This blog initially set out to focus primarily on Islam and the Islamisation of the UK. However, since that time the subjects covered have broadened. They now include (amongst other things): IQ tests, Jean Baudrillard, global warming, sociobiology, Marxism, Trotskyism, David Cameron, Foucault, Nazism, Ralph Miliband, economics, statistics and so on. - Paul Austin Murphy
I've had articles published in The Conservative Online, American Thinker, Intellectual Conservative, Human Events, Faith Freedom, Brenner Brief (Broadside News), New English Review, etc... (Paul Austin Murphy's Philosophy can be found here.)

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Victim of Bristol University's Red Guards

The British Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has just been caught up in the middle of a violent scuffle while giving a talk at a British university. This is the very same Mr Rees-Mogg who's been tipped to be the next leader of the British Conservative Party.

He'd been speaking at the University of Bristol's Politics and International Relations Society when it was stormed by leftwing Red Guards.

One Bristol University student, a William Brown, said:

"These people in balaclavas and sunglasses started shouting, things like 'Tory fascist'.

"They were quite intimidating actually.

"They were waving their hands around, shouting very loudly."

This student also stated that a few punches were thrown.

The same student added:

"Jacob went to calm them down, I think he came out of it very well.

"He was encouraging them to speak, without shouting, saying something like 'I'm happy to talk if you want'."

One other student, a Sebastian Salton, said:

"It was interrupted by antifascists, I don't think it was assault, I think people were trying to get him out.

"There was some negotiating.

"He went over to them and said 'lets not shout them down,' but they weren't having any of it.

"They were shouting 'racist, misogynist, homophobe, sexist'. They were talking about austerity."

Will Smith, another student, said:

"There were people in balaclavas shouting 'fascist scum' and 'sexist'.

"He was the first to approach them."

Rees-Moog was stuck bang in the middle of all this. However, he said that he wasn't “shaken or stirred” by the event. Rees-Moog also said that “they were just rather shouty"; though “all is well”. Despite that, some students described Rees-Moog as "looking shaken up" after the event.

So guess what. These typical students yelled “Tory fascist”, “fascist scum”, “sexist, “homophobe” and “Nazi” at an elected British MP. Now isn't that highly original? Not really. You'd think that these students would become a little self-conscious about using these leftwing cliches or soundbites. Though since the the leftwing politics of student life is effectively a middle-class Rite of Passage, and because all rites of passage must take the same form, then these actions are hardly surprising.

Most leftwing students dress the same; act the same; and, more importantly, think the same.

As ever, the Marxist Left isn't concerned with debate. It's concerned with obliterating alternative political views. It often does that with violence or, sometimes, with the “no platform” policy which has often been in force in British universities. (It has only been applied to the Far Right - never to the Far Left.) This policy was established by the National Union of Students in the early 1970s; under the strong influence of the International Marxist Group (IMG) and the International Socialists (IS). It's been used to ban a whole host of speakers, groups and even academics.

What happened to Jacob Rees-Mogg has happened countless times in our universities since the 1960s. It's been happening since the Left has been attempting to create (sometimes it's been very successful) a “hegemony” in all these “Gramscian institutions”. All sorts of people have been the victim of leftwing violence, intolerance and political conformity: academics, MPs, politicians, political parties, political and social groups, individuals, etc.

One example of all this which always stuck in mind dates back to 1978 and concerned the biologist, researcher and naturalist, E.O. Wilson (who, politically, is a liberal). His case parallels, very strongly, the leftwing intolerance of Steven Pinker (also a liberal who's apparently donated money to the Democratic Party), the Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson, etc. today.

E.O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesiswas published in 1975. It rekindled the ancient nature-vs.-nurture debate. Predictably, Wilson was accused of racism, misogyny, and even sympathy for eugenics.

Not surprisingly, this led to one incident in November 1978 in which E.O. Wilson was physically attacked (during one of his lectures) by members of the International Committee Against Racism, a front group for the Marxist Progressive Labor Party. Ironically, Wilson said:

"I believe...I was the only scientist in modern times to be physically attacked for an idea."

