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Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Review Note to Home Page;
The Biases of Stanley Rosen, Cass Sunstein, and Others

I find a bias in this respect in a recent book written for a popular presentation of the history of philosophy, The Examined Life, A Tour of Western Philosophy, edited by Stanley Rosen [Quality Paperback Book Club, New York, 2000]. The book consists of selections from the history of philosophy with brief introductions by selected scholars. Rosen writes a general introduction. The selections tell the story. Under "Social and Political Philosophy," the only modern political thinkers are Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau. Locke comes in for some mention in the sectional introduction by Paul A. Rahe [], along with brief nods to Hume, Adam Smith, and James Madison, but after this Rahe quickly moves on to those, like Rousseau, "who came to regard commercial society as repulsive" [pp.21-22]. This sour and typical inspiration leads to a miserable "Philosophy's End" with Martin Heidegger, "the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century," and Wittgenstein, "Heidegger's only serious rival," of whom "neither developed a philosophical teaching concerning politics and morality, for neither believed this possible" [p.25] -- Rahe apparently does not believe it possible either.

Unfortunately, Heidegger did develop a political philosophy. Rahe wrongly and apologetically dismisses Heidegger's membership in the Nazi Party as unrelated to his overall philosophy. A very different view is that of James Ceaser:

Heidegger's political views are commonly deplored today on account of his early and open support of Nazism. Because of this connection, many like to suppose that his influence on subsequent political thought (as distinct from general intellectual thought) in Europe has been meager. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Heidegger's major ideas were sufficiently protean that with a bit of tinkering they could easily be adopted by the left, which they were [indeed, being anti-liberal, all anti-liberals, like leftists, could adapt them easily -- ed.]... In the writings of numerous thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre, "Heideggerianism" was married to communism, and this odd coupling became the core of the intellectual left for the next generation. ["The Philosophical Origins of Anti-Americanism in Europe," in Understanding Anti-Americanism, Its Origins and Impact at Home and Abroad, ed. Paul Hollander, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2004, p.58]

In Rahe we hear nothing of modern political philosophers like Leo Strauss or Francis Fukuyama, let alone Karl Popper or F.A. Hayek. One might expect some representation of Marxists, considering their influence, but the option is apparently for nihilism and philosophical obscurantism rather than for historically important political philosophy.

The selective bias is also evident elsewhere. The philosophy of religion selections progress no further than Hegel and Kierkegaard. Since Hegel has no insight into actual religions (and doesn't mention any in the selection), he is probably there just because he has something called "philosophy of religion." That Rudolf Otto isn't represented is the conspicuous oversight, though nowhere near as appalling as leaving Popper himself out of the philosophy of science section. The height of philosophy of science appears to be the mathematician Henri Poincaré, and the section ends with a fairly specialized discussion of "logic and mathematics" by Stephen Simpson, who is listed as a "contributor," along with the authors of the introductory sections, rather than as a historical philosopher. Passing over the most important modern philosopher of science, Popper, the philosopher of science who figures in the most popular discussions of the subject, Thomas Kuhn, is included, but out of sequence. Why Poincaré is given after Kuhn is unclear. Since the editors of the section (Rota and Crants) disagree and argue back and forth in their introduction, the disorder may reflect the disagreements. Apparently, the debate over cognitivism and realism in science is important, while nothing said after the middle of the 19th century about religion is noteworthy.

That figures like Locke, Popper, and Otto are left out of The Examined Life, A Tour of Western Philosophy is an excellent clue that its vision of philosophy, like that indeed of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, offers little hope for the future of philosophy.

Similar political bias can be see in a series of lectures on political philosophy, Power Over People:  Classical and Modern Political Theory, delivered by Dennis G. Dalton [], Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, and put out on tape by The Teaching Company. Dalton's sixteen lectures begin with Hinduism and end with Gandhi. In between we get Thucydides, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Thoreau, Dostoyevsky, Emma Goldman's Anarchism, and Hitler. In comparison to The Examined Life, we have lost Hobbes and gained Marx but are still innocent of any of the political philosophy underlying the American Revolution, the United States Constitution, Classical Liberalism, or Capitalism. Dalton must think that Indian political philosophy, culminating in Gandhi (with a nod to Thoreau), is the alpha and omega of the subject. This probably is better than Hobbesian statism, but it is also sure to be entirely unrealistic, if not a naive idealization of India, and of Gandhi.

While such a book and such lectures may mainly display their bias by editorial selection and by the occasional open statement, other recent books display their Hobbesian approach more boldly. The Costs of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, by Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein [W.W. Norton & Company, 1999], and The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, by Thomas Nagel and Liam Murphy [Oxford, 2002], both depend on the thesis that, since we need the state to protect rights, such rights therefore do not exist without the state. Nagel and Murphy go so far as to say that individuals actually have no rights over their property or earnings, except what the state doesn't need to use in order to effect "social justice," i.e. entitlements to income, health care, education, etc. Holmes and Sunstein are slightly more modest, that there are no "negative rights," i.e. immunities from state action, because all rights are due to the positive action of the state, which means that all rights are positive grants from the state.

