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Should an editor’s politics matter for where you place your scholarly work?

I recently faced this question. Conservative philosopher, Ph.D. invited me to write on Brightman’s personalistic idealism. I was to write up one of those chapters that summarizes the legacy of Brightman’s work similar to an Oxford Handbook on such-and-such. To my dismay, Conservative Philosopher shared a news article praising Trump’s recent presidential order. Trump’s order denied systemic racism existed and would not approve any federal contracting businesses that held race training sessions nor would approve of any grants that assumed systemic racism as a premise of the grant. On Conservative Philosopher’s Facebook Wall, I was both mocked and laughed at. That’s not what bothered me.

I faced a dilemma: Either I should publish something about Brightman in this anthology or I should not. The reason why Brightman’s thought is accorded status and why I think it ultimately valuable rests on two facts. First, Brightman’s moral law system enshrined that the absolute dignity of another is central to what it means to hold a religious ethics. Next, Martin Luther King, Jr. chose Brightman, I think, for this very reason to be his mentor in graduate study. Unfortunately, Brightman died about two years into King’s attendance at Boston University, and yet King still persisted in identifying himself as a personalist finishing his dissertation with L. Harold DeWolf, Brightman’s student. As I am want to do for the same reason that both King and Brightman are valuable, I in good conscience could not work with and for someone who denies that systemic and structural racism persist in the United States. I withdrew my chapter. I spoke of how troubling I found it to be.

Moreover, like postmodernism, critical race theory became a bogeyman for many on the Right that this Presidential order somehow shed light on. When I confronted that nobody in that thread had read or taken up the work of many thinkers in that tradition, but that they did not offer any specific attack or thesis of Leonard Harris, Tommy Curry, and Charles Mills to simply name a few off the top of my head, I only got back silence. In effect, they are attacking the philosophical tenability of a position they have not read about nor at least won’t communicate anything about it if they had. While more than likely the former, I still think that we should not impugn philosophical views we have not adequately explained nor understood. A proper exposition gives one a right to say something about it. Clearly, this was not the case here.

With all things being equal, my chapter on Brightman would not have highlighted any disagreement with this person about contemporary matters. Racism would never been brought up, and when cornered on that thread, my withdrawing from contributing was interpreted as I was the one who was retreating from engaging others who I disagree politically. I can only conclude, however, that where I place my scholarship must follow the values of dignity I find in Brightman and King’s work. In a sense, I am not retreating from the importance of teaching these authors nor doing scholarship about them, I am simply not publishing a chapter about them in a book with someone whose values will not benefit someone who is clear denial of history and the structural racism that personalist frameworks have highlighted. I think this decision is the right one.

By J. Edward Hackett

Philosophy is a tool for exploration and philosophical texts are always meant to disrupt and disturb one into Socratic tension.

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