How Not To Live A Double Life? The Ballad of Donald Kalish and Angela Davis.

By Robert Hanna

Angela Davis and Donald Kalish, circa 1969–1970 (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA)




How Not To Live A Double Life? Donald Kalish, Angela Davis, and Professional Academic Philosophy

I. Introduction

These studies follow in the footsteps of Bruce Kuklick’s classic 1977 Rise of American Philosophy,[ii] but with an edgier and, broadly speaking, Frankfurt-School-style philosophical sensibility, as per, for example, John McCumber’s 2000 Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era, and his 2016 The Philosophy Scare: The Politics of Reason in the Early Cold War.[iii]

Correspondingly, in this micro-study, I want to extend some of the themes of The Philosophy Scare by zeroing in on the professional academic philosophical careers of Donald Kalish and Angela Davis.

II. Stage-Setting

Donald Kalish (December 4, 1919 — June 8, 2000) was an American logician, educator, and anti-war activist.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Kalish earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and his doctorate in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. After teaching at Swarthmore College and at UC Berkeley, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles in 1949.

Kalish was perhaps best known for his outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam and later, his opposition to U.S. military involvement in Nicaragua and Grenada. As chairman of the Philosophy Department of UCLA, Kalish hired Marxist political activist Angela Davis, an act that drew considerable controversy at the time….

Kalish was a founder of the Concerned Faculty of UCLA. He served as a member of the University Committee on Vietnam, and as Vice-Chairman of Peace Action Council, Los Angeles. He is known for his leadership role with the Peace Action Council in a 1967 protest against President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policies at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, which brought out 10,000 people. He was also an organizer of the 1967 March on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War and his activities were prominently chronicled in Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968).

In 1967, Kalish signed a letter declaring his intention to refuse to pay taxes in protest against the U.S. war against Vietnam, and urging other people to also take this stand.

Kalish was an expert on logic, set theory and the history of both subjects. With Richard Montague, he developed an innovative and elegant method of doing formal logical proofs by natural deduction.

Kalish was a first-rate and devoted teacher, who taught with precision, compassion and enthusiasm. He was the proverbial “teacher’s teacher,” having the rare ability of being able to make even the most complex and arcane concepts readily comprehensible to his students. Most of his students loved his classes. In his logic and set theory classes, students did not see anything of his political opinions. He regularly gave his students his home phone number with the instruction that if they ever wanted to discuss an assignment, to call him anytime, day or night.[iv]


Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She is a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Ideologically a Marxist, Davis was a longtime member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and is a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). She is the author of over ten books on class, feminism, race, and the U.S. prison system.

Born to an African American family in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis studied French at Brandeis University and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt in West Germany. Studying under the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, a prominent figure in the Frankfurt School, Davis became increasingly engaged in far-left politics. Returning to the United States, she studied at the University of California, San Diego before moving to East Germany, where she completed a doctorate at the Humboldt University of Berlin. After returning to the United States, she joined the Communist Party and became involved in numerous causes, including the second-wave feminist movement, the Black Panther Party, and the campaign against the Vietnam War….

Beginning in 1969, Davis was an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Although both Princeton and Swarthmore had tried to recruit her, she opted for UCLA because of its urban location. At that time she was known as a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party USA, and an affiliate of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party.

In 1949, the University of California initiated a policy against hiring Communists. At their September 19, 1969, meeting, the Board of Regents fired Davis from her $10,000-a-year post because of her membership in the Communist Party, urged on by California Governor Ronald Reagan. Judge Jerry Pacht ruled the Regents could not fire Davis solely because of her affiliation with the Communist Party, and she resumed her post. The Regents fired Davis again on June 20, 1970, for the “inflammatory language” she had used in four different speeches. The report stated, “We deem particularly offensive such utterances as her statement that the regents ‘killed, brutalized (and) murdered’ the People’s Park demonstrators, and her repeated characterizations of the police as ‘pigs’.” The American Association of University Professors censured the Board for this action….

In 1970, guns belonging to Davis were used in an armed takeover of a courtroom in Marin County, California, in which four people were killed. Prosecuted for three capital felonies, including conspiracy to murder, and held in jail for over a year, she was acquitted of all charges in 1972. She visited Eastern Bloc countries in the 1970s and during the 1980s was twice the Communist Party’s candidate for Vice President; at this time, she also held the position of professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. Much of her work focused on the abolition of prisons and in 1997 she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison–industrial complex. In 1991, amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union, she helped start the CCDS, a platform initially operating inside the CPUSA seeking to reorient the party’s ideology away from orthodox communism. When the majority of party members voted against CCDS proposals, along with CCDS colleagues, she left the CPUSA. Also in 1991, she joined the Feminist Studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she became department director before retiring in 2008. Since then she has continued to write and remained active in movements such as Occupy and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.[v]

And for further stage-setting, I will also simply state my own opinion that what has passed for the most important works of professional academic philosophy of our era are, in fact, nothing but the works of what Axel Honneth — himself a contemporary Frankfurt-School neo-Marxist — aptly calls “normalized intellectuals,”[vi] who have compliantly adjusted and whittled down the powers and scope of their own intellects, emotions, and practical activity to the professional academic and political status quo, in (one or another, or both, of) two fundamental ways: first, by never critically challenging or resisting the liberal (and nowadays, neoliberal or neoconservative) democratic advanced capitalist political status quo outside the academy, and second, by always smoothly conforming their work to the politically correct multiculturalist philosophy inside what Richard Rorty, with his usual bang-on-target critical acumen, but uncharacteristically employing a misnomer, called “the unpatriotic academy.”[vii]

In other words, in my opinion, the most important professional academic philosophers of our era have absolutely failed to criticize and resist the highly mind-manacled and hegemonic political and professional ideologies and norms governing the coercive authoritarian social institutions that have so richly rewarded and supported them — rewarded them, that is, not so much in economic terms that compare well to those of truly rich people in the USA and elsewhere, aka the billionaires, but then at least in social status terms, that certainly compare very well to those of leading intellectual elites in the USA and elsewhere, aka the mandarins.

Hence these normalized professional academic philosophers are paradigm cases of what Jeff Schmidt, in fundamental elective affinity with Honneth’s and Rorty’s critiques, has called ideologically disciplined minds.[viii]

III. The Ballad of Don and Angela

In 1949 when Kalish (a recent Berkeley PhD, and a specialist in logic, who later co-authored and published the well-known 1964 text, Logic: Techniques of Formal Reasoning, with Richard Montague) was an untenured faculty member teaching in the UCLA Philosophy Department, he very bravely refused to sign the notorious California Oath, a statewide anti-communist loyalty oath.[ix]

But in 1