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Over My Shoulder #44: on Roe v. Wade, governmental “victories,” and the ennervation of the Women’s Liberation Movement. From Sonia Johnson, Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution

Here’s the rules. Except, note that I have changed them significantly, and plan to keep this new version from here on out. Check it:

  1. At the top of the post, make a list of the books you’ve read all or part of, in print, over the course of the past week, at least as far as you can remember them. (These should be books that you’ve actually read as a part of your normal life, and not just something that you picked up to read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Pick one of those books from the list, and pick out a quote of one or more paragraphs, to post underneath the list.

  3. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, which should be more a matter of context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than they are a matter of discussing the material.

  4. Quoting a passage absolutely does not entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the books:

Here’s the quote. This is taken from Chapter 1, Who’s Afraid of the Supreme Court? from Sonia Johnson’s Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution.

Often when I say that laws are not worth warm spit in patriarchy, those women who are frightened by the revolutionary implications of that statement often counter with the argument that Roe v. Wade is incontrovertible evidence that women can go through men and their system to win freedom. I reply that, unfortunately, Roe v. Wade is incontrovertible evidence not of freedom but instead of one of the most blatant co-optations, or re-enslavements, of women by patriarchy in history. I go on to tell them how I think Roe v. Wade saved and continues to serve patriarchy.

I wasn’t a feminist at the beginning of the second wave of feminism in this country in the late 60s and early 70s, but I have talked with hundreds of women who were. From them and from the literature written then, I can almost feel the incredible excitement of the Movement in those days. Despite, or perhaps partly because of, very legitimate and healthful anger, women were fairly bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Euphoria and elation might best describe the general atmosphere. It was a very heady time. Every woman I have spoken to who was an active feminist then looks back at that time with nostalgia: Those were the halcyon days, the Golden Age.

There were many reasons for that feeling, but chief among them, it seems to me, was that liberation seemed not only possible, but imminent. In addition, many feminists had a basic understanding of women’s enslavement that has since been lost in a general way: that women are men’s colonized lands; that just as the English colonized — a racist euphemism for conquered — Nigeria and India, for instance, men have colonized women. The English declared themselves owners of these countries, and their people, made all the laws that governed them, and pocketed the profits themselves. Britannia ruled by plundering and raping the colonials and their lands.

The Indians, the Nigerians, the other colonized peoples of the world (and colonization takes firmest hold in the feelings and perceptions of a people) tried to make the usurpers’ system work for them. They struggled to get laws passed that would give them more leeway, and they managed in some instances to infiltrate low- and even middle-level government echelons and to attain a few managerial and supervisory jobs in the industrial/corporate world. A token handful got into the educational institutions reserved for the masters. Some of them regarded these inroads as progress.

But enough of them eventually realized that it did not matter what else they seemed to achieve, if they did not have home rule, they could never be free. They came to the understanding that freedom was simply not possible for them—ever—in the colonial system. Freedom means owning themselves, owning their own lands, using their resources for their own enrichment, making their own laws. The revolution began with their feelings and perceptions of themselves as people who not only should but could govern themselves.

Women were the first owned, the first ruled people in every race and class and nation, the first slaves, the first colonized people, the first occupied countries. Many thousands of years ago men took our bodies as their lands as they felt befitted their naturally superior, god-like selves and our lowly, animalistic natures. Since this takeover, they have made all the laws that governed our lands, and have harvested us—our labor, our children, our sexuality, our emotional, spiritual, and cultural richness, our resources of intelligence, passion, devotion—for their own purposes and aggrandizement. These have been men’s most profitable cash crops.

. . . The burgeoning women’s health movement of the early 70s was evidence of women’s awareness of our physical colonization and of our realization that no matter what else we did, no matter how many laws we got men to pass, no matter how many low-echelon government and corporate positions we won, like the Nigerians and the Indians and all other colonized peoples, unless we had home rule, everything else we did to try to free ourselves was meaningless.

So we were saying howdy to our cervixes for the first time in our lives, our own and our friends’. We may have been the 17th person to see them and the first 16 may have been men, but finally we were meeting them face to face. In doing so, we realized that it didn’t take a man’s eye to see a woman’s cervix, it didn’t take an American-Medical-Association, male-trained mind to diagnose the health of our reproductive organs or to treat them. We were shocked to remember how natural it had seemed to go to male gynecologists, and realized that, in fact, men’s being gynecologists was perverted, gross, and sick and that our accepting them as experts on our bodies—when they had never had so much as one period in their lives, never experienced one moment of pre-menstrual psychic clarity, never had one birth pain, never suckled one child — was evidence of our ferocious internalized colonization. It began to appear as obscene to us as it truly is.

As obvious as this may seem now, it hadn’t been obvious for a very long time.

So in learning to examine our own sexual organs, to diagnose and treat our own cervical and vaginal ailments, to do simple abortions, to deliver babies, and in beginning to think seriously about developing our own safe, effective, natural contraceptives and getting the word out, women were moving out of colonization, out of slavery. We were taking back and learning to govern our own countries.

In those days, the movement was called The Women’s Liberation Movement, and that, in fact, was what it was. Women were breaking the contract that exists between all oppressed people and their oppressors, in our case our agreement to allow men to own us and to exploit us as their resources. Though we agreed to it under the severest duress imaginable, in order, we thought, to survive, we nevertheless agreed.

Those who do not understand how the thirst for home rule among women at the beginning of the second wave of our Movement in this century rocked the foundations of patriarchy worldwide simply do not understand the necessity of women’s slavery to every level of men’s global system. Perhaps even many of the women at that time did not fully understand the revolutionary nature of what they were about. But in establishing a new order in which women owned our own bodies and were not men’s property, they were destroying the very foundation of patriarchy. Since any power-over paradigm is totally dependent upon those on the bottom agreeing to stay there, men’s world organization was in grave peril. If women would not be slaves, men could not be masters.

The men who control the world are not intelligent, as is evident to even the most casual observer, but they are crafty, particularly about maintaining privilege through control. Over their thousands of years of tyranny, they have acquired a near-perfect understanding of the psychology of the oppressed—if not consciously, then viscerally. They knew precisely what to do when women began refusing to honor the old contract, and I am absolutely convinced that their move was conscious, plotted, and deliberate.

They sent an emissary after the women as they were moving out of the old mind into a free world. Hurrying after us, he shouted, Hey, girls! Wait up a minute! Listen! You don’t need to go to all this trouble. We already know how to do all the things you’re having to learn. We know your bodies and what is good for you better than you do. Trying to learn what we already know will take too much of your time and energy away from all your other important issues.

Then he used men’s most successful lie, the hook we had always taken in the past because men are our children, and we need to believe they value us, that we can trust them. You know we love you and want your movement to succeed, he crooned. So do you know what we’re prepared to do for you? If you’ll come back, we’ll let you have legalized abortion!

How could we refuse such a generous, loving offer? We had listened to men’s voices and trusted them for so long—in the face of massive evidence that they had never been trustworthy, had had so little practice in hearing and trusting our own, that we lost our tenuous bearings in the new world and turned around and walked right back into our jail cell. We allowed them to reduce liberation to an issue. We forgot that anybody that can let you, owns you.

So the men let us have legalized abortion. Some women protest that women won the right to it, forgetting that the legal system is set up to keep patriarchy intact, which means to keep women enslaved, and that men own the law. They will never use it to free us. As Audre Lorde states clearly, The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. [Audre Lorde, essay by that name in Sister Outsider. The Crossing Press: Freedom, CA 1984, p. 110.]

You know how pityingly we have looked at the benighted woman who says, I don’t need the Women’s Movement. My husband lets me do anything I want. But our pity has been hypocritical: Roe v. Wade, the glory of the movement, is exactly the same sad phenomenon — our husband the state letting us, and our feeling grateful for it. But, of course, like a husband the men let us not because it is good for us but because it is necessary for them. It keeps us colonized, our bodies state property and our destinies in their hands, and it rivets our attention on them.

So the men let us have legalized abortion, and almost instantly the energy drained from the movement, like air from a punctured balloon. Instead of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we became simply the Women’s Movement, because liberation is antithetical to letting men, depending upon men to, make the laws that govern our lands. For the last 15 years we have been nailed to the system by Roe v. Wade, our mighty energy and hope and love channeled into begging men in dozens of state and national bodies not to pare away cent by cent the truly miserable allowance they promised us for abortions for poor women.

If we hadn’t trusted them again, if we had kept on going in the direction we were headed, with the same time and money and energy we have since expended on groveling, we could by this time have had a woman on every block in every city and town who is an expert on contraceptives, women’s health, birthing, and abortion. We could have educated the women of this country in countless creative ways about their bodies and their right to rule them. We would have learned how to govern ourselves, discovering a whole new way for women—and therefore everyone—to be human.

And, significantly, a Bork could have been appointed to every seat of the Supreme Court, men could have been spewing laws aimed at controlling our bodies out of every legal orifice, and all their flailing and sputtering would simply be irrelevant. Having removed ourselves from their jurisdiction, we would have settled the question of abortion and birth control, of women’s individual freedom, blessedly and for ages to come. When the Nigerians and Indians got ready to rule themselves, the English had no choice but to go home. Tyranny is a contract. Both parties have to stick to it.

But in the early 70s women hadn’t had time to complete the necessary internal revolution in how we thought and felt about ourselves that was necessary for us to be free. Evidence of this is that we took as models for our movement the movements that had preceded ours, all of which were reformist because they involved men. Since our own internal, authentic women’s voices were still very weak and difficult to hear and when heard still without sufficient authority, we didn’t take seriously enough the fact that women and men are in wildly different relationships to the system. We didn’t realize that since the entire global system of laws and governments is set up with the primary purpose of keeping women of every color and class enslaved by men of their own color and class, and often by other men as well, talking about civil rights for women was oxymoronic. We had still to learn how colossally brainwashed we are by patriarchy to do in the name of freedom precisely those things that will further enslave us.

Roe v. Wade was very smart politics for the men; now, regardless of what party is in power or who is on the Supreme Court, the groundwork has been laid. The hopes of thousands of dedicated feminists are bound firmly once more to the husband-state. And we are all a dozen years further away from trusting women and finding a lasting non-male-approval-based solution to the problem of our physical and emotional colonization.

It is time for us to remember that no one can free us but ourselves. Time not to try to get the men to do it for us — which reinforces their illusion of godhood and ours of wormhood and perpetuates the deadly power-over model of reality—but to do it ourselves. Time for thousands of us to learn to perform abortions and to do all that needs to be done for one another in so many neighborhoods throughout the country that our liberation cannot be stopped. Time to manage our own bodies, heal our own bodies, own our own bodies. It is time for home rule.

This is how I want women to spend our prodigious intelligence and energy.

Obviously, Roe v. Wade doesn’t stand alone; it simply models patriarchy’s subversive tactics most clearly. Almost all segments of our Movement have suffered such co-optation. Many women who have been active in the shelter movement for years, for instance, have pointed out to me the similarities in strategy and effect between Roe v. Wade and government funding for shelters.

To obtain funding for shelters in the first place, women must tone down their feminism and conform to male officials’ standards and expectations. To keep the money, the women who work in the shelters as well as those who come there for help are required to do masses of paper work, the purpose of which seems to be to keep women from helping and receiving help. In some areas, when women are in crisis and call a shelter, before their feelings and needs can even be addressed they must be asked a dozen questions and informed at length about the conditions under which the shelter will accept them (they can have no weapons, for instance). Many women simply hang up in total frustration and anger. In other instances, funders won’t allow discussions of racism or homophobia or of battering among Lesbians. They also often control who is hired. Funders regularly split women’s organizations apart by clouding the issues of who is going to define the group, what their work is, what their analysis is, and even what the issue is.

In addition, nearly every funder’s prerequisites are designed to keep women powerless, thinking and behaving as victims. One state, for example, requires shelters to use only professional counselors, specifically prohibiting peer counseling. Peer counseling, I am told by women with much experience, is the only counseling that has yet been seen to have any significant effect upon battered women.

Because of the scope and depth of the subversion of our purposes by funders, local and national, many shelter workers agree with Suzanne Pharr who concluded her brave speech at the 1987 National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference in Los Angeles with these words: From my experience, my strongest urge is to say, DO ANYTHING—BEG, BORROW, STEAL—BUT DON’T TAKE GOVERNMENT FUNDING!

— Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. Albuquerque: Wildfire Books. 19–31.

See also:

Over My Shoulder #43: how professional social workers colonized the maternity home movement, and what came after. From Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the book I’ve been reading on and off most mornings this week, Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. This is from chapter 6, Going Away, which focuses on the institutional set-up of the maternity homes themselves and the experiences that pregnant women had when they arrived in them. Although this passage doesn’t discuss it, elsewhere in the book Fessler notes a couple of things which may help put the rest in context: first, Fessler points out elsewhere that, in all the social-work discussion of the causes of illegitimacy, every new wave of theory offered a different explanation of the unwed mother’s defects. Never discussed was whether unplanned pregnancies had anything to do with the personal characteristics, social position, attitudes, psychology, or actions of unwed fathers. The development of theory after theory by the self-styled experts was not a good-faith intellectual effort, and it didn’t emerge in an ideological vacuum; it was theorizing driven by the need to rationalize a social process of shaming and blaming. Second, she also mentions elsewhere the emerging notion of social work professionalism, and the kind of coercive tactics they used, didn’t emerge in an institutional vacuum, either; they were caught up with the fact that maternity homes were increasingly being transformed into intermediaries in health and social services spending by state governments. Women mentioned how social workers would coerce them into surrendering, if they expressed second thoughts, by saying that they would have to pay the state back thousands of dollars for their stay in at the maternity home and for their hospital bills. At the far extreme, one of the women she interviews mentions a case she had heard of, in which a mother who refused to relinquish was forcibly committed to a state mental hospital (on the grounds that she must be crazy) until she agreed to surrender her baby, months later. Anyway. Keeping that in mind, on with the quote:

For most of the women I interviewed, however, especially those who were younger, being sent to a maternity home was a traumatic experience. They had been banished from their schools and homes, they were soon to give birth to a child, and rather than being surrounded by caring family members they were living in institutions among strangers. Although many felt camaraderie with the other young women who were there, they also felt that the environment was cold and demeaning and that the disapproval of those who looked after them was palpable.

The philosophy and mission of maternity homes had changed considerably since the early 1900s, when the maternity-home movement began. The religious women who first ran the homes saw themselves as sympathetic sisters who were there for women who had no other place to turn. The home was a place of refuge and spiritual reform for women who had, in their eyes, been seduced and abandoned. Motherhood, they believed, would increase a woman’s chances of living a good and proper life. During this time, babies were not separated from their mothers except under extreme circumstances, as when women cannot be helped or compelled to meet their obligation as parents. The homes generally encouraged bonding through breast-feeding and they helped the women find employment—usually as domestic servants—which would enable them to care for their child and to work. Well into the early 1940s, some homes still encouraged, if not required, the mother to breast-feed her baby to ensure that a bond developed between mother and child.

But by the end of World War II, a sea change had occurred in the mission and philosophy of the homes. Maternity homes of the 1950s and 1960s were, to a great extent, a place to sequester pregnant girls until they could give birth and surrender their child for adoption. If a young woman was unsure of or uninterested in relinquishment, the staff attempted to convince her that it was her best, and perhaps only, option. Though maternity homes were the only place a girl in trouble could turn for help outside of her family, by the 1950s they best served her interest if her interest was in giving her child up for adoption at the end of her stay.

