Professor Leiter Responds!

 

My post regarding U. Chicago Professor Brian Leiter, and his “philosophical” interest in political acts of violence has yielded a reply — from the good professor himself.   As you’ll see, Prof. Leiter has invited me to publish a “correction.”  I have declined that invitation, but I did send the professor an invitation to join Ricochet, with the promise that I would post his comments in full.   So here goes Professor Leiter’s response (and I will supply the first “comment” below)….

I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin, but I do think the attack on collective bargaining in Wisconsin is morally abhorrent.  I am not a pacifist (nor were the Founders, nor are those who supported the war in Iraq, and so on), but I think it is a hard moral and philosophical question when civil disobidence, violent or nonviolent, is morally justified.    The passions aroused by the events in Wisconsin make this general question more urgent for philosophers, and that was my point, since I write my blog for philosophy teachers and students.  The Vietnam War had a significant effect on the questions philosophers addressed, and I expect the attack on labor unions and collective bargaining rights, which is quickly becoming the issue of our time, is going to have a similar effect.   I expect most philosophers are likely to conclude, even if they think Wisconsin’s attack on collecting bargaining rights wrong, that violent civil disobedience would not be justified.

I trust you will print an appropriate correction, since inflammatory headlines work mischief, as I’m sure you know.

There are 44 comments.

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  1. Joseph Eagar Member

    Why do a lot of people whine about the “attack on collective bargaining,” but never give any alternatives? What else are we supposed to do, when, for example, teacher unions elect like-minded politicians to block any semblance of sane reform? How would you propose we make the public union model work?

    Simply shouting “no! privilege threatened! Privilege threatened!!! No!!!” is a bit pathetic from supporters of a labor movement. Why don’t they ever come up with ideas?

    • #1
    • March 16, 2011, at 2:09 AM PDT
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  2. Johannes Allert Inactive

    A college professor using the Vietnam war as part of is argument? He’s a clever one he is! Somewhere a college student is paying way too much for their education.

    Oh, and be sure to print his reply in full. You know how those conservatives like to leave things out. Liberals never ever do that sort of thing –can you say projection? Sure, I knew you could! I think this weasle who not-so-subtley urges for violence would be the first to drop his protest sign and run away at the first sign of danger.

    • #2
    • March 16, 2011, at 3:49 AM PDT
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  3. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman Post author

    Here’s what I emailed to Prof. Leiter:

    I stand by my post, including the headline. Of all people, I would think that a professor of law and philosophy should acknowledge that words have consequences. In a public post you have branded Wisconsin Republicans as “criminals” who are trampling on “human rights.” Accordingly, you say that their actions will raise “renewed interest” in political acts of violence and and that violations of human rights in some cases call for violence, and that the Wisconsin situation raises “hard questions” about when civil disobedience “and other forms of unlawful resistance” are justified. Now, professor, these are only “hard questions” if one assumes that political violence is within the range of acceptable responses to the Wisconsin situation. That is tantamount to a call for violence. If I took to the blogosphere and wrote that the prevalence of late-term abortions should raise renewed interest in whether it is justified to bomb abortion clinics, you would not salute me for raising a nifty philosophical question — rather you would criticize me for potentially encouraging would-be clinic bombers. And I make this assertion having reviewed the content on your blog related to abortion.

    • #3
    • March 16, 2011, at 6:53 AM PDT
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  4. Profile Photo Member

    At some point these acts of brazen viciousness are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke.

    I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin…

    Strictly speaking, you coy little weasel, you do not. But you do sound like someone who would welcome it. Gives you moral philosophers something to run your goddam heads about, don’t it?

    • #4
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:02 AM PDT
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  5. Liver Pate Inactive

    If Professor Leiter joins Ricochet, I’ll gladly pay out of my own pocket for Professor Ed Feser to join. Ricochet can sell popcorn.

    • #5
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:03 AM PDT
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  6. Sisyphus Member

    Professor Leiter should be aware that his writings are available on the web and “Why Tolerate Religion?” has garnered a lot of attention in these parts, if not a lot of admirers. His does not appear to share this gift for inculcating that he is so exercised over.

    • #6
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:11 AM PDT
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  7. Sisyphus Member

    Pseudodionysius: If Professor Leiter joins Ricochet, I’ll gladly pay out of my own pocket for Professor Ed Feser to join. Ricochet can sell popcorn. · Mar 15 at 7:03pm

    Now I have no acquaintance whatsoever with Professor Feser, but my mouth already waters in anticipation. I’ll throw in a month, if that will help him see his way by.

