Cosmopolitan Racism, Trump, and Philosophy (guest post by Bharath Vallabha)


The following is a guest post* from Bharath Vallabha, former assistant professor of philosophy at Bryn Mawr College.

“Trump is actually much more aligned with the dominant norms of academic philosophy in America than with the KKK”

trump-wall-of-trumps-man-holds-globe

Cosmopolitan Racism, Trump, and Philosophy
by Bharath Vallabha

 Trump, like many of his supporters, vehemently denies he is a racist. He says he loves African-Americans, Mexicans, Chinese—and more, that they love him. If Trump and I were to interact one on one, I don’t get the feeling he would think he is better than me because he is white and I am brown. He seems too cosmopolitan for such explicit racism.

And yet the night of the election and in the following days, I felt a pit of fear in my stomach. That though I am an American citizen, that somehow I am a second class citizen. That I am welcome in America, as long as I know my place. I felt it during Trump’s campaign a well: a pervasive, subtle, and yet not so subtle, aura of whiteness around him, his family and his staff, which seemed to say, “This is what America really looks like.”

How can I think Trump is too cosmopolitan to be an old fashioned racist and yet worry about minorities in a Trump presidency? If Trump is cosmopolitan, shouldn’t that be enough for me to feel safe during his presidency? Not quite.

For Trump is a cosmopolitan racist. He is cosmopolitan in that he thinks people of all races can live together. But he thinks that cosmopolitanism is the discovery of white people. That it is the white culture of Christianity, European advancements and the Founding Fathers of America which enables all races to live together. On this view, cosmopolitanism in America requires preserving white culture as the essence of America.

Seen from this angle, Trump is actually much more aligned with the dominant norms of academic philosophy in America than with the KKK. The KKK is old-fashioned, non-cosmopolitan, segregationist racism. Trump is too integrated into global capitalism to favor such segregation. What Trump wants is to preserve white culture as uniquely qualified for enabling racial integration—that America can be colorful as long as at its core its culture is white.

The strongest intellectual defense of this view is found not in conservative think tanks, or on Breitbart, or in the nether regions of the internet. Open most introductory philosophy text books in America, or sit in most philosophy classes or conferences, and one can see vividly the identification of cosmopolitanism with white, intellectual culture.

Hume, Berkeley, Kant and Hegel were all cosmopolitan racists who explicitly argued that only European culture and philosophy could enable world peace by keeping in check the barbarism of non-Europeans. Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Quine in the twentieth century all lived through colonialism and segregation, and yet never addressed it in their philosophy—because they accepted the cosmopolitan racism of their times and their philosophy departments which assumed that non-whites had no rational philosophy to speak of (false), and so couldn’t be cosmopolitans in their own light (false again).

To say Kant was a cosmopolitan racist isn’t to deny the significance of Kant’s philosophy. But because Kant lacked knowledge of the philosophical traditions of other cultures, he didn’t conceptually separate his philosophy from his cultural practices. He assumed that spreading cosmopolitanism meant spreading European culture. With that assumption in place, colonialism seems almost like an act of charity.

Trump is channeling the same confused sense of charity, at once seemingly so benign and yet so destructive, when he says he will help African-Americans by putting more police in the inner cities or that Mexican-Americans love him even though he says most Mexicans coming into America are rapists. The reasoning is simple: “Non-whites struggle because their culture doesn’t help them; I will help them by giving them the protection of my cosmopolitan white culture; but to do that, I need to first protect white culture. When non-whites realize protecting white culture is in their best interest, they will love me.”

I have heard this reasoning before. It is the thinking behind why the philosophy curriculum hasn’t changed for the most part even though the college study body has diversified in the last fifty years. It is assumed it is a service to white, black and brown students to read European philosophy, for it opens up their mind to cosmopolitanism. And yet, the narrative goes, students don’t have to read non-European philosophy because none of it ever became cosmopolitan, and is limited by religion or culture. On this view, the white intellectual culture of philosophy has to be preserved not because it is white but because it has already transcended race; because any threat to it is a threat to cosmopolitanism itself.

Many people in America are not ready to let go of the idea that America is a fundamentally white nation. Till the civil rights movement, this idea was defended on the ground that whites are simply better, smarter, more industrious than non-whites. This is implausible to believe after the end of segregation and the prominence of minorities in sports, arts, media, technology and business, not to mention a black president. So some other grounding for a white America is needed. Trump and parts of the alt-right found it in the old colonialist idea that white culture is fundamentally cosmopolitan in a way other cultures are not, and so preserving white America is both the right of “true” Americans and a benevolent act at the same time.

