Chauvinist Debates About the Value of Bourgeois Philosophy
This greedy Daily Nous piece reminds me that both the New and Old Guards are united on the issue of the “practicality” of bourgeois philosophy when it comes to the redistribution of imperialist wealth. This means that both will rant and rave until sundown about how bourgeois philosophy departments and institutions deserve imperialist funding. They’ll take issue and become animated and indignant when those in positions to influence the redistribution of imperialist wealth claim that philosophy is “useless” and will put out many “enlightened” pieces about how progress in philosophy is a special snowflake not to be held to the same standards as other disciplines when the imperialists are handing out checks. It’s important to keep in mind that these sorts of debates about the relative “usefulness” of bourgeois philosophy are mainly about the re-distribution of imperialist wealth to support a particular way of doing philosophy that is first-world chauvinist, idealist, individualist and uncritical of bourgeois liberalism and NOT about the basic human activity of philosophizing.
What I mean by the “redistribution of imperialist wealth” is this: We live in a world where capitalism is characterized by large multi-national corporations and banks that invest abroad. This includes the phenomena of the countries of the first-world wresting wealth from the third-world through unfair loans, one-sided trade deals, illegally establishing crony regimes and puppet governments through military invasion and occupation or by staging coups and funding violent neo-liberal and religious fundamentalist “rebellions” against democratically elected governments and exploiting domestic class antagonisms in ways that favor the first world and all under the continued threat of military and economic violence. The first-world, imperialist country multinational corporations develop factories, mines, and plantations which employ “cheap” or slave labor in underdeveloped countries such as Mexico, Brazil or Singapore to refine raw materials and produce goods for western consumption. These corporations provide only subsistence wages or less to their workers while turning superprofits ―profits exploited from less-than subsistence wages― on the goods which are marketed to minority of the world’s people in the first world.
The same multinationals use violence and the political and economic support of the imperialist country governments to keep third-world workers in their place and crush the native economy and environment of the third-world countries. The massive wealth acquired through these means is distributed in measure, through a complicated system of neo-colonial politics, to the mass base of the imperialist countries, which in the united states for example, are the euro-american settler middle classes and the labor aristocracy, and other groups of people and different nations and classes living behind a militarized border and who enjoy the privileges of first-world living.
Debates about the relative “usefulness” of bourgeois philosophy between first-world academics and corporate and government bean-counters are propaganda and marketing in this system of neo-colonial politics intended to convince the bean-counters that people and academic institutions that promote a particular way of doing philosophy in a first-world chauvinist, idealist, individualist way that is uncritical of bourgeois liberalism are entitled to a cut of the imperialist blood money.
No doubt, in imperialist society the belief that philosophy in the abstract is useless is prevalent because notions of social value are connected to profitability and rapid growth -but there’s a big difference between attempting to set bourgeois philosophy on a different footing in the hearts and minds of a small minority of the world’s people in imperialist countries to win the favor of bean-counters (essentially a marketing problem) and being transparent about the service that western academic philosophy provides given the social relations that enable it and its relative usefulness when measured against other practices for achieving a given goal.
Discussions of the “practicality” of bourgeois philosophy center on the marketing task, while neglecting entirely the discussion of the service that bourgeois philosophy provides imperialism and the people who benefit from it. From the point of view of non-bourgeois philosophy, current western academic philosophy is far from “useless” -its use is in serving euro-american imperialism, its superstructures, and the interests of the people who benefit from it through socializing groups of people into first-world chauvinism, idealism, individualism and uncritical engagement with liberalism. In this light, the argument becomes one between those euro-american imperialists who think the tasks of socialization and indoctrination into imperialism can be better served by heavily funded bourgeois philosophy and those who think that these duties can be more effectively carried out by other imperialist institutions.
In general, for the non-bourgeois philosopher, there is no such thing as the abstract, de-contextualized uselessness or usefulness of philosophy. We connect the value of philosophical activity and philosophical output to the social relations that engender it and we measure their relative usefulness in comparison to other practices and a stated goal. Now, in our current context ―global imperialism and the hegemony of euro-american culture and institutions propped up by war, occupation, and neo-colonialism, western academic philosophy is very good at achieving the goal of solidifying dogmatic adherence to bourgeois liberalism in groups of people through enforcing understanding parts of its history and its canons of thought. It does this at the national-level in the imperialist countries through the standard neo-liberal methods of intimidation and discipline characterizing bourgeois academia at this time (the first half of the 21st century).