    • #7
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:15 AM PDT
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  8. flownover Inactive

    As a young Alvy Singer thought (in Annie Hall) about his uncle sticking nickels onto his forehead, what an ……!

    • #8
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:23 AM PDT
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  9. Kervinlee Member

    Wow. That response was an incoherent mess, with a couple of non-sequeters thrown in free. Vietnam? He might as well have said “(take your pick) had a significant effect, blah, blah philosophers blah blah.” So what?

    Labor unions and collective bargaining the issue of our time? This guy needs to get out more. (And learn what “rights” are, by the way.)

    Dennis Prager said, “some ideas are so dumb you have to go to college to believe them.” Just so.

    • #9
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:39 AM PDT
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  10. rosegarden sj dad Inactive

    Mr. Leitner’s power “But…” clauses notwithstanding, he says (kind of) that violence is not justified in Wisconsin, and we should take him at his word. He does does conditional, but at the end of the day words matter and he says no.

    • #10
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:43 AM PDT
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  11. Paul Stinchfield Member
    mesquito: At some point these acts of brazen viciousness are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke.

    I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin…

    Strictly speaking, you coy little weasel, you do not. But you do sound like someone who would welcome it. Gives you moral philosophers something to run your goddam heads about, don’t it?

    · Mar 15 at 7:02pm

    He doesn’t formally advocate violence, but he does insinuate it.

    He resembles the union thug who, getting in Andrew Breitbart’s face, loudly announced “I’m going to have to go to jail tonight if that guy doesn’t leave!” Breitbart’s response: That’s a first, passive-aggressive threats from a union bully.

    Weasel indeed. He’s an excellent illustration of the decay of academia.

    • #11
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:56 AM PDT
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  12. wilber forge Member

    Re, Labor unions and collective bargaining the issue of our time? This guy needs to get out more. (And learn what “rights” are, by the way.)

    Dennis Prager said, “some ideas are so dumb you have to go to college to believe them.” Just so.

    This Prof needs some exposure to the real world, as well as taking some responsibility for the outcomes of his dialog..Not likely…

    • #12
    • March 16, 2011, at 7:56 AM PDT
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  13. Paul Stinchfield Member

    Suppose somebody wrote “at some point Leiter’s vicious irresponsibility is going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified”.

    Would Leiter be so sanguine about that? Of course not, but it would be amusing to watch him explain why the cases were different.

    In the meantime, citizens will continue to “viciously” vote for candidates who push back against thievish and thuggish unions.

    • #13
    • March 16, 2011, at 8:03 AM PDT
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  14. dittoheadadt Inactive
    Paul Stinchfield: Suppose somebody wrote “at some point Leiter’s vicious irresponsibility is going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified”. · Mar 15 at 8:03pm

    I’d rather see someone write, “At some point Leiter’s vicious irresponsibility is going to lead to a renewed political interest in the question of when acts of philosophical violence are morally justified.” And then observe Leiter’s response.

    • #14
    • March 16, 2011, at 8:23 AM PDT
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  15. Profile Photo Member

    “Yes, your honor, I did poke the guy in his snoot. But it wasn’t, like, you know, assault. It was a philosophical exercise.”

    • #15
    • March 16, 2011, at 8:39 AM PDT
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  16. Profile Photo Member

    What I am most struck by is the dripping condescension in the tone of Prof. Leitner’s response. Your response on the other hand Adam was tough-minded, articulate and civil. I hope the professor recognizes the whupping he just received and thinks enough of his credential, standing, and professional reputation to step up his game and come on.

    • #16
    • March 16, 2011, at 8:43 AM PDT
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  17. Nickolas Inactive

    Challenging the legitimacy and moral righteousness of anything “collective” drives Lefties into a prone-to-violence frenzy.

    Lieter thinks this is perfectly understandable and quite rational behavior.

    • #17
    • March 16, 2011, at 8:56 AM PDT
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  18. Mark Woodworth Member

    I would push back at the very beginning: the claim of a right to collective bargaining. I guess if you say it over and over, people get used to it, but I don’t think anyone really believes in it.

    In any context other than trade unionism, collective bargaining goes by the names of collusion, price-fixing, restraint of trade, monopoly power, cartel, and rent-seeking. In many cases, it is not a right, but a crime.