What Wilson said is false; as the example of scientists in the Soviet Union, for one, shows. In the 1960s, other American scientists and academics were also victims of leftwing violence and intolerance. (As can be seen in the 'Political Scientists' chapter of Steven Pinker's book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.) However, Wilson later said that he was very politically na├»ve at the time and had no idea that he'd be attacked by the virulent and intolerant Marxist Left.

So, bearing all that in mind, I wonder if professors, academics and other leftwing supporters (whether passive or active) of all this believe that it's a good thing that so many students are politically conformist, intolerant and violent?

Is it a good thing that being leftwing or a revolutionary socialist is a middle-class Rite of Passage for so many students between the ages of 18 and 22?

Is it a good thing that so many right-wing academics, groups and individuals have their talks and seminars banned and have also even been the victims of physical violence?

Do they think it's a good think that many university departments are effectively Gramscian institutions and that this has been the case going back to the 1960s – for some 60 or so years?

All this is nothing new. It has a history.

In the Germany of the 1930s, Hitler Youth and other young Nazis ruled the roost in German universities. Indeed all academics were Nazis; although some were only nominally so.

In the 1940s in the Soviet Union, all academics were Marxists/communists. And, again, young students often victimised all political dissidents – even the ones who weren't political dissidents.

Under Chairman Mao (in the 1960s) we had the young Red Guards who terrorised the university campuses and enforced their political will on all students and indeed even on professors and academics.

And today (in the UK) we have Momentum, Social Justice Warriors, the Socialist Workers Party, etc. who, in their fight for tolerance, peace and open-mindedness, indulge in extreme intolerance, violence and closed-mindedness.

Yes, it all sounds terribly familiar. Yet to those deeply embedded in university environments (in which being leftwing - or at least liberal left - is de rigour), it will all seem so terribly normal and acceptable. Of course it will!

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Politicised Economics of Brexit

[This piece can be found at The Conservative Online.]

As most readers will know, we've had many nightmare scenarios about Brexit. Indeed we've had some very-rosy scenarios for the post-Brexit period too. Therefore the main question in this piece is as follows:

Do these economic nightmare scenarios primarily express the prior political views, values and positions of people on Brexit?

In most cases (though not, of course, all), the answer to that question is 'yes'...

Thus the following isn't a piece of economics. It's about economics. Specifically, it's about some (or even many) of the economic statements on Brexit.

So there aren't any forecasts in what follows. (Bar one forecast about post-Brexit winners and losers.) There are, however, a few comments on other people's forecasts. This means that there aren't any claims to know what will happen after Brexit. However, there are comments on those economists and politicians who do claim to know exactly what will happen after Brexit.

Economics is, of course, a highly complex business. There are an indefinite amount of variables to consider when discussing any single economic issue. And when it comes to forecasting about Brexit and post-Brexit...

Not only is economics hugely complicated, economists are well-known for getting things wrong. Their biggest mistakes come when economists indulge in futurology (or prophesy). This is especially the case when strong political and ideological views undergird their economic forecasts.

Economic Narratives

One way around this economic complexity is to have what political hipsters call a “narrative”. That narrative will enable people to make sense of the mass of data involved in economic arguments or claims. In other words, people's narratives (or, more simply, their ideological and political positions) will help simplify things. Their narratives will also be loaded with values, theories and political causes. That too will help in the process of simplification.

In any case, after Brexit there'll surely be winners and losers.

That's not a surprise because after every economic change – both big and small – there'll be winners and losers. Indeed sometimes the winners change places with the losers and vice versa.

As for economics and economists.

Depending on the economists concerned and their political affiliations or biases, there have been many mutually-contradictory “studies” and "surveys” on Brexit. That's not a surprise. Again, it's largely because economics is so damn complex that one can find an academic study to back up one's prior political position on Brexit (or on the European Union itself). What's more, one can even construct an academic (or economic) study to back-up one's prior political position.

Take Brexit and immigration.

Immigration & Economics

If an economist has a strong political and/or ideological position on immigration, then that's almost bound to have an effect on his economic positions (as well as on his academic research generally).