The change in philosophy was highly contested among those who ran the homes and did not come about uniformly. To a great extent the views at individual homes changed as the staff changed. Between the turn of the century and the 1940s, the women who had founded the homes were supplanted by professional social workers who reshaped the understanding of nonmarital pregnancy.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, social work evolved into a genuine profession, and those who helped professionalize the field were eager to differentiate themselves from charity workers and reformers, whom they saw as overly sentimental and old-fashioned. These professionals formulated what they considered to be more rigorous approaches to social problems, rather than basing their practices on religious perspectives. As the professionals took positions at maternity homes and began to work alongside religious reformers, philosophical clashes resulted. Social workers claimed expertise. As trained professionals, they considered themselves better equipped to diagnose the problems associated with illegitimacy. While their religious predecessors had generally attributed out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the social circumstances of the women’s lives and to outside social forces, the new breed of social worker focused on the women themselves. Over many years, they posited a number of theories about why single women became pregnant, all of which were predicated on the problems inherent in the women themselves.

In the early 1900s, most social workers argued that women who became pregnant out of wedlock were feebleminded; their pregnancy was proof of their feeblemindedness. This made them seem especially dangerous to society because it was believed that these women were not only likely to be repeat offenders, but that they would produce offspring of low intelligence, claiming that the country was in the midst of moral decay and that the family was breaking down, as evidenced by lower birthrates among the better classes of people. They believed that unwed mothers were both the product of bad homes and the cause of broken homes. During this time the concern over nonmarital pregnancy was so great that many feebleminded unwed mothers were either institutionalized or sterilized.

Classifying all unwed mothers as feebleminded, however, proved impossible. Social workers had to acknowledge that many of the women who became pregnant were normally intelligent and relatively well-balanced young women. So a new category was identified, that of the delinquent. This type of womanhad a parallel in the male population. But where delinquency in the male was identified by criminal behavior, female delinquency was defined in sexual terms. The young women who fell into this category were largely seen as those belonging to the working class. By the 1920s, many single women were working in factories, offices, and department stores. They enjoyed a degree of independence and opportunities to fraternize with men. Their sexual lives did not always conform to middle-class standards and in those cases were labeled sexually deviant. This behavior, incidentally, was soon to invade the ranks of the middle class.

Despite the widespread characterization of unwed mothers as either feebleminded breeders or sex delinquents, letters and internal correspondence from Florence Crittenton homes operating in the 1940s offer evidence to the contrary, and the personnel at the homes were still generally supportive of and empathetic to the girls in their charge. A concrete example of such support was found in the application materials for the Kate Waller Barrett Scholarship, which was sponsored by the Crittenton homes in the early 1940s. These scholarship funds were described in materials printed by the Florence Crittenton Mission as being available to a girl who wishes to continue her education to enable her to care for her child. The application required support letters from the superintendent of the home and if the application was successful, the agreement stipulated that the staff at the Crittenton Home would assume responsibility for the care of the child, if necessary, while the mother attended school.

[…]

The kind of support and compassion demonstrated by maternity-home staff in these letters seems to have all but evaporated in the years after World War II. The ongoing struggles between those who aligned themselves with the sentiments of maternity-home founders and those who adopted newer professional strategies came to a symbolic if not an actual end in 1947, when the National Florence Crittenton Mission abandoned its policy of keeping mother and child together.

As the philosophical differences narrowed in the 1940s and social workers coalesced towards agreement on the best course of action for unwed mothers and their babies, efforts to identify the cause of out-of-wedlock pregnancy took a new turn. With the dramatic rise in premarital pregnancies after the war, and as greater numbers of middle-class women became pregnant, it became increasingly implausible to label all of those women as either feebleminded or sexual delinquents. Social workers noted that many of these new unmarried mothers were middle-class girls from good families. A Crittenton social worker wrote about these girls that the sizeable numbers further confound us by rendering our former stereotypes less tenable. Immigration, low mentality, and hyper sexuality can no longer be comfortably applied when the phenomenon has invaded our own social class—when the unwed mother must be classified to include the nice girl next door, the physician’s or pastor’s daughter.

Social workers turned to the growing field of psychiatry for their answer and, as early as the 1940s, began to classify middle-class girls who became pregnant as neurotic: the unwed mother was a neurotic woman who had a subconscious desire to become pregnant. This theory dominated much of the diagnosis and treatment of unwed mothers in the decades that followed the war. Though social workers had been quick to condemn working girls as sex deviants, this new explanation was more appealing in explaining middle-class pregnancy because it downplayed the issue of sexual drive. By identifying the young woman’s goal as pregnancy, rather than sex, the diagnosis of deviance could be bypassed. Though a young woman’s peers, family, and community may still have attributed her pregnancy to loose morals or an overactive sex life, professionals determined that the problem was in her mind.

One of the outcomes of this new professional diagnosis was the justification of the separation of mother and child: a neurotic woman was seen as unfit to be a mother. Given the stigma of illegitimacy in the 1950s and 1960s, many middle-class parents were quick to agree that the solution to the problem was relinquishment and adoption. Following this course, their daughter would be given a second chance. Her pregnancy would effectively be erased from her history and she could expect to go back to a normal life as if it had never happened. Without her child she would be able to marry a decent man and have other children. She would not have to live with her mistake. Adoption also came to be understood as being in the best interest of the child. Rather than growing up with the stigma of illegitimacy and an unfit, neurotic mother, the child would be raised by a stable, well-adjusted married couple.

And though some maternity-home workers were still empathetic to young women who did not want to surrender their baby for adoption, in the postwar years this breed of social worker was rapidly becoming extinct. Internal struggle at the maternity homes continued even into the 1950s, and are evident in correspondence between the leadership of the Florence Crittenton Association of America and the newly hired staff of individual homes. In a letter dated December 23, 1952, Robert Barrett, the chairman of the Florence Crittenton Mission, expresses his concern over a move to shorten the minimum length of a girl’s stay in the maternity home postpartum. The purpose of a mother’s and child’s returning to the home after birth was, Barrett asserts, to give the mother time to be with her baby before making a final decision to surrender. He writes:

Personally I feel very badly that a girl in our Homes shall not be given every opportunity and help to keep her baby if she wants to. Often a girl who has made up her mind to give up her baby feels different after the baby comes and her mother’s instinct is aroused. Not to give her that chance seems a cruel and unnatural proceeding. I am not sure but I feel it would be better for the girl if she tries to take her baby and fails and has to give it up later.

The new policies were shaped by the experts—primarily psychiatrists, social workers, and medical professionals—and promoted by social organizations that had the power and the means to disseminate the ideas. The women whose babies were being placed for adoption were not in any position to influence the policies made on their behalf. Shame is a very effective way to silence individuals, and those who are less socially or economically powerful are rarely in a position to influence the decisions that affect them.

[…]

In theory it was not the social worker but the mother who made the ultimate decision whether to parent or relinquish. A Florence Crittenton brochure from 1952 reads, The mother is under no compulsion, either to leave her baby with us, or to take him with her. There is no priority for either. But it also states that although the mother should perhaps make the choice, not always is she well qualified to make this last decision. And though maternity homes were thought to be safe havens and the goal of all these efforts combined is to induct into society a mother and child, each well started on the road to successful living, in reality this goal was often not fully realized.

Rather than young women being given a realistic picture of the responsibilities and costs of raising a child and allowing them to weigh that information against the resources available to them so they could participate in making an informed decision, they were rendered powerless. And though it might be easy to empathize with a social worker’s efforts to try to persuade a young woman of few resources to be realistic about raising a baby, especially if she lacked family support and did not understand the difficulty and sacrifice involved in raising a child as a single parent, the persuasive techniques were often quite forceful. The degree of pressure put on the women to surrender sometimes crossed the line from persuasion to outright coercion. Many of the women I interviewed recalled high-pressure campaigns waged by the maternity-house staff.

I remember the woman at the adoption agency, a very pleasant woman, smiling, always smiling, and using comforting tones. She sat there and said that I had nothing to offer a baby. I had no education, I had no job, I had no money. Oh, God, they really knew how to work you. Talk about no support, it was how far can we beat you down while we’re smiling?

The social worker was telling me, No man is going to want to marry you, no man is going to want another man’s baby. She proceeded to tell me that the adoptive parents they would find for the baby would be college educated, degreed, they would be much older, they would own their own home, have high incomes. They would be able to give the baby everything that I could not.

They told me I was unfit because I wasn’t married. I didn’t have this, I didn’t have that. Well, it turns out her adoptive parents were just a couple of years older, and neither one had a college education. Nothing against them, but the adoption agency lied to me. They also divorced when she was fourteen. I’m with the same man for thirty-eight years. Financially, her adoptive family was better off than we were, but other than that it wasn’t anything like what the agency promised.

Christine

The argument that others would be better parents presumed, of course, that the mother’s own economic standing would not improve anytime soon, if ever, through further education, job or career training, marriage, or family support. It also presumed that the adopting couple’s status would not deteriorate through divorce or job loss. Essentially, the gap in economic and marital status between the mother and adoptive family was seen as fixed, whereas only a decade earlier the mother’s circumstances had been viewed as temporary and improvable, and steps were taken to help her become self-reliant.

In the postwar years, most of the homes aimed simply to ensure that the physical needs of the women were met until they could give birth and relinquish the baby. And despite the momentous life change that they were about to go through, most were sent to the hospital knowing nothing about childbirth, nor were they counseled about the impending separation. Most were completely unprepared for the emotions that would follow their transition from pregnant girls to mothers.

[…]

Of course, the pregnant women who went into hiding were not of one mind; nor were the staff of the institutions they entered. A few women reported that they were counseled in a respectful manner and came to their own decision. But the majority of the women I interviewed did not make a decision to surrender. Many women, even those in their twenties, followed the only path that was available to them—the one prescribed by society, social workers, and parents. After all they had been through, and all they had put their parents through, they felt that, more than anything, they needed to regain their family’s acceptance. Some women decidedly did not want to surrender but were unable to devise a plan that would allow them to care for their baby without some temporary assistance. Many of the women who wanted to parent would have been capable of doing so with a modest amount of support, the kind offered to Bea only a decade or so earlier. But by the mid-1960s professionals were no longer offering this kind of support, and more than 80 percent of those who entered maternity homes surrendered.

—Ann Fessler (2006), The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. New York: Penguin. 142–153.

Over My Shoulder #43: how professional social workers colonized the maternity home movement, and what came after. From Ann Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the book I’ve been reading on and off most mornings this week, Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. This is from chapter 6, Going Away, which focuses on the institutional set-up of the maternity homes themselves and the experiences that pregnant women had when they arrived in them. Although this passage doesn’t discuss it, elsewhere in the book Fessler notes a couple of things which may help put the rest in context: first, Fessler points out elsewhere that, in all the social-work discussion of the causes of illegitimacy, every new wave of theory offered a different explanation of the unwed mother’s defects. Never discussed was whether unplanned pregnancies had anything to do with the personal characteristics, social position, attitudes, psychology, or actions of unwed fathers. The development of theory after theory by the self-styled experts was not a good-faith intellectual effort, and it didn’t emerge in an ideological vacuum; it was theorizing driven by the need to rationalize a social process of shaming and blaming. Second, she also mentions elsewhere the emerging notion of social work professionalism, and the kind of coercive tactics they used, didn’t emerge in an institutional vacuum, either; they were caught up with the fact that maternity homes were increasingly being transformed into intermediaries in health and social services spending by state governments. Women mentioned how social workers would coerce them into surrendering, if they expressed second thoughts, by saying that they would have to pay the state back thousands of dollars for their stay in at the maternity home and for their hospital bills. At the far extreme, one of the women she interviews mentions a case she had heard of, in which a mother who refused to relinquish was forcibly committed to a state mental hospital (on the grounds that she must be crazy) until she agreed to surrender her baby, months later. Anyway. Keeping that in mind, on with the quote:

For most of the women I interviewed, however, especially those who were younger, being sent to a maternity home was a traumatic experience. They had been banished from their schools and homes, they were soon to give birth to a child, and rather than being surrounded by caring family members they were living in institutions among strangers. Although many felt camaraderie with the other young women who were there, they also felt that the environment was cold and demeaning and that the disapproval of those who looked after them was palpable.

The philosophy and mission of maternity homes had changed considerably since the early 1900s, when the maternity-home movement began. The religious women who first ran the homes saw themselves as sympathetic sisters who were there for women who had no other place to turn. The home was a place of refuge and spiritual reform for women who had, in their eyes, been seduced and abandoned. Motherhood, they believed, would increase a woman’s chances of living a good and proper life. During this time, babies were not separated from their mothers except under extreme circumstances, as when women cannot be helped or compelled to meet their obligation as parents. The homes generally encouraged bonding through breast-feeding and they helped the women find employment—usually as domestic servants—which would enable them to care for their child and to work. Well into the early 1940s, some homes still encouraged, if not required, the mother to breast-feed her baby to ensure that a bond developed between mother and child.

But by the end of World War II, a sea change had occurred in the mission and philosophy of the homes. Maternity homes of the 1950s and 1960s were, to a great extent, a place to sequester pregnant girls until they could give birth and surrender their child for adoption. If a young woman was unsure of or uninterested in relinquishment, the staff attempted to convince her that it was her best, and perhaps only, option. Though maternity homes were the only place a girl in trouble could turn for help outside of her family, by the 1950s they best served her interest if her interest was in giving her child up for adoption at the end of her stay.

The change in philosophy was highly contested among those who ran the homes and did not come about uniformly. To a great extent the views at individual homes changed as the staff changed. Between the turn of the century and the 1940s, the women who had founded the homes were supplanted by professional social workers who reshaped the understanding of nonmarital pregnancy.

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, social work evolved into a genuine profession, and those who helped professionalize the field were eager to differentiate themselves from charity workers and reformers, whom they saw as overly sentimental and old-fashioned. These professionals formulated what they considered to be more rigorous approaches to social problems, rather than basing their practices on religious perspectives. As the professionals took positions at maternity homes and began to work alongside religious reformers, philosophical clashes resulted. Social workers claimed expertise. As trained professionals, they considered themselves better equipped to diagnose the problems associated with illegitimacy. While their religious predecessors had generally attributed out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the social circumstances of the women’s lives and to outside social forces, the new breed of social worker focused on the women themselves. Over many years, they posited a number of theories about why single women became pregnant, all of which were predicated on the problems inherent in the women themselves.

In the early 1900s, most social workers argued that women who became pregnant out of wedlock were feebleminded; their pregnancy was proof of their feeblemindedness. This made them seem especially dangerous to society because it was believed that these women were not only likely to be repeat offenders, but that they would produce offspring of low intelligence, claiming that the country was in the midst of moral decay and that the family was breaking down, as evidenced by lower birthrates among the better classes of people. They believed that unwed mothers were both the product of bad homes and the cause of broken homes. During this time the concern over nonmarital pregnancy was so great that many feebleminded unwed mothers were either institutionalized or sterilized.

Classifying all unwed mothers as feebleminded, however, proved impossible. Social workers had to acknowledge that many of the women who became pregnant were normally intelligent and relatively well-balanced young women. So a new category was identified, that of the delinquent. This type of womanhad a parallel in the male population. But where delinquency in the male was identified by criminal behavior, female delinquency was defined in sexual terms. The young women who fell into this category were largely seen as those belonging to the working class. By the 1920s, many single women were working in factories, offices, and department stores. They enjoyed a degree of independence and opportunities to fraternize with men. Their sexual lives did not always conform to middle-class standards and in those cases were labeled sexually deviant. This behavior, incidentally, was soon to invade the ranks of the middle class.

Despite the widespread characterization of unwed mothers as either feebleminded breeders or sex delinquents, letters and internal correspondence from Florence Crittenton homes operating in the 1940s offer evidence to the contrary, and the personnel at the homes were still generally supportive of and empathetic to the girls in their charge. A concrete example of such support was found in the application materials for the Kate Waller Barrett Scholarship, which was sponsored by the Crittenton homes in the early 1940s. These scholarship funds were described in materials printed by the Florence Crittenton Mission as being available to a girl who wishes to continue her education to enable her to care for her child. The application required support letters from the superintendent of the home and if the application was successful, the agreement stipulated that the staff at the Crittenton Home would assume responsibility for the care of the child, if necessary, while the mother attended school.

