The Right Wing I: The Challenge of Ambition Without Pedigree, Composing, 15/09/2014

Most of what I write about on this blog is philosophy, particularly the research I’m doing for my Utopias book. However, I don’t actually do philosophy for my major source of income anymore, and it probably won’t ever constitute my major source of income for the rest of my life. At its worst, philosophy is a hobby. At its best, I’ll be a well-regarded independent contributor to the tradition. 

I doubt that most of my work will be well-regarded in the university system, where most people who self-identify as philosophers are still currently employed. This won’t be because of lack of quality. As you can probably tell from my posts, I’m not exactly slacking off on my primary and historical research. Indeed, one of the reasons I keep this blog is to slowly build an audience, at least a cult audience, and an online profile for my work. 

Some of my first teachers of philosophy were professors who
were born into the lower and middle classes, rungs of the
economic hierarchy that no longer have the same access to
success in university research, no longer able to support
oneself in an elite institution on scholarship funds alone.
But I know that most people who leave the university sector, especially those who left with regrets and long periods of underemployment, no longer want to contribute to the discipline they worked in. I understand their bitterness, even though I don’t share it. Most people who contribute to philosophy outside the university sector are regarded by university professors in the discipline as cranks, even if they manage a popular audience. Yet here’s an example of why I don’t think the university system is going to maintain a monopoly on the practice of the humanities disciplines much longer.

I was once snubbed by a prestigious guest speaker at my old department, when, despite having happily engaged in intellectual conversation with me during and after his talk, I honestly told him that I’d had trouble finding steady work after finishing my PhD. That man was Peter Ludlow, who I would discover only a few weeks later was a walking disgrace to the profession of university teacher and the discipline of philosophy.

The problem is decadence. Professors at the top of the heap can too easily phone in their work while taking advantage of their position for personal gain and pleasure. The insecurely employed professors at the contractual and adjunct levels are, meanwhile, too overworked and underpaid to achieve any worthwhile scholarship or creative contributions to the wider traditions. Ambitious work is discouraged in the culture of a corporatized university. It is the independents who, despite their unfortunate status among the entrenched scholars of the university system, are the only ones in the best place to take risks as thinkers and writers.

So, if you’ll let me indulge in a little pretension, just as Franz Kafka composed his literature after spending the day at his insurance firm and Wallace Stevens composed poetry walking to his office, the most creative philosophy of the next 100 years will likely come from independent practitioners networking through the internet across the world. 

With regard to my own particular work, I’m preparing to enter a field of political philosophy that I think I’ll need some help from my networks to get a true grip on. The right wing. To be continued. . . 

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