This cosmopolitan racism is not a remnant of the past or the fringe right. Trump is channeling in a crude way some of the latent assumptions of Western society and its understanding of the other, assumptions implicit even in the great Western philosophers of the last four centuries and in current educational practices. Understanding a Trump presidency and challenging it requires rethinking these deep seeded assumptions about cosmopolitanism and universality, and about philosophy itself and its history.

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Chris
Chris
4 years ago

“But he thinks that cosmopolitanism is the discovery of white people.”

Would love to see the citation for this premise.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Chris
4 years ago

Citations don’t help much regarding Trump, since what he says changes, or the meaning of what he says is treated as flexible. I attribute this belief to him as a way of making sense of things he says and doesn’t say: he says he wants to make America great again, he says he loves minorities, and yet, he doesn’t talk about the condition of minorities when according to him America used to be great. As if though the great America of the past might have had some oppression, really all along it was governed by the best, most tolerant and inclusive of ideals.

This combination of affirming the white past as great while ignoring complications of oppression is a salient similarity between Trump and most academic philosophy. Trump, and Brietbart people like Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos, talk about the past of Western culture the way Locke, Hume and Kant are talked about in most academic philosophy: as the highest ideals which are uniquely Western and yet a beacon to the world, and whatever implications of racism or oppression there might have been in that past can be easily set aside and ignored.

Maybe I have misunderstood Trump, and he doesn’t think cosmopolitanism is the discovery of white people, either because he doesn’t care about cosmopolitanism or because he thinks other cultures also discovered it. I am happy to be corrected if so.Report

Confused
Confused
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

I’m still confused here. Let’s grant that there’s something inconsistent Trump’s claiming that he loves minorities but not talking about how minorities have been oppressed. How does this imply anything about his views on the origins of cosmopolitanism? That seems like a non-sequitur.Report

West coast grad student
West coast grad student
Reply to  Confused
4 years ago

I think something has gone funky with the comments, but your response to yourself seems the correct response: your inference regarding Trump’s beliefs is no good.

Also, in my (limited) experience, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk like this: “the way Locke, Hume and Kant are talked about in most academic philosophy: as the highest ideals which are uniquely Western and yet a beacon to the world”. I am certain I have never heard anyone assert the uniqueness claim (that these are unique ideals and that they are uniquely Western), and I cannot remember anyone asserting the second.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  West coast grad student
4 years ago

Something is funky with that comment; it is not by me (Bharath).

I am not questioning your intentions or judgment (nor saying anyone who disagrees with me is a racist). But we clearly have different experiences being in academic philosophy. I don’t think there is one way that academic philosophy is, and we all have our own experiences. Maybe I shouldn’t have written the post in an objective key (saying, this is how academic phil or Trump is), but in a subjective key (this is how it is for me interacting with both). Perhaps it was a defense mechanism on my part to put it in the objective key.

In the post I should have spoken of my experience in academic philosophy and my experience listening to Trump, and that I feel something similar in both cases: and that is, in both cases I feel there is an affirmation of inclusivity (which I think is genuine), and yet something in that affirmation makes me feel not welcome as I am, with the concerns I have. It feels to me that the affirmation of inclusivity itself happens in a way that pushes me away, or seeks to put me in my place.

I should have added in the post that I feel something similar about Clinton as well, as I do about the social justice warriors in academic phil. My main intention was to draw parallel between the situation in politics and academic philosophy. Perhaps this didn’t come across.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

I find it interesting that you are worried about SJWs, despite yourself being a minority. The combination makes sense, the more I think about it: I imagine it can feel patronizing when everyone around you is bending over backwards to pay lip service to philosophies that they didn’t grow up learning about, and which (often) run counter to their way of thinking. I wonder what you think the best solution for that problem is. Until we literally HAVE all these cultures well represented in the discipline of philosophy, is there any way to expose our students to these cultures without being somehow patronizing?Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

Yes, I find the SJW mindset frustrating, because there is such a strong presumption of what my concerns as a minority are, or ought to be. Often I felt unheard even by people who care a lot about diversifying the profession, in part because they seemed to have a entrenched narrative in which I was being placed, rather than actually listening to me.