. . .

The kind of support and compassion demonstrated by maternity-home staff in these letters seems to have all but evaporated in the years after World War II. The ongoing struggles between those who aligned themselves with the sentiments of maternity-home founders and those who adopted newer professional strategies came to a symbolic if not an actual end in 1947, when the National Florence Crittenton Mission abandoned its policy of keeping mother and child together.

As the philosophical differences narrowed in the 1940s and social workers coalesced towards agreement on the best course of action for unwed mothers and their babies, efforts to identify the cause of out-of-wedlock pregnancy took a new turn. With the dramatic rise in premarital pregnancies after the war, and as greater numbers of middle-class women became pregnant, it became increasingly implausible to label all of those women as either feebleminded or sexual delinquents. Social workers noted that many of these new unmarried mothers were middle-class girls from good families. A Crittenton social worker wrote about these girls that the sizeable numbers further confound us by rendering our former stereotypes less tenable. Immigration, low mentality, and hyper sexuality can no longer be comfortably applied when the phenomenon has invaded our own social class—when the unwed mother must be classified to include the nice girl next door, the physician’s or pastor’s daughter.

Social workers turned to the growing field of psychiatry for their answer and, as early as the 1940s, began to classify middle-class girls who became pregnant as neurotic: the unwed mother was a neurotic woman who had a subconscious desire to become pregnant. This theory dominated much of the diagnosis and treatment of unwed mothers in the decades that followed the war. Though social workers had been quick to condemn working girls as sex deviants, this new explanation was more appealing in explaining middle-class pregnancy because it downplayed the issue of sexual drive. By identifying the young woman’s goal as pregnancy, rather than sex, the diagnosis of deviance could be bypassed. Though a young woman’s peers, family, and community may still have attributed her pregnancy to loose morals or an overactive sex life, professionals determined that the problem was in her mind.

One of the outcomes of this new professional diagnosis was the justification of the separation of mother and child: a neurotic woman was seen as unfit to be a mother. Given the stigma of illegitimacy in the 1950s and 1960s, many middle-class parents were quick to agree that the solution to the problem was relinquishment and adoption. Following this course, their daughter would be given a second chance. Her pregnancy would effectively be erased from her history and she could expect to go back to a normal life as if it had never happened. Without her child she would be able to marry a decent man and have other children. She would not have to live with her mistake. Adoption also came to be understood as being in the best interest of the child. Rather than growing up with the stigma of illegitimacy and an unfit, neurotic mother, the child would be raised by a stable, well-adjusted married couple.

And though some maternity-home workers were still empathetic to young women who did not want to surrender their baby for adoption, in the postwar years this breed of social worker was rapidly becoming extinct. Internal struggle at the maternity homes continued even into the 1950s, and are evident in correspondence between the leadership of the Florence Crittenton Association of America and the newly hired staff of individual homes. In a letter dated December 23, 1952, Robert Barrett, the chairman of the Florence Crittenton Mission, expresses his concern over a move to shorten the minimum length of a girl’s stay in the maternity home postpartum. The purpose of a mother’s and child’s returning to the home after birth was, Barrett asserts, to give the mother time to be with her baby before making a final decision to surrender. He writes:

Personally I feel very badly that a girl in our Homes shall not be given every opportunity and help to keep her baby if she wants to. Often a girl who has made up her mind to give up her baby feels different after the baby comes and her mother’s instinct is aroused. Not to give her that chance seems a cruel and unnatural proceeding. I am not sure but I feel it would be better for the girl if she tries to take her baby and fails and has to give it up later.

The new policies were shaped by the experts—primarily psychiatrists, social workers, and medical professionals—and promoted by social organizations that had the power and the means to disseminate the ideas. The women whose babies were being placed for adoption were not in any position to influence the policies made on their behalf. Shame is a very effective way to silence individuals, and those who are less socially or economically powerful are rarely in a position to influence the decisions that affect them.

. . .

In theory it was not the social worker but the mother who made the ultimate decision whether to parent or relinquish. A Florence Crittenton brochure from 1952 reads, The mother is under no compulsion, either to leave her baby with us, or to take him with her. There is no priority for either. But it also states that although the mother should perhaps make the choice, not always is she well qualified to make this last decision. And though maternity homes were thought to be safe havens and the goal of all these efforts combined is to induct into society a mother and child, each well started on the road to successful living, in reality this goal was often not fully realized.

Rather than young women being given a realistic picture of the responsibilities and costs of raising a child and allowing them to weigh that information against the resources available to them so they could participate in making an informed decision, they were rendered powerless. And though it might be easy to empathize with a social worker’s efforts to try to persuade a young woman of few resources to be realistic about raising a baby, especially if she lacked family support and did not understand the difficulty and sacrifice involved in raising a child as a single parent, the persuasive techniques were often quite forceful. The degree of pressure put on the women to surrender sometimes crossed the line from persuasion to outright coercion. Many of the women I interviewed recalled high-pressure campaigns waged by the maternity-house staff.

I remember the woman at the adoption agency, a very pleasant woman, smiling, always smiling, and using comforting tones. She sat there and said that I had nothing to offer a baby. I had no education, I had no job, I had no money. Oh, God, they really knew how to work you. Talk about no support, it was how far can we beat you down while we’re smiling?

The social worker was telling me, No man is going to want to marry you, no man is going to want another man’s baby. She proceeded to tell me that the adoptive parents they would find for the baby would be college educated, degreed, they would be much older, they would own their own home, have high incomes. They would be able to give the baby everything that I could not.

They told me I was unfit because I wasn’t married. I didn’t have this, I didn’t have that. Well, it turns out her adoptive parents were just a couple of years older, and neither one had a college education. Nothing against them, but the adoption agency lied to me. They also divorced when she was fourteen. I’m with the same man for thirty-eight years. Financially, her adoptive family was better off than we were, but other than that it wasn’t anything like what the agency promised.

Christine

The argument that others would be better parents presumed, of course, that the mother’s own economic standing would not improve anytime soon, if ever, through further education, job or career training, marriage, or family support. It also presumed that the adopting couple’s status would not deteriorate through divorce or job loss. Essentially, the gap in economic and marital status between the mother and adoptive family was seen as fixed, whereas only a decade earlier the mother’s circumstances had been viewed as temporary and improvable, and steps were taken to help her become self-reliant.

In the postwar years, most of the homes aimed simply to ensure that the physical needs of the women were met until they could give birth and relinquish the baby. And despite the momentous life change that they were about to go through, most were sent to the hospital knowing nothing about childbirth, nor were they counseled about the impending separation. Most were completely unprepared for the emotions that would follow their transition from pregnant girls to mothers.

. . .

Of course, the pregnant women who went into hiding were not of one mind; nor were the staff of the institutions they entered. A few women reported that they were counseled in a respectful manner and came to their own decision. But the majority of the women I interviewed did not make a decision to surrender. Many women, even those in their twenties, followed the only path that was available to them—the one prescribed by society, social workers, and parents. After all they had been through, and all they had put their parents through, they felt that, more than anything, they needed to regain their family’s acceptance. Some women decidedly did not want to surrender but were unable to devise a plan that would allow them to care for their baby without some temporary assistance. Many of the women who wanted to parent would have been capable of doing so with a modest amount of support, the kind offered to Bea only a decade or so earlier. But by the mid-1960s professionals were no longer offering this kind of support, and more than 80 percent of those who entered maternity homes surrendered.

— Ann Fessler (2006), The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. New York: Penguin. 142–153.

Over My Shoulder #42: Kelly Dean Jolley on Augustine and the longing for a philosophical answer. From The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is a passage from the penultimate chapter of The Concept Horse Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations, by my teacher, Kelly Dean Jolley. Jolley has just finished a long examination of post-Kerry responses to Gottlob Frege’s Concept Horse Paradox (CHP). He finds that they fail to do what they set out to do — indeed, fail to do much of anything at all — and that they tend to fail in a very peculiar way, by trying to run up against a frustration in language with a host of new terminology and notational enhancements for English prose, which are supposed to accomplish something, to express something, that heretofore English prose was unable to express. Jolley considers what it is about the philosophical voice, and the philosophical mood, that prompts this kind of graphical anzurennen. Thus:

Consider, in closing, Augustine’s famous question, What is time?, and his famous recoiling upon his own question.

There was, therefore, not time before you [God] made anything, since time itself is something you made. No time could be eternal along with you, since you are always there; and if time were always, it would not be time. Then what is time? Who can give that a brief or easy answer? Who can even form a conception of it to be put into words? Yet what do we mention more often or familiarly in our conversation than time? We must therefore know what we are talking about when we refer to it, or when we hear someone else doing so. But what, exactly, is that? I know what it is if no one asks, but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.

Augustine asks a question. And asked, he cannot answer. Part of the reason he cannot answer is that he longs for a certain kind of answer: a brief and easy one. But he has no brief and easy answer. Worse still, he doesn’t even have a conceptual draft on such an answer; he cannot even form a conception of time that he can (begin to) articulate. Augustine takes his confession of inarticulateness to be genuine confession: he’s searched himself before God and found no conception of time that he can (begin to) articulate. But Augustine cannot quite rest easy in his confession—after all, he must confess further that he is guilty of all sorts of temporal words and deeds. He has talked and been talked to of events that took little time, a long time or no time at all. He has judged things temporary and permanent. He has observed the hours; he has worshipped or mourned or fasted on days; he has battled the demon of the noontide. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday he prayed, and that instantly. He has wished time away and hoped for time back. He has arrived early, promptly and late. He is a practical horologist. Even more, he has confessed and is confessing by biographizing, by looking into his own history: … [You] made me (but not my memory) begin in time …. In time I began to smile …, etc. So the first confession’s genuineness sits uncomfortably beside what must further be confessed. The tension is captured in his words: I know what it is if no one asks; but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.

Augustine’s difficulty is that the anyone who might ask includes himself. When he asks of himself, he can give no answer. When he isn’t asking, he talks and does in ways that seem to him to require that he has an answer within him; we might say that when he isn’t asking, he seems to live an answer to the question.

And so, I think, he does. But he longs for a certain kind of answer, one that, though he cannot provide it, determines the space, as it were, into which an answer should fit. It determines the space that his knowledge should occupy That space is wrongly shaped for a life, for a lived answer to the question. What he does is the answer to his question, but he cannot see how to see it as the answer. And isn’t something of the same the problem for the respondents to the CHP?

Kelly Dean Jolley (2007). The Concept Horse Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations. Ashgate: ISBN #0754660451. 77–78.

Over My Shoulder #42: Kelly Dean Jolley on Augustine and the longing for a philosophical answer. From The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is a passage from the penultimate chapter of The Concept Horse Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations, by my teacher, Kelly Dean Jolley. Jolley has just finished a long examination of post-Kerry responses to Gottlob Frege’s Concept Horse Paradox (CHP). He finds that they fail to do what they set out to do — indeed, fail to do much of anything at all — and that they tend to fail in a very peculiar way, by trying to run up against a frustration in language with a host of new terminology and notational enhancements for English prose, which are supposed to accomplish something, to express something, that heretofore English prose was unable to express. Jolley considers what it is about the philosophical voice, and the philosophical mood, that prompts this kind of graphical anzurennen. Thus:

Consider, in closing, Augustine’s famous question, What is time?, and his famous recoiling upon his own question.

There was, therefore, not time before you [God] made anything, since time itself is something you made. No time could be eternal along with you, since you are always there; and if time were always, it would not be time. Then what is time? Who can give that a brief or easy answer? Who can even form a conception of it to be put into words? Yet what do we mention more often or familiarly in our conversation than time? We must therefore know what we are talking about when we refer to it, or when we hear someone else doing so. But what, exactly, is that? I know what it is if no one asks, but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.

Augustine asks a question. And asked, he cannot answer. Part of the reason he cannot answer is that he longs for a certain kind of answer: a brief and easy one. But he has no brief and easy answer. Worse still, he doesn’t even have a conceptual draft on such an answer; he cannot even form a conception of time that he can (begin to) articulate. Augustine takes his confession of inarticulateness to be genuine confession: he’s searched himself before God and found no conception of time that he can (begin to) articulate. But Augustine cannot quite rest easy in his confession—after all, he must confess further that he is guilty of all sorts of temporal words and deeds. He has talked and been talked to of events that took little time, a long time or no time at all. He has judged things temporary and permanent. He has observed the hours; he has worshipped or mourned or fasted on days; he has battled the demon of the noontide. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday he prayed, and that instantly. He has wished time away and hoped for time back. He has arrived early, promptly and late. He is a practical horologist. Even more, he has confessed and is confessing by biographizing, by looking into his own history: … [You] made me (but not my memory) begin in time …. In time I began to smile …, etc. So the first confession’s genuineness sits uncomfortably beside what must further be confessed. The tension is captured in his words: I know what it is if no one asks; but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.

Augustine’s difficulty is that the anyone who might ask includes himself. When he asks of himself, he can give no answer. When he isn’t asking, he talks and does in ways that seem to him to require that he has an answer within him; we might say that when he isn’t asking, he seems to live an answer to the question.

And so, I think, he does. But he longs for a certain kind of answer, one that, though he cannot provide it, determines the space, as it were, into which an answer should fit. It determines the space that his knowledge should occupy That space is wrongly shaped for a life, for a lived answer to the question. What he does is the answer to his question, but he cannot see how to see it as the answer. And isn’t something of the same the problem for the respondents to the CHP?

Kelly Dean Jolley (2007). The Concept Horse Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations. Ashgate: ISBN #0754660451. 77–78.

The Passive-Aggressive Freedom-Lover’s Distributed Book Club #3: Stanley Cavell, Foreword: An Audience for Philosophy, from Must we mean what we say? xxi-xlii

As I was saying the other day, I’ve been thinking that my readers might be interested in thinking about some ordinary language philosophy, and about some of the topics that Stanley Cavell raises in his masterful collection of essays, Must we mean what we say? The book is published by Cambridge University Press. I thought you might enjoy thinking about some material which I’ve quoted here for educational purposes under principles of fair use, such as Cavell’s fascinating and puzzling forward, in which he addresses the question, What is the audience for philosophy? Is there one? To whom or to what do we address ourselves when we speak in a philosophic mode, and what can that tell us — about philosophy, and about us as would-be teachers or practitioners of it?

Foreword: An Audience for Philosophy

If the essays which follow do not compose a book, collecting resonance from one another, nothing I can say in introducing them will alter that fact. The relations among them are no less complex than the complexities I have sought to trace within the essays themselves; and any concept I would wish to use in characterizing their relations is either itself already at work within the essays, so far as I have been able to put it to work, or else it would require the working of another essay to do what I would want with it. The surface thematic overlappings among the essays are, I think, sometimes surprising, or surprisingly numerous. Because it would be tiresome to list them here, I have made an index of the themes I find, and found as I wrote, to be of guiding importance. Certainly I do not by this mean to suggest that I have fully treated any one of these themes; a number of them are just glanced at. But I have in each case wished that the place I have made for a theme’s appearance provides data for further investigation of it.

