Category Archive 'Brian Leiter'

16 Mar 2011

Watch Out, America, Professor Leiter Is Starting to Get Angry

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Brian Leiter

Brian Leiter, the University of Chicago’s John P. Wilson Professor of Law and Director of its Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values, was so moved by recent events in Wisconsin that he predicted on his personal blog that the time is rapidly approaching when it will be necessary to contemplate terrorist violence.

[T]he Republican criminals in Wisconsin forced through their attack on workers’ rights. … 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. … [T]he attack [sic] on fundamental rights of collective bargaining, assuming they stand, are going to raise hard issues about civil disobedience and other forms of unlawful resistance on which philosophers might make a contribution. [emphasis added]


How quickly the lefty mind turns toward violence.

observes the divine Miss Althouse.


James Taranto, in the Wall Street Journal, was deservedly derisive about the intimidation value of the philosophical threat.

Having long viewed academia with a jaundiced eye, we’re inclined to view the Leiter post more with amusement than disgust. Just imagine if a Wisconsin businessman got a letter from a philosopher:

    Please be informed that I have recently completed an article arguing that acts of political violence are morally justified when businessmen fail to support the dedicated public employees who serve our communities. As soon as the peer-review process is complete, I expect it to be published in the prestigious journal Terrorism & Political Violence.

Really strikes fear into you, doesn’t it? Leiter seems more like a character from Monty Python than “On the Waterfront.”


Kenneth Anderson, at the Volokh Conspiracy, began contemplating whether or not the good professor’s Gedankendrohung (“thought threat”) should be humorously compared to an article from The Onion.

I humbly tug my academic forelock before Professor Leiter, whose greater brains and greater virtue I’ll cheerfully concede upfront. Still, the rapidity with which Professor Leiter reaches, however coyly or indirectly or teasingly or hintingly, to justifications, or thinking this suddenly would be a good moment for talking about justifications, for political violence did put me in mind of this news item from the Onion of several years ago.

    In Retrospect, I Guess We Might Have Resorted To Cannibalism A Bit Early

    I have no idea how long we’d been marooned when we started edging toward Jerry. Twenty, thirty minutes, time has little meaning when you’re in a situation like that. It wasn’t a spoken decision, either. We just all looked at each other and knew something had to be done. …

I feel somewhat the same about Professor Leiter’s call (purely in the philosophical abstract, you understand) to reconsider political violence — you know, this might be an appeal just a tad early in the saga of criminal and illegitimate and unjust oppression. I leave it to Professor Leiter to say definitively, but I wonder if Locke might not also agree.


Adam Freedman, at Ricochet, took Brian Leiter a bit more seriously.

[I]t is clear that Leiter thinks that Walker’s move to limit — not eliminate — collective bargaining rights for public employees is literally something that might justify, say, killing a bunch of Republicans. In an update to his blog, here’s how this philosopher-king explains his rationale:

“1. Collective bargaining is, per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a human right.

2. There are circumstances in which violations of human rights call for unlawful actions, including violence.”

And that’s it. Because the elected representatives of the People of Wisconsin want to pass a law that may conflict with some charter passed by a bunch of unelected UN windbags (but never enshrined in US law), Leiter wants blood.


On his return from the Very Important Conference on metaethics and legal philosophy which he had been attending, Professor Leiter rapidly retreated from the barricades, placing the bottle with a suspicious-looking rag at its mouth deep in his pocket, endeavored to look innocent, and explained in an update:

[I]t is quite natural for philosophers to ask (this is, after all, a blog aimed at philosophy teachers and students) whether the current circumstances–in which Wisconsin and other states are launching an attack on the human rights of organized workers–are ones in which unlawful resistance, violent or not, to the violation of human rights could be morally justified. Contrary to Professor Althouse’s invention of an answer, which she then attributes to me, I in fact do not know what the answer is to that question.

He also assured Mr. Freedman over at Ricochet.

I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin. … 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.

To which one can only respond:

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