In America there is an image imposed onto most conversations about diversity, and that is the image of the civil rights movement, or the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s. But my experience as a Indian-American man (Brahmin, straight, middle-class – in many ways like a white man, except that I am brown) can’t simply be identified with, say, the African-African experience and its pain. My family moved from India to America the way one might move from LA to NY; we weren’t running away from anything in India, and didn’t need America to save us; we moved simply because it was something my family wanted to do. This, along with the fact that my family has been materially successful here raises questions about what form my pain as a minority can take, and whether I can adopt “minorities vs white men” mindset.

So, on the one hand, I felt vividly some of the pangs of being a minority, and, on the other hand, it seemed crazy, offensive even, to walk alongside people of less privilege as if simply the “minority” label makes our situation the same. These kind of issues have to be talked about openly, and confronted. It is no help for someone to tell me how great they think Indian philosophy is, if that affirmation is being made in a broader narrative which is imposed onto me. Having conversations which avoid that would be a good start.Report

Lucas
Lucas
4 years ago

One question I had concerning the curriculum. Isn’t one reason why we have students read Kant, Aristotle, and Descartes (among others) is that they are all really, really good philosophers? And reading good philosophy is part of what makes you a good philosopher (just like imitating a good chef can help improve cooking skill). Also, time is limited, so philosophy courses can only include so much material. I’m assuming that ‘the canon’ is under discussion when we’re talking about what we teach in our introductory or lower-level courses; I’m definitely on board with including classes that cover Chinese philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Latin American philosophy, etc. as upper-level seminars.

So, that’s just a lengthy way of saying that the canon includes what it includes because all of those people are really good philosophers (is there anyone in the canon–or an uncontroversial formulation of the canon–for whom this isn’t true?)

Now maybe by ‘change the curriculum’ you meant to suggest that we just need to include people that fall outside the typical Western narrative of philosophy that moves from Aristotle to Aquinas to Descartes to Kant. And I’m fine with that, except then you run up against problems of time. The more people you include, the less justice you can do to any particular individual. So what’s the solution? Spend less time on the typical Great Western Philosophers? That doesn’t seem right: they’re all really good! Should we include some one or two week stretch of studying Great Non-Western Philosophers? That seems patronizing (‘Oh, how cute, these people are trying to play philosophy’.). I’m certain that a great non-western philosopher is just as complicated and subtle as Descartes, so spending one week on somebody starts to feel like mere lip service.

This isn’t a rant, because I’m genuinely interested in navigating this dilemma. I don’t want to be pejorative or patronizing to non-western traditions, but I don’t want to sacrifice reading and thinking about really good philosophy (especially when there is so much bad philosophy, even restricting your scope to the Western tradition). I think that relates to the point about cosmopolitan racism, because I think you can justify some of these viewpoints (like having a preference for certain Western philosophers) without lapsing into cosmopolitan racism. Perhaps, however, I’ve been an unwitting cosmopolitan racist this whole time and I need to have a good long think about my worldview.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Lucas
4 years ago

It is a hard question how to change the curriculum, to balance time, diversity, quality, a sense of shared knowledge, and many other things. It is especially hard given the slippery slope worry: once the curriculum starts to change, where do the changes end? Even if the curriculum becomes more fair in terms of diversity, are there other forms of fairness which are lost? All very hard questions.

A similar reasoning is why many people voted for Trump. The diversification of America is frightening to many people because it seems choatic, unstructured, unclear what counts as a full success if having a black president isn’t it. Many Americans, white and nonwhite, feel they are losing control of the country they knew, and losing control of the conversation. So they chose the strongest affirmation of the America they fear they are losing. This is all understandable, and it is not cosmopolitan racism.

Cosmopolitan racism is a particular response to this anxiety of loss of control. It is holding on to what one fears is being lost by saying that thing (white America, white curriculum) is the best, and then using that claim of the best, most inclusive, most cosmopolitan as a way to resist change. It is the insecurity of loss turned upside down into the affirmation of righteous self-defense. This is not unique to whites; one sees it in Hindu nationalists who claim Hinduism is the most inclusive religion (and therefore so much better than Islam), etc.