For the non-bourgeois philosopher, there is no such thing as the abstract, de-contextualized uselessness or usefulness of philosophy.
And it also does this at the global level by opportunistically preying upon and influencing people all over the world who are philosophically inclined because euro-american settler culture and institutions are artificially propped up by the inequities of global imperialism. In the same context western academic philosophy is catastrophically poor at expressing the social identity of non-euro-american, non-bourgeois people through philosophical activity that serves their interests for self-determination and national democracy as historically constituted groups oppressed by the bourgeois liberal, neo-colonial form of economic imperialism.
Distinctions such as these never feature in discussions of the value or practicality of philosophical activity by western academic philosophers and pundits. Instead, western academic philosophers and pundits focus on the “benefits” of studying bourgeois philosophy both on an individual level for people indoctrinated into imperialism and at a social level, from the point of view of care for the health of imperialist society. The Daily Nous article focuses on “progress”, but -as the Daily Nous piece itself states, that’s just one metric upon which one might evaluate the “benefit” of bourgeois philosophy. Other metrics include effectiveness in pursuing a bourgeois career in imperialist society through acceptable performance on racist, classist, sexist professional examinations, and first-world chauvinist measures of individual wealth garnered from the exploitation of the world’s people in the form of salary and net worth statistics as well as the usual schlock and appeals to emotion about personal enrichment, “critical thinking”, “better citizens”, and the viciously circular “eternal value of fundamental questions”. Something that’s been in the news recently as well, and used to highlight the “value” of bourgeois philosophy is access to millions of dollars in stolen third-world wealth for bourgeois philosophy think-tanks like ConceptLab. The appeals are overwhelming, actually (a shitload of them here) since hardly a week goes by that the New and Old Guards of bourgeois philosophy aren’t maneuvering to get imperialist dollars. The fact is that there’s not a single appeal made about the value of western academic philosophy that isn’t first-world chauvinist through and through because the value of bourgeois philosophy comes from serving euro-american imperialism, its superstructures, and the people who benefit from it, by DE-VALUING the philosophy and philosophical activity of non-euro-american, non-bourgeois people. So the arguments that philosophers and pundits have with bean-counters and university executives is about whether or not philosophy departments can do this while being heavily funded or whether in general imperialist society and culture can do a good job of it without the help of the bourgeois philosophers.
Not a single appeal made about the value of western academic philosophy fails to be first-world chauvinist because the value of bourgeois philosophy comes from serving euro-american imperialism, its superstructures, and the people who benefit from it, by DE-VALUING the philosophy and philosophical activity of non-euro-american, non-bourgeois people.
From the point of view of the world’s people who don’t benefit from imperialism and for whom daily resistance to the narratives of annihilation of euro-american imperialist culture is a matter of survival, the funding debate around bourgeois philosophy is of no practical value because neither the bourgeois philosophers nor the academic bean-counters have their best interests in mind.
Winnable Battles in Support of Non-Bourgeois Philosophy
The silver lining is that there are debates and questions about the value of philosophy that are important to those whose interests are not served by bourgeois philosophy and its institutions. These sorts of debates and questions can be categorized in terms of agitation/exposure and other concrete, winnable battles. For example, in terms of agitation/exposure, publicly taking bourgeois philosophers and pundits to task by asking why only bourgeois philosophy ought to be funded as opposed to non-bourgeois philosophy is important. Liberal bourgeois thinkers will either have to gulp down their own principles by agreeing that non-bourgeois philosophy ought to be funded (more on this below) or contradict themselves and be exposed as hypocrites holding a chauvinist double standard when it comes to the practice of philosophy that doesn’t recapitulate euro-american, liberal white power. And this is of practical value in the struggle to build popular support for independent institutions for people who don’t benefit from imperialism.
On the question of funding for non-bourgeois philosophy: Non bourgeois philosophy is like any other superstructure that isn’t bourgeois, it’s antithesis to the social reality of imperialism. In the current context in the euro-american nation state, the imperialist class of euro-american settler nation holds power and have control over the vast resources they’ve acquired through global war, imperialist dealings, land grabs and conquest, slavery, and genocide. They distribute these in measure to their mass base, which are first and foremost, the euro-american settler middle classes and labor aristocracy, and other groups of people of different nations and classes living behind a militarized border through a complicated system of neo-colonial politics. In this imperialist society, there are no established channels to support non-bourgeois philosophy in the same way that there are no established channels to stop neo-colonial police murdering Blacks and Xicanx on the streets, to thwart the rise of fascism, to stop war profiteering etc. Each of these things are par for the course in a bourgeois liberal, imperialist society.
