The Right Coast

October 17, 2004
Radicalism at a Distance
By Maimon Schwarzschild

The Future For Philosophy, edited by Brian Leiter, just arrived in the mail from Oxford University Press: a book of essays by a dozen leading philosophers on where professional philosophy is and where it seems to be going. The essays I've read are very good, and I'm looking forward to the rest. Brian's own introduction is extremely interesting, sketching the trends in professional philosophy over recent years, explaining how the long-standing gulf (apparent or real) between "continental" and "Anglo-American" philosophy is diminishing if not disappearing.

How can someone like Brian be so good a philosopher, yet hold political views that are -- I'm groping for a gentle way to put this -- not entirely in harmony with those that prevail at TheRightCoast? (About politics, Brian's tendencies are strongly toward the Noam Chomsky worldview, as is pretty clear even from Brian's essay on Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud in this book. And see Brian's blog, the Leiter Report, passim.)

I have a tentative Schwarzschild Theorem to explain this sort of thing: that capable people tend to be conservative about what they know best and do most, even when they are theoretically radical about things that are further removed from their immediate knowledge and their primary concerns. Brian is a good example: he may be a Chomsky-an, or a quasi-Marxist, but as the author of the best-informed and shrewdest rankings of philosophy departments and law schools, he is light-years away from being an "egalitarian" or a leveller. There are lots of people like this: people who have no utopian illusions whatsoever about their work, or about rearing their children, but who hold utopian, or at least silly views (from TheRightCoast point of view, of course) about politics.

If I were mathematically minded -- but then I'd be doing something more useful in life than being a law professor -- perhaps I could calculate the distance that an issue has to be from a capable person's core concerns before that person will start entertaining radical ideas about it. We could call this the Schwarzschild Radius. Oh, wait...