None of these people, of course, would give even the time of day to the statement of the Declaration of Independence, "That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men." The premise of all their thought is a Hobbesian statism, rejecting natural rights, together with more recent collectivist and socialist elements -- which makes it especially shocking that Sunstein has an appointment in the Obama Administration -- a sure sign of the statism and authoritarianism of the modern Democrat. Nagel and Murphy seem to have the more open socialism, with collective entitlements rendering private liberties, especially economic ones, superfluous. Altogether, we simply have more evidence that the Left lives, still working tirelessly against freedom and in behalf of an authoritarian, if not a totalitarian, regime.

The political philosophy of the likes of Cass Sunstein [] has been voiced in September 2011 by Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren [], in the campaign for the 2012 election. Warren was promoting the claim of the Obama Administration that "rich" people and corportations are not paying their "fair share" of taxation. Her argument, apparently addressed more to businesses than to the "rich" as such, was:

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory -- and hire someone to protect against this -- because of the work the rest of us did.

The most obvious distortion in this is "the rest of us paid for" refrain. Businesses pay taxes too, with business revenues taxed twice, first with corporate taxes and then with income taxes. And the roads in particular draw revenues from commercial trucks that are weighed and pay fees. Also, basic police protection is provided by local government, not by the federal government that Warren wants to get more tax money. As for the "education" that "the rest of us" have paid for, many in business will assert that the workers they get are so badly educated that they can only be brought up to speed with on-the-job training. They would be better off without the kind of education "the rest of us pay for."

Most importantly, there is an implication here that "the rest of us" have been doing business a favor by providing these services. But if the businesses did not provide their goods and services, it would be no favor to us. The businesses are doing us a favor by providing goods and services even though they must then put up with the kind of vitriol and recrimination dished out by the likes of Elizabeth Warren.

Considering that the "rich" in the United States pay a higher proportion of the taxes than in most other countries, even European social democracies, and that United State corporate and capital gains taxation rates are quite high, even in comparison to European social democracies, it is significant that Warren (or Barack Obama) does not specify what a "fair share" rate of taxation would be. The impression they leave is that, knowing the Republic House of Representatives will pass no tax increases, they are using their "soak the rich" and class warfare appeal simply as a rhetorical and campaign tactic -- after all, as late as 2009, Obama said that we could not raise taxes in a recession. With unemployment still over 9%, the economic situation has not changed much by late 2011.

What Warren's screed really means, however, is that the political philosophy of books like The Costs of Rights and The Myth of Ownership embodies the principal that all wealth and property belong to the state, which deigns to allow some citizens the use of it, for a while, but that the government can call in as much wealth as it wants, whenever it wants it, for whatever reason. The vagueness of the "fair share" rhetoric is characteristic of the indeterminate and unlimited power of the government to appropriate wealth and property. Coupled with cargo cult economics, Warren may even believe this is the road to prosperity. However, since it is hard for anyone to ignore the poverty of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea, there is a more sinister probability:  The modern "progressive" believes in poverty for the masses. This is friendlier to the Earth, to the animals, and to the Ruling Class, of which they are or aspire to be a part.

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Review Note to Home Page

An October 1998 flyer from the State University of New York (SUNY) Press contains an interesting notice about one of their books, Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy -- Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne, by David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb Jr., Marcus P. Ford, Pete A.Y. Gunter, and Peter Ochs:

In presenting Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne as members of a common and distinctively postmodern trajectory, this book casts the thought of each of them in a new light. It also suggests a new direction for the philosophical community as a whole, now that the various forms of modern philosophy, and even the deconstructive form of postmodern philosophy, are widely perceived to be dead-ends. This new option offers the possibility that philosophy may recover its role as critic and guide within the more general culture, a recovery that is desperately needed in these perilous times.

This is of interest for parallels to the approach and project of the Friesian School. Thus, the current state of philosophy is found to be unsatisfactory, a "dead-end," and an alternative tradition is proposed, drawing together a number of philosophers, a group with some affinities but whose members are not always seen as belonging together (like Otto and Popper as Friesians). The differences, however, are significant. The principles of the Friesian School are by no stretch of the imagination "post-modern." Instead, the Kantian tradition through Nelson is a side of modern philosophy that most academic philosophers are probably unaware of -- it is not going to be "widely perceived" as anything. The authors Griffin et al. may be at pains to accept the basic validity of the "post-modern" (i.e. deconstructive) move, while claiming that they can productively go "beyond" it.

Interestingly, however, their group of philosophers contains none from the real post-modernist tradition. Peirce and James are the originals of the American Pragmatist school, whose affinities to deconstruction have been trumpeted by Richard Rorty [], but dismissed by Susan Haack. Whitehead and Hartshorne, on the other hand, are revivalists of full blown speculative metaphysics. Bergson may be taken as an antecedent of Whitehead's "process" philosophy. In my own academic experience at the University of Texas, where Hartshorne was Professor Emeritus, in the 1970's (he was alive until 2000), I encountered many people with particular regard for both Peirce and Whitehead, so this juxtaposition seems to have been brewing up for a while. From a Friesian perspective, however, Pragmatism is not an epistemologically or ethically sound doctrine, while Whitehead is innocent of the fundamentals of Kantian Critique. So, while it is nice to see attempts to move beyond "post-modernism," this will not ultimately help if the false premises of "post-modernism" itself continue to be accepted.

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