For example, say that an economist is

a believer in “open borders”;
deeply distrustful of the nation state;
against nationalism, and also has a problem with patriotism;
an internationalist;
a believer that all those who're against (mass) immigration are racist.

Isn't all this bound to have an impact on his economic positions on immigration?

Similarly, take an economist who's

against open borders;
strongly in favour of the nation state;
a patriot;
against mass immigration for social – not just economic – reasons.

Isn't all this also bound to have an effect on this economist's positions on immigration?

Consequently, it can be said that (at least in some cases) economic arguments about immigration can simply be masks for hiding the underlying ideological/political positions economists (as well as others) have on Brexit.

Now for some fairly random pieces of economic nitty-gritty.

The Politicised Economics of Brexit

"the research literature displays a broad consensus that in the long run Brexit will make the United Kingdom poorer because it will create new barriers to trade, foreign direct investment, and immigration”.

(Let's forget here that the European Union is a big funder of British universities and that many university departments are largely - or at least partly - “Gramscian institutions” of the Left - or, in some cases, of the Liberal Left.)

In theory at least, there needn't be any “barriers to trade” with Europe after Brexit. However, if there were to be any barriers, then the EU would be at least partly responsible for them. And that would tell us much about the EU's post-Brexit petulance and arrogance.

The “survey” also mentions “foreign direct investment”. Again, why can't we continue to invest in Europe? Moreover, what about the rest of the world? For example, what about the United States and the Commonwealth?

Another example comes from a 2016 piece in The EconomistIt stated the following:

"It is plausible that Brexit could have a modest negative impact on growth and job creation. However it is slightly more plausible that the net impact would be modestly positive."

We can of course question both the sources and the data here. Then again, we can do exactly the same if it came to a report which stated the exact opposite. So that wouldn't get us very far either.... That's unless we were economists who had a hell of a lot of time on our hands. And even then, we'd still have prior political biases and prejudices which could very well influence our pronouncements, studies or surveys.

It's also said that the EU facilitates intra-European financial services.

For example, we have EU “passporting” for financial services.

The Financial Times said that this accounts for up to 71,000 jobs and £10 billion of tax each year. It's also true that some banks have warned that they may move elsewhere after Brexit. Though even here the obvious point has to be stated. Namely: not many Brexiteers have ever denied that there'll be losses/cons after Brexit. However, for every con, there may also be pros – or more gains. Perhaps the pros will far outweigh the cons. Perhaps the gains will far outweigh the losses. This can't be known beforehand; though that's also true of the economic arguments for remaining in the EU.

Specifically, that possible £10 billion tax loss may quickly be made up by savings (or gains) resulting from our no longer sending money to the EU; reducing/ending benefits payments for unemployed (or low-paid) immigrants; cutting down on EU red tape for businesses; and so on.

As for the 71,000 jobs in the EU-wide financial services (besides that being a guesstimate): surely most of these people would immediately find jobs anyway. Indeed they may not even loose them in the first place. Isn't it the case that very few people in the financial services end up as long-term (or even short-term) unemployed? Wouldn't these people simply change their own employment arrangements?

In terms of detail, a study from 2017 also found that

"Brexit-induced reductions in migration are likely to have a significant negative impact on UK GDP per capita (and GDP), with marginal positive impacts on wages in the low-skill service sector”.

So even this negative scenario about lower immigration has a positive outcome; though, in this example at least, only for workers in the “low-skill service sector”.

Note the word “likely” too; as in the phrase “likely to have a significant negative impact”. Economics isn't a “hard science”; and its record when it comes to prophesy (or futurology) has often been woeful; especially when those economic prophesies are driven by political positions or values.

As stated earlier, economics is complex. It's often rendered gross and simple simply in order to further political goals or causes – as in both the Brexit and Remain positions.

So although there are economic pros to large-scale immigration into the UK, there may be far more cons. What's more, these cons may be mainly social in nature.

On the Leave side.

The former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, once said (in December 2016) that the warnings of economic doom and gloom after leaving the EU were over-the-top. He still believes that the UK should leave the single market; as well as “probably” leave the customs union. Doing these two things, according to Mr King, would bring about more opportunities for the UK; and, in the process, improve the UK's overall economic performance.