Although various portions or drafts of separate essays were being written during essentially the same period, I have as far as possible arranged them chronologically acording to their date of completion. It will be said that two of them—those on Endgame and on King Lear—are pieces of literary criticism, or at best applications of philosophy, while the remainder are (at least closer to being) straight philosophy. I wish to deny this, but to deny it I would have to use the notions of philosophy and of literature and of criticism, and the denial would be empty so far as those notions are themselves unexamined and so far as the impulse to assert such distinctions, which in certain moods I share, remains unaccounted for. Its account must include the obvious fact that these subjects, as I conceive of them, do resemble one another. One line of resemblance is marked where, in the essay on King Lear, I suggest a sense in which that play could be called philosophical drama and where I characterize a philosophical criticism; another line is projected at the points at which I note that each philosophy will produce terms of criticism directed against other philosophies, or against common sense, which are specific to that philosophy, and hence defining for it. In wishing to deny that some of these essays are philosophical and others not, I do not deny that there are differences among them, and differences between philosophy and literary criticism; I am suggesting that we do not understand these differences. At various moments I am led to emphasize distinctions between philosophy and various of its competitors, various interests and commitments and tastes with which, at various moments in history, philosophy was confusible—e.g., between philosophy and science, and art, and theology, and logic.

If I deny a distinction, it is the still fashionable distinction between philosohy and meta-philosophy, the philosophy of philosophy. The remarks I make about philosophy (for example, about certain of its differences from other subjects) are, where accurate and useful, nothing more or less than philosophical remarks, on a par with remarks I make about acknowledgment or about mistakes or about metaphor. I would regard this fact—that philosophy is one of its own normal topics—as in turn defining for the subject, for what I wish philosophy to do. But someone who thinks philosophy is a form of science may not accept that definitio, because his picture is of a difference between, say, speaking about physics and doing physics. And this may be not only a special view of philosophy, it may be a partial view of science; because certain ways in which certain persons talk about science are a part of the teaching of the science, and the ways in which the science is taught and learned may be taken as essential to an understanding of what that science is.

I do assert a distinction throughout these essays which, because it may seem either controversial or trivial, I want to call attention to from the beginning—a distinction between the modern and the traditional, in philosophy and out. My claim is not that all contemporary philosophy which is good is modern; but the various discussions about the modern I am led to in the course of these essays are the best I can offer in explanation of the way I have written, or the way I would wish to write. The essential fact of (what I refer to as) the modern lies in the relation between the present practice of an enterprise and the history of that enterprise, in the fact that this relation has become problematic. Innovation in philosophy has characteristically gone together with a repudiation—a specifically cast repudiation—of most of the history of the subject. But in the later Wittgenstein (and, I would now add, in Heidegger’s Being and Time) the repudiation of the past has a transformed significance, as though containing the consciousness that history will not go away, except through our perfect acknowledgment of it (in particular, our acknowledgment that it is not past), and that one’s own practice and ambition can be identified only against the continuous experience of the past. (This new significance in philosophical repudiation itself has a history. Its most obvious precursor is Hegel, but it begins, I believe, in Kant. For it is in Kant that one finds an explicit recognition that the terms in which the past is criticized are specific to one’s own position, and require justification from within that position. A clear instance of such a Kantian term of criticism is his characterization of an opposed Idealism as making the world empirically ideal and transcendentally real; another is his diagnosis of dialectical illusion.) But the past does not in this context refer simply to the historical past; it refers to one’s own past, to what is past, or what has passed, within oneself. One could say that in a modernist situation past loses its temporal accent and means anything not present. Meaning what one says becomes a matter of making one’s sense present to oneself. This is the way I understand Wittgenstein’s havingdescribed his later philosophy as an effort to bring words back to their everyday use (Philosophical Investigations, §116; my emphasis), as though the words we use in philosophy, in any reflection about our concerns, are away. This is why Wittgenstein’s interlocutors, when he writes well, when he is philosophically just, express thoughts which strike us as at once familiar and foreign, like temptations. (Heidegger’s consciousness that our deepest task, as philosophers and as men, is one of getting back to a sense of words and world from which we are now away, is an intimate point of similarity with Wittgenstein.)

These reflections will perhaps seem uncongenial to many of my professional colleagues, but they are meant to collect data which most of us, I believe, have noticed, but perhaps have not connected, or not taken to be potentially philosophical. Take, for example, the fact that the isolated analytical article is the common form of philosophical expression now, in the English speaking world of philosophy; something reflected in the fact that the common, and best, form of philosophy textbook is the assemblage of articles around individual topics. This is often interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy’s withdrawal from its cultural responibilities. The trouble with such an idea is that it occurs to a person who imagines himself certain of his culture’s needs, and certain of his capacity to supply them on demand, and ignorant of our cultural situation—in which each major form of expression (say painting and music and philosophy) has, where serious, taken upon itself the characteristic cultural responsibility of preserving itself against its culture, against its own past accomplishments, which have helped to inform, and to distort, present culture; past accomplishments which are used as names by those incapable of contributing to the present, against those who would take those accomplishments as setting the tasks of the present, or setting the terms in which present activity has its meaning and acquires its standards.

Analytical philosophy can, alternatively, be interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy’s finally coming of age, or accepting its age, assimilating itself to the form in which original scientific results are made known. The trouble with this idea is that these articles are not accepted the way scientific papers are; they are not felt to embody results which every member of the profession can then build from. On the contary, it seems to me commonly assumed among the serious philosophers I know that when they look into a new article they will find not merely a number of more or less annoying errors, but that they will find the whole effort fundamentally wrong, in sensibility or method or claim. Even when it is good—that is, when it contains one interesting or useful idea—the interest or usefulness cannot simply be taken over as it stands into one’s own thought, but will require independent development or justification from within one’s own procedures. It often happens that what makes an article or passage famous is its enunciation of a thesis which the profession is fully prepared to annihilate. The refuting of Mill on desirable, or Moore on indefinable, or Wittgenstein on private language, have become minor industries, established more than one living. These can be disheartening facts, especially among the young who are entering the profession and are still deciding whether it can support life—as though the profession as a whole has forgotten how to praise, or forgotten its value. (In emphasizing that criticism has been the life of philosophy from its beginning, I do not wish to camouflage what is genuinely disheartening about its present. I mean merely to remember that criticism need not be uncomprehending, nor always entered out of enmity.) It is hard to convey, to anyone who has not experienced it, how pervasive this malaise has become. For it controls one’s response to one’s own past work as well as to the work of others, and it applies not merely to chunky articles, but to each assertion one hears or makes.

The figure of Socrates now haunts contemporary philosophical practice and conscience more poignantly than ever—the pure figure motivated to philosophy only by the assertions of others, himself making none; the philosopher who did not need to write. I should think every philosopher now has at least one philosophical companion whose philosophical ability and accomplishment he has the highest regard for, who seems unable to write philosophy. Were such a person content with silence he would merely be the latest instance of a figure always possible in philosophy, possible indeed nowhere else. (It would make no sense to speak of someone as a gifted novelist who had never written a novel; nor of someone as a scientist who had made no contribution to science. In the case of the scientist, the contribution need not be his own writing; but one could say that he must affect what his field writes. His contribution, that is, may be oral, but it must affect a tradition which is essentially not oral; this suggests that such contributions must be exceptional. It indicates further that writing plays differing roles in different enterprises, even that writing means something different, or has a different inflection, in contexts like writing a novel, writing a fugue, writing a report, writing (up) an experiment, writing (down) a proof. If silence is always a threat in philosophy, it is also its highest promise.) But one finds instead various contraries of contentment, perhaps a tendency, more or less contained, to cynicism or to despair about the value of writing or of philosophy altogether—discontents often not sufficiently unambiguous, or not showing early enough, to force or to permit a break with the field. Philosophy inspires much unhappy love.

If these are facts of philosophical practice now, they must have a sociological-historical explanation; and what needs to be explained is what these facts point to, that the writing of philosophy is difficult in a new way. It is the difficulty modern philosophy shares with the modern arts (and, for that matter, with modern theology; and, for all I know, with modern physics), a difficulty broached, or reflected, in the nineteenth-century’s radical breaking of tradition within the several arts; a moment epitomized by Marx’s remark that … the criticism of religion is in the main complete … and that … the task of history, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world … (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction). This is the beginning of what I have called the modern, characterizing it as a moment in which history and its conventions can no longer be taken for granted; the time in which music and painting and poetry (like nations) have to define themselves against their pasts; the beginning of the moment in which each of the arts becomes its own subject, as if its immediate artistic task is to establish its own existence. The new difficulty which comes to light in the modernist situation is that of maintaining one’s belief in one’s own enterprise, for the past and the present become problematic together. I believe that philosophy shares the modernist difficulty now everywhere evident in the major arts, the difficulty of making one’s present effort become a part of the present history of the enterprise to which one has committed one’s mind, such as it is. (Modernizers, bent merely on newness, do not have history as a problem, that is, as a commitment. The conflict between modernizers and modernists is the immediate topic of the two essays on music—numbers VII and VIII.) I might express my particular sense of indebtedness to the teaching of Austin and to the practice of Wittgenstein by saying that it is from them that I learned of the possibility of making my difficulties about philosophy into topics within philosophy itself—so that, for example, my doubts about the relevance of philosophy now, its apparent irrelevance to the motives which brought me to the subject in the first place, were no longer simply obstacles to the philosophical impulse which had to be removed before philosophy could begin, hence motives for withdrawing from the enterprise. It was now possible to investigate philosophically the very topic of irrelevance, and therewith the subject of philosophy itself; it is characteristic of philosophy that from time to time it appear—that from time to time it be—irrelevant to one’s concerns, or incredible in itself; just as it is characteristic that from time to time it be inescapable. No doubt there is a danger of evasion in this spiralling self-consciousness; perhaps one should indeed search for more congenial work. Just as there is the danger of excusing poor writing in insisting upon the complexities of consciousness one is at each moment attempting to record, or to acknowledge. —Am I talking only about a condition within America? If so, it is said in the spirit in which a certain kind of American has usually spoken of his country’s release rom the past: out of a sense of disappointment in struggle with vistas of peculiar promise. And as usual, it is the expression of shock in finding that one’s mind is not, and is, European; which in practice means (and in philosophical practice means emphatically) English or German. —If others do not share these doubts, or find these dangers, I certainly have no wish to implicate them.

* *

The topics of the modern, of the philosophy of philosophy, and of the form of philosophical writing, come together in the question: What is the audience of philosophy? For the answer to this question will contribute to the answer to the questions: What is philosophy? How is it to be written? In case a philosopher pretends indifference to this question, or not recognize that he has an answer to it, I should note that this question intersects the question: What is the teaching of philosophy? Not, of course, that this question is likely to seem more attractive to those responsible for teaching it. On the contrary, like their pressed colleagues in other fields, professors of philosophy are likely to regard their teaching obligations as burdens, certainly as distant seconds in importance to their own work. Whatever the reason for this state of affairs, it has a particular pertinence for the philosopher. A teacher of literature, is, say, a professor of English, and he can say so; a professor of anthropology is an anthropologist, and he can say so. But is a professor of philosophy a philosopher? And to whom can he say so? One often says instead, asked what it is one does, that one teaches philosophy. And that is the problem. Does one teach philosophy? And when one is gripped by that question, one is really asking: Can philosophy be taught? Who is in a position to speak for philosophy?Such questions express that difficulty I referred to a moment ago as one of maintainining one’s belief in one’s own enterprise. (Hegel, I am told, said that he was the last professor of philosophy. I think I know what he would have meant—that he was the last man to feel that he could speak evenly about every way in which the philosophical impulse has found epression, the last with the natural conviction that his own work was the living present of philosophy’s history, able to take that history for granted. And that would mean that philosophy, as it has been known, is past. The mention of Hegel here reminds me that the sorts of problems I have spoken of in connection with the teaching of philosophy more familiarly arise in thinking about the history of philosophy, about whether anyone but a philosopher can write or know its history, and about whether a philosopher could allow himself to do so.)

When, in Austin at Criticism (Essay IV), I complain that Austin never described his procedures accurately and circumstantially, I am in effect complaining simultaneously of a lack in his philosophizing and of a failure in his teaching. These complaints have their proper weight only against the recognition of how powerful a teacher he was; for it was in part because Austin was devoted to teaching, according to a particular picture ofwhat teaching can be, or should be, that he avoided certain ranges of what the teaching of philosophy perhaps must be—the personal assault upon intellectual complacency, the private evaluation of intellectual conscience. (This range of teaching is not confined to philosophy, though its proportions and placement will vary from subject to subject. This is what I am talking about in the opening of the essay on King Lear, in pointing to the New Critics’ concentration on the teachable aspects of the poetry.) A major motive for wishing to leave the field of philosophy, for wishing relief from it, from one’s periodic revulsions from it, would be to find something which could be taught more conveniently, a field in which it was not part of one’s task to vie with one’s students, nor to risk misleading them so profoundly. Wittgenstein, though he swiftly resigned his appointment as Professor, was, as I read him, unofficially readier for these requirements, and like every great teacher he would have distrusted his right, or the necessity, to impose them. (The great teacher invariably claims not to want followers, i.e., imitators. His problem is that he is never more seductive than at those moments of rejection.) I find that his Philosophical Investigations often fails to make clear the particular way in which his examples and precepts are to lead to particular, concrete exercises and answers, for all his emphasis upon this aspect of philosophy. At the same time, his book is one of the great works about instruction—the equal, in this regard, of Rousseau’s Émile and of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

Because such writing as Wittgenstein’s and such practice as Austin’s strike certain minds as conservative, and because such minds are apt to be over-confident in the faith that contrasts, like conservative vs. liberal, and liberal vs. radical, helpfully explain the behavior of the world and clear the mind for steady action, it is worth noting that these teachers thought of their work as revolutionary—not merely because what they did was new (something which can be overrated or overprized) but because they also thought it plain enough and immediately fruitful enough to establish a new common practice in thinking, and open to talent regardless of its standing within the old intellectual orders. This is another guise of the issue of the modern. I mention it again here because those of us who share, or credit, Wittgenstein’s and Austin’s sense of their revolutionary tasks are responding (as part of the experience of their work in making problematic the relation of philosophy to its tradition) to the concern and implication of their work for correct instruction. (There is no revolutionary social vision which does not include a new vision of education; and contrariwise.) This, together with the fact that their philosophical procedures are designed to bring us to a consciousness of the words we must have, and hence of the lives have, represents for me a recognizable version of the wish to establish the truth of this world. But then wherever there really is a love of wisdom—or call it the passion for truth—it is inherently, if usually ineffectively, revolutionary; because it is the same as a hatred of the falseness in one’s character and of the needless and unnatural compromises in one’s institutions.

When, in what follows, I feel pressed by the question of my right to speak for philosophy, I sometimes suggest that I am merely speaking for myself, and sometimes I suggest that philosophy is not mine at all—its results are true for every man or else they are worthless. Are these suggestions both right, or are they evasions? They express an ambivalence about the relevance or importance of philosophy—one might say, about its possession—which is also one of philosophy’s characteristic features. I have recently noticed a bit of philosophical literary practice which seems to betray this ambivalence. On half a dozen occasions over a period of a few months I found on philosopher or another referring to something called Horatio’s philosophy or Horatio’s view of philosophy, as though Hamlet’s strangely welcomed discovery that

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

constitutes a crack at Horatio rather than a manic release from philosophy (and from reasonableness) as a whole. (The generalizing non-possessive your is common enough in Hamlet’s way of speaking, and there is no evidence that Horatio’s view of the world is distinctive.) Perhaps the reason for this misreading is that philosophers have become threatened by an idea that philosophy has its limitations or impotencies. But I think it also expresses a legitimate confusion about the source or possession of philosophy altogether, as though half believing and half fearing that its natural state is one of private persuasion. I call this confusion legitimate because it isn’t as though the philosopher had some automatic or special assurance that his words are those of and for other men, nor even that any particular arrival of his words ought to be accepted by others. His examples and interpretations have, and are meant to have, the weight an ordinary man will give them; and he is himself speaking as an ordinary man, so that if he is wrong in his claims he must allow himself to be convinced in the ways any man thinking will be, or will not be. —Who is to say whether a man speaks for all men?

