All posts filed under: Features

The Dearth of Conservatives in Academic Philosophy

It is no secret that conservative political views are underrepresented in the academy. In Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, John A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. cite surveys that put the number of professors who self-identify as conservative in the humanities at between four and eight percent. It should therefore come as no surprise that conservative political views are scarce in philosophy. While it may seem impolite to raise this issue when the philosophy profession is contending with a rather different diversity problem, the fact itself is philosophically interesting. It is strange, for instance, how rarely philosophers agree about a wide range of thorny philosophical problems, and yet they appear to be unified on a range of complex issues that divide the American public roughly in half. Why are there so few political conservatives in philosophy? Some hypotheses stand out immediately. One may notice that philosophy requires a critical attitude that sits uncomfortably with the characteristically conservative respect for authority. As a profession, philosophy also does not offer career …

Secular Humanism is Not a Religion

These days you can dismiss anything you don’t like by calling it “a religion.” Science, for instance, has been deemed essentially religious, despite the huge difference between a method of finding truth based on empirical verification and one based on unevidenced faith, revelation, authority, and scripture. Atheism, the direct opposite of religion, has also been characterized in this way, though believers who criticize secular worldviews as religious seem unaware of the irony of implying, “See—you’re just as bad as we are!” Even environmentalism has been described as a religion. The latest false analogy between religious and nonreligious belief systems is John Staddon’s essay “Is Secular Humanism a Religion?” for Quillette. Staddon’s answer is “Yes,” but his reasoning is bizarre. One would think that it should be “Clearly not” for, after all, “secular” means “not religious,” and secular humanism is an areligious philosophy whose goal is to advance human welfare and morality without invoking gods or the supernatural. Nevertheless, Staddon makes an oddly tendentious argument for the religious character of secular humanism. After first giving a …

The Twilight of Liberalism?

The place and the object gave ample scope for moralizing on the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave; and it was agreed, that in proportion to her former greatness, the fall of Rome was the more awful and deplorable. ~Edward Gibbon Is liberalism dying? Thirty years ago, those words would have provoked hearty laughter. Its chief ideological competitor, communism, had just collapsed, leaving it without serious rival. Some optimistic thinkers asserted that we had reached an ideological “end of history” and that, having triumphed over all viable alternatives, liberalism would govern “the material world for the long run.” Today, however, few are so optimistic. The rise of populism, of Trump, of opiate epidemics, of bitter polarization, and of yawning economic inequality have tempered the triumphalism of those who once celebrated the inevitable victory of markets and democracy. The good news is that this growing pessimism has compelled reflection and reanalysis; the bad news is that plausible solutions remain out of …

Headline Rhymes

We rightly imagine the pain Of kids separated at our borders But tend to ignore the same Happening in other corners I’m talking, of course Of the halls of divorce Where false claims Are part of the game It’s no myth, the silver bullet But the trigger, let’s not pull it Because there may be nothing worse Than failing to put children first Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by: Divorce and the ‘Silver Bullet’ For more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

How to Prevent Campus Deplatformings: Lessons from Harvey Mansfield and Concordia University

It’s been a year since Atlantic magazine hired, then abruptly fired, conservative writer Kevin Williamson. Shortly after the story came full circle, I caught up with a friend who then worked closely with the Atlantic. He told me that hiring Williamson had been a mistake from the get go. “So you agreed with the decision to fire him?” I asked. “Not quite,” he replied. “Imagine you have this friend who tells you he’s going to get a puppy. And you say, ‘Don’t do it. I know you. You’re not a puppy person.’ But he gets the puppy anyway. Then the weeks pass, and he comes to you and says, ‘You were right. I shouldn’t have gotten the puppy.’ But now it’s too late. Your friend is stuck with the puppy. That’s how life works.” It’s an allegory I come back to often in this age of deplatforming. Universities have no obligation to invite any particular public figure to speak on campus. But once they’ve promised someone a platform, the stakes are raised: Both speaker and …