To resist cosmopolitan racism we have to find new ways of talking to each other, create new narratives of our shared problems and histories, explore new logical spaces of solutions. The curriculum should be changed not to mindlessly make it brown or black; it should be changed so that we can have these new conversations, and not just assume that Plato and Kant already addressed and gave the best answers to the problems we are facing.Report

Malcolm Keating
Malcolm Keating
4 years ago

If readers are interested in historiography related to the current place of Indian, Chinese, African, etc. philosophers in the canon, Peter Park’s book, Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy is a place to start. Daily Nous posted about it perhaps a year ago, I think, and linked to a review article on the Chronicle, from which I quote:

“While it may surprise contemporary philosophers and graduate students brought up on the standard canon, Park correctly reports that from “the time of Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) to the death of Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-80), the prevailing convention among historians of philosophy was to begin the history of philosophy with Adam, Noah, Moses (or the Jews), or the Egyptians. In some early modern histories of philosophy, Zoroaster, the ‘Chaldeans,’ or another ancient Oriental people appear as the first philosophers. It was in the late 18th century that historians of philosophy began to claim a Greek beginning for philosophy.””

While it’s true that one must always make choices in what to include in a course, the choices being made today are not the only ones possible, nor are they necessarily the only ones desirable.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
4 years ago

Unlike (apparently) the author of the post, I’ve not managed to “Open most introductory philosophy text books in America, or sit in most philosophy classes or conferences,” but I have been in the profession quite awhile and have opened quite a few introductory texts and been in many classes and at many conferences. From my more limited perspective I have not seen “vividly the identification of cosmopolitanism with white, intellectual culture” in these settings. I’ve almost never seen any identification of cosmopolitanism with anything else either.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
4 years ago

When I speak of the identification of cosmopolitanism with white, intellectual culture, I am talking about the combination in the profession of (a) focusing mainly on European texts, and (b) the habit of accepting (a) as perfectly and prima facie compatible with academic philosophy being equally open to everyone. The only way I can make sense of (a) and (b) together is that the European philosophy tradition is assumed to be universal and inclusive in a way other traditions are assumed to not be.

Do you think (a) and (b) are not true in your experience of the profession? Or is there some other explanation of how both can be true?Report

West coast grad student
West coast grad student
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

That the habit in (b) is widespread seems obviously false to me. Most of the people I’ve had or overheard conversations with about things related to (b) in the two departments where I’ve spent significant time seem to be rejecting (b), especially in its strong form. Perhaps they are all extreme outliers, but I doubt it.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

Perhaps the sense that cosmopolitanism is identified with white intellectual culture derives in part from how other traditions, or the desire to include other traditions, is identified with “identity politics”? There seems to be an implied contrast embedded in aligning “non-western” philosophy with identity, while identity is treated as irrelevant for caring about the traditional canon. The latter is presumed to expansively include and address all, while the former is construed as narrow. I’m never sure what “identity politics” is meant to mean, but suspect that it cashes out somehow against something like “cosmopolitanism.”Report

EDT
EDT
Reply to  Amy Olberding
4 years ago

Part of the reason “the desire to include other traditions is identified with identity politics” seems to me to have to do with rhetorical framing on behalf of those advocating for broadening the canon.
As seen in this very thread pointing out that the canon is dominated by Europeans (in fact even more specifically philosophers from Greece, France, Germany and Great Britain) results in the reply that the philosophers in the canon are in fact really great philosophers who deserve to be in the canon. The focus for defenders of the canon is on the quality of the philosophy not the origin of the philosopher. (Kant should be studied because he was a genius not because he was German). This is revelatory in that it reveals that the emphasis on the Western –ness of the canon or the paucity of non-Western voices seems for whatever reason (rhetorical, psychological, cultural, etc) imply to those it is trying to persuade that what matters is including non-Westerners regardless of quality.
To avoid allegations of identity politics one ought then to shift to arguing in the terms of defenders of the canon (ex: Exactly and Mencius was also a genius who produced incredibly valuable philosophy worth studying so he too should be included in the canon). This seems to be more effective or at least not open to an immediate rhetorical counter (tokenism!)
Of course this all based on purely anecdotal personal experience so feel free to disregard utterly.Report

Wayne Fenske
Wayne Fenske
4 years ago

You said, in a comment:
“My main intention was to draw parallel between the situation in politics and academic philosophy.
Perhaps this didn’t come across.”

