Monday, November 07, 2022

Nozick and Leftists

From this interview with Robert Nozick:

I had been at Harvard as an Assistant Professor in the mid-​sixties and then came back in 1969 as a Full Professor. That was immediately after the student uprisings, building takeovers, and so on, at Harvard the previous spring. When I arrived in the fall of 1969, there was a philosophy course listed in the catalog entitled “Capitalism.” And the course description was “a moral examination of capitalism.” Of course, for most students, then, it would be taken for granted that a moral examination would be a moral condemnation of capitalism. But that’s not what I intended. We were going to read critics of capitalism. But we were also planning to read defenses of capitalism, and I was going to construct some of my own in the lectures. Some of the graduate students in the philosophy department knew what ideas I held, and they weren’t very happy about a course being taught in the department defending those ideas. Now it was true that there was another course in the department on Marxism by someone who was then a member of the Maoist Progressive Labor Party and students did not object to that. But still some students objected to my giving a lecture course on capitalism. I remember early in the fall (I guess I was scheduled to give the course in the spring term), a graduate student came to me at a departmental reception we had, and said, “We don’t know if you’re going to be allowed to give this course.” I said “What do you mean, not allowed to give this course?” He said, “Well, we know what ideas you hold. We just don’t know whether you will be allowed to give the course.” And I said, “If you come and disrupt my course, I’m going to beat the shit out of you!” And the student was taken aback and said, “But you are taking all this very personally.” And I said, “What do you mean, personally? You are threatening to disrupt my course! you can do other things; you can stand outside the room and hand out leaflets. You can ask students not to register for my course. But if you come into my classroom while I am lecturing and disrupt the class, then I take that very personally.” In fact, at some point later in the term, this student and some others said they were going to make up leaflets and hand them out outside of my classroom. I said, “That’s fine; that would be really exciting.” Then they didn’t get around to doing it, and so I prodded them, “Where are the leaflets? I was counting on something special happening with the leaflets.” But it turned out that it was a lot of trouble to write up a leaflet, to get them run off on a mimeograph machine, and so they never got around to doing it. Thus I never had the privilege of being “leafleted” at Harvard. It seemed to me that sort of antagonism only lasted for a very short period of time and diminished fast. There was no longer any strong personal animosity after that. Maybe it was the general toning down of things in the country in the early 70’s, and I just benefited from the de-radicalization of the university.

More fun photos from this old post Forever Young :-) 

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