3/14 UPDATE: I realize Mr. Taranto's modus operandi is the drive-by smear--and I do remain grateful for his continued interest in a blog written for philosophy students and teachers--but it is unfortunate, albeit typical, that he should repeat Professor Althouse's misrepresentation of my views (I did not, and do not, call for political violence; this is a philosophy blog, which poses philosophical questions)--please scroll down to the 3/13 update for the examples of what Professor Althouse wrote. (I'm pleased to see that on 3/16, Mr. Taranto has now admitted that, "Leiter doesn’t even advocate violence." That's progress.) The original post, from Thursday, March 10, follows (with a clarificatory edit in the third paragraph).
Story here (link now fixed). Philosopher Steven Hales (Bloomsburg), who called the story to my attention, captures rather too perfectly where the reactionary logic (that Ronald Reagan set in motion) is heading:
My prediction: 10 years from now public higher education, at least in many states, will have ceased to exist. 20 years from now state governments will realize that they still own the buildings and property on their former state university campuses and start charging us rent to use them. 25 years from now citizens will complain that they can't afford to send their children to college--any college. But by then the peasant class will be so firmly established that it won't really matter.
Welcome to the 19th century.
Meanwhile, the reprehensible Republicans in Wisconsin--moral, if not legal, criminals--forced through their attack on workers' rights, leading to an uproar in Madison. (Thanks to Steve Nadler for the link.) At some point these acts of brazen viciousness (i.e., the attacks on collective bargaining rights) are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke. (Ted Honderich's somewhat controversial work on Palestinian terrorism is a recent exception.)
UPDATE: A reader points out that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article related to this topic (the justifiability of terrorism), which indicates there's a bit more recent philosophical work on the justification of political violence than I realized.
ANOTHER: A useful resource on collective bargaining rights as human rights (see Article 23). (I was referring to the attacks on these rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere as "acts of brazen viciousness," not the budget cuts to higher education, though they are plenty bad. But the attack on fundamental rights of collective bargaining, assuming they stand, are going to raise hard issues about civil disobedience and other forms of unlawful resistance on which philosophers might make a contribution.)
In addition, Ted Howard reminded me of the debate about political violence between Camus and Sartre (of which, if my recollection serves, Camus had the better side of the argument). If someone can find an on-line account, please send me the URL.
SARTRE/CAMUS: Thanks to reader Alan B. for a link to this interview with Ron Aronson, discussing his book on Camus and Sartre, which covers their 1950s debate; an excerpt from the end of the interview:
Postel: So they were collaborators, fellow travelers. They were thinking about the same problems, trying to shape a third way. But something obviously went horribly wrong.
Aronson: Yes, and I think it’s worth looking at this in terms of the historical situation. They were not only specific individuals. They became themselves in their historical environment, which made certain demands on each of them, or pushed one in a certain direction and the other in the opposite direction. The Cold War was beginning to impose itself on them, and beginning to push and pull them. And at the same time, they began to get irritated and bothered by each other. Sartre thought that Camus was going along too much with the French establishment. Sartre was too radical for Camus’ taste. It was in and through the demands their situations placed on them that that Sartre became the revolutionary Sartre and Camus became the reformist Camus. And each one was part of the other’s situation: he became the reformist Camus against the revolutionary Sartre. So as we see each man develop, we see how and why Sartre embraces violence. We see how and why Camus criticizes violence. And the Cold-War issue between them became: will you accept violence in the process of embracing social change? After waiting as long as possible, Sartre attacked Camus for avoiding the issue, and after waiting as long as possible, Camus attacked Sartre for being violent. But each man is in a way attacking his alter ego. He’s attacking the person he chose not to be, or not to become. But this shaping of each against the other took place under the pressure of the Cold War. If the Cold War hadn’t existed, they might have been able to remain friends.
Postel: So you see the dissolution as having been imposed from outside by the Cold War—its logic, its ethos, the polarizations that it generated.