Why are we so bullied by such a question? Do we imagine that if it has a sound answer the answer must be obvious or immediate? But it is no easier to say who speaks for all men than it is to speak for all men. And why should that be easier than knowing whether a man speaks for me? It is no easier than knowing oneself, nad no less subject to distortion and spiritlessness. If philophy is esoteric, that is not because a few men guard its knowledg, but because most men guard themselves against it.

It is tautological that art has, is made to have, an audience, however small or special. The ways in which it sometimes hides from its audience, or baffles it, only confirms this. It could be said of science, on the other hand, that it has no audience at all. No one can share its significance who does not produce work of the same kind. The standards of performance are institutionalized; it is not up to the individual listener to decide whether, when the work meets the canons of the institution, he will accept it—unless he undertakes to alter those canons themselves. This suggests why science can be popularized and art not (or not in that way), and why there can be people called critics of art but none called critics of science. I might summarize this by saying that academic art is (with notable exceptions) bad art, whereas academic science is—just science. (It is hardly an accident that creative scientists are on the whole at home in a university and that creative artists on the whole are not.) Now, what is academic philosophy? It seems significant that the questions, What is the audience of philosophy? Must it have one? If so, what is it to gain from it?, have no obvious answers.

When you wish to make serious art popular what you are wishing is to widen the audience for the genuine article. Is this what someone wants who wants to widen the audience for philosophy by writing summaries or descriptions of philosophical works? Or is he, as in the case of popular science, providing simplifications which are more or less useful and faithful substitutes for the original work? Neither of these ideas makes good sense of philosophy. I think someone who believes in popular, or in popularizing, philosophy (as differentiated from someone in an open business venture who finds profit in excerpting and outlining anything in demand) believes that the ordinary man stands in relation to serious philosophy as, say, the ordinary believer stands in relation to serious theology—that he cannot understand it in its own terms but that it is nevertheless good for him to know its results, in some form or other. What reason is there to believe this? There is every reason to believe, on the contrary, that this is the late version of one of philosophy’s most ancient betrayals—the effort to use philosophy’s name to put a front on beliefs rather than to face the source of the assumption, or of emptiness, which actually maintains them. Those who guard themselves from philosophy show a healthier respect for it than those who are certain they know its results and know to whom they apply. For when philosophy is called for one cannot know beforehand where it will end. That is why Plato, as is familiar, at the beginning of the Republic allows the good old man to leave (to see to the sacrifice) before Socrates releases his doubts; and why, recalling that moment, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra leaves the old man (the old saint) he first encounters on his descent back to man, without relating his sickening tidings. Philosophy must be useful or it is harmful. These old men have no need of it, not necessarily because they are old, but because their passion for their lives is at one with their lives; either, as in the case of Cephalus, because his private passion is well spent and he is without rancor; or because, as in the case of the old forest creature, his passion remains in control of his old God, who was worthy of it. The advantage of their age is that their sincerity is backed by the faithfulness of a long life. Otherwise, where sincerity asserts itself, it calls for testing. I do not say that everyone has the passion or the knack or the agility to subject himself to philosophical test; I say merely that someone can call himself a philosopher, and his book philosophical, who has not subjected himself to it.

My purpose is to make such facts into opportunities for investigation rather than causes for despair. The question of philosophy’s audience is born with philosophy itself. When Socrates learned that the Oracle had said no man is wiser than Socrates, he interpreted this to mean, we are told, that he knew that he did not know. And we are likely to take this as a bit of faded irony or as a stuffy humility. What I take Socrates to have seen is that, about the questions which were causing him wonder and hope and confusion and pain, he knew that he did not know what no man can know, and that any man could learn what he wanted to learn. No man is in any better position for knowing it than any other man—unless wanting to know is a special position. And this discovery about himself is the same as the discovery of philosophy, when it is the effort to find answers, and permit questions, which nobody knows the way to nor the answer to any better than you yourself. Then what makes it relevant to know, worth knowing? But relevance and worth may not be the point. The effort is irrelevant and worthless until it becomes necessary to you to know such things. There is the audience of philosophy; but there also, while it lasts, is its performance.

—Stanley Cavell, Must we mean what we say? (Cambridge University Press, 1969/2002), xxi–xlii.

The Passive-Aggressive Freedom-Lover’s Distributed Book Club #3: Stanley Cavell, Foreword: An Audience for Philosophy, from Must we mean what we say? xxi-xlii

As I was saying the other day, I’ve been thinking that my readers might be interested in thinking about some ordinary language philosophy, and about some of the topics that Stanley Cavell raises in his masterful collection of essays, Must we mean what we say? The book is published by Cambridge University Press. I thought you might enjoy thinking about some material which I’ve quoted here for educational purposes under principles of fair use, such as Cavell’s fascinating and puzzling forward, in which he addresses the question, What is the audience for philosophy? Is there one? To whom or to what do we address ourselves when we speak in a philosophic mode, and what can that tell us — about philosophy, and about us as would-be teachers or practitioners of it?

Foreword: An Audience for Philosophy

If the essays which follow do not compose a book, collecting resonance from one another, nothing I can say in introducing them will alter that fact. The relations among them are no less complex than the complexities I have sought to trace within the essays themselves; and any concept I would wish to use in characterizing their relations is either itself already at work within the essays, so far as I have been able to put it to work, or else it would require the working of another essay to do what I would want with it. The surface thematic overlappings among the essays are, I think, sometimes surprising, or surprisingly numerous. Because it would be tiresome to list them here, I have made an index of the themes I find, and found as I wrote, to be of guiding importance. Certainly I do not by this mean to suggest that I have fully treated any one of these themes; a number of them are just glanced at. But I have in each case wished that the place I have made for a theme’s appearance provides data for further investigation of it.

Although various portions or drafts of separate essays were being written during essentially the same period, I have as far as possible arranged them chronologically acording to their date of completion. It will be said that two of them—those on Endgame and on King Lear—are pieces of literary criticism, or at best applications of philosophy, while the remainder are (at least closer to being) straight philosophy. I wish to deny this, but to deny it I would have to use the notions of philosophy and of literature and of criticism, and the denial would be empty so far as those notions are themselves unexamined and so far as the impulse to assert such distinctions, which in certain moods I share, remains unaccounted for. Its account must include the obvious fact that these subjects, as I conceive of them, do resemble one another. One line of resemblance is marked where, in the essay on King Lear, I suggest a sense in which that play could be called philosophical drama and where I characterize a philosophical criticism; another line is projected at the points at which I note that each philosophy will produce terms of criticism directed against other philosophies, or against common sense, which are specific to that philosophy, and hence defining for it. In wishing to deny that some of these essays are philosophical and others not, I do not deny that there are differences among them, and differences between philosophy and literary criticism; I am suggesting that we do not understand these differences. At various moments I am led to emphasize distinctions between philosophy and various of its competitors, various interests and commitments and tastes with which, at various moments in history, philosophy was confusible—e.g., between philosophy and science, and art, and theology, and logic.

If I deny a distinction, it is the still fashionable distinction between philosohy and meta-philosophy, the philosophy of philosophy. The remarks I make about philosophy (for example, about certain of its differences from other subjects) are, where accurate and useful, nothing more or less than philosophical remarks, on a par with remarks I make about acknowledgment or about mistakes or about metaphor. I would regard this fact—that philosophy is one of its own normal topics—as in turn defining for the subject, for what I wish philosophy to do. But someone who thinks philosophy is a form of science may not accept that definitio, because his picture is of a difference between, say, speaking about physics and doing physics. And this may be not only a special view of philosophy, it may be a partial view of science; because certain ways in which certain persons talk about science are a part of the teaching of the science, and the ways in which the science is taught and learned may be taken as essential to an understanding of what that science is.

I do assert a distinction throughout these essays which, because it may seem either controversial or trivial, I want to call attention to from the beginning—a distinction between the modern and the traditional, in philosophy and out. My claim is not that all contemporary philosophy which is good is modern; but the various discussions about the modern I am led to in the course of these essays are the best I can offer in explanation of the way I have written, or the way I would wish to write. The essential fact of (what I refer to as) the modern lies in the relation between the present practice of an enterprise and the history of that enterprise, in the fact that this relation has become problematic. Innovation in philosophy has characteristically gone together with a repudiation—a specifically cast repudiation—of most of the history of the subject. But in the later Wittgenstein (and, I would now add, in Heidegger’s Being and Time) the repudiation of the past has a transformed significance, as though containing the consciousness that history will not go away, except through our perfect acknowledgment of it (in particular, our acknowledgment that it is not past), and that one’s own practice and ambition can be identified only against the continuous experience of the past. (This new significance in philosophical repudiation itself has a history. Its most obvious precursor is Hegel, but it begins, I believe, in Kant. For it is in Kant that one finds an explicit recognition that the terms in which the past is criticized are specific to one’s own position, and require justification from within that position. A clear instance of such a Kantian term of criticism is his characterization of an opposed Idealism as making the world empirically ideal and transcendentally real; another is his diagnosis of dialectical illusion.) But the past does not in this context refer simply to the historical past; it refers to one’s own past, to what is past, or what has passed, within oneself. One could say that in a modernist situation past loses its temporal accent and means anything not present. Meaning what one says becomes a matter of making one’s sense present to oneself. This is the way I understand Wittgenstein’s havingdescribed his later philosophy as an effort to bring words back to their everyday use (Philosophical Investigations, §116; my emphasis), as though the words we use in philosophy, in any reflection about our concerns, are away. This is why Wittgenstein’s interlocutors, when he writes well, when he is philosophically just, express thoughts which strike us as at once familiar and foreign, like temptations. (Heidegger’s consciousness that our deepest task, as philosophers and as men, is one of getting back to a sense of words and world from which we are now away, is an intimate point of similarity with Wittgenstein.)

These reflections will perhaps seem uncongenial to many of my professional colleagues, but they are meant to collect data which most of us, I believe, have noticed, but perhaps have not connected, or not taken to be potentially philosophical. Take, for example, the fact that the isolated analytical article is the common form of philosophical expression now, in the English speaking world of philosophy; something reflected in the fact that the common, and best, form of philosophy textbook is the assemblage of articles around individual topics. This is often interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy’s withdrawal from its cultural responibilities. The trouble with such an idea is that it occurs to a person who imagines himself certain of his culture’s needs, and certain of his capacity to supply them on demand, and ignorant of our cultural situation—in which each major form of expression (say painting and music and philosophy) has, where serious, taken upon itself the characteristic cultural responsibility of preserving itself against its culture, against its own past accomplishments, which have helped to inform, and to distort, present culture; past accomplishments which are used as names by those incapable of contributing to the present, against those who would take those accomplishments as setting the tasks of the present, or setting the terms in which present activity has its meaning and acquires its standards.

Analytical philosophy can, alternatively, be interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy’s finally coming of age, or accepting its age, assimilating itself to the form in which original scientific results are made known. The trouble with this idea is that these articles are not accepted the way scientific papers are; they are not felt to embody results which every member of the profession can then build from. On the contary, it seems to me commonly assumed among the serious philosophers I know that when they look into a new article they will find not merely a number of more or less annoying errors, but that they will find the whole effort fundamentally wrong, in sensibility or method or claim. Even when it is good—that is, when it contains one interesting or useful idea—the interest or usefulness cannot simply be taken over as it stands into one’s own thought, but will require independent development or justification from within one’s own procedures. It often happens that what makes an article or passage famous is its enunciation of a thesis which the profession is fully prepared to annihilate. The refuting of Mill on desirable, or Moore on indefinable, or Wittgenstein on private language, have become minor industries, established more than one living. These can be disheartening facts, especially among the young who are entering the profession and are still deciding whether it can support life—as though the profession as a whole has forgotten how to praise, or forgotten its value. (In emphasizing that criticism has been the life of philosophy from its beginning, I do not wish to camouflage what is genuinely disheartening about its present. I mean merely to remember that criticism need not be uncomprehending, nor always entered out of enmity.) It is hard to convey, to anyone who has not experienced it, how pervasive this malaise has become. For it controls one’s response to one’s own past work as well as to the work of others, and it applies not merely to chunky articles, but to each assertion one hears or makes.

The figure of Socrates now haunts contemporary philosophical practice and conscience more poignantly than ever—the pure figure motivated to philosophy only by the assertions of others, himself making none; the philosopher who did not need to write. I should think every philosopher now has at least one philosophical companion whose philosophical ability and accomplishment he has the highest regard for, who seems unable to write philosophy. Were such a person content with silence he would merely be the latest instance of a figure always possible in philosophy, possible indeed nowhere else. (It would make no sense to speak of someone as a gifted novelist who had never written a novel; nor of someone as a scientist who had made no contribution to science. In the case of the scientist, the contribution need not be his own writing; but one could say that he must affect what his field writes. His contribution, that is, may be oral, but it must affect a tradition which is essentially not oral; this suggests that such contributions must be exceptional. It indicates further that writing plays differing roles in different enterprises, even that writing means something different, or has a different inflection, in contexts like writing a novel, writing a fugue, writing a report, writing (up) an experiment, writing (down) a proof. If silence is always a threat in philosophy, it is also its highest promise.) But one finds instead various contraries of contentment, perhaps a tendency, more or less contained, to cynicism or to despair about the value of writing or of philosophy altogether—discontents often not sufficiently unambiguous, or not showing early enough, to force or to permit a break with the field. Philosophy inspires much unhappy love.

If these are facts of philosophical practice now, they must have a sociological-historical explanation; and what needs to be explained is what these facts point to, that the writing of philosophy is difficult in a new way. It is the difficulty modern philosophy shares with the modern arts (and, for that matter, with modern theology; and, for all I know, with modern physics), a difficulty broached, or reflected, in the nineteenth-century’s radical breaking of tradition within the several arts; a moment epitomized by Marx’s remark that … the criticism of religion is in the main complete … and that … the task of history, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world … (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction). This is the beginning of what I have called the modern, characterizing it as a moment in which history and its conventions can no longer be taken for granted; the time in which music and painting and poetry (like nations) have to define themselves against their pasts; the beginning of the moment in which each of the arts becomes its own subject, as if its immediate artistic task is to establish its own existence. The new difficulty which comes to light in the modernist situation is that of maintaining one’s belief in one’s own enterprise, for the past and the present become problematic together. I believe that philosophy shares the modernist difficulty now everywhere evident in the major arts, the difficulty of making one’s present effort become a part of the present history of the enterprise to which one has committed one’s mind, such as it is. (Modernizers, bent merely on newness, do not have history as a problem, that is, as a commitment. The conflict between modernizers and modernists is the immediate topic of the two essays on music—numbers VII and VIII.) I might express my particular sense of indebtedness to the teaching of Austin and to the practice of Wittgenstein by saying that it is from them that I learned of the possibility of making my difficulties about philosophy into topics within philosophy itself—so that, for example, my doubts about the relevance of philosophy now, its apparent irrelevance to the motives which brought me to the subject in the first place, were no longer simply obstacles to the philosophical impulse which had to be removed before philosophy could begin, hence motives for withdrawing from the enterprise. It was now possible to investigate philosophically the very topic of irrelevance, and therewith the subject of philosophy itself; it is characteristic of philosophy that from time to time it appear—that from time to time it be—irrelevant to one’s concerns, or incredible in itself; just as it is characteristic that from time to time it be inescapable. No doubt there is a danger of evasion in this spiralling self-consciousness; perhaps one should indeed search for more congenial work. Just as there is the danger of excusing poor writing in insisting upon the complexities of consciousness one is at each moment attempting to record, or to acknowledge. —Am I talking only about a condition within America? If so, it is said in the spirit in which a certain kind of American has usually spoken of his country’s release rom the past: out of a sense of disappointment in struggle with vistas of peculiar promise. And as usual, it is the expression of shock in finding that one’s mind is not, and is, European; which in practice means (and in philosophical practice means emphatically) English or German. —If others do not share these doubts, or find these dangers, I certainly have no wish to implicate them.

