Guest post by Bruce Everett
CN: Talk of spousal murder. And Nazis.
You know what I’d do if I were compulsively obsessed to fine-parse the ideas and beliefs of a certain group of people in order to find them guilty-by-association? I’d start looking for links to the works of Louis Althusser – because while the work of Althusser may have been picked up and expanded upon by some feminists, the guy strangled his wife to death. (And let’s not forget debate over his supposed turn towards neo-conservatism in his later years).
Then I’d start looking for links to Heidegger… because, well… Godwin’s Law. The work of Heidegger, and its derivatives (i.e. a lot of Left Bank philosophy) do turn up in theory in the Humanities, and not at all infrequently. It’s also become increasingly clear in recent years that no, his work isn’t entirely disentangled from the the politics of his friends in the jack-booted Halloween costumes.
It’s really easy to play this game. I have no intention of playing it. It’s a puerile game for puerile minds with puerile wants.
It’s not that these things can’t be discussed, or that they’re not relevant. And it’s not that Anglophone philosophers don’t deserve criticism along similar lines to the mentioned Continentals (e.g. see Locke and slavery).
But the fact that you can draw associations between philosophers of dubious character, with not a few bad ideas, and some of the ideas of the person in the same conversation as you, at base tells you nothing at all about the character of the person you’re presently engaged with.
The selective application of this kind of fine-parsing risks making a person a hypocrite. Applying it universally to imply guilt results in absurd results – suddenly throngs of feminists become misogynists, and some of the most dedicated anti-racist academics become Nazi sympathisers. This is obviously silly.
It’s a lack of consideration of this kind of thing that increasingly has me wondering just how much of the theory being invoked by some people has actually been read and comprehended, and just how seriously it’s being taken.