Aronson: Yes, except that both men were active agents in this process. Both furthered the Cold-War polarization. One of the last friendly encounters between them, which stretched over a period of several weeks, was during the spring of 1951. Sartre’s play The Devil and the Good Lord was in rehearsal. Sartre was at the theater and Camus went there to pick up the love of his life, the actress Maria Casares. A lot of the interaction between them had to do with women, because they were both involved with countless women, and sometimes there was tension and even real anger about it. Beauvoir, in one of her 1970s interviews with Sartre, asked, “Didn’t the breakup have to do with a woman?” And he suggested that this was an important part of the story. It’s not inconceivable that Maria Casares may have been one of those women. She was the female lead in The Devil and the Good Lord. And Sartre and Camus were watching the rehearsals, while Camus corrected the proofs for The Rebel. The Rebel was one of the major Cold War French treatises against Communism, against revolution. Still friends, Sartre asked Camus for his excellent chapter on Nietzsche to be published in Le Temps modernes in the summer of 1951. And Camus agreed. In the play Sartre was intellectually working through the opposite question to the one Camus posed in The Rebel: how do you transform the world while still being a part of it? Sartre’s position was deeply thought out: we have to use the means of this world to make this world a better place. And if this means embracing violence, so be it, because that may be the only tool available to us.
Postel: So if it means getting your hands dirty…
Aronson: Yes, “dirty hands,” exactly.
Postel: Sartre says that Camus is too preoccupied with keeping his hands clean.
Aronson: Exactly. But he doesn’t criticize Camus in the play, only later. Camus was watching the rehearsals of the play in which Sartre is embracing dirty hands for the purpose of revolutionary change. And he was correcting the proofs of The Rebel, which rejects this position. Towards the end of The Rebel Camus discusses not only Sartre but the play. He criticizes the play, which is no surprise because, after all, The Rebel rejects the idea of revolution, while in The Devil and the Good Lord Sartre embraces it. At this point they were developing against each other. They could not avoid this, after all, because they were the two dominant political intellectuals in France. Each man became the symbol for and leader of forces well beyond himself. Each man came to mean much more than he said. Perhaps that is the privilege, and the burden, of their greatness.
Postel: You lament the new consensus that has emerged which holds that Camus was right and Sartre was wrong about the Cold War. But wherein, exactly, is the error in the claim that Camus was right? Wasn’t he, essentially?
Aronson: Camus was half-right. He had a profound insight into the way in which anti-systemic or revolutionary violence, once justified, can become a law unto itself. And he also had insights into how some spirits seek to overcome the world’s absurdity by violently reshaping it. Intellectuals—and policymakers—often approach using violence with the kind of steely abstractness he describes, willing to sacrifice whatever number of lives in the service of a better future. Marxists and Commmunists did this, but so have all wielders of power and their intellectual spokespeople. By itself Camus’s insight is only a half-truth, and it functions among the latter-day Camuseans and “Cold-War vindicationists” (Allen Hunter’s term) to indict the violences we don’t like, while excusing those we find useful. The war in Iraq is one example. Aren’t we remaking the world to our own liking there? Camus was equally selective: while devoting virtually all of his political energy for several years to attacking Communism, he was not above using his anti-Communism against the FLN in Algeria, or approving of the disastrous Suez operation of 1956.
Postel: If he was half-right, what about the other half?
Aronson: This leads us to the unresolved dimension of the Sartre-Camus conflict, the aspect of it that is still very much with us today and needs addressing. The other half of the story is Sartre’s equally compelling insight into systemic violence. Sartre understood deeply the violences built into capitalism and colonialism, which he found no less appalling than Camus found revolutionary violence. He illuminated, as no one else has, the everyday structured violence of oppressive social relations, the violence that comes to be depersonalized and experienced as “the way things are.” Like Camus, he was selective, and thus half-wrong, and for a period he championed overthrowing these violences by any means necessary, including terrorism.
A FINAL UPDATE (SUNDAY, 3/13, 6 PM): Having been away at (a quite terrific, as it happens) conference on metaethics and legal philosophy the past few days, I only just discovered the latest explosion of righteous indignation from the benighted blogosphere at the raising of verboten questions on a philosophy blog! I will say I was particularly disappointed by the inflammatory hatchet job from Professor Althouse, with whom I have had very pleasant, collegial interactions in Austin and Madison in the last few years. Here is her "interpretation" of the above:
I'll help you get your fancy-schmancy, high-tone philosophy seminar started: Acts of political violence are justified to get what you want….
Leiter is…inclined to approve of the impulse toward violence on the left and willing to mobilize the discipline of philosophy to generate rhetoric to support its political goals. It's quite disgusting.
