Hilary Putnam: A Follower of Chairman Mao – When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics – NevenSesardic
Argomenti trattati: per 4 anni HP aderì senza riserve ad un partito maoista duro e puro. Ma cosa passava nella testa dell’insigne e rigoroso filosofo? A cosa si deve un’impazzimento del genere? – predicare l’evidenza per poi aderire a culti esoterici – puo’ esistere un maoista intelligente? – ancora oggi duro di comprendonio – la svolta… albanese – quell’insana voglia di far fuori i colleghi dissenzienti –
Hilary Putnam was indisputably a central figure in contemporary philosophy. When he died in March 2016 the New York Times published an obituary calling him “a giant of modern philosophy.”
A Lover of Wisdom Joins a Cult
From 1968 to 1972, while he was in his forties, Putnam was a member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), which the historian Ronald Radosh called “a Marxist-Leninist sect that made the Communist Party look like a group of tame reformists” (2001, 12).
One indication of the intensity of Putnam’s activism is that he himself said that during that phase he was “never able to function as a philosopher” (quoted in Borradori 1994, 56).
Note: UN IMPEGNO REALE ED INTENSO
a highly intelligent1, accomplished philosopher and exceptionally clear and rigorous thinker with some knowledge of politics—joining a party that glorifies Maoism? And staying in that party four years? In the middle of the Cultural Revolution? Something is very wrong here.
Note:PUÒ ESISTERE UN MAOISTA INTELLIGENTE?
Could it be that Putnam somehow failed to be informed about what was going on in China at the time? This is extremely unlikely. The reports about the terrible events there could have been missed only by someone who had been living on another planet
Inside the Chinese Utopia
How much did Putnam know about the situation in China? Surely he must have at least been following the New York Times, which on January 2, 1970, published a long article headlined “The Making of a Red Guard.”
Note:ESEMPIO DI INFO DISPONIBILE
Well, I did know about the Gulags. That is why I joined a group that supported no existing state.
Note:LA GIUSTIFICAZIONE NELLE PAROLE DEL FILOSOFO
This explanation will not do. If Putnam’s former party was Maoist, isn’t it clear that, contrary to what he says, it did support the political system and ideology of “an existing state,” namely China?
Note:RISPOSTA POCO SODDISFACENTE
Contrast this high praise of the PLP with Putnam’s strident condemnation of American mainstream politics over the years.
Note:DURI CON L’AMERICA, INDULGENTI CON LA CINA
In one interview Putnam comments very briefly on his involvement with the PLP: “I was connected with a Maoist group. I am no longer a Maoist” (Borradori 1994, 59)…. One would have expected here a follow-up question from the interviewer, because Putnam’s terse remark screams out for further explanation… But there was no curiosity about this…. But there was no curiosity about this…. Would university professors have reacted with similar indifference and mild amusement if, in the sixties, a leading Harvard scholar had praised, say, the authoritarian regime in Spain and campaigned passionately to introduce Franco’s political system in the United States?…
Here is what he said in an interview many years after he abandoned his attempts to bring the Chinese Communist utopia to America: “Then we had two very atheist dictators, called Stalin and Hitler, who between them killed even more people than anyone had killed in the name of the sacred” (Borradori 1994, 65). How can one talk about murderous atheist dictators without mentioning Mao?
Note: ANCHE DOPO DURO DI COMPRENDONIO
At one point Putnam’s party experienced a huge disappointment with the Chinese “road to socialism” and then took the Albanian turn
Note:COLPO DI SCENA: LA SVOLTA ALBANESE
In a 1972 talk at Princeton he first gratuitously labeled the psychologist Richard Herrnstein as “racist” (see p. 166, footnote 2, for the explanation of why this accusation was wrong) and then publicly urged that Herrnstein be fired from the university (see the Daily Princetonian, March 13, 1972).
Note:IL VIZIETTO DEL CHARACTER ASSASSINATION
The fact that Putnam’s intolerance for different opinions sometimes went so far that he was willing to denounce other scholars in a way that trampled basic principles of academic freedom shows that, after all, joining a Maoist party may have been an excellent fit for someone with his views on politics and scholarship.