    If I go to my competitors and work out an agreement that none of us will bid on a job for less than a certain amount, we are guilty of a crime (just ask certain past executives of ADM who spent two years in prison for fixing the price of lecithin). If I win the bid, and need to hire union electricians to do part of the work, why is their agreement not to work for less than a certain amount not also a crime?

    • #18
    • March 16, 2011, at 9:08 AM PDT
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  19. Charles Gordon Inactive

    Why Tolerate Religion? (Brian Leiter, University of Chicago Law School, Constitutional Commentary, Winter 2008).

    Last paragraph, first sentence (page 33): “How these theoretical conclusions about principled toleration should play out in the practical realm of legal regulation is a complicated question that I plan to address in a separate paper.”

    That’s what local AM radio talking heads say to tease an audience through the commercial break into the next segment.

    In answering his question “Why Tolerate Religion,” some references to Marx, and Marcuse, p. 9; Marxism, 20-21; Hegel 21; and Mao 22-24.

    With the suspicion that Freud must be lurking among these eminent Founding Fathers of the Left, sure enough—footnote, page 9: “See Brian Leiter, “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Recovering Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.”

    Didn’t Chicago Law once have a reputation of a good school? Or of being a “law school”?

    Quoting VDH: “loud abstractions can mask concrete incompetence. I suppose when my plumber starts lecturing me about the secular nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, I should assume he did not find the leak under the house.”

    Need a lawyer? Call the number on talk radio commercials—but make sure he’s not from Chicago.

    • #19
    • March 16, 2011, at 9:17 AM PDT
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  20. Mark Woodworth Member

    Maybe the legal scholars here can shed some light on this, but it may be that Professor Leiter is just laying out mainstream thinking.

    Does the 1973 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Enmons really mean (as it says in that august authority Wikipedia) that the union involved was immune from prosecution because their violent acts were in pursuit of a legitimate union objective?

    Is is really that case that unions are just so darn good, and good for you too, that anything they do, for a legitimate union objective, is also just peachy?

    • #20
    • March 16, 2011, at 9:35 AM PDT
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  21. Paul DeRocco Member

    As usual, the Left, as represented by this professor, is engaged in moral preening and nothing more. If he really found it so morally repugnant to deny collective bargaining rights to government workers, he’d have been surmising about the legitimacy of violence against many other states and the U.S. government a long time ago. But in fact most of the country lives quite happily without collective bargaining, and without even any unions.

    This reminds me of the student protests at, among other places, Brown University, in response to Arizona’s immigration status check law. They were obviously demonstrating in complete oblivion of the fact that Rhode Island had had a more stringent policy in effect for several years, as a result of an executive order of the Governor. It wasn’t until it suddenly became fashionable to protest Arizona, that people begain to come out and protest Arizona.

    It’s important not to take these people seriously. They’re morally childish. And I hope Brian Leiter is reading this.

    • #21
    • March 16, 2011, at 9:40 AM PDT
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  22. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman Post author

    The professor is having some technical difficulty activating the membership (technical difficulty is a non-partisan issue here at Ricochet). Here’s the first part of his reply (please see further posts):

    I think you correctly capture the crux of our dispute when you write,

    “Now, professor, these are only “hard questions” if one assumes that political violence is within the range of acceptable responses to the Wisconsin situation. That is tantamount to a call for violence.”

    This is a non-sequitur: most violations of human rights do not justify violence, but they do raise a question about what should be done to protect human rights—those are almost always hard questions. And that really was the topic for my philosophy readers, I kid you not! They are harmless, like me, but they do like to think about what is right and wrong. Since many philosophers, I am sure, share my view that the actions in Wisconsin constitute an attack on morally important rights of police, fireman, nurses, teachers, etc., I am certain this question has occurred to many.

    • #22
    • March 16, 2011, at 9:56 AM PDT
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  23. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman Post author

    Prof. Leiter, continued:

    You also observe:

    “If I took to the blogosphere and wrote that the prevalence of late-term abortions should raise renewed interest in whether it is justified to bomb abortion clinics, you would not salute me for raising a nifty philosophical question — rather you would criticize me for potentially encouraging would-be clinic bombers. And I make this assertion having reviewed the content on your blog related to abortion.”

    If you were a philosophy professor who wrote that, then, no, you are mistaken, I would not accuse you of any such thing. No one thinks philosophy blogs cause or bring about violence (or any actions, apart from philosophy professors e-mailing each other—I mean really!). If I thought my blog incited people, or could incite people, to violence or immoral conduct, I would be far more circumspect, but the truth is my readership isn’t that scary. Injustice—and I do believe there has been a gross injustice in Wisconsin—raises a range of philosophical questions, including whether civil disobedience of any kind is justified.