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The topics of the modern, of the philosophy of philosophy, and of the form of philosophical writing, come together in the question: What is the audience of philosophy? For the answer to this question will contribute to the answer to the questions: What is philosophy? How is it to be written? In case a philosopher pretends indifference to this question, or not recognize that he has an answer to it, I should note that this question intersects the question: What is the teaching of philosophy? Not, of course, that this question is likely to seem more attractive to those responsible for teaching it. On the contrary, like their pressed colleagues in other fields, professors of philosophy are likely to regard their teaching obligations as burdens, certainly as distant seconds in importance to their own work. Whatever the reason for this state of affairs, it has a particular pertinence for the philosopher. A teacher of literature, is, say, a professor of English, and he can say so; a professor of anthropology is an anthropologist, and he can say so. But is a professor of philosophy a philosopher? And to whom can he say so? One often says instead, asked what it is one does, that one teaches philosophy. And that is the problem. Does one teach philosophy? And when one is gripped by that question, one is really asking: Can philosophy be taught? Who is in a position to speak for philosophy?Such questions express that difficulty I referred to a moment ago as one of maintainining one’s belief in one’s own enterprise. (Hegel, I am told, said that he was the last professor of philosophy. I think I know what he would have meant—that he was the last man to feel that he could speak evenly about every way in which the philosophical impulse has found epression, the last with the natural conviction that his own work was the living present of philosophy’s history, able to take that history for granted. And that would mean that philosophy, as it has been known, is past. The mention of Hegel here reminds me that the sorts of problems I have spoken of in connection with the teaching of philosophy more familiarly arise in thinking about the history of philosophy, about whether anyone but a philosopher can write or know its history, and about whether a philosopher could allow himself to do so.)

When, in Austin at Criticism (Essay IV), I complain that Austin never described his procedures accurately and circumstantially, I am in effect complaining simultaneously of a lack in his philosophizing and of a failure in his teaching. These complaints have their proper weight only against the recognition of how powerful a teacher he was; for it was in part because Austin was devoted to teaching, according to a particular picture ofwhat teaching can be, or should be, that he avoided certain ranges of what the teaching of philosophy perhaps must be—the personal assault upon intellectual complacency, the private evaluation of intellectual conscience. (This range of teaching is not confined to philosophy, though its proportions and placement will vary from subject to subject. This is what I am talking about in the opening of the essay on King Lear, in pointing to the New Critics’ concentration on the teachable aspects of the poetry.) A major motive for wishing to leave the field of philosophy, for wishing relief from it, from one’s periodic revulsions from it, would be to find something which could be taught more conveniently, a field in which it was not part of one’s task to vie with one’s students, nor to risk misleading them so profoundly. Wittgenstein, though he swiftly resigned his appointment as Professor, was, as I read him, unofficially readier for these requirements, and like every great teacher he would have distrusted his right, or the necessity, to impose them. (The great teacher invariably claims not to want followers, i.e., imitators. His problem is that he is never more seductive than at those moments of rejection.) I find that his Philosophical Investigations often fails to make clear the particular way in which his examples and precepts are to lead to particular, concrete exercises and answers, for all his emphasis upon this aspect of philosophy. At the same time, his book is one of the great works about instruction—the equal, in this regard, of Rousseau’s Émile and of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

Because such writing as Wittgenstein’s and such practice as Austin’s strike certain minds as conservative, and because such minds are apt to be over-confident in the faith that contrasts, like conservative vs. liberal, and liberal vs. radical, helpfully explain the behavior of the world and clear the mind for steady action, it is worth noting that these teachers thought of their work as revolutionary—not merely because what they did was new (something which can be overrated or overprized) but because they also thought it plain enough and immediately fruitful enough to establish a new common practice in thinking, and open to talent regardless of its standing within the old intellectual orders. This is another guise of the issue of the modern. I mention it again here because those of us who share, or credit, Wittgenstein’s and Austin’s sense of their revolutionary tasks are responding (as part of the experience of their work in making problematic the relation of philosophy to its tradition) to the concern and implication of their work for correct instruction. (There is no revolutionary social vision which does not include a new vision of education; and contrariwise.) This, together with the fact that their philosophical procedures are designed to bring us to a consciousness of the words we must have, and hence of the lives have, represents for me a recognizable version of the wish to establish the truth of this world. But then wherever there really is a love of wisdom—or call it the passion for truth—it is inherently, if usually ineffectively, revolutionary; because it is the same as a hatred of the falseness in one’s character and of the needless and unnatural compromises in one’s institutions.

When, in what follows, I feel pressed by the question of my right to speak for philosophy, I sometimes suggest that I am merely speaking for myself, and sometimes I suggest that philosophy is not mine at all—its results are true for every man or else they are worthless. Are these suggestions both right, or are they evasions? They express an ambivalence about the relevance or importance of philosophy—one might say, about its possession—which is also one of philosophy’s characteristic features. I have recently noticed a bit of philosophical literary practice which seems to betray this ambivalence. On half a dozen occasions over a period of a few months I found on philosopher or another referring to something called Horatio’s philosophy or Horatio’s view of philosophy, as though Hamlet’s strangely welcomed discovery that

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

constitutes a crack at Horatio rather than a manic release from philosophy (and from reasonableness) as a whole. (The generalizing non-possessive your is common enough in Hamlet’s way of speaking, and there is no evidence that Horatio’s view of the world is distinctive.) Perhaps the reason for this misreading is that philosophers have become threatened by an idea that philosophy has its limitations or impotencies. But I think it also expresses a legitimate confusion about the source or possession of philosophy altogether, as though half believing and half fearing that its natural state is one of private persuasion. I call this confusion legitimate because it isn’t as though the philosopher had some automatic or special assurance that his words are those of and for other men, nor even that any particular arrival of his words ought to be accepted by others. His examples and interpretations have, and are meant to have, the weight an ordinary man will give them; and he is himself speaking as an ordinary man, so that if he is wrong in his claims he must allow himself to be convinced in the ways any man thinking will be, or will not be. —Who is to say whether a man speaks for all men?

Why are we so bullied by such a question? Do we imagine that if it has a sound answer the answer must be obvious or immediate? But it is no easier to say who speaks for all men than it is to speak for all men. And why should that be easier than knowing whether a man speaks for me? It is no easier than knowing oneself, nad no less subject to distortion and spiritlessness. If philophy is esoteric, that is not because a few men guard its knowledg, but because most men guard themselves against it.

It is tautological that art has, is made to have, an audience, however small or special. The ways in which it sometimes hides from its audience, or baffles it, only confirms this. It could be said of science, on the other hand, that it has no audience at all. No one can share its significance who does not produce work of the same kind. The standards of performance are institutionalized; it is not up to the individual listener to decide whether, when the work meets the canons of the institution, he will accept it—unless he undertakes to alter those canons themselves. This suggests why science can be popularized and art not (or not in that way), and why there can be people called critics of art but none called critics of science. I might summarize this by saying that academic art is (with notable exceptions) bad art, whereas academic science is—just science. (It is hardly an accident that creative scientists are on the whole at home in a university and that creative artists on the whole are not.) Now, what is academic philosophy? It seems significant that the questions, What is the audience of philosophy? Must it have one? If so, what is it to gain from it?, have no obvious answers.

When you wish to make serious art popular what you are wishing is to widen the audience for the genuine article. Is this what someone wants who wants to widen the audience for philosophy by writing summaries or descriptions of philosophical works? Or is he, as in the case of popular science, providing simplifications which are more or less useful and faithful substitutes for the original work? Neither of these ideas makes good sense of philosophy. I think someone who believes in popular, or in popularizing, philosophy (as differentiated from someone in an open business venture who finds profit in excerpting and outlining anything in demand) believes that the ordinary man stands in relation to serious philosophy as, say, the ordinary believer stands in relation to serious theology—that he cannot understand it in its own terms but that it is nevertheless good for him to know its results, in some form or other. What reason is there to believe this? There is every reason to believe, on the contrary, that this is the late version of one of philosophy’s most ancient betrayals—the effort to use philosophy’s name to put a front on beliefs rather than to face the source of the assumption, or of emptiness, which actually maintains them. Those who guard themselves from philosophy show a healthier respect for it than those who are certain they know its results and know to whom they apply. For when philosophy is called for one cannot know beforehand where it will end. That is why Plato, as is familiar, at the beginning of the Republic allows the good old man to leave (to see to the sacrifice) before Socrates releases his doubts; and why, recalling that moment, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra leaves the old man (the old saint) he first encounters on his descent back to man, without relating his sickening tidings. Philosophy must be useful or it is harmful. These old men have no need of it, not necessarily because they are old, but because their passion for their lives is at one with their lives; either, as in the case of Cephalus, because his private passion is well spent and he is without rancor; or because, as in the case of the old forest creature, his passion remains in control of his old God, who was worthy of it. The advantage of their age is that their sincerity is backed by the faithfulness of a long life. Otherwise, where sincerity asserts itself, it calls for testing. I do not say that everyone has the passion or the knack or the agility to subject himself to philosophical test; I say merely that someone can call himself a philosopher, and his book philosophical, who has not subjected himself to it.

My purpose is to make such facts into opportunities for investigation rather than causes for despair. The question of philosophy’s audience is born with philosophy itself. When Socrates learned that the Oracle had said no man is wiser than Socrates, he interpreted this to mean, we are told, that he knew that he did not know. And we are likely to take this as a bit of faded irony or as a stuffy humility. What I take Socrates to have seen is that, about the questions which were causing him wonder and hope and confusion and pain, he knew that he did not know what no man can know, and that any man could learn what he wanted to learn. No man is in any better position for knowing it than any other man—unless wanting to know is a special position. And this discovery about himself is the same as the discovery of philosophy, when it is the effort to find answers, and permit questions, which nobody knows the way to nor the answer to any better than you yourself. Then what makes it relevant to know, worth knowing? But relevance and worth may not be the point. The effort is irrelevant and worthless until it becomes necessary to you to know such things. There is the audience of philosophy; but there also, while it lasts, is its performance.

—Stanley Cavell, Must we mean what we say? (Cambridge University Press, 1969/2002), xxi–xlii.

The Passive-Aggressive Freedom-Lover’s Distributed Book Club #3: Stanley Cavell, Foreword: An Audience for Philosophy, from Must we mean what we say? xxi-xlii

As I was saying the other day, I’ve been thinking that my readers might be interested in thinking about some ordinary language philosophy, and about some of the topics that Stanley Cavell raises in his masterful collection of essays, Must we mean what we say? The book is published by Cambridge University Press. I thought you might enjoy thinking about some material which I’ve quoted here for educational purposes under principles of fair use, such as Cavell’s fascinating and puzzling forward, in which he addresses the question, What is the audience for philosophy? Is there one? To whom or to what do we address ourselves when we speak in a philosophic mode, and what can that tell us — about philosophy, and about us as would-be teachers or practitioners of it?

Foreword: An Audience for Philosophy

If the essays which follow do not compose a book, collecting resonance from one another, nothing I can say in introducing them will alter that fact. The relations among them are no less complex than the complexities I have sought to trace within the essays themselves; and any concept I would wish to use in characterizing their relations is either itself already at work within the essays, so far as I have been able to put it to work, or else it would require the working of another essay to do what I would want with it. The surface thematic overlappings among the essays are, I think, sometimes surprising, or surprisingly numerous. Because it would be tiresome to list them here, I have made an index of the themes I find, and found as I wrote, to be of guiding importance. Certainly I do not by this mean to suggest that I have fully treated any one of these themes; a number of them are just glanced at. But I have in each case wished that the place I have made for a theme’s appearance provides data for further investigation of it.

Although various portions or drafts of separate essays were being written during essentially the same period, I have as far as possible arranged them chronologically acording to their date of completion. It will be said that two of them—those on Endgame and on King Lear—are pieces of literary criticism, or at best applications of philosophy, while the remainder are (at least closer to being) straight philosophy. I wish to deny this, but to deny it I would have to use the notions of philosophy and of literature and of criticism, and the denial would be empty so far as those notions are themselves unexamined and so far as the impulse to assert such distinctions, which in certain moods I share, remains unaccounted for. Its account must include the obvious fact that these subjects, as I conceive of them, do resemble one another. One line of resemblance is marked where, in the essay on King Lear, I suggest a sense in which that play could be called philosophical drama and where I characterize a philosophical criticism; another line is projected at the points at which I note that each philosophy will produce terms of criticism directed against other philosophies, or against common sense, which are specific to that philosophy, and hence defining for it. In wishing to deny that some of these essays are philosophical and others not, I do not deny that there are differences among them, and differences between philosophy and literary criticism; I am suggesting that we do not understand these differences. At various moments I am led to emphasize distinctions between philosophy and various of its competitors, various interests and commitments and tastes with which, at various moments in history, philosophy was confusible—e.g., between philosophy and science, and art, and theology, and logic.

If I deny a distinction, it is the still fashionable distinction between philosohy and meta-philosophy, the philosophy of philosophy. The remarks I make about philosophy (for example, about certain of its differences from other subjects) are, where accurate and useful, nothing more or less than philosophical remarks, on a par with remarks I make about acknowledgment or about mistakes or about metaphor. I would regard this fact—that philosophy is one of its own normal topics—as in turn defining for the subject, for what I wish philosophy to do. But someone who thinks philosophy is a form of science may not accept that definitio, because his picture is of a difference between, say, speaking about physics and doing physics. And this may be not only a special view of philosophy, it may be a partial view of science; because certain ways in which certain persons talk about science are a part of the teaching of the science, and the ways in which the science is taught and learned may be taken as essential to an understanding of what that science is.

I do assert a distinction throughout these essays which, because it may seem either controversial or trivial, I want to call attention to from the beginning—a distinction between the modern and the traditional, in philosophy and out. My claim is not that all contemporary philosophy which is good is modern; but the various discussions about the modern I am led to in the course of these essays are the best I can offer in explanation of the way I have written, or the way I would wish to write. The essential fact of (what I refer to as) the modern lies in the relation between the present practice of an enterprise and the history of that enterprise, in the fact that this relation has become problematic. Innovation in philosophy has characteristically gone together with a repudiation—a specifically cast repudiation—of most of the history of the subject. But in the later Wittgenstein (and, I would now add, in Heidegger’s Being and Time) the repudiation of the past has a transformed significance, as though containing the consciousness that history will not go away, except through our perfect acknowledgment of it (in particular, our acknowledgment that it is not past), and that one’s own practice and ambition can be identified only against the continuous experience of the past. (This new significance in philosophical repudiation itself has a history. Its most obvious precursor is Hegel, but it begins, I believe, in Kant. For it is in Kant that one finds an explicit recognition that the terms in which the past is criticized are specific to one’s own position, and require justification from within that position. A clear instance of such a Kantian term of criticism is his characterization of an opposed Idealism as making the world empirically ideal and transcendentally real; another is his diagnosis of dialectical illusion.) But the past does not in this context refer simply to the historical past; it refers to one’s own past, to what is past, or what has passed, within oneself. One could say that in a modernist situation past loses its temporal accent and means anything not present. Meaning what one says becomes a matter of making one’s sense present to oneself. This is the way I understand Wittgenstein’s havingdescribed his later philosophy as an effort to bring words back to their everyday use (Philosophical Investigations, §116; my emphasis), as though the words we use in philosophy, in any reflection about our concerns, are away. This is why Wittgenstein’s interlocutors, when he writes well, when he is philosophically just, express thoughts which strike us as at once familiar and foreign, like temptations. (Heidegger’s consciousness that our deepest task, as philosophers and as men, is one of getting back to a sense of words and world from which we are now away, is an intimate point of similarity with Wittgenstein.)