The Inevitable Clash of Politicians and Bureaucrats

Several Western countries have seen a surge in “populist” parties, leaders, and policies in recent years. This surge has elicited a forceful response from traditionally dominant elites. The situation also has led to tensions within governments and their bureaucracies. To cite just two examples: reports of White House officials actively assessing the possibility of ridding themselves of President Donald Trump; and Whitehall officials despairing of the “impossibility” of Brexit. In short, democratic elections, and democratic decisions, do not always seem to command the respect they deserve. Should we be worried? The short answer is: yes, we probably should. The long answer is more nuanced, and it goes far beyond conspiracy theories of “Deep State” or “elite” interest. The fact of the matter is that we were told to expect this a hundred years ago by the German sociologist Max Weber. Weber’s writings are practically inevitable as a point of reference when discussing modern public administration. (He called this bureaucracy, but I will use the term public administration interchangeably, as well as the terms officials or …

George Faludy: Hungarian Poet and Hero for Our Times

Had the poet George Faludy not written in his native Hungarian—arguably the most impenetrable of European languages—he would, as many have argued, be world famous. He died aged 95 in 2006, his life spanning the First and Second World Wars, the Russian revolution, and the Nazi and communist takeovers of his country. Having achieved literary fame at 20, he would be imprisoned by both regimes and spend much of his life as an exile in France, Morocco, America (where he was a tail-gunner for the U.S. Airforce), and Canada, where he fled communism, only to find his lectures picketed and disrupted by campus leftists to whom his experience was an inconvenient truth. A ladies’ man all his life, he surprised the world by suddenly entering a gay relationship with Eric, a Russian ballet dancer, who’d fallen in love with Faludy in print and then rushed across the globe to find him. In his 90s, after communism fell and Faludy, returning to Budapest, achieved living legend status, he married a poetess 70 years his junior with …

Keep Calm and Hail Satan

On its surface Hail Satan?, directed by punctuation enthusiast Penny Lane (Nuts!) and distributed by Magnolia Pictures (Man on Wire, Capturing the Friedmans), is a straightforward if openly sympathetic report on the rapid growth of the Salem, Massachusetts-headquartered Satanic Temple and the Temple’s goading of heartland conservatives in the perennial debate over the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. All of which is entertaining enough. But, below the surface, Lane’s film is also a case study in the resiliency of religious identity and atheism’s waning power as a rallying cry, as a movement, as a flag worth waving in an age of identitarian politics. A revealing line is delivered about halfway through the film when Mason, a clean-shaven, bow-tied Satanist from Little Rock, Arkansas (yes, there is such a thing; a central message of the film is that the Satanists aren’t who you think they are), explains that he’d been a “zesty little atheist” before becoming involved with the Temple. Mason’s disdain for his former identity is mischievous but unmistakable. So is his enthusiasm for a more positive, more nourishing …

Why Everyone Values Freedom

On March 28, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders uploaded a video to YouTube entitled “Medicare for All Is about Freedom.” This may strike some viewers as an abuse of language. In a market system, a consumer can freely choose whether or not to pay Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield or no one for health insurance. In a single-payer system of Medicare for All, everyone with taxable income pays Medicare for health insurance—theirs and everyone else’s—whether or not any individual tax-payer wants to be part of that “All.” Such a system may serve many social goods. It may even save most individual taxpayers money. (If X is your current tax burden, Y is the current cost of your private health insurance plan, and Z is the cost of your tax burden after the implementation of Medicare for All, the question that matters for your bottom line is whether Z comes to a figure more or less than the combined cost of X and Y.) It may, however, be difficult for conservatives to understand the contention of …

Divorce and the ‘Silver Bullet’

Divorce is almost always an ugly and painful experience. But for parents with children, there are additional heart-rending realities to confront. No loving parent wants to be absent for their kids’ many firsts and bests—the first tooth falling out, the first goal scored, and so on. Countless goodnight kisses will be missed, and at crisis moments when they need you most (and for the many moments when they don’t need anything more than knowing you’re close by), one parent will not be there to provide advice, compassion, and comfort. Also hanging in the balance are hundreds of thousands of dollars of shelter and vehicles and toys and books and worthless junk priceless only to you. These stakes drive people to lie. Lies are at the messy heart of divorce, almost by definition. Sometimes the lies are so large and consequential that lawyers and judges are pressed into service to officiate a death match of he-said-she-said. But there is a lie among lies that practically guarantees child custody, optimal parenting time, the money you’re sure you …