    • #23
    • March 16, 2011, at 9:57 AM PDT
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  24. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman Post author

    And here’s the final paragraph of Prof. Leiter’s response:

    And I should add, just to be clear, that I understand quite clearly why those who believe abortion is murder bomb abortion clinics: if they were correct, their conduct would, arguably, be justifiable. Their mistake, in my view, is in thinking abortion is murder. But philosophers have written a huge amount about that since Roe v. Wade in 1973, whereas the attack on the rights of unionized workers has not been addressed yet by philosophers.

    I appreciate the professor’s extensive reply but I must say I’m not persuaded. I’ll leave it to everyone to draw their own conclusions, but it seems to me that the main defense is that his comments were philosophical musings for an academic audience. But a blog is a public forum. My position is that if a professor (esp at a major university) makes a public statement suggesting that violence might be an appropriate response to legislative developments in Wisconsin that is more than just faculty lounge chatter. Over to you professor!

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:03 AM PDT
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  25. Xennady Inactive

    He’s giving philosophical cover to more people than he thinks.

    Yoonyun leeches aren’t the only people in this country capable of violent resistance to policies they don’t like, if push comes to shove.

    He should ponder that.

    [Ed.’s Note: This comment was redacted for violation of the CoC]

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:09 AM PDT
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  26. Nickolas Inactive

    If I thought my blog incited people, or could incite people, to violence or immoral conduct, I would be far more circumspect, but the truth is my readership isn’t that scary. Injustice—and I do believe there has been a gross injustice in Wisconsin—raises a range of philosophical questions, including whether civil disobedience of any kind is justified.

    So his defense against the possibility his column might provoke some to violence — even though he says violence in reaction to this gross injustice would be understandable, considering — is that his readers aren’t scary and prone to violence?

    Pretty lame. An attorney skilled at cross examination would love to get this guy on the stand. It might even happen and he’ll get his chance to “tell it to the judge.”

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:10 AM PDT
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  27. Charles Gordon Inactive
    Nickolas: Challenging the legitimacy and moral righteousness of anything “collective” drives Lefties into a prone-to-violence frenzy.

    Lieter thinks this is perfectly understandable and quite rational behavior. · Mar 16 at 8:56am

    Indeed. “Individual” freedom in opposition to the hegemony of the “collective” does set leftists into a frenzy.

    They always align with the use of power to subdue the individual.

    They spin in the whirlwind of modern collectivist theories, they so easily toss aside the history of individual worth leading to greater prosperity for all, because their worldview consists in toto of rationalizing the abuse of power.

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:21 AM PDT
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  28. Hegesias Inactive

    I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with the form of Leiter’s comments. We do, after all, have the Second Amendment to protect ourselves against tyranny–which contains an implicit validation of precisely Leiter’s question. What’s remarkable is that anyone could possibly think that the Wisconsin legislation even begins to approach anything resembling tyranny.

    But many do. I’ve been dumbfounded in conversations with very intelligent people over the last few weeks, as many really do feel this is a harbinger of a Kristallnacht against unions. Those Walker-as-Hitler signs weren’t just impolite. They were genuine expressions of what many believe. I enjoy a ton of lively debate being a conservative at a liberal Universiy, but I have never felt so much like my interlocutors were completely incomprehensible to me as on this issue. The idea that union members might just have an extra beer after work as they gripe about that mean ol’ governor and then elect someone else next go-round to do their bidding seem unimaginable to them, as though their humanity would melt away in the meantime.

    It’s quite bizarre.

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:28 AM PDT
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  29. Xennady Inactive

    Double post. Sorry.

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:31 AM PDT
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  30. KC Mulville Inactive

    The proper philosophical question is, more fundamentally, isn’t there any better way to conduct our politics than this?

    Look at what the professor contends. When you lose the political debate, but you really really really really (+9) care about the issue, then your passion somehow empowers you to ignore the bonds of the political system. Oh sure, if it’s about trivial issues, you’ll agree to abide by the law. But when it comes to important questions like rights, the professor contends that no one ever has to take No for an answer.

    A home run is a home run, unless you’re pitching, in which case there’s no such thing.

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    • March 16, 2011, at 10:42 AM PDT
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