These reflections will perhaps seem uncongenial to many of my professional colleagues, but they are meant to collect data which most of us, I believe, have noticed, but perhaps have not connected, or not taken to be potentially philosophical. Take, for example, the fact that the isolated analytical article is the common form of philosophical expression now, in the English speaking world of philosophy; something reflected in the fact that the common, and best, form of philosophy textbook is the assemblage of articles around individual topics. This is often interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy’s withdrawal from its cultural responibilities. The trouble with such an idea is that it occurs to a person who imagines himself certain of his culture’s needs, and certain of his capacity to supply them on demand, and ignorant of our cultural situation—in which each major form of expression (say painting and music and philosophy) has, where serious, taken upon itself the characteristic cultural responsibility of preserving itself against its culture, against its own past accomplishments, which have helped to inform, and to distort, present culture; past accomplishments which are used as names by those incapable of contributing to the present, against those who would take those accomplishments as setting the tasks of the present, or setting the terms in which present activity has its meaning and acquires its standards.

Analytical philosophy can, alternatively, be interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy’s finally coming of age, or accepting its age, assimilating itself to the form in which original scientific results are made known. The trouble with this idea is that these articles are not accepted the way scientific papers are; they are not felt to embody results which every member of the profession can then build from. On the contary, it seems to me commonly assumed among the serious philosophers I know that when they look into a new article they will find not merely a number of more or less annoying errors, but that they will find the whole effort fundamentally wrong, in sensibility or method or claim. Even when it is good—that is, when it contains one interesting or useful idea—the interest or usefulness cannot simply be taken over as it stands into one’s own thought, but will require independent development or justification from within one’s own procedures. It often happens that what makes an article or passage famous is its enunciation of a thesis which the profession is fully prepared to annihilate. The refuting of Mill on desirable, or Moore on indefinable, or Wittgenstein on private language, have become minor industries, established more than one living. These can be disheartening facts, especially among the young who are entering the profession and are still deciding whether it can support life—as though the profession as a whole has forgotten how to praise, or forgotten its value. (In emphasizing that criticism has been the life of philosophy from its beginning, I do not wish to camouflage what is genuinely disheartening about its present. I mean merely to remember that criticism need not be uncomprehending, nor always entered out of enmity.) It is hard to convey, to anyone who has not experienced it, how pervasive this malaise has become. For it controls one’s response to one’s own past work as well as to the work of others, and it applies not merely to chunky articles, but to each assertion one hears or makes.

The figure of Socrates now haunts contemporary philosophical practice and conscience more poignantly than ever—the pure figure motivated to philosophy only by the assertions of others, himself making none; the philosopher who did not need to write. I should think every philosopher now has at least one philosophical companion whose philosophical ability and accomplishment he has the highest regard for, who seems unable to write philosophy. Were such a person content with silence he would merely be the latest instance of a figure always possible in philosophy, possible indeed nowhere else. (It would make no sense to speak of someone as a gifted novelist who had never written a novel; nor of someone as a scientist who had made no contribution to science. In the case of the scientist, the contribution need not be his own writing; but one could say that he must affect what his field writes. His contribution, that is, may be oral, but it must affect a tradition which is essentially not oral; this suggests that such contributions must be exceptional. It indicates further that writing plays differing roles in different enterprises, even that writing means something different, or has a different inflection, in contexts like writing a novel, writing a fugue, writing a report, writing (up) an experiment, writing (down) a proof. If silence is always a threat in philosophy, it is also its highest promise.) But one finds instead various contraries of contentment, perhaps a tendency, more or less contained, to cynicism or to despair about the value of writing or of philosophy altogether—discontents often not sufficiently unambiguous, or not showing early enough, to force or to permit a break with the field. Philosophy inspires much unhappy love.

If these are facts of philosophical practice now, they must have a sociological-historical explanation; and what needs to be explained is what these facts point to, that the writing of philosophy is difficult in a new way. It is the difficulty modern philosophy shares with the modern arts (and, for that matter, with modern theology; and, for all I know, with modern physics), a difficulty broached, or reflected, in the nineteenth-century’s radical breaking of tradition within the several arts; a moment epitomized by Marx’s remark that … the criticism of religion is in the main complete … and that … the task of history, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world … (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction). This is the beginning of what I have called the modern, characterizing it as a moment in which history and its conventions can no longer be taken for granted; the time in which music and painting and poetry (like nations) have to define themselves against their pasts; the beginning of the moment in which each of the arts becomes its own subject, as if its immediate artistic task is to establish its own existence. The new difficulty which comes to light in the modernist situation is that of maintaining one’s belief in one’s own enterprise, for the past and the present become problematic together. I believe that philosophy shares the modernist difficulty now everywhere evident in the major arts, the difficulty of making one’s present effort become a part of the present history of the enterprise to which one has committed one’s mind, such as it is. (Modernizers, bent merely on newness, do not have history as a problem, that is, as a commitment. The conflict between modernizers and modernists is the immediate topic of the two essays on music—numbers VII and VIII.) I might express my particular sense of indebtedness to the teaching of Austin and to the practice of Wittgenstein by saying that it is from them that I learned of the possibility of making my difficulties about philosophy into topics within philosophy itself—so that, for example, my doubts about the relevance of philosophy now, its apparent irrelevance to the motives which brought me to the subject in the first place, were no longer simply obstacles to the philosophical impulse which had to be removed before philosophy could begin, hence motives for withdrawing from the enterprise. It was now possible to investigate philosophically the very topic of irrelevance, and therewith the subject of philosophy itself; it is characteristic of philosophy that from time to time it appear—that from time to time it be—irrelevant to one’s concerns, or incredible in itself; just as it is characteristic that from time to time it be inescapable. No doubt there is a danger of evasion in this spiralling self-consciousness; perhaps one should indeed search for more congenial work. Just as there is the danger of excusing poor writing in insisting upon the complexities of consciousness one is at each moment attempting to record, or to acknowledge. —Am I talking only about a condition within America? If so, it is said in the spirit in which a certain kind of American has usually spoken of his country’s release rom the past: out of a sense of disappointment in struggle with vistas of peculiar promise. And as usual, it is the expression of shock in finding that one’s mind is not, and is, European; which in practice means (and in philosophical practice means emphatically) English or German. —If others do not share these doubts, or find these dangers, I certainly have no wish to implicate them.

* *

The topics of the modern, of the philosophy of philosophy, and of the form of philosophical writing, come together in the question: What is the audience of philosophy? For the answer to this question will contribute to the answer to the questions: What is philosophy? How is it to be written? In case a philosopher pretends indifference to this question, or not recognize that he has an answer to it, I should note that this question intersects the question: What is the teaching of philosophy? Not, of course, that this question is likely to seem more attractive to those responsible for teaching it. On the contrary, like their pressed colleagues in other fields, professors of philosophy are likely to regard their teaching obligations as burdens, certainly as distant seconds in importance to their own work. Whatever the reason for this state of affairs, it has a particular pertinence for the philosopher. A teacher of literature, is, say, a professor of English, and he can say so; a professor of anthropology is an anthropologist, and he can say so. But is a professor of philosophy a philosopher? And to whom can he say so? One often says instead, asked what it is one does, that one teaches philosophy. And that is the problem. Does one teach philosophy? And when one is gripped by that question, one is really asking: Can philosophy be taught? Who is in a position to speak for philosophy?Such questions express that difficulty I referred to a moment ago as one of maintainining one’s belief in one’s own enterprise. (Hegel, I am told, said that he was the last professor of philosophy. I think I know what he would have meant—that he was the last man to feel that he could speak evenly about every way in which the philosophical impulse has found epression, the last with the natural conviction that his own work was the living present of philosophy’s history, able to take that history for granted. And that would mean that philosophy, as it has been known, is past. The mention of Hegel here reminds me that the sorts of problems I have spoken of in connection with the teaching of philosophy more familiarly arise in thinking about the history of philosophy, about whether anyone but a philosopher can write or know its history, and about whether a philosopher could allow himself to do so.)

When, in Austin at Criticism (Essay IV), I complain that Austin never described his procedures accurately and circumstantially, I am in effect complaining simultaneously of a lack in his philosophizing and of a failure in his teaching. These complaints have their proper weight only against the recognition of how powerful a teacher he was; for it was in part because Austin was devoted to teaching, according to a particular picture ofwhat teaching can be, or should be, that he avoided certain ranges of what the teaching of philosophy perhaps must be—the personal assault upon intellectual complacency, the private evaluation of intellectual conscience. (This range of teaching is not confined to philosophy, though its proportions and placement will vary from subject to subject. This is what I am talking about in the opening of the essay on King Lear, in pointing to the New Critics’ concentration on the teachable aspects of the poetry.) A major motive for wishing to leave the field of philosophy, for wishing relief from it, from one’s periodic revulsions from it, would be to find something which could be taught more conveniently, a field in which it was not part of one’s task to vie with one’s students, nor to risk misleading them so profoundly. Wittgenstein, though he swiftly resigned his appointment as Professor, was, as I read him, unofficially readier for these requirements, and like every great teacher he would have distrusted his right, or the necessity, to impose them. (The great teacher invariably claims not to want followers, i.e., imitators. His problem is that he is never more seductive than at those moments of rejection.) I find that his Philosophical Investigations often fails to make clear the particular way in which his examples and precepts are to lead to particular, concrete exercises and answers, for all his emphasis upon this aspect of philosophy. At the same time, his book is one of the great works about instruction—the equal, in this regard, of Rousseau’s Émile and of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

Because such writing as Wittgenstein’s and such practice as Austin’s strike certain minds as conservative, and because such minds are apt to be over-confident in the faith that contrasts, like conservative vs. liberal, and liberal vs. radical, helpfully explain the behavior of the world and clear the mind for steady action, it is worth noting that these teachers thought of their work as revolutionary—not merely because what they did was new (something which can be overrated or overprized) but because they also thought it plain enough and immediately fruitful enough to establish a new common practice in thinking, and open to talent regardless of its standing within the old intellectual orders. This is another guise of the issue of the modern. I mention it again here because those of us who share, or credit, Wittgenstein’s and Austin’s sense of their revolutionary tasks are responding (as part of the experience of their work in making problematic the relation of philosophy to its tradition) to the concern and implication of their work for correct instruction. (There is no revolutionary social vision which does not include a new vision of education; and contrariwise.) This, together with the fact that their philosophical procedures are designed to bring us to a consciousness of the words we must have, and hence of the lives have, represents for me a recognizable version of the wish to establish the truth of this world. But then wherever there really is a love of wisdom—or call it the passion for truth—it is inherently, if usually ineffectively, revolutionary; because it is the same as a hatred of the falseness in one’s character and of the needless and unnatural compromises in one’s institutions.

When, in what follows, I feel pressed by the question of my right to speak for philosophy, I sometimes suggest that I am merely speaking for myself, and sometimes I suggest that philosophy is not mine at all—its results are true for every man or else they are worthless. Are these suggestions both right, or are they evasions? They express an ambivalence about the relevance or importance of philosophy—one might say, about its possession—which is also one of philosophy’s characteristic features. I have recently noticed a bit of philosophical literary practice which seems to betray this ambivalence. On half a dozen occasions over a period of a few months I found on philosopher or another referring to something called Horatio’s philosophy or Horatio’s view of philosophy, as though Hamlet’s strangely welcomed discovery that

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

constitutes a crack at Horatio rather than a manic release from philosophy (and from reasonableness) as a whole. (The generalizing non-possessive your is common enough in Hamlet’s way of speaking, and there is no evidence that Horatio’s view of the world is distinctive.) Perhaps the reason for this misreading is that philosophers have become threatened by an idea that philosophy has its limitations or impotencies. But I think it also expresses a legitimate confusion about the source or possession of philosophy altogether, as though half believing and half fearing that its natural state is one of private persuasion. I call this confusion legitimate because it isn’t as though the philosopher had some automatic or special assurance that his words are those of and for other men, nor even that any particular arrival of his words ought to be accepted by others. His examples and interpretations have, and are meant to have, the weight an ordinary man will give them; and he is himself speaking as an ordinary man, so that if he is wrong in his claims he must allow himself to be convinced in the ways any man thinking will be, or will not be. —Who is to say whether a man speaks for all men?

Why are we so bullied by such a question? Do we imagine that if it has a sound answer the answer must be obvious or immediate? But it is no easier to say who speaks for all men than it is to speak for all men. And why should that be easier than knowing whether a man speaks for me? It is no easier than knowing oneself, nad no less subject to distortion and spiritlessness. If philophy is esoteric, that is not because a few men guard its knowledg, but because most men guard themselves against it.

It is tautological that art has, is made to have, an audience, however small or special. The ways in which it sometimes hides from its audience, or baffles it, only confirms this. It could be said of science, on the other hand, that it has no audience at all. No one can share its significance who does not produce work of the same kind. The standards of performance are institutionalized; it is not up to the individual listener to decide whether, when the work meets the canons of the institution, he will accept it—unless he undertakes to alter those canons themselves. This suggests why science can be popularized and art not (or not in that way), and why there can be people called critics of art but none called critics of science. I might summarize this by saying that academic art is (with notable exceptions) bad art, whereas academic science is—just science. (It is hardly an accident that creative scientists are on the whole at home in a university and that creative artists on the whole are not.) Now, what is academic philosophy? It seems significant that the questions, What is the audience of philosophy? Must it have one? If so, what is it to gain from it?, have no obvious answers.

When you wish to make serious art popular what you are wishing is to widen the audience for the genuine article. Is this what someone wants who wants to widen the audience for philosophy by writing summaries or descriptions of philosophical works? Or is he, as in the case of popular science, providing simplifications which are more or less useful and faithful substitutes for the original work? Neither of these ideas makes good sense of philosophy. I think someone who believes in popular, or in popularizing, philosophy (as differentiated from someone in an open business venture who finds profit in excerpting and outlining anything in demand) believes that the ordinary man stands in relation to serious philosophy as, say, the ordinary believer stands in relation to serious theology—that he cannot understand it in its own terms but that it is nevertheless good for him to know its results, in some form or other. What reason is there to believe this? There is every reason to believe, on the contrary, that this is the late version of one of philosophy’s most ancient betrayals—the effort to use philosophy’s name to put a front on beliefs rather than to face the source of the assumption, or of emptiness, which actually maintains them. Those who guard themselves from philosophy show a healthier respect for it than those who are certain they know its results and know to whom they apply. For when philosophy is called for one cannot know beforehand where it will end. That is why Plato, as is familiar, at the beginning of the Republic allows the good old man to leave (to see to the sacrifice) before Socrates releases his doubts; and why, recalling that moment, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra leaves the old man (the old saint) he first encounters on his descent back to man, without relating his sickening tidings. Philosophy must be useful or it is harmful. These old men have no need of it, not necessarily because they are old, but because their passion for their lives is at one with their lives; either, as in the case of Cephalus, because his private passion is well spent and he is without rancor; or because, as in the case of the old forest creature, his passion remains in control of his old God, who was worthy of it. The advantage of their age is that their sincerity is backed by the faithfulness of a long life. Otherwise, where sincerity asserts itself, it calls for testing. I do not say that everyone has the passion or the knack or the agility to subject himself to philosophical test; I say merely that someone can call himself a philosopher, and his book philosophical, who has not subjected himself to it.

My purpose is to make such facts into opportunities for investigation rather than causes for despair. The question of philosophy’s audience is born with philosophy itself. When Socrates learned that the Oracle had said no man is wiser than Socrates, he interpreted this to mean, we are told, that he knew that he did not know. And we are likely to take this as a bit of faded irony or as a stuffy humility. What I take Socrates to have seen is that, about the questions which were causing him wonder and hope and confusion and pain, he knew that he did not know what no man can know, and that any man could learn what he wanted to learn. No man is in any better position for knowing it than any other man—unless wanting to know is a special position. And this discovery about himself is the same as the discovery of philosophy, when it is the effort to find answers, and permit questions, which nobody knows the way to nor the answer to any better than you yourself. Then what makes it relevant to know, worth knowing? But relevance and worth may not be the point. The effort is irrelevant and worthless until it becomes necessary to you to know such things. There is the audience of philosophy; but there also, while it lasts, is its performance.