I think you accomplished your intention quite nicely.
I’m not sure if I agree with you entirely, Bharath, but you’ve succeeded in making me think about Western academic philosophy in a different way.
Thanks,
WayneReport

Gabriel
4 years ago

As a Mexican-American philosophy instructor, I appreciate this post very much. Thank you, Bharath.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

If we want philosophy classes to better represent philosophy from underrepresented traditions, it would be a good idea to put together a resource that organizes and summarizes non-western philosophical arguments by the philosophical questions they address. By summarizing arguments and ordering them by the philosophical question they address, such a resource would give leads to philosophers teaching classes that address those questions.Report

Malcolm Keating
Malcolm Keating
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

You might want to try searching the SEP and IEP by topic, looking at the syllabi listed at the APA, browsing through the Society for Teaching Comparative Philosophy website, subscribing to and regularly reading the various area-specific philosophy blogs such as Warp, Weft, and Way, the The Indian Philosophy Blog, the The Japanese Philosophy Blog, and others (listed at WW&W), and reading introductory books such as Bonevac and Phillips’ Introduction to World Philosophy or Smart’s World Philosophies.

There are quite a lot of resources available.Report

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

I like this keynote by Evan Thompson, though I wish it was captioned:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q17_A0CYa8s&feature=youtu.be&t=3m15sReport

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Shelley Lynn Tremain
4 years ago

Thanks for the suggestions for sources. Do any of these sources do what I’m suggesting in my post?Report

Malcolm Keating
Malcolm Keating
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Glad to be of help. The SEP and IEP have entries which include summaries of arguments and they are organized by subject as well as thinker. I think the STCP is working on something along the lines you describe, but without the summary of philosophical arguments. The intro books also include summaries. If the idea is you want a sense of what thinkers are arguing along with teaching resources, I think these links would be helpful for anyone with a graduate philosophical education. In other words, you wouldn’t need to be a specialist to get leads, as you put it.

As for the specific format, there’s nothing precisely like that to my knowledge–does such a thing exist for teaching Western philosophical thought?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Malcolm Keating
4 years ago

Most philosophy textbooks are organized by the philosophical issues addressed, and include summaries of the arguments. The SEP and other online encyclopedias do this too, as you note.Report

Malcolm Keating
Malcolm Keating
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

I see. Thought you were meaning a website listing the questions/arguments. You might also take a look at Roy Perrett’s recent intro textbook for Indian philosophy, reviewed at the IPBlog I list above. It and the other websites have links to more. Happy to add more off-thread, but this is getting tangential to the original point.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Yes, a website listing questions/arguments would be ideal and is indeed exactly the project I was suggesting. If folks want to encourage understanding of non-western philosophy, this would be my top recommendation.Report

elisa freschi
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

You might also want to have a look at the Bloomsbury Research Handbooks in Asian Philosophy Series. They have handbooks on Indian Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, Indian Ethics, Chinese Philosophy and Gender and Chinese philosophical methodologies. Further volumes are forthcoming on Indian Philosophy of Language, Indian Epistemology, Indian Ontology…Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
Reply to  Malcolm Keating
4 years ago

Hey Nonny Mouse, Some colleagues and I are working on something like this but it’s not sufficiently developed yet to advertise or post. Stay tuned?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Amy Olberding
4 years ago

How awesome! 🙂 I shall stay tuned.Report

Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

Thanks for the supportive comments. It is hard to know on this topic how one is coming across.

I should have probably made clear in the post that I think Clinton is a cosmopolitan racist as well, and it is not unique to Trump. That, in fact, cosmopolitan racism is such a vast structural feature of our society that if a person affirms cosmopolitanism (basically rejects segregation), it is unhelpful to pin racism specifically on that person.

Cosmopolitan racism takes two forms: (1) asserting that American culture is fine because it is already fully inclusive (conservatives), or (2) using mainly protest and moral indignation to make America more inclusive (liberals). The latter assumes that Western culture already has the right theoretical framework for inclusion, and all that needs to be done is, not have debates, but go through the protests and shaming required to make it happen. In my experience, I have felt shut down by both approaches, in academic phil as well as in general politics.

I think to get over cosmopolitan racism we need to confront the very real possibility that we as human beings have not yet constructed the theoretical framework for a truly inclusive cosmopolitanism, and that no culture has managed to figure it out. That is why we need to study traditions from all over the world – not because all are equally great by default, but so that we can cull the achievements of each (including the vast, real achievements of Western phil) and put them together.Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

My modest criticism comes from a very sympathetic place. Why think that what’s needed to counter “cosmopolitan racism” is some or another “theoretical framework”? I would have thought that by your own account, varieties of Anglo-American racism mainly would have their source in entrenched commitments and endorsed values (not lack of exposure to information or alternative ideas) that actively support or complacently tolerate racist (though not by that name, of course) practices and arrangements.