Other benefits of Brexit have also been noted.

For example, we may well be able to bring about more free-trade deals when unencumbered by the rules and laws of the EU. A radically different immigration policy may also financially benefit the UK. That is, the state may need to pay less benefits to unemployed (or low-wage) immigrants – even if we bear in mind, for example, the immigrants who work for the NHS. (That number is often both over-exaggerated and overstressed.) There would also be reduced regulations on businesses and reductions in public spending generally. More relevantly, the UK would save a hell of a lot simply because it would no longer be contributing so much money to the EU budget.

Economic Futurology

As stated in the introduction, economics is complex. And because of that, economists often get things wrong – sometimes massively wrong. This is the case at least partly because of the political values, causes or ideologies which often drive the economic arguments and studies of economists.

Take this example.

In January 2017, the Chief Economist and the Executive Director of Monetary Analysis and Statistics at the Bank of England, Andy Haldane,commented upon the bank's own bit of futurology about Brexit. The BoE claimed that there would be an economic downturn. However, that claim wasn't about the post-Brexit era. It was about the period before, during and immediately after the Brexit referendum itself. As for Andy Haldane, he said that the BoE's forecast was very inaccurate. That market downturn (after the Brexit referendum) turned out to be an upturn.

Interestingly enough, Haldane did accept that economics was “to some degree in crisis”. The thing is, that crisis had nothing to do with the referendum or even (directly) to do with the EU. It was due to economists and politicians failing to predict the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008. Nonetheless, Haldane did say that in the future Brexit would harm economic growth. Despite that, Haldane had already said that the near-term forecasts were wrong. So can't we now say that his longer-term forecasts are even more likely to be inaccurate (or plain false)?

David Miles (at Imperial College London) agrees with this scepticism towards economists. (Though he's an economist himself!) He responded to Haldane by saying that that there's no “crisis in economics”. Why is that? It's because (according to Miles) economists never claim to to forecast what will happen (at least in precise terms) in the future. David Miles went on to say that that most people know (or at least most economists know) that short-term forecasts (like that of the BoE) are unreliable. And if that's the case with short-term forecasts, then surely that's even truer of long-term ones - such as Brexit.

Thomas Sampson (of the London School of Economics) also agrees with this. He said that it's difficult to know what will happen during the transitional process to Brexit. Indeed he turns my own statement on its head by saying that that long-term Brexit forecasts are (or will be!) more reliable than the short-term ones.

In any case, David Miles's earlier statement must actually be normative (or prescriptive) in nature. That is, he must surely be saying that economists should be more modest when it comes to their forecasts. As it is, however, that's not usually the case. Economists can often be far from modest; especially when political causes, values and ideology are driving their economic forecasts.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Professor Van Norden, Western philosophy is not racist

In late October, 2017, a professor by the name Bryan Van Norden had an essay published by the magazine Aeon. That essay is called 'Western philosophy is racist'. The piece has been debated all over the place. It has (so far) been shared 30,824 times on Facebook and generated 466 responses underneath it. (The magazine describes itself this way: “Aeon has established itself as a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web.”) 
Professor Van Norden

Professor Van Norden himself, according to Wikipedia, is a

translator of Chinese philosophical texts, scholar of Chinese and comparative philosophy, and public intellectual [who] taught for twenty years at Vassar College but is currently Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Visiting Professor at Yale-NUS College in Singapore”.


Professor Bryan Van Norden began his essay - 'Western Philosophy is racist' - in grossly rhetorical mode He wrote:

Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic.”

Thus, in this response-piece, I want to return fire by partially replicating Van Norden's own political rhetoric with some of my own. (Not that rhetoric and argumentation can't sometimes live together in the same space.)

So here goes.