It is tempting to retort that this projection on to me of her prejudices about philosophers and the left is itself "quite disgusting," but let us, for the sake of at least a one-sided collegiality, approach this in a pedagogical spirit. Consider two propositions:
1. Collective bargaining is, per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a human right.
2. There are circumstances in which violations of human rights call for unawlful actions, including violence.
Everyone, except pacifitsts, accepts some version of #2. (Indeed, some version of #2 was trotted out at various intervals by the right as a justification for the war of aggression against Iraq--mistakenly, as we have discussed previously.) I, like most of the civilized world, accept #1, and U.S. law is in theory (though not in practice) committed to it, as noted at the link, above:
The United States championed the International Labor Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, under which the US pledged "to promote and to realize ... fundamental rights" defined in the declaration, the first of which is "freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining."
The United States is also a party to and bound by its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to protect his or her interests through trade union activity. As the Human Rights Committee has made clear on multiple occasions, that includes collective bargaining.
Given #1 and #2, it is quite natural for philosophers to ask (this is, after all, a blog aimed at philosophy teachers and students) whether the current circumstances--in which Wisconsin and other states are launching an attack on the human rights of organized workers--are ones in which unlawful resistance, violent or not, to the violation of human rights could be morally justified. Contrary to Professor Althouse's invention of an answer, which she then attributes to me, I in fact do not know what the answer is to that question. In a charitable spirit, I can only suppose that Professor Althouse attributes to me an answer to the question because she is used to many law professors being result-oriented in their scholarship, and so can not understand that recent events pose genuine questions for people of a philosophical cast of mind. (I also suspect that Professor Althouse, like many right-leaning bloggers, does not accept #1, which would, of course, make the issue look rather more clear-cut, i.e., a mere "policy" dispute.)
If Professor Althouse had looked (as I can only infer she did not) at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on terrorism to which I linked, she would have seen that there are philosophical arguments on both sides of that issue (an instance of #2, above), with some taking the position that terrorist violence is never morally justified, and others taking the position that it can be morally justified in certain circumstances. Some people may think these issues are “simple"--Professor Althouse declares it to be so at the end of her hatchet job--but no one who has thought about it, including all philosophers, thinks it is. (I am sure that the failure to reflexively endorse a dogmatic answer will already be considered outrageous in many circles, but that is neither here nor there. At least some commentators on right-wing blogs recognize that.) Just as the Vietnam War produced an enormous amount of work by philosophers on the morality of war and civil disobedience, I expect the events in Wisconsin, which are symptomatic of a broader class war being waged by the plutocracy against working people, are going to have a similar impact on what philosophers turn their attention to in the coming years.
(Unrelatedly, but amusingly, while a good deal of the unusually high weekend traffic came from the various right-wing bloviators and scolds, at least as much came from this! Mr. Yglesias studied philosophy at Harvard as an undergraduate.)
3/20 UPDATE: This comment from the Overlawyered blog was too good to let pass, from someone named "Matt":
In general I’d say that you’d have to be either willfully stupid or willfully dishonest to read Leiter’s post as “advocating” violence in Wisconsin or other places. I suppose it’s possible that the people linked above are just completely ignorant of philosophical discussion and the role it plays in the world as well.... Between the ignorance and the logical flights of fancy (i.e., suggesting that discussing when political violence might be justified implies advocating violence _against persons_ and the like) it’s clear that the linked commenters are ignorant or else selling a line of goods to people they consider fools, fools who seem all to willing to buy.
3/23 update: This one really won't die, though David Neiwert, a very good journalist who covers the American right, is surely right that the right-wing blogosphere's interest in this post is an "an example of how [the] right's wingnutosphere manages to spin the most innocuous wisps of nothing into massive earth-shaking scandals of cosmic import," and his diagnosis of the reason is surely plausible too. He links to a clip from a Fox News personality, Ms. Kelly, whose Monday afternoon episode no doubt explains the various crazed e-mails I received that day (one of which is now in the hands of the Secret Service, since it contained more threats towards President Obama than me), but I had not seen the episode until last night. Given Ms. Kelly's somewhat dim journalistic reputation, I must commend her for both reporting accurately that I do not advocate violence and for correcting one of her commentators that, in fact, it is not unlawful for philosophers to discuss if or when violence is morally justified (lucky thing for all those who teach Locke!). I particularly enjoyed the line from the Fox TV segment: "we should ignore philosophy professors and hate-monger like Farrakhan." Philosophy professors are used to being ignored, but I can imagine Minister Farrakhan is not amused! If this whole silly episode has a salutary effect it will be to call attention to the fact that collective bargaining rights are essential to the dignity of workers, and that the attack on such rights is a moral outrage.