Also, why think that persons or institutions inclined toward cosmopolitan racism would be particularly interested in making an effort to study non-Western traditions, even if this would considerably help to counter the racism?

Isn’t the expected response what is almost always in evidence — namely, denial that the phenomena in question are racist if they exist at all, demands for proof or additional information before proceeding further in thought or action, various compatible explanations that point away from racism, suggestions that you probably don’t know what you’re talking about since the doubters can’t see and haven’t experienced what you purport to be describing and analyzing, annoyed or indifferent silence, etc.? As if data aren’t all around us in a society that has always been characterized by starkly racialized segregation, exclusion/absence, and disparity. (Lest I run afoul of the anger police, let me be clear that none of this is written in anger.)

Maybe you’re far more an optimist than I am about the power of alternative ideas and moral suasion in this realm.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  LK McPherson
4 years ago

By “theoretical framework” I meant something pretty simple: new questions and concepts. For example, one reason I didn’t much study Indian philosophy when in academia was that I assumed that Indian philosophy is fundamentally spiritual in a way European philosophy isn’t, and I liked that it was spiritual (I embraced back then the naïve, and false, dichotomy). So when I was reading authors, Indian or not, integrating Indian philosophy with analytic philosophy, I felt this was missing the essence of Indian philosophy, and I was annoyed by the presumption that any mode of integration of Indian philosophy must speak to me.

The questions I was motivated by back then were more about the very possibility of bringing Indian and European philosophy together: Can it happen in a way which respects the spiritual dimension in Indian philosophy (and European philosophy)? How could that happen while keeping philosophy secular? And what does it mean anyway to be a “fully” diverse department or profession? What, for that matter, counts as a non-Western tradition? Identifying by country or language seems too fine grained, but identifying by continent too coarse-grained. I wanted the philosophy profession to be diverse, but what do I mean when I want that? Unsure, I didn’t know how to speak out about it.

I don’t mean minorities have to figure all this out before speaking up. Or that angry isn’t justified. But without addressing these questions head on, the anger is bound to be misdirected, which is what is happening I think in some of the protest first, talk second mindset – which in turn in making worse the denial and demands of “proof” from the other side.

Academic philosophy, or America, isn’t going to become more diverse just by good intentions or shaming; if it could, philosophy is not needed. There are hard questions about the possibility and meaning of diversity, which most people have. We need to start articulating and addressing them, and invite into the conversation those who think European philosophy is unique; not in the sense of having to convince them, but as people who have ideas to contribute. Without these kind of conversations, America in the coming years will lose itself to a cycle of denial and protests.Report

south asian grad student
south asian grad student
4 years ago

Thanks, Bharath, for giving voice to a salient part of my experience in US academia as well. And like you, I find it just as real, and much more disheartening, among the liberals and the social justice types on campus, with whose causes I otherwise sympathize.Report

Ian
Ian
4 years ago

A few things, which may or may not be salient.

1) Bharath’s Dec. 7 comment at 10:35am seems nothing if not Foucauldian. Isn’t the project he imagines that of post-structuralism writ large (Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard, Said, and so forth)?

2) No one doubts that history of philosophy as practiced in Europe and America is almost exclusively white and European, and I think many of us think that this ought to change. At the same time, it is my understanding that for the most part in the States, history of philosophy is more or less a marginal subfield that is entirely optional, perhaps even frowned upon, in one’s training. This is to say, I wonder if thinking of these matters in terms of the list of dead white men is particularly useful.

3) A note on Heidegger. While it is entirely true to call Heidegger a racist, it is I think incorrect to call him a cosmopolitan one or indeed to imply that his view of “the task of thinking” falls victim to cosmopolitan racism. For Heidegger, the history of Western philosophy is only one hermeneutic tradition among many. And while he clearly valorizes that tradition, he equally clearly sees his later project not in terms of providing universal/cosmopolitan truth, but rather of providing (for better or worse) Western or even German truths.

The case of Heidegger, and we ought not forget his engagement with Japanese thought later in his life, may pose a challenge to Bharath’s argument against cosmopolitanism. As Albert Borgmann has shown, Heidegger was a provincialist to his core. And that provincialism, one that echoes Barath’s claim that no theoretical framework is capable of inclusive cosmopolitanism. Indeed, both Heidegger and Gadamer would argue that such a framework is a pipe dream. Of course, we know all too well how easily such a view–let’s call it hermenuetic or cultural provincialism–can result in truly repugnant commitments.

