This evening I visited some Alt-Right blogs in preparation for a paper I plan to work on over the Break. Much of the ideology put forth in the articles was what I expected—critiques of multiculturalism as leading to an anything-goes society, rejections of integration for the safety of the West, and affirmations of privileging one’s own race or sex in the name of self-interest. I found what I needed for my article, but in the process uncovered something that I was not expecting. While many of the authors quoted from expected sources (there were multiple mentions made about Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Nigel Farage), several authors engaged the Western philosophical tradition through references to Hegel, Nietzsche, Said, Žižek, and others.
Reading through the articles, I noted that while the philosophers’ ideas are summarized moderately well, there are significant qualifications that each philosopher gives to their ideas being left out. To take an example, one of the articles correctly picks up on Nietzsche’s dislike of modernity, and preference for pre-Socratic thought, but fails to mention what about Platonic thought and modernity so despised Nietzsche (some ideologies are mentioned, along with the characteristics that Nietzsche disliked, but never Nietzsche’s central concern). As a result, the brief suggestions the author makes for improving society (a limited return to tribalism, elitism, and tradition) neglect one of Nietzsche’s core principles: that what is needed for the future is a new way of philosophizing, not a return to ways of the past.
The whole experience left me wondering about the dangers of misusing philosophical ideas. When we ignore the context of an argument, and focus solely on the parts we agree with, we do a disservice to our readers and open the way for distrust. In order to underscore this danger, I thought I would highlight articles that attempt to address misuses of philosophical ideas.
- Nicole Gerrand, “The Misuse of Kant in the Debate about a Market for Human Body Parts,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, April 1999.
- Jonathan Turner, “The Misuse and Use of Metatheory,” Sociological Forum, March 1990.
- Naomi Hodgson and Paul Standish, “Uses and misuses of poststructuralism in educational research,” International Journal of Research & Method in Education, November 2009.
- Leon Pearl, “The Misuse of Anselm’s Formula for God’s Perfection,” Religious Studies, September-December 1986.
- Michael C. Milam, “The Misuse of Nietzsche in Literary Theory,” Philosophy and Literature, October 1992.
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