Accusing people, groups or institutions of racism seems to be a sport (or fashion) for far too many academics nowadays. It's almost as if it's seen as a safe way of proving one's anti-racist credentials before some even purer and more zealous anti-racist puts the boot in. That often means that the more racist people, groups or institutions one can find, the more anti-racist and politically pure one becomes. Indeed this sport of anti-racism has become so omnipresent and extreme that the anti-racist revolution has even begun to eat its own children. Thus we have many and various anti-racist Inquisitions (of all those evil white racist bigots) on our hands.

It seems that Professor Bryan Van Norden himself has felt the need to add his own little bit to this pious anti-racism blood sport.

'Western philosophy is racist'

The title of Professor Bryan Van Norden's essay is 'Western philosophy is racist'. The sub-heading also rhetorically states:

Academic philosophy in ‘the West’ ignores and disdains the thought traditions of China, India and Africa. This must change.”

The title is itself racist and it is so in many ways.

For starters, the West has been more open to other cultures, traditions and epochs than almost any civilisation in history.

Still, it's clear that Van Norden and many others don't apply the same logic to other traditions and cultures which they apply to the West. That means that racism elsewhere will never become apparent simply because it's never even broached. As usual, the West has categories and judgments applied to it which won't be applied to any other culture or tradition.

Van Norden would quickly find (that's if he doesn't already know) that numerous other cultures or traditions have been just as introspective and indeed racist as the West. Unless, that is, it's definitionally impossible for non-white (or non-Western) cultures to ever be racist. Indeed many leftwing academics and theorists have attempted various versions of that definitional trick. Thus, just as in America today, if “only whites can be racist”, then so it may also be the case that only Western philosophy can be racist. (Perhaps non-Western cultures are “prejudiced, though not racist”.)

So isn't about time leftwing or “progressive” academics and intellectuals either looked in the mirror or attended a course in self-referential logic? Alternatively, since Van Norden is a fan of Edward W. Said (see later), it can be said that his words come perilously close to being outright Occidentalist in nature.

Van Norden's Political Thesis

According to Professor Van Norden, “mainstream philosophy” is “narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic” because it ignores the

rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas”.

Indeed it's “nothing but a temple to the achievement of white males”. It's also strange that Van Norden uses the ironic/questioning words “the so-called West”; which hint at the possibility that the West doesn't really exist. He then goes straight ahead and generalises about the West as if it most certainly does exist. Indeed it seems that Van Norden's West exists in a very determinate and severely circumscribed form.

All this basically means that Professor Van Norden's case against Western philosophy is political, not philosophical. Indeed he lays his political cards on the table when he calls his position “a multicultural manifesto”.

In terms of another of his political positions, Van Norden writes:

When the ancient philosopher Diogenes was asked what city he came from, he replied: ‘I am a citizen of the world.’”

This seems to mean that Van Norden is an Internationalist of some kind. Perhaps he's also an International Socialist.

Van Norden backs up his multicultural manifesto when he says that

to attract an increasingly diverse student body, and to remain culturally relevant, philosophy must recover its original cosmopolitan ideal”.

And as an antidote to racism, Van Norden wants Western philosophers to study

African-American, Christian, feminist, Islamic, Jewish, Latin American, and LGBTQ philosophies”.

Indeed as Norden says, all this is really about “greater diversity”, not philosophy.

Van Norden continues his political theme by citing Peter K J Park's book,Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon... I see. As most people now know, the Leftwing/“Progressive” Academy - which doesn't yet include philosophy departments (i.e., if Van Norden's thesis is correct) - got to work on the Western “literary Canon” decades ago. So now it must be time for philosophy! That leftwing/progressive “hegemony” (to use Antonio Gramsci's word) isn't quite complete yet. This means that philosophy is next in line. (At least in those American departments that aren't devoted to post-structuralism/Deconstruction, Continental Philosophy, postmodernist philosophy, etc.) And that's Van Norden's political purpose – both in this essay and generally in his professional life.

Despite all the above, many people will question my bifurcation of philosophy and politics; and that in itself is a political position. That denial of any separation of philosophy (or anything else for that matter) from politics has, of course, become de rigueur and hugely widespread in the last 30 years or so (especially in British and American universities). It's had a far more negative affect on philosophy (i.e., its politicisation and “dumbing-down”) than any ostensible racism towards non-Western philosophy. Indeed the embracing of the idea that “everything is political” has given activists the perfect excuse to make everything political (in some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy). That means that there's nothing to hold academics or philosophers back once they accept the essentially Marxist catechism that everything is political. And that seems to be what Van Norden has himself done.

