The Elective Affinity Between Analytic Philosophy and the Political Status Quo. Some Apocalyptic Follow-Up Thoughts on “On the Emergence of American Analytic Philosophy"

In a very cool recent article in British Journal for the History of Philosophy, “On the Emergence of American Analytic Philosophy,”  Joel Katzav and Krist Vaesen argue, compellingly, that the mid-20th century emergence of Analytic philosophy in the USA consisted in an institutional take-over of leading philosophy departments and leading journals by Analytic philosophers, in or around 1948-1950.

Then, immediately thereafter, leading Analytic philosophers engaged in a systematic professional exclusion of alternatives to Analytic philosophy, especially including speculative philosophy and the earlier American pragmatic tradition, on the way towards the systematic exclusion of Continental philosophy a little later on.

Katzav and Vaesen are fairly guarded about the political dimension of this story, and say there’s no empirical evidence for a direct causal connection between McCarthyism and the institutional take-over of, e.g., The Philosophical Review, by Analytic philosophers between 1948 and 1950.

But that’s not terribly surprising.

“Dear Readers of The Philosophical Review,

We just wanted to inform you that we’re institutionally taking over and professionally pushing Analytic philosophy down your throats now, because we’re scared shitless by HUAC and McCarthyism in America.

And this works out really really well for US, even if not for YOU, because Analytic philosophy is not only inherently politically conformist, given its commitment to the fact-value dichotomy and its methodological value-neutrality, its Scholastic formalism and logic-worship, and its scientism, but also fully complicit in the post-World War II military-industrial-university complex.

Yours calculatingly,

The New Editors”

–Not going to happen, right?

Nevertheless, in the very next paragraph and in the concluding paragraphs of the paper, Katzav and Vaesen also say explicitly that their argument is smoothly consistent with John McCumber’s critically edgy thesis, in Time In the Ditch:American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era, to the same effect, namely that

(1) there is an elective affinity between McCarthyism and the fact-value dichotomy and value-neutrality, Scholastic formalism and logic-worship, and scientism of Analytic philosophy, such that

(2) McCarthyism and Analytic philosophy in mid-20th century America, together did indeed actually produce a style of professional academic philosophy that is not only inherently politically conformist but also fully complicit in the post-World War II military-industrial-university complex.

Not only that, but in order for McCarthyism and Analytic philosophy to do this together, leading Analytic philosophers had to carry out the systematic exclusion of American pragmatism and also Heidegger-inspired and Sartre-inspired Continental Philosophy, insofar as

(1) earlier pragmatists like Dewey had been explicitly Socialists,

(2) pre-War Heidegger had been a Nazi, and

(3) post-War Sartre was a Communist.

I think that McCumber is absolutely correct; and I also think that Katzav’s and Vaesen’s argument is smoothly consistent with McCumber’s thesis.

Now, what about contemporary Analytic philosophy?

First, as I’ve argued in earlier APP edgy essays or critical afterwords, e.g., “Home Sweet Soames,” I think that the fact-value dichotomy and value-neutrality, Scholastic formalism and logic-worship, and scientism of contemporary Analytic philosophy, especially Analytic Metaphysics, remains more or less intact, and not only inherently politically conformist but also fully complicit in the post-World War II military-industrial-university complex.

Second, as I’ve argued in other recent APP essays, e.g., “Professional Philosophy Inside the Ivory Bunker” and “An Object of Contempt: Rorty Against the Unpatriotic Academy, and the Coming Double Oppression of Loyalty Oaths,” contemporary Analytic philosophers have also passively allowed professional academic philosophy to become an “unpatriotic” Ivory Bunker, thus combining their external conformism to neoliberal democratic politics with an equal internal conformism to Politically Correct/Social Justice Warrior professional norms.

This outer/inner double conformism, in turn, was made politically possible by the consistently centrist, neoliberal democratic Clinton(s)-Obama era since the early 1990s, interrupted by 9/11 and the highly conservative two-term Bush presidency, that went underground and festered during Obama’s two terms, but prepared the way for the stunning Trump-POTUS backlash in 2016.

Given all that, if I am correct, then in The Age of Trump-POTUS, lasting at least 4 years and perhaps even 8 years, Analytic philosophers will be externally super-pressured to be “patriotic” by neo-fascist, neoliberal political forces outside The Ivory Bunker and also internally super-pressured to be “unpatriotic” by PC/SJW Warrior normative forces inside The Ivory Bunker.

How will Analytic philosophers in the USA continue to conform passively to BOTH forces, and still retain their institutional ideological dominance, that is, their professional philosophical hegemony?

My apocalyptic prediction is that under this dual oppression, mainstream American professional academic philosophy in the Analytic tradition, As We’ve Known It Since 1950, will in fact collapse, crash, burn, and go into the ash-heap of history.

The truly important question will then be: what should be its successor?

And my answer is: Il faut cultiver notre jardin, which is to say, any of the three basic proposals made by members of the APP circle, including:

(i) Robert Frodeman’s and Adam Briggle’s conception of field philosophy,

(ii) Susan Haack’s conceptions of reintegration in philosophy and serious philosophy, or most radical of all,

(iii) Z’s conception of open philosophy.

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About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.