—Stanley Cavell, Must we mean what we say? (Cambridge University Press, 1969/2002), xxi–xlii.

Over My Shoulder #41: Paul Buhle on establishmentarian unionism, the decline of labor organizing, and the rise of Labor PAC. From Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. These are a couple of passages from the final chapters of Paul Buhle’s book, Taking Care of Business: Sam Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor. They have a lot to say on the logical end-point of establishmentarian unionism and how, within the tripartite planning system of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor—particularly after the corporate merger and consolidation known as the AFL-CIO—the top union bosses tacked further and further away from industrial organization towards political organization — in effect, ceasing to be workers’ unions, and instead operating as an enormously wealthy but crumbling and increasingly irrelevant sort of Labor PAC.

The departure of Reuther and the UAW from the AFL-CIO in 1964 not only meant no charismatic personality was left combat meaning but also no block of aggressive unionists to offer significant, concerted resistance to rightward-drifting union leadership and social policies. The executive committee functioned as a glorified rubberstamping agency rather than a representative body. Seen in retrospect, centralization of power was the inner logic of the subsequent institutional consolidation. Neither William Green nor Walter Reuther nor even Samuel Gompers, an expert autocratic manipulator in his day, wielded as much personal control is to Meany and his entourage. One traditional labor historian, admiring the advance of the bureaucracy, put it most politely: labor evidently no longer had any great need for services beyond negotiation and enforcement of existing contracts. Everything else could more safely and efficiently be handled better from above. In December 1977 at the last national convention where Meany played an active role, the only names offered in nomination for president and secretary were Meany and Lane Kirkland. Neither was resistance offered to any of the nominees for the thirty-three vice presidencies. A lone dissident of sorts who did manage to get onto the council, the socialistic machinists’ president, William Winpisinger, was widely regarded as window-dressing for the steady rightward drift. Carefully directing his political views toward the public sphere, Winpisinger restrained his personal criticisms of Meany, much as some socialist craft unionists of the 1910s insisted that Gompers was a symptom and not the cause of labor conservatism, better endured than combated. Meany responded by savaging Winpisinger’s favorite views without mentioning Winpisinger himself.

By the 1970s, Meany grew more candid—or perhaps merely more arrogant. He held his ground proudly against his internal enemies and gleefully watched the mass social movements of the 1960s fade away. Admittedly, he also saw power within the Democratic Party slipped further from his potential grasp and the AFL-CIO fall precipitously by any measurement of size and influence. Asked in 1972 why AFL-CIO membership was thinking as a percentage of the workforce, he responded, I don’t know, I don’t care. When a reporter pressed the issue, Would you prefer to have a larger proportion? Meany snapped, not necessarily. We’ve done quite well without it. Why should we worry about organizing groups of people who do not appear to want to be organized? If they prefer to have others speak for them and make the decisions which affect their lives… that is their right. Asked whether he expected labor’s influence to be reduced, he responded, I used to worry about the… size of the membership…. I stopped worrying because to me it doesn’t make any difference… The organized fellow is the fellow that counts. This is just human nature. Unorganized and lower-paid workers were less-than-irrelevant to Meany; they were unwanted.

Never particularly supportive of strikes except those protecting jurisdictions, Meany became steadily more hostile to walkouts as time went on. (He made one key exception urging political strikes by merit time workers against, of all things, we being loaded onto Russian ships.) In 1970, he observed, where you have a well-established industry and a well-established union, you are getting more and more to the point where strike doesn’t make sense. Rather than strikes and organizing, Meany put his eggs into the basket of electoral campaigns, legislative activity, and involvement in a panoply of government-management-labor commissions and agencies in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. In some circles these activities actually reinforce the myth of the powerful Meany, labor statesmen and public figure. They did demonstrably little for labor. And no amount of them could quite dispel the image of the narrow-minded unabashedly feminist-baiting and gay-baiting labor boss eating at four-star restaurants and puffing a high-priced class of cigars once restricted to capitalists and mobsters.

The AFL-CIO politicked actively for Jimmy Carter in 1976, after its leaders have expressed their real preference for Scoop Jackson. Ironically, the Georgia Democrat’s narrow margin of victory actually made the support of labor, the African-American community, and feminists, among others, the crucial margin between defeat in victory. Once more, given a different approach, it might have been a moment for the labor movement to flex very real muscles and work for legislative assistance and breaking down barriers to organizing the unorganized, just as the women’s movement reached in early apex and as assorted movements among people of color looked to advances within the mainstream. For that kind of enterprise, however, Meany had no stomach whatever.

Once in office, Carter offered symbols instead of substance: a modest assortment of anti-poverty pilot programs amid a generalized retreat from the Great Society promises. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall would be remembered not for his speeches saluting labor but because he was the last labor secretary who apparently believed the unions were necessary for working people. As so often, labor had rewarded its friends, gaining little in return. Meany soon let it be known that he was giving Carter a C- as president. Did he wish to see anyone else in the race for 1980? Yes, he shot back, Harry Truman. I wish he were here. To be fair, the old strike-breaking Give ‘Em Hell Harry could not likely have accelerated the growth of American weaponry any faster than Carter did after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He might have bombed Iran into oblivion, and he surely would have sounded tougher. That kind of rhetoric, joined perhaps with robust new liberal-led red-scare against peaceniks, feminists, and radicals at large, would surely have had more appeal to the frustrated, aging bully that Meany had become.

The AFL-CIO issued dire warnings before and after the crucial 1980 election. Union activists worked although with less enthusiasm than anxiety for Carter’s re-election. The aftermath of Reagan’s triumph (by a relatively small margin, it should be remembered, and due to the Iran crisis and the economy rather than any great public fondness for the former California Governor) quickly justified the forebodings. As the new president broke the air controllers’ strike and sent a message to the labor movement both Reagan’s rhetoric and policies proved brutal. The Republican administrations appointees to the National Labor Relations Board notoriously slanted against unions, moved quickly to remove restraints upon opposition to unionization and to all but encourage fresh efforts at decertification. Especially for people of color, disproportionately poor and barely-working class, the prospect of factory shutdowns and worsening health care with few resources was aggravated by their being depicted as the ungrateful recipients of various undue privileges and taxpayer largesse. Union membership fell for an assortment of other reasons as well, but heightened employer resistance stood near the head of the pack. And yet, if labor leaders distrusted or even despise Reagan’s allies, many experienced an unanticipated degree of self realization and hating Reagan’s enemies, those feminists, peaceniks, and assorted left-liberals to assistant to become radio host Rush Limbaugh’s favorite targets.

Besides, labor did have an elusive, thoroughly institutional fallback on the national political stage. In 1981, in the wake of Reagan’s victory, a hard-pressed Democratic National Committee granted the AFL-CIO 25 at-large seats and four out of 35 seats on its executive body. Within a diminished party suffering an early bout of Reaganism (and whose congressional delegation would indeed vote for so many of Reagan’s programs), the AFL-CIO became in return the largest single Democratic financial donor, supplying the DNC with more than a third of its annual budget. The defeat of a modest labor reform bill in Congress in 1978 showed that the conservative counteroffensive had begun in earnest with simultaneous Democratic president and Congress for the last time in at least a generation. Wall Street analysts warned that a new era of militant labor leadership might emerge a political defeat.

Instead, defeat bred timidity and an eagerness to shift foreign of rightward to recuperate the Reagan Democrats. As along with an increasingly unrealistic hope for a major change of labor laws, the specter of protectionism—which labor’s top leaders did not themselves particularly desire—offer the only popular fight-back issue imaginable. In the absence of a real internationalist program of protecting working people across borders, the new protectionism mainly added us mean-spiritedness to organized labor’s perennial self-concern. The downward spiral of labor’s claim to special protection within the liberal coalition thereby lead further and further to its isolation.

—Paul Buhle (1999), Taking Care of Business: Sam Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, pp. 195–198, 219–220.

Over My Shoulder #41: Paul Buhle on establishmentarian unionism, the decline of labor organizing, and the rise of Labor PAC. From Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor.

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. These are a couple of passages from the final chapters of Paul Buhle’s book, Taking Care of Business: Sam Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor. They have a lot to say on the logical end-point of establishmentarian unionism and how, within the tripartite planning system of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor—particularly after the corporate merger and consolidation known as the AFL-CIO—the top union bosses tacked further and further away from industrial organization towards political organization — in effect, ceasing to be workers’ unions, and instead operating as an enormously wealthy but crumbling and increasingly irrelevant sort of Labor PAC.

The departure of Reuther and the UAW from the AFL-CIO in 1964 not only meant no charismatic personality was left combat meaning but also no block of aggressive unionists to offer significant, concerted resistance to rightward-drifting union leadership and social policies. The executive committee functioned as a glorified rubberstamping agency rather than a representative body. Seen in retrospect, centralization of power was the inner logic of the subsequent institutional consolidation. Neither William Green nor Walter Reuther nor even Samuel Gompers, an expert autocratic manipulator in his day, wielded as much personal control is to Meany and his entourage. One traditional labor historian, admiring the advance of the bureaucracy, put it most politely: labor evidently no longer had any great need for services beyond negotiation and enforcement of existing contracts. Everything else could more safely and efficiently be handled better from above. In December 1977 at the last national convention where Meany played an active role, the only names offered in nomination for president and secretary were Meany and Lane Kirkland. Neither was resistance offered to any of the nominees for the thirty-three vice presidencies. A lone dissident of sorts who did manage to get onto the council, the socialistic machinists’ president, William Winpisinger, was widely regarded as window-dressing for the steady rightward drift. Carefully directing his political views toward the public sphere, Winpisinger restrained his personal criticisms of Meany, much as some socialist craft unionists of the 1910s insisted that Gompers was a symptom and not the cause of labor conservatism, better endured than combated. Meany responded by savaging Winpisinger’s favorite views without mentioning Winpisinger himself.

By the 1970s, Meany grew more candid—or perhaps merely more arrogant. He held his ground proudly against his internal enemies and gleefully watched the mass social movements of the 1960s fade away. Admittedly, he also saw power within the Democratic Party slipped further from his potential grasp and the AFL-CIO fall precipitously by any measurement of size and influence. Asked in 1972 why AFL-CIO membership was thinking as a percentage of the workforce, he responded, I don’t know, I don’t care. When a reporter pressed the issue, Would you prefer to have a larger proportion? Meany snapped, not necessarily. We’ve done quite well without it. Why should we worry about organizing groups of people who do not appear to want to be organized? If they prefer to have others speak for them and make the decisions which affect their lives… that is their right. Asked whether he expected labor’s influence to be reduced, he responded, I used to worry about the… size of the membership…. I stopped worrying because to me it doesn’t make any difference… The organized fellow is the fellow that counts. This is just human nature. Unorganized and lower-paid workers were less-than-irrelevant to Meany; they were unwanted.

Never particularly supportive of strikes except those protecting jurisdictions, Meany became steadily more hostile to walkouts as time went on. (He made one key exception urging political strikes by merit time workers against, of all things, we being loaded onto Russian ships.) In 1970, he observed, where you have a well-established industry and a well-established union, you are getting more and more to the point where strike doesn’t make sense. Rather than strikes and organizing, Meany put his eggs into the basket of electoral campaigns, legislative activity, and involvement in a panoply of government-management-labor commissions and agencies in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. In some circles these activities actually reinforce the myth of the powerful Meany, labor statesmen and public figure. They did demonstrably little for labor. And no amount of them could quite dispel the image of the narrow-minded unabashedly feminist-baiting and gay-baiting labor boss eating at four-star restaurants and puffing a high-priced class of cigars once restricted to capitalists and mobsters.

The AFL-CIO politicked actively for Jimmy Carter in 1976, after its leaders have expressed their real preference for Scoop Jackson. Ironically, the Georgia Democrat’s narrow margin of victory actually made the support of labor, the African-American community, and feminists, among others, the crucial margin between defeat in victory. Once more, given a different approach, it might have been a moment for the labor movement to flex very real muscles and work for legislative assistance and breaking down barriers to organizing the unorganized, just as the women’s movement reached in early apex and as assorted movements among people of color looked to advances within the mainstream. For that kind of enterprise, however, Meany had no stomach whatever.

Once in office, Carter offered symbols instead of substance: a modest assortment of anti-poverty pilot programs amid a generalized retreat from the Great Society promises. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall would be remembered not for his speeches saluting labor but because he was the last labor secretary who apparently believed the unions were necessary for working people. As so often, labor had rewarded its friends, gaining little in return. Meany soon let it be known that he was giving Carter a C- as president. Did he wish to see anyone else in the race for 1980? Yes, he shot back, Harry Truman. I wish he were here. To be fair, the old strike-breaking Give ‘Em Hell Harry could not likely have accelerated the growth of American weaponry any faster than Carter did after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He might have bombed Iran into oblivion, and he surely would have sounded tougher. That kind of rhetoric, joined perhaps with robust new liberal-led red-scare against peaceniks, feminists, and radicals at large, would surely have had more appeal to the frustrated, aging bully that Meany had become.

The AFL-CIO issued dire warnings before and after the crucial 1980 election. Union activists worked although with less enthusiasm than anxiety for Carter’s re-election. The aftermath of Reagan’s triumph (by a relatively small margin, it should be remembered, and due to the Iran crisis and the economy rather than any great public fondness for the former California Governor) quickly justified the forebodings. As the new president broke the air controllers’ strike and sent a message to the labor movement both Reagan’s rhetoric and policies proved brutal. The Republican administrations appointees to the National Labor Relations Board notoriously slanted against unions, moved quickly to remove restraints upon opposition to unionization and to all but encourage fresh efforts at decertification. Especially for people of color, disproportionately poor and barely-working class, the prospect of factory shutdowns and worsening health care with few resources was aggravated by their being depicted as the ungrateful recipients of various undue privileges and taxpayer largesse. Union membership fell for an assortment of other reasons as well, but heightened employer resistance stood near the head of the pack. And yet, if labor leaders distrusted or even despise Reagan’s allies, many experienced an unanticipated degree of self realization and hating Reagan’s enemies, those feminists, peaceniks, and assorted left-liberals to assistant to become radio host Rush Limbaugh’s favorite targets.

Besides, labor did have an elusive, thoroughly institutional fallback on the national political stage. In 1981, in the wake of Reagan’s victory, a hard-pressed Democratic National Committee granted the AFL-CIO 25 at-large seats and four out of 35 seats on its executive body. Within a diminished party suffering an early bout of Reaganism (and whose congressional delegation would indeed vote for so many of Reagan’s programs), the AFL-CIO became in return the largest single Democratic financial donor, supplying the DNC with more than a third of its annual budget. The defeat of a modest labor reform bill in Congress in 1978 showed that the conservative counteroffensive had begun in earnest with simultaneous Democratic president and Congress for the last time in at least a generation. Wall Street analysts warned that a new era of militant labor leadership might emerge a political defeat.

Instead, defeat bred timidity and an eagerness to shift foreign of rightward to recuperate the Reagan Democrats. As along with an increasingly unrealistic hope for a major change of labor laws, the specter of protectionism—which labor’s top leaders did not themselves particularly desire—offer the only popular fight-back issue imaginable. In the absence of a real internationalist program of protecting working people across borders, the new protectionism mainly added us mean-spiritedness to organized labor’s perennial self-concern. The downward spiral of labor’s claim to special protection within the liberal coalition thereby lead further and further to its isolation.

—Paul Buhle (1999), Taking Care of Business: Sam Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor, pp. 195–198, 219–220.