Western Philosophy's Racist Turn

This is where Van Norden's “Whig history” comes to the fore. So let's put Van Norden's words and positions in the context of this passage from Professor David Cannadine:

Whig history was, in short, an extremely biased view of the past: eager to hand out moral judgements, and distorted by teleology, anachronism and present-mindedness.”

Thus Van Norden quite literally blames the racism of Western philosophy on the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and what he calls his “defenders”.

Firstly Kant.

Van Norden claims that Kant was “notoriously racist”.

So here's a professor parading his 20th century scientific wisdom and 21st century political piety by applying such things to a philosopher who lived in the 18th century. Yes, Van Norden states (or perhaps hints) that Kant should have known that race isn't a “scientific category”.

Now for the defenders of Kant

Here we also have a professor indulging in the most crude ad hominem possible: one aimed at philosophers. Namely, Van Norden states that Kant's defenders

consciously rewrote the history of philosophy to make it appear that his critical idealism was the culmination toward which all earlier philosophy was groping”.

In terms of racism, Van Norden then tells us that

European intellectuals increasingly accepted and systematised views of white racial superiority that entailed that no non-Caucasian group could develop philosophy”.

This, again, is anti-racist Whig history. Van Norden is applying the “cultural logic” of the early 21st century (to rephrase words from Fredric Jameson) to Kant (who died in 1804) and early 19th century philosophers. That is, he's claiming that these people were racists in the 20th century sense of the term. He's also applying values and judgements which belong to the 21st century to philosophers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. This pious retrospectivism is something that countless (often leftwing/radical) theorists and academics - from historians to anthropologists - have frowned upon when the victims/subjects were non-white people. However, it seems to be okay when the victims/subjects are Dead White Males who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Van Norden does indeed move on to the early 20th century and the racism of the English philosopher, G.E. Moore.

Firstly Van Norden writes:

When the Indian philosopher Surendra Nath Dasgupta read a paper on the epistemology of Vedanta to a session of the Aristotelian Society in London, Moore’s only comment was: ‘I have nothing to offer myself. But I am sure that whatever Dasgupta says is absolutely false.’”

G.E. Moore is a single philosopher and Van Norden quotes a single off-the-cuff comment from this Englishman. Moore (as far as I know) never wrote a paper dismissing Indian philosophy. He never claimed to know his stuff when it came to this subject. Thus what he said about it is pretty much irrelevant. If Moore had written a paper on Indian philosophy (or even discussed it in a paper), then that would have been a different matter entirely. (Incidentally, G.E. Moore had an important influence on the “progressive” Bloomsbury Group - a group which had “very modern attitudes” towards feminism, sexuality, pacifism and economics.)

So, yes, it was “a joke between colleagues” said by a philosopher who never wrote on Indian philosophy and who never claimed to be an expert. Besides which, even Moore's “joke” wasn't about Indian philosophy as a whole. It was aimed at a single Indian philosopher (Surendra Nath Dasgupta) and what Van Norden himself calls a single “Indian philosophical system”. So Professor Van Norden is using extremely flimsy circumstantial evidential as a pretext for his huge political and academic call to arms.

Van Norden then cites two contemporary racists: Nicholas Tampio (a professor of political science) and D Kyle Peone (whom Van Norden tells us “writes for the conservative journal The Weekly Standard”).

Firstly Van Norden quotes D Kyle Peone saying that

“‘philosophy’ is a word of Greek origin, it refers only to the tradition that grows out of the ancient Greek thinkers”.

Now if that's racist, then so too are protons, hurricanes and the number 5. The first statement is the literal truth; and even the second clause is pretty innocuous – though obviously not to an anti-racist like Van Norden.

The same is true of Van Norden's second paraphrase.

He tells us that Nicholas Tampio

pronounced that Philosophy originates in Plato’s Republic'”.

