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Three Unpopular Thoughts on Steve Bannon’s Forthcoming Engagement at UChicago

1. The Place: The “University of Chicago” is not a homogeneous, centrally-controlled institution. It is, in effect, a confederacy—with super powerful individual professors and strong, independent faculty. It was designed this way. Continuing the confederacy analogy, when a “state” within (e.g. division, college, department) wants to host a speaker, the president doesn’t get a veto, necessarily. The higher ups have to convince faculty members to change their minds. So “The University of Chicago” did not invite Bannon. It’s not an institution that operates in the same fashion as a small college.

2. The Speaker: I find Steve Bannon repulsive, but he is in a different *category* of speaker than Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos. I concede that all three are different varieties of pseudointellectuals, bound together by their support for Trump. All three, I think, have appeared in the virtual pages of Breitbart. Spencer and Milo, however, are *clear* white supremacists. Bannon has consistently described himself differently, as a conservative and has called white nationalists losers and clowns. He’s a libertarian economic nationalist and a right populist. Yes, he’s supported some bigots and racists in politics (as have many run-of-the-mill conservatives). Bannon considers those aspects of his support for them to be secondary to his economic views. The Anti-Defamation League does not consider Bannon an anti-Semite. Milo and Spencer have never held power positions. Bannon brings some insider knowledge to an event—knowledge that I hope can be drawn out.

3. The Circumstances: Moving from Bannon as essentially different to the circumstances of engagement, Milo and Spencer have often been given speaking engagements where they are effectively unopposed, or only weakly opposed. In some cases, protests of their engagements have been actively blocked. For my part, I do believe they are both neofascists who should be screened out of campus speaking events. Bannon, however, has been invited to a moderated on-campus event. There he will be faced with substantial intellectual opposition. This is not a free-for-all event where he will be able to whip up a crowd into violence, a la Milo and Spencer.

In sum, I find both the speaker and the circumstances to be enough to take a wait-and-see approach, rather than to hold a strict no-platform position. – TL

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What Enthusiasm for Oprah is Really About

What enthusiasm for Oprah is really about:

1. Pining for Obama through one of his more prominent fans;
2. The #metoo movement;
3. The state of liberalism;
4. Anxieties about Trump and the policy damage done by his administration and Republican allies (i.e. Trumpism);
5. Celebrity;
6. Per Jeremy Young, Oprah’s charisma; and,
7. Something new to discuss.

Of these, #7, #4, and #2 are in the top three. #1, #5, and #6 are in the air, for sure. For me, #3 should be the top topic.That would move us closer to solutions about this November and 2020.

What enthusiasm for Oprah is not about:

1. Her policies.

Notes on Hofstadter’s Philosophy of Education: Relevant Higher Ed Points

In the course of thinking about Richard Hofstadter’s philosophy of education (broadly), I just reread his 1968 Columbia University commencement address.[1] The primary existential event in relation to his address was the “forcible occupation” of Columbia buildings by war protestors. On that much has been written, none of it flattering to Hofstadter—with regard to his opinions about the protestors.

It is easy to understand how little might be revealed in the commencement about Hofstadter’s *broad* philosophy of education. I was hunting, in particular, for clues (and only clues or hints) about his own view of priorities for K-12. Nothing in particular came up—except the possibility that Hofstadter might view all of education via his experience in higher education.

Otherwise, two things struck me about the address in relation to Hofstadter’s view of higher education in U.S. life: Read more…

My 2017 Reading Review–and a Look Ahead

I read 24 books in 2017. Of those, 5 were old (i.e. rereads) and 19 were new to me. The new ones included 9 histories, 2 novels, 3 in philosophy, 1 biography, 2 on writing, 1 theological work, and 1 on higher ed.

This is a pretty typical book distribution for me: 50-60% in history and biography, 30% in philosophy and theology, and 10-20% novels.

The books that made the biggest impression on me were: Read more…

Two Brief, Final Thoughts on MacIntyre’s After Virtue

If you’re into moral philosophy–in terms of history and theory—this is your book.
The title derives from MacIntyre’s thesis of declension. He believes there is no valid moral philosophy after the decline in use of Aristotle in the West. The culprit, then, is Western modernity. (The entire book is about the West in particular.) I was somewhat surprised by two aspects of the work and author:
Read more…

Is it wrong that I find Rorty Fans annoying?

Here’s a reactionary sentiment with three prongs—one related to recent references, and the other two are vague, personal sensibilities:

1. I found the references in the past year to Richard Rorty’s “prescience” regarding something like the Trump presidency to be, well, too neat. My #USIH colleague Andrew Seal laid out reasons for my skepticism in this piece (and another before it).

2. I often find fans of Rorty—like all fans—to be too centered on, and deferential to, Rorty. I think this stems from his near single-handed revival of pragmatism as a reaction to poststructural modes of thought (i.e. a fetishism for Foucault, Derrida, and other strong critics of the Enlightenment project). They are also fans of his style and persona–captured somewhat in this appreciation.

3. There’s a “white maleness” to the Rorty fan club that I haven’t yet put my finger on. Why is it that I don’t often find references to Rorty among female thinkers and people of color?

These prongs do not diminish my admiration for Rorty’s pragmatism and willingness to poke the eyes of analytic philosophers. The first was a necessary revival, and the second a necessary action in light of their pride, and their dismissal of other modes of thinking as inadequate. – TL

After Virtue: A Humorous Aside

Unexpected find in Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: His high esteem for the work of Jane Austen.

She is, to him, a synthesis of the greatest thinkers. MacIntyre agrees with a scholarly assessment of Austen, from David Daiches, as her writings as displaying “Marxis[m] before Marx” (p. 239). Who knew that so much socialism had been absorbed by the world of Austen fans? Also, in an ultimate compliment within the framework of After Virtue, MacIntyre finds her philosophical view of happiness to be fully Aristotelian (via Shaftesbury, says Gilbert Ryle) (p. 240). Finally, in agreement with C.S. Lewis, MacIntyre finds in Austen a near perfect combination of Christianity and Aristotle (p. 240).

No wonder PBS loves Austen: she unites Jacobins, Evangelicals, classical republicans, and Lifetime TV fans. The solution of all the world’s problems lies, clearly, in a greater consumption and absorption of the work of Jane Austen. – TL