“It is clear enough that McCarthyism and its legacy were sufficient to make life hard for a particular strand of opposition to the analytic mainstream, characterized by its general adherence to empiricism and liberalism: those who were broadly Marxists.”
But its power in cementing the analytic mainstream went beyond this. The whole tendency of the period was to block out alternatives to a paradigm that stretched across disciplines. This paradigm, which consisted of methodologies developed for the purposes of Cold War research and development such as rational choice theory, operations research, and game theory, functioned to reinforce a vision of society, and of inquiry, reliant on the classical liberal idea of the autonomous rational individual as the fundamental unit of society.The article includes accounts of some philosophers called before the House Un-American Activities Committee or persecuted by the FBI. Here’s one:
[Barrows] Dunham made himself into a test case before HUAC by refusing to answer all questions except those concerning his name, age, and address, and then invoking the Fifth Amendment (which protects against self-incrimination). He was duly fired by Temple University. In the wake of this, previous support for Dunham quickly ebbed away. Perhaps the most famous American pragmatist philosopher, John Dewey, had enthusiastically endorsed Dunham’s Marxist work of intellectual history Man Against Myth when it was sent to him at proof stage. Prior to its publication, Dewey became aware that Dunham was in trouble with Red-hunters. All of a sudden Dewey could not remember having ever given his endorsement and withdrew it. Dunham was not restored to his position at Temple until 1981.
Schuringa says that these examples of careers suppressed or derailed by McCarthyism show that “a direct counterforce to analytic philosophy was severely injured in its efficacy.” That “direct counterforce” is Marxism. How different would mainstream philosophy in the United States look had there not been government persecution of people with communist sympathies (and people who had sympathy for people with communist sympathies)? Schuringa appears to think “very different,” but it is of course hard to say. He is currently writing a book, A Social History of Analytic Philosophy, where, perhaps, the case for government’s influence over the character of analytic philosophy, especially its mid-century apoliticism, is made more compellingly. As for this article, I think readers will find Schuringa’s account of the politics of analytic philosophy overly simplistic and monolithic. And he is just wrong in characterizing Rawls’s A Theory of Justice as “an extended apologia for American liberalism.”
Yet the research program of looking at how forces outside of philosophy affect philosophy—its methods, subject matter, ideas, the expectations of its practitioners—is a valuable one, and the questions such influences raise for philosophers’ sense of what they’re up to are worth asking.
You can read the whole article here. Discussion welcome.