Since earlier Peone stressed the word 'philosophy', perhaps this is basically what Tampio means too. Or, at the least, perhaps Peone was saying Western philosophy is, well, western, not that philosophy itself can only be western. Yet the same is also true of Chinese/Indian philosophy. That is, there'll be elements of Chinese/Indian philosophy that are utterly peculiar to it. So does that mean that if a Chinese/Indian philosopher - or academic - stated this fact (or gave an example), then he too would be a racist?


Van Norden informs us of one of his own political influences: Edward W Said. The professor is particularly inspired by Edward Said's theory of Orientalism. Thus Van Norden quotes Said in this way:

The Oriental is irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, 'different'; thus the European is rational, virtuous, mature, 'normal'.”

In terms of the specifics of this Van Norden's essay and the influence of Edward Said, it can be said that the two writers view both negative and positive accounts of the “Orient” as being equally bad.

Van Norden even sees the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida within this Saidian context of “Western Orientalism”. This may seem odd to many fans of Heidegger and Derrida. That's because both philosophers were influenced by what's often called “Eastern philosophy”. (In fits of positive Orientalism, many commentators and philosophers have over-exaggerated this non-Western influence on both Heidegger and Derrida - though especially on Heidegger.)

Van Norden quotes the following passage from Heidegger, which he deems to be racist:

The often-heard expression ‘Western-European philosophy’ is, in truth, a tautology. Why? Because philosophy is Greek in its nature; … the nature of philosophy is of such a kind that it first appropriated the Greek world, and only it, in order to unfold.”

Now what about Jacques Derrida?

Strictly speaking, although Derrida is deemed to be racist (at least in terms of his position on non-Western philosophy), it would be better to class the following passage (in adherence to Van Norden's political theory) as being a case of positive Orientalism. As Van Norden himself puts it:

... on a visit to China in 2001, Jacques Derrida stunned his hosts (who teach in Chinese philosophy departments) by announcing that ‘China does not have any philosophy, only thought.’ In response to the obvious shock of his audience, Derrida insisted that ‘Philosophy is related to some sort of particular history, some languages, and some ancient Greek invention. … It is something of European form.’...”

This means that Van Norden (in contradistinction to many Heideggerians, fans of Derrida and post-structuralists/Deconstructors generally) believes that both Heidegger's and Derrida's words on this subject

are as condescending as talk of 'noble savages’, who are untainted by the corrupting influences of the West, but are for that very reason barred from participation in higher culture”.

This means that both Heidegger and Derrida would have be trapped in Van Norden's pure/extreme anti-racist snare. Had Heidegger and Derrida ignored non-Western philosophy/thought, then Van Norden would have classed them as “racist”. They didn't ignore it. Yet Van Norden still believes that they had a “noble savage” (i.e., positive Orientalist) view of non-Western philosophy/thought. So either way, Heidegger and Derrida couldn't win. Indeed Van Norden has placed himself in a holier-than-thou position in which even Derrida – the Prophet of the Other - is deemed to have been a racist.

So are these poetic passages (from Derrida's 'Violence and Metaphysics') also racist? -

This thought calls upon the ethical relationship - a nonviolent relationship to the infinite as infinitely other, to the Other - as the only one capable of opening the space of transcendence and of liberating metaphysics...

Incapable of respecting the Being and meaning of the other, phenomenology and ontology would be philosophies of violence. Through them, the entire philosophical tradition, in its meaning and at bottom, would make common cause with oppression and with the totalitarianism of the same. The ancient clandestine friendship between light and power, the ancient complicity between theoretical objectivity and technico-political possession. 'If the other could be possessed, seized, and known, it would not be the other. To possess, to know, to grasp are all synonyms of power.' To violence and metaphysics see and to know, to have and to will, unfold only within the oppressive and luminous identity of the same... providing an alibi for the historical violence of light: a displacement of technicopolitical oppression in the direction of philosophical discourse.”

Yes, the anti-racist revolution is truly eating its own children.

