine-room of philosophy after the 19th century, are now effectively run by the students. Plato warns, in a throwaway line from the Republic, about teachers who ‘flatter their students’, and it is rare now to see a faculty stand up to a newly enlightened student body. One among many examples of this power shift is from my own university.
Professor Kathleen Stock was hounded from Sussex by student objections to her comments about gender. A philosophy lecturer, Professor Stock’s position was made untenable. She was threatened and humiliated and the faculty did the bare minimum to help her, squeaking about freedom of speech but largely staying out of it. What an irony that one of the very first Western universities, at Bologna in the 12th century, was also run by the student body, but this was to ensure a high standard of teaching rather than adherence to a politico-cultural line.
A relatively early example of ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ is a manifesto of the same name from the University of California-Berkeley in 2015. Ironically, Berkeley was famously the scene of demonstrations against the suppression of free speech in the 1960s. Now, authors Rodrigo Kazuo and Meg Perret have the following to say about the curriculum their university offers:
We have major concerns about social theory courses in which White men are the only authors assigned. These courses pretend that a minuscule fraction of humanity — economically privileged White males from five imperial countries (England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States) — are the only people to produce valid knowledge about the world. This is absurd. The White male syllabus excludes all knowledge produced outside this standardised canon, silencing the perspectives of the other 99 per cent of humanity.
They provide specific examples of ‘colonisation’, some so gruelling that, ‘Sometimes, we were so uncomfortable that we had to leave the classroom in the middle of lectures.’ Philosophy is not, we discover, inclusive. ‘We were required to read Hegel on the “Oriental realm” and Marx on the “Asiatic mode of production”, but not a single author from Asia’. Even last night’s news was seen as a serious omission from a philosophy course:
The professor even failed to mention the Ferguson events, even though he lectured about prisons, normalizing discourse and the carceral archipelago in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish the day after the grand jury decision on the murder of Michael Brown.
It does not, cannot, occur to the authors that White Western thinking could be in any way superior, given any indicator you like, to that of non-Whites. There is no longer any permissible inter-cultural calculus you can read off and which will show the worth of one race’s intellectual endeavors set against another’s. For us, this explains why, for example, the architects of Britain’s Industrial Revolution were not brought up in the tradition of Ghanaian ontologists or Afghani empiricists. The British technological class’s ability to reason, deduce, experiment, improve and invent was honed on the rock of the British philosophical tradition, a White tradition. This is why Mogadishu is not Tokyo.
So much for decolonizing the curriculum, including philosophy. What are these revolutionary brigades actually doing philosophically? The answer is even more ominous. As well as removing philosophy from the syllabus, progressives are interfering with philosophy’s center of gravity: truth. Where the Renaissance was the response to a weakening Church, what is happening across the West — what we might call a ‘Denaissance’ — is the response to a weakening epistemology.
Epistemology is the study of what we can know to be true. It is also concerned with the different ways in which truth functions. For example, ‘2 + 2 = 4’ is true, as is the statement that ‘Japan is composed of four islands’. However, we recognize that, while both true, these statements are not true in the same way. Ultimately, however, the truth of either has an objective requirement, it needs to be validated from ‘somewhere’ other than the subjective perceiver. What the progressives are doing, under the jocular banner of ‘woke’, is to reverse this arrangement.
The epistemological difference between Left and Right revolves around a philosophical decision concerning knowledge and truth. For the Right, knowledge concerning the world should stay firmly on the side of the objective, which enables it to be open to shared consensus or dispute and thus partake in the communitarian.
For those on the Left, however, the subjective is everything. Opinion is equally as valid as objective knowledge (doxa and episteme in Ancient Greek, the first travelling to today’s English as ‘dogma’). And whereas for the Right, emoting is seen as wholly subsidiary to the acquisition of knowledge, incidental and — if anything — a hindrance on the path to wisdom, for the Left, it is the key functional state. This is the rematch between Hume’s reason and the passions. But if emotio is held to be more methodologically vital than ratio, then a whole apparatus of reasoned thought is made obsolete, and we begin to hear talk of ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’.
A radical subjectivity, devoted to itself and its attributes and solipsistic in outlook, is given the right to arbitrate concerning reality. It sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, but this is what is happening at the epistemological level.
The Left have also commandeered language and meaning. As they do not have the mental apparatus required to debate, progressives have instead produced a lexicon of words of command engineered to prevent discussion, designed to have a quasi-magical effect on others. Terms such as ‘racist’, ‘White supremacy’, ‘micro-aggression’ are not concepts, they are statements ex cathedra, backed as in medieval times by a new form of papal infallibility. These terms are what the political philosopher J L Austin would have called ‘perlocutionary’, statements intended to produce an effect but not to provide reasons for that statement. Plato presciently describes the tactic in the Theaetetus:
‘If you ask any of them a question, he will produce, as from a quiver, sayings brief and dark, and shoot them at you; and if you inquire the reason of what he has said, you will be hit by some other new-fangled word, and will make no way with any of them…’
Why should we read philosophy? Because it is a repository of White culture, a race-based resource which we know to be valuable simply by noting the progressive wish to destroy it. Philosophy teaches the student how to reason, how to construct an argument, how to spot logical inconsistencies, how to debate. It teaches how to tread carefully with an argument or concept, not to rush in two-fisted with your opinions foremost. These things are all heretical practices to modern academia, which is the source of ideas that filter down into culture and society in general, and thus philosophy is heresy.
It is not necessary to approach philosophy by way of the latest publications and writers. In fact, quite the opposite. Classical philosophy has much to say to us. Reading Plato, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca’s letters to Lucilius will be of more use to the modern student than the ideologically crafted candy-floss currently on offer. My university supplied me, on request, with a photograph of the philosophy syllabus the year I began my first philosophy degree, 1981. The courses were specific, based around source texts and carrying requirements for certain modules. Today’s prospectus alludes vaguely to a few philosophers, but the rhetoric is much more about learning how to phrase questions and make sense of the world, vague, woolly incentives that offer no hard core of White Western philosophy. And, finally, if you still require persuasion to read your tradition’s finest intellectual output, consider the remarks of Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Donna.
Donna Zuckerberg wrote a book in 2018 entitled Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. With a doctorate in Classics, Ms. Zuckerberg is very much on her appropriate territory but, like most woke academics, she is not concerned with the glories of the classical world, but preoccupied with the color and gender of the writers who produced them, and who might be reading the classics:
The Alt. Right is hungry to learn more about the ancient world. It believes that the classics are integral to education. It is utterly convinced that classical antiquity is relevant to the world we live in today, a comfort to classicists who have spent decades worrying that the field may be sliding into irrelevance in the eyes of the public.
It is fine and it is good that an interest is taken in your field, provided you let the right ones in or, rather, not the Right ones. She continues:
Classics, supported by the worst men on the internet, could experience a renaissance and be propelled to a position of ultimate prestige among the humanities during the Trump administration, as it was in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Classics made great again.
So, not only do those who Nietzsche called ‘we philosophers’ have the benefit of two and a half thousand years of wisdom, we can also enjoy being referred to as ‘the worst men on the internet’. Philosophy is beginning to look rather enjoyable. As Cicero writes to M. Portius Cato in the first century before Christ:
I have only one last resource – philosophy: and to make her plead for me, as though I doubted the efficacy of a mere request: philosophy, the best ever friend I had in all my life, the greatest gift which has been bestowed by the gods upon mankind.