In imperialist society, there are no established channels to support non-bourgeois philosophy in the same way that there are no established channels to stop neo-colonial police murdering Blacks and Xicanx on the streets, to thwart the rise of fascism, to stop war profiteering, etc.
The bean-counters at imperialist academic, philanthropic and government institutions will happily give funding for even the most facetious bourgeois projects (an absolutely ridiculous recent example that the APA was tweeting about is university funded program where students vacationing in Italy were essentially going wine-tasting and trying passing it off as “philosophy of food”. But in general won’t give a dime for anything that would make a difference to advancing the economic, political, and cultural interests of non-bourgeois people or people who don’t benefit from imperialism.
Now, while most of the world’s people don’t benefit from imperialism and aren’t served by its bourgeois philosophy, the institutions of bourgeois philosophy are propped up by the full cultural, economic and military might of the imperialist countries. This means that if we are to build independent institutions for the expression of the social identity of people who don’t benefit from imperialism through non-bourgeois philosophy, we have to do so with strategic confidence but tactical respect for a formidable enemy. So those who believe that cultural struggle at the level of the superstructure is an important part of an internationalist movement to build alternatives to imperialism and wrest political and economic power from euro-american settlers have to find ways to do this sort of thing on their own, often subversively and by exploiting loopholes in liberalism. This is where winnable battles and politics in command come in.
A winnable battle on behalf of non-bourgeois philosophy in the context of imperialist, neo-colonial society is just a non-bourgeois, anti-imperialist, anti-ableist, feminist campaign for a concession (like, say, funding) that can be achieved by people without access to the power and resources described above that serves their political, economic, and cultural interests as historically constituted groups and for which the pluses outweigh the minuses. This leaves a lot of “whitespace” for developing campaigns in support of non-bourgeois philosophy. Politics in command helps us to narrow down the options and focus on making gains. Politics in command in this case means that the fight for non-bourgeois philosophy in the context of global imperialism goes hand in hand with the struggle against reformism, chauvinism, and opportunism. Let me say a little bit about each of these things in turn.
The fight for non-bourgeois philosophy in the context of global imperialism goes hand in hand with the struggle against reformism, chauvinism, and opportunism.
Anti-reformism means that campaigns on behalf of non-bourgeois philosophy are such that, when achieved, do not end up promoting the method of liberal reform as a viable method generally for achieving the types changes required for expressing the social identity of non-euro-american, non-bourgeois people through philosophy that serves their interests, or as a method for large-scale social change along non-bourgeois-democratic or socialist lines -which is usual method employed by euro-american imperialists to consolidate and continue to strengthen white power. Anti-chauvinism means that campaigns on behalf of non-bourgeois philosophy are such that, when achieved, do not end up promoting first-world, national, class or gender chauvinism -like say, the typical calls from bourgeois philosophers do when they call for “diversity”, or “public” philosophy programs or for more imperialist funding for bourgeois philosophy. Anti-opportunism means that campaigns on behalf of non-bourgeois philosophy are not achieved by means of betraying the core-constituency, practically or in principle, of people who don’t benefit from imperialism and bourgeois liberalism in order to gain a concession from the imperialists and their mass base. Keeping politics in command helps to up the positives and down the minuses in any initiative to promote non-bourgeois philosophy, but those promoting it should also be able to creatively analyze a situation, campaign, or program to determine the balance of power and the space of opportunity to see if it is a winnable battle.
Using this method, it’s possible for the non-bourgeois philosopher to participate in a principled fashion in bourgeois conferences and panels and, more importantly, to organize independent conferences, journals and build philosophy institutions that serve the interests of the people trampled by bourgeois liberalism.
The upshot of all of this is that non-euro-american, and non-bourgeois people looking to do philosophy that serves their interests can completely sidestep the chauvinist debates that bourgeois philosophers have a stake in when it comes exploiting the “usefulness” and “value” of bourgeois philosophy in order to secure imperialist funding and focus on building independent power. We just take it for granted that non-bourgeois philosophy is useful for expressing our social identity and exploit loopholes in liberalism to make gains.