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The Philosophy Scare

The Politics of Reason in the Early Cold War

John McCumber

The Philosophy Scare

John McCumber

224 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226396385 Published September 2016
E-book $45.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226396415 Published September 2016
From the rise of formalist novels that championed the heroism of the individual to the proliferation of abstract art as a counter to socialist realism, the years of the Cold War had a profound impact on American intellectual life. As John McCumber shows in this fascinating account, philosophy, too, was hit hard by the Red Scare. Detailing the immense political pressures that reshaped philosophy departments in midcentury America, he shows just how radically politics can alter the course of intellectual history.  
           
McCumber begins with the story of Max Otto, whose appointment to the UCLA Philosophy Department in 1947 was met with widespread protest charging him as an atheist. Drawing on Otto’s case, McCumber details the hugely successful conservative efforts that, by 1960, had all but banished the existentialist and pragmatist paradigms—not to mention Marxism—from philosophy departments all across the country, replacing them with an approach that valorized scientific objectivity and free markets and which downplayed the anti-theistic implications of modern thought. As he shows, while there have since been many instances of definitive and even explosive rejection of this conservative trend, its effects can still be seen at American universities today.
Review Quotes
Times Literary Supplement
“McCumber moves confidently from particular administrative facts to generalizations about the theoretical biases of professional philosophers."
 
Sandra Harding, University of California, Los Angeles
“McCumber’s analysis opens up space for long-overdue debates about the effects of the Cold War on US philosophic thought and intellectual life more generally. It illuminates the consequent struggles between analytic and continental philosophy as well as the still powerful failure of so many intellectuals to grasp the legitimacy and cognitive value of social justice philosophic issues. Focusing on the infamous administrative fearmongering and intrusive regulation in the UCLA Department of Philosophy’s hiring practices makes vivid the strategies used to institutionalize Cold War philosophy. This is a must-read for philosophers, historians, and university administrators.”
Robert C. Scharff, University of New Hampshire
The Philosophy Scare enlarges McCumber’s earlier treatment of an important but neglected story. His earlier Time in the Ditch rightly downplays the explicit theoretical flaws and scientistic intentions of midcentury American philosophy to show how its basic outlook formed a convenient response to Cold War politics but also survived to plague later philosophy. In The Philosophy Scare, McCumber identifies a broader ‘Cold War Philosophy’ that runs in the background of many disciplines, not just (albeit especially) philosophy, after World War II. He employs Kuhn and Foucault positively and Reichenbach negatively to show how American academies responded to anti-communist fearmongering by touting ‘objective science’ and ‘dispassionate’ rationality as the essential preferences of real educators. Armed with this pinched image of intellectual life, administrators projected a dissimulating portrait of the academy as respectful of politico-religious reactionaries and supportive of free market capitalism. I am especially impressed by McCumber’s extensive use of UCLA’s archives to demonstrate its key role in disseminating Cold War Philosophy by implementing the infamous, widely copied ‘California Plan’ for hiring new faculty and the pernicious ‘Allen Formula’ for rationalizing academic repression. He is right to worry that this story has not ended.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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