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In this extended interview, philosopher Nicholas Capaldi responds to a series of questions about his life and work. Capaldi is Legendre-Soulé Distinguished Chair in Business Ethics at Loyola University, New Orleans and co-author of The Two Narratives of Political Economy.
Why did you become a philosopher? [0:17]
Where did you get your education? [3:41]
What was your first academic position? [12:41]
What are the key themes of your book John Stuart Mill: A Biography (2004)? [15:49]
What are the key themes of The Two Narratives of Political Economy (2010, co-authored with Gordon Lloyd)? [31:28]
What are the key themes of America’s Spiritual Capital (2012, coauthored with Theodore Roosevelt Malloch)? [47:52]
What philosophers have you learned most from? [55:52]
What philosophers do you most disagree with? [1:11:11]
What is the state of liberal thought today among philosophers? [1:19:46]
To bring about a more liberal society, what key practical steps can and should be taken? [1:30:10]
Previous Profiles in Liberty:
Philosopher Douglas Den Uyl.
Philosopher Douglas Rasmussen.
Economist David R. Henderson.
Philosopher Tibor Machan.
Forthcoming: economist Robert Lawson.
The Profiles in Liberty main page.
Posted 1 month ago at 8:13 am. Add a comment
Przemysław Zientkowski (Nicholas Copernicus University) and I have a co-authored article (in English) now out in the Polish journal, Ruch Filozoficzny.
The full title of the article is “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Politics of Genius and Its Challenge for Liberal-Democratic Europe.”
Dr. Zientkowski recently (2013) published a book on the critique of human rights in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. Our collaboration came about as a result of my Nietzsche and the Nazis (2010).
Posted 1 month ago at 2:35 pm. 2 comments
Robert Heilbroner was perhaps the most famous American socialist intellectual of the 20th century. His The Worldly Philosophers sold millions, making it the second-best-selling economics textbook of all time. In my Business and Economic Ethics course, we read and discuss one of his articles.
Here is a new-to-me quotation by Heilbroner, writing in 1980, about who owns what under socialism:
“[T]he creation of socialism as a new mode of production can properly be compared to the moral equivalent of war — war against the old order, in this case — and will need to amass and apply the power commensurate with the requirements of a massive war. This need not entail the exercise of command in an arbitrary or dictatorial fashion, but certainly it requires the curtailment of the central economic freedom of bourgeois society, namely the right of individuals to own, and therefore to withhold if they wish, the means of production, including their own labor.”
So: Under socialism, you do not have the right to withhold your labor. Your labor belongs to society. So compulsion may be used to ensure that individuals work for society. In other words, socialism is a kind of slavery.
Note Heilbroner’s “moral equivalent of war” phrase and that nations often use war as a rationale for conscription. The more general point for socialism is that, whether at war or not, individuals belong to society. They are seen as a product of society, as constituting society, and as the means of society’s continuance.
Twelve years later, Heilbroner did concede that as a matter of practical results, freedom has been superior to compulsion: “capitalism has been as unmistakable a success as socialism has been a failure.” But I do not know that he ever changed his mind about the collectivized, altruistic ethic that underlay his commitment to socialism.
That, I think, is the more important issue of our generation. Socialism is widely recognized to have been a practical failure, but we still have a huge number of socialist-friendly individuals. Free-market capitalism, by contrast, is widely recognized to have been a practical success, but we still have a huge number of hostile-to-capitalism individuals. That indicates to me that beliefs about morality are driving the debate more than are beliefs about practicality.
 Robert Heilbroner, Marxism: For and Against (W.W. Norton, 1980), p. 157. Also quoted in David R. Henderson, The Joy of Freedom, p. 47.
 Heilbroner, quoted by David Boaz in “The Man Who Told the Truth: Robert Heilbroner fessed up to the failure of socialism”, Reason, January 21, 2005.
Posted 1 month, 1 week ago at 2:56 pm. 2 comments
According to Ernst Cassirer, Immanuel Kant was “the man who introduced anthropology as a branch of study in German universities.” And anthropologist W. E. Mühlmann calls Kant “the founder of the modern concept of race.”
All humans are members of the same species, Kant argues, since members of the different races are capable of interbreeding. Nonetheless, there are important sub-divisions — Kant believes there are four main races: white, copper-red, black, and olive-yellow. Yet within the races there are distinctive characteristics of various nationalities — e.g., French, English, German, Italian, and so on. Kant hypothesizes about the source of these differences: “it is here a question of innate, natural character which has, so to speak, its seat in the composition of the human blood.”
Spaniards, for example, must be of mixed blood: “as shown by bull-fights, his character is cruel, which is proved by the auto-da-fé of former times and this shows that his origin lies in part outside of Europe.”
