Philosophers in Government


In Slovenia, Alma Maruška Sedlar, a woman described in news reports as a philosopher and teacher, has been appointed by President Borut Pahor as a deputy chief of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption. Sedlar is not an academic, but rather a journalist and labor activist who graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Maribor in 2007 with a thesis on censorship and hate speech. (Thanks to Friderik Klampfer at Maribor for that information.)

What professional philosophers have held government offices recently, say, in the past decade or so? There is Michael Ignatieff in Canada. And back in 2005, the government of Norway hired Henrik Syse to be the ethicist for its petroleum fund. I’m sure there are other examples. Readers?

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Thornton Lockwood
Thornton Lockwood
6 years ago

Although his Ph.D.s are in government and classics, Carnes Lord (https://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/Carnes-Lord.aspx)–translator and commentating on Aristotle–certainly has philosophical training. He’s held various positions in the US government.Report

praymont
6 years ago

In the UK, Oliver Letwin and Barry Gardiner. And James Purnell is an Oxford PPE grad who seems to have focused on philosophy. See http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/415633.articleReport

praymont
6 years ago

Other British MP’s with philosophy backgrounds: Jesse Norman (who taught at some Univ of London colleges), John Pugh, and possibly Jon Cruddas. In the US, Rashad Hussain is the Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC); he majored in philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill. I’ve listed other prominent philosophy grads at the blog that’s linked to my name.Report

Student
Student
6 years ago

William Galston was deputy assistant for domestic policy under Clinton.Report

Matt
Reply to  Student
6 years ago

Somewhat similar to my comment about Ignatieff, given Galston’s often vapid policy writings and bad views (a sort of luke-warm communitarianism with a lot of moralizing thrown in), philosophers should be happy that his Ph.D. is in political science and he mostly taught in political science/government departments. We don’t have to accept him!Report

Matt
6 years ago

Given his views on, say, torture and military intervention, I think philosophers should be happy that we have grounds for disclaiming Ignatieff. He has an Oxford B.Phil. in government and Ph.D. in history, but no graduate degree specifically in philosophy. (I don’t know about his undergrad degree.) It would be nice to think that if he did have a philosophy degree he’d have less odious views, though that’s probably not justified.Report

Jeroen
6 years ago

Zoran Dindic was a prime minister of Serbia with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Konstanz (Germany) and had also been studying with Habermas in Frankfurt.Report

Dudimus Prime
Dudimus Prime
6 years ago

Tim Soutphommasane is the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Race Discrimination Commissioner: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Soutphommasane

Charles Taylor co-chaired a Quebec government commission on reasonable accommodation of religious and ethnic minorities.Report

Rodolfo
Rodolfo
6 years ago

In Italy, it is not uncommon to see a philosopher (especially, a Continental one) holding a political position.

Massimo Cacciari, for example, was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 1976, where he was member of the Commission for Industry. In more recent years, he served as Mayor of Venice twice (1993-2000; 2005-2010). He has been an influential figure of the Communist Party in the 70s and 80s, of the Social Democratic Party in the 90s, and of the Democratic Party nowadays.
Some info on Cacciari: http://www.unisr.it/persona.asp?id=346&linguacv=english

Gianni Vattimo, another Heidegger scholar and postmodern philosopher, has been a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004 and from 2009 to 2014.
Some info on Vattimo: http://giannivattimo.blogspot.co.uk/p/gianni-vattimo-english.html

Of course, there is also the case of Toni Negri, who was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1983, before escaping to France. However, this was many years ago and a totally different story.
Some info on Negri: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_NegriReport

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
6 years ago

British Prime Minister and later Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour — he authored the Balfour Declaration — studied philosophy at Cambridge and published a book on philosophy in 1879. (C.D. Broad quotes him as saying, perceptively, that Kant “contrived to be technical without being precise.”)

As for Michael Ignatieff, he never held government office in Canada but was always in opposition, albeit as Leader of the Opposition in his final years. He resigned and left politics after leading his party to a disastrous electoral defeat. And though his Oxford BPhil was in Politics, his primary teacher was, I believe, Isaiah Berlin, who was at least half a philosopher.Report

ctomatis
6 years ago

Not a government job as such perhaps, but Major General Herzl Halevi – a philosophy graduate – was recently appointed head of AMAN, the IDF’s Directorate of Military Intelligence. An important position to occupy in the Great Game of Middle East conflict.Report

LisaShapiro
6 years ago

My understanding is that Paul Martin, former PM of Canada, has an undergrad degree in philosophy, as does the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin.Report

Carlos
Carlos
6 years ago

I believe Bernard Williams served on a number of governmental commissions and committees, at least one of which had to do with censorship.Report

Thornton Lockwood
Thornton Lockwood
6 years ago

Would also add John Broome (Oxford), who serves on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (about which he has insightfully blogged here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/05/08/john-broome/at-the-ipcc/).Report

Philip Kremer
6 years ago

William Bennett, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education from 1985-1988, has a PhD in Philosophy, from UT Austin, 1970.Report

Philip Kremer
6 years ago

Pope John Paul II had a doctorate in Philosophy, 1948.Report

praymont
6 years ago

In Ontario, Paul Genest, Deputy Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, has a doctorate in philosophy from Johns Hopkins (and a BA in phil from Guelph, MA in phil from U of Ottawa). After Vietnam but before entering law school, Al Gore studied philosophy (esp. phenomenology) at Vanderbilt (c. 1973). Canadian PM Paul Martin did, indeed, double major in phil & history at U of T. One of Martin’s cabinet ministers, Pierre Pettigrew (most recently Minister of Health and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs) has a BA in phil. Sadly, Canada’s current Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, majored in philosophy at the Univ of San Francisco; happily, he didn’t complete the degree. Like Ignatieff, former Ontario Premier Bob Rae didn’t major in philosophy but did study with Isaiah Berlin. Former Nebraska governor E. Benjamin Nelson has a BA & MA in philosophy from Univ of Nebraska at Lincoln; he was a U.S. Senator from 2001 to 2013. In Australia, Pamela Tate was the Solicitor-General for the state of Victoria. Now, she’s on the Court of Appeal for the Supreme Court of Victoria; she’s also been Special Counsel to the Human Rights Consultation Committee in Victoria. Her philosophy undergrad degree is from the Univ of Otago.Report

David Enoch
6 years ago

In Israel:
– Political philosopher Yael Tamir served in several roles as a minister, including minister of education, in the late 90s and early 2000s. She’s the author of the influential book “Liberal Nationalism”.
– Yuval Steinitz, who taught philosophy in Haifa University (and published very little in English) is now a minister of some sort, and served as Netanyahu’s minister of the treasury last term.
It is rather common for philosophers in Israel to serve on all sorts of governmental committees, but I suspect this is different.Report

Ken Gemes
6 years ago

Marcello Pera was President of the Italian Senate from 2001 to 2006. I think his PhD in philosophy is from Pisa. He has written on Popper. I knew him from his time visiting at Pittsburgh in 1984, where he attended lectures by my later supervisor Wes Salmon.Report