So where does Edward Said and Van Norden's position leave Western philosophers and other academics? Perhaps they should embrace Marxism, Freudianism and the work of Michel Foucault - as Edward Said himself did. Perhaps only then would their comments on non-Western histories, peoples and cultures be politically pure.

What Van Norden must be arguing, then, is that non-Western philosophy is (in at least many important respects) indistinguishable from Western philosophy. However, if he doesn't claim that, then how can he sustain his entire position as commented upon so far?

So let's recap Van Norden's political position.

Racists dismiss non-Western philosophy as not being philosophy at all. That, according to Van Norden, is obviously wrong. Positive Orientalists (like Heidegger and Derrida), on the other hand, say that non-Western thought is indeed something different; though still good and a worthwhile subject of study. According to Van Norden, that position is also wrong.

Oriental Occidentalism

In addition to all that, Van Norden appears not to realise that there's also been a long tradition of Occidentalism in the non-Western world. Edward Said himself - it can easily be argued - simply added to that Occidentalist position. (As did, for example, the black “essentialist”, Franz Fanon.)

Here's one definition of Occidentalism:

Occidentalism refers to dehumanizing stereotypes of the Western world, Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.”

Just to give a couple of examples.

In China we have the case of 'Traditions Regarding Western Countries' in the Twenty-Four Histories (from the 5th century onward) in which Chinese knowledge of the West didn't venture beyond Syria. (At least according to Dr Alastair Bonnett.) In this period, then, China's knowledge of the West was severely limited. Indeed curiosity about - and research into – the West was frowned upon by China's rulers right up until the 19th century. Not surprisingly, Westerners were seen as “barbarians” long before they had experienced the British empire.

It's also the case that “stereotypes” about the West and Westerners can be found in Japaneses, Chinese and Indian art.

Perhaps more relevantly, much of the politics of “anti-colonialist” theorists is very Occidentalist in nature. However, Marxists/leftwingers and Edward Said himself would have said that all this was an entirely reactive response to “Western imperialism”. (Can that really be said of Chinese Occidentalism, which dates back hundreds of years before British empire?) In that case, perhaps much Western Orientalism was reactive too.

One can also find much Occidentalism in Islam, Chinese Maoism, and Japanese nationalism. Were all these reactive in nature? Namely, are left-leaning academics claiming that Western Orientalism isn't reactive; whereas non-Western Occidentalism is reactive? Wouldn't that be another neat, racist (i.e., anti-Western/white) and Manichean division?


Let's give one final example from Bryan Van Norden.

He tells us that a philosophy professor (“in a mainstream philosophy department in the US Midwest”) once said:

This is the intellectual tradition we work in. Take it or leave it.”

Now, every faculty on the planet has its own focus and specialisms – such as Black Studies or what's studied at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. Yet, according to Van Norden, this rejection of non-Western philosophy (Chinese philosophy in this case) is an example of “thinly veiled racism”. Really? If someone in a Russian Studies Department wanted to be “inclusive” and broaden things out by, for example, including the Hungarian language or literature, would that also be thinly-veiled racism towards Hungarians if that request were rejected? Should the UK and US departments which concentrate on Subaltern Studies also be more inclusive? Or, more relevantly, should philosophy departments which concentrate on what's called Continental Philosophy broaden their own horizons by allowing in professors who are experts on the analytic philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine, the (analytic) philosophy of science or the (analytic) philosophy of mind?

I've just mentioned the specialist nature of literally all university departments.

Perhaps the fact (if it is a fact) there are only a few philosophy departments which specialise in non-Western thought is partly because many other university departments have taken over that job. In addition, there are countless university departments which offer “studies” which advance the political causes that Van Norden believes in. (For example, Black Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Subaltern Studies, Deconstruction, Critical Race Theory, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, etc.) In fact, these positions or studies rule the roost in many American university departments and even in the entire universities themselves.

Yet Professor Van Norden wants more!

He wants a multiculturalist hegemony which is much more loyal to his own “multicultural manifesto”.

Well, in many respects that multiculturalist hegemony already exists and has done since at at least the 1980s. However, as I said, Van Norden wants a stronger, more widespread and more complete hegemony – one that must now also include all American and British philosophy departments.