The benefit of the liberal ideal, which we need not see as necessarily the cultural property of white Europe, is that it aspires to inclusion. Due to the nature of the human animal, aspiration may be all we can hope for on that front. Any alternate theoretical framework wold need to have that aspirational aspect while providing better results than liberalism. But don’t we need universalism–which is always already flawed–in order to mount such a framework?Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Ian
4 years ago

Your point about Heidegger makes sense, and I shouldn’t have included him as a cosmopolitan. He was not seeking a cosmopolitan society, as his Nazi affiliation makes clear.

The reason I included him was to highlight that the alt right is trying to give an intellectual defense of white supremacy, and that in this it has strong ties, intellectually, if not in terms of social status, to academic philosophy. But, as you say, it is important to distinguish a Heideggerean defense of white supremacy, based on a communitarian suspicion of modernity, and the cosmopolitan way, which sees modernity as great and basically a white achievement. My sense is this is a tension in the Bannon-Trump alliance, or a tension within Trump himself. It’s an open question how much Trump’s affirmation of cosmopolitanism is real, and how much it is a veneer for the more communitarian side, and I guess only time will tell.Report

Modmerous
Modmerous
4 years ago

What justification do you have for using ‘racism’ for the thing you call ‘cosmopolitan racism’? This seems inflammatory and counterproductive to me.

You write: ‘For Trump is a cosmopolitan racist. He is cosmopolitan in that he thinks people of all races can live together. But he thinks that cosmopolitanism is the discovery of white people.’ – But you never get to the bit about why this is racist, unless that last sentence is meant to be that bit. But I don’t see how it’s racist to think that a certain way of doing things which you think is good came from white people.

Also – and here perhaps I’m being a bit inflammatory, playing devil’s advocate (a great Western tradition!) – but do you have any argument that the position you call ‘cosmopolitan racism’ is mistaken or bad? Your post seems (in a vague, global way) predicated on the idea that cosmopolitan racism needs to be undermined, but I don’t see a lot of actual undermining here. To be clear, I do not subscribe to the position you describe – I think it’s probably a massive and potentially harmful oversimplification, but also not entirely wrong.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Modmerous
4 years ago

Great comment. I am glad the issues you raise are on the table.

I used ” cosmopolitan racism” as a general kind. So I think a thinker like Aurobindo is a cosmopolitan racist since he thinks that Indian philosophy, properly understood along his lines, is a universal, inclusive philosophy (I greatly admire Aurobindo, though I disagree about the specialness he attachs to Indian thought.) I wanted the generic usage to capture this idea that non-whites can be cosmopolitan racists. That’s why I didn’t use “cosmopolitan white supremacy”, which I think is applicable to Trump and habits in academic phil.

I also left it open in the post, or wanted to, whether Trump’s, or academic philosophy’s, cosmopolitan racism is right. I think it is wrong, but I could be wrong about this. Perhaps white intellectual culture did in fact discover some ways of being which are more inclusive than other traditions; after all, the kind of cosmopolitanism in America is tied to democracy, science, secularism and capitalism, which rose together in the European Enlightenment. This doesn’t mean they weren’t influenced by other traditions, but I don’t think that diminishes the European achievement.

My point is that this cosmopolitan racism is endemic to our culture, and I don’t mean to dismiss it just by calling it racism. If certain races (white, etc in the colloquial sense, without here getting into metaphysics of races) achieved certain things others didnt, ok. But we need to talk about whether that is in fact true. For that, defenders of cosmopolitan racism need to engage with other traditions and prove what they say, rather than simply hand waving other traditions in a crude way, based on silly stereotypes. At the same time, people who disagree need to engage in the conversation instead of treating racism or cultural supremacy as automatically wrong. I would have loved to take classes, or read books, in which people debated this issue openly and calmly, laying out with readings, say, what Indian philosophers said and juxtaposing it with Westerns philosophers and why the latter are more cosmopolitan, or not.

I am not ashamed to say it: a part of me takes seriously the idea that Western philosophy might be more cosmopolitan than other traditions. But other parts of me seriously doubt this. I want these parts of me to be constructive dialogue with each other, and want to be able to have open conversations about this, in academia or in the public square; and I think our society needs it.Report

Cathy Kemp
Cathy Kemp
4 years ago

Best Nous election discussion, hands down. Thank you for this, Bharath!Report