Further afield from Europe, Kant’s method becomes increasingly speculative, as he never left the Königsberg area his whole life. A sample hypothesis about Negroes:
“We know now, for example, that human blood turns black (as is to be seen in blood coagulum) when it is overloaded with phlogiston. Now the strong body odor of the Negroes, not be avoided by any degree of cleanliness, gives reason to suppose that their skin absorbs a very large amount of phlogiston from the blood, and that nature must so have designed this skin that in them the blood can dephlogisticate [sic] itself through the skin to a far greater degree than is the case with us in whom the latter function is mostly performed by the lungs.”
Turning to breeding policy in particular: despite the fact that Kant believes we’re all members of the same species, he opposes reproduction across racial lines:
“The mingling of stocks (due to great conquests), little by little erodes the character and it is not good for the human race in spite of any so-called philanthropy.”
That general proposition was applied by Kant in a letter that he wrote to the governor of Mexico. The Spanish Crown was encouraging a policy of interbreeding and had ordered the Mexican governor to comply. The governor had, however, opposed the order, and Kant wrote this in congratulations:
“[Of the idea that] nature would develop new and better races of produce them through the commingling of two races there is little ground for hope in as much as nature has long since exhausted the forms appropriate to soil and climate, whilst cross-breeding (for example of the American with the European or of these with the Negro) has debased the good without raising proportionately the level of the worse — hence the governor of Mexico wisely rejected the order of the Spanish Court to encourage interbreeding.”
Kant’s account of race also includes the assumption that human perfection can be achieved only by the white race and that the others will become extinct. For details, see Wulf D. Hund’s “‘It must come from Europe’ The Racisms of Immanuel Kant,” which begins and ends with this disturbing quotation from Kant:
“All races will become exterminated …, except for the whites.”
(All of which — combined with Kant’s views on women, Jews, war, education (here and here), and reason — raises the question: Should Kant really be categorized as an Enlightenment liberal?)
 Cassirer quoted here.
 Mühlmann, quoted in Léon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe (Meridien, 1977), p. 171. A more recent edition.
 Kant, in Poliakov, p. 171.
 Kant, in Poliakov, p. 172.
 Kant, quoted in John Greene, “Some Early Speculations on the Origin of Human Races,” American Anthropologist (1954), 56:31-41, p. 6. Greene gives the source as Kant’s 1785 Bestimmung des Begriffs einer Menschenrace, Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin, 1912), 8: 89-107.
 Kant, in Poliakov, p. 172.
 Kant, in Poliakov, p. 353.
 Wulf D. Hund, “‘It must come from Europe’ The Racisms of Immanuel Kant,” 2011, p. 91.
Posted 1 month, 2 weeks ago at 8:11 am. 7 comments
The “Heidegger Wars” are an academic battle about the significance of Martin Heidegger’s Nazism. I’ve started reading William H. F. Altman’s Martin Heidegger and the First World War: Being and Time as Funeral Oration, which opens with this question:
“Was Martin Heidegger an apolitical thinker whose decision to join the Nazis in 1933 constituted a shortsighted and strictly temporary aberration or is a genuine commitment to National Socialism basic to his thinking?”
Altman’s approach, interestingly, is to focus on the younger Heidegger, the rising philosopher who lived through the traumas of the First World War. Heidegger’s major work, Being and Time, was published in 1927, when he was 38 years old. Heidegger was 25 when the Great War broke out, and Altman’s view is that it was “primordial” to Heidegger’s development. Heidegger did not fight in the war (due to a heart condition), but it was devastating for him, as for all Germans — not merely because so many were killed or damaged but because Germany lost:
“Every German was forced to respond to that crisis and the chasm it thereafter opened up between the post-War present and the past; the National Socialist revolution of 1933 would ultimately be Germany’s most terrible collective response to the lost War.” But for Martin Heidegger in particular, Germany’s losing was “a personal crisis in Heidegger’s life that continued to exercise long-lasting psychological effects on his thinking that extended to Being and Time and beyond.”
My thoughts going into Altman’s book are that there are three main questions about Heidegger’s Nazism and that the answers to the first two are already known. Was Heidegger’s commitment to National Socialism:
(1) temporary or long lived?
(2) genuine or an expediency?
(3) integrated with his philosophy or separable?
Heidegger was strongly committed to Nazism and he never changed his mind. So the interesting question now is how tight are the connections between his general philosophy, his political philosophy, and his Nazism. Heidegger’s opponents argue that the connections are tight and that by modus tollens the destructiveness of Nazi politics implies that something is deeply wrong with Heidegger’s philosophy. Heidegger’s defenders believe there is much of value in Heidegger’s philosophy, so they argue that the connections to Nazi politics must be accidental.
My current view is that neither side in the debate so far is quite correct. There is a strong connection between Heidegger’s philosophy and the politics, but that the abstract principles of his philosophy, while compatible with Nazism in particular, are also compatible with other illiberal politics. That is to say, additional particularizing premises must be added to Heidegger’s general principles to tailor them to Nazism. So there are both important necessary and important contingent connections between his philosophy and his politics.
By analogy: A generally religious metaphysics doesn’t entail that one is a Christian or Muslim or Hindu. Or a generally Christian epistemology doesn’t entail that one is Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Protestant. Or even a generally Protestant view of human nature doesn’t entail one will be an Arminian or Methodist or Lutheran. At each stage, additional particular premises or particularizing versions of the general thesis must be added.
Drawing the analogy: Heidegger’s generalized collectivism of human nature and his anti-reason epistemology do entail an illiberal politics. But there is wiggle room about what particular brand of illiberalism will follow. Heidegger could have tweaked those abstract principles in a number of directions.
Evidence for this comes from the furious French debate over Heidegger’s legacy. After World War II, continental philosophy’s most vigorous activity centered in France with the rise of existentialism and then postmodernism. Both leading existentialists such as Sartre and leading postmodernists such as Foucault and Derrida draw heavily upon Heidegger. But Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida are men of the far left and Heidegger is a man of the far right. So, in Peter Gordon’s words, the Heidegger problem is a problem for the political left “by opening an ideological passage through history from the German right to the French left.” Hence the outsized fury of the arguments: If there’s a problem with Heidegger’s basic philosophy and his philosophy is tightly connected to politics, then the left Heideggerians are in as much trouble as the right.
I argued in Chapters 4 and 5 of Explaining Postmodernism that the differences between the political/philosophical “left” and “right” in nineteenth century were matters of detail rather than principle. And as the collectivist left caused and suffered many disasters in the twentieth century, its strategists, especially the pomo ones, modified left thought by incorporating many collectivist right themes. Heidegger is an important bridge thinker in the transition.
 William H. F. Altman, Martin Heidegger and the First World War: Being and Time as Funeral Oration (Lexington Books, 2012), p. xiii.
 Altman, pp. xv, xvi.
 Peter E. Gordon, review of Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2010).
My post “Heidegger, anti-humanism, and the Left,” on Tim Black’s review of Emmanuel Faye’s Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935 (Yale, 2009).
A quotation from Heidegger: “Heidegger on the Führer Principle.”
Gregory Fried, “A Letter to Emmanuel Faye”, Philosophy Today (2011).
Jeffrey van Davis’s “Only a God Can Save Us” documentary and my extended video interview with van Davis.
Posted 1 month, 2 weeks ago at 8:55 am. 1 comment
Professor Kant taught an anthropology course yearly from the early 1770s until his retirement in 1796. The lectures were published in 1798, six years before his death in 1804.
One nugget from his views on the differences between men and women:
“It is easy to analyse man; but woman betrays her secrets even though she is unable to keep those of others (owing to her love of gossip). Man is fond of domestic peace and submits easily to its governance so as to be unmolested in his business. Woman has no dislike for domestic war for which she is armed with her tongue …”
(Kant remained a bachelor his whole life — which follows as a maxim of practical reason.)
I wonder, though, if Kant isn’t implicitly praising women, given his explicit remarks elsewhere on the goodness of war.
In his “Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent” (1784), Kant argues that nature has a plan to improve the species. One of the methods nature uses is war — even though as individuals we prefer to live peacefully. In his own words:
“Man wills concord; but nature better knows what is good for the species: she wills discord.”
And here is Professor Kant again, on why war is necessary to improve the species:
“At the stage of culture at which the human race still stands, war is an indispensable means for bringing it to a still higher stage.”
So, in the Kantian universe, perhaps the woman’s way of war is in better keeping with nature’s plan?
 Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from the Pragmatic Point of View (1798). A recent edition. Interestingly, Foucault published a translation of the Anthropology, reviewed here.
 Quoted in Léon Poliakov’s The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe (Meridien, 1977), p. 171. A more recent edition.
 Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent” (1784), 32/21. In Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, translated by Ted Humphrey (Hackett, 1983).
 Kant, “Speculative Beginning of Human History” (1786), 58/121, emphasis added. Also in the Humphrey edition.
Quotations from Kant and other German thinkers on the Jews.
Mussolini and Kant on war and the sacrifice of individuals.
More posts and publications on Kant at my Intellectual History page.
Posted 1 month, 4 weeks ago at 8:11 am. Add a comment
The Polish translation of Nietzsche and the Nazis will be published in March of 2014. The publisher is Foundation Fuhrmann.
Many thanks to Przemysław Zientkowski of Nicholas Copernicus University for arranging this translation and publication.
I’ll post again about availability when the book is out officially.
Posted 2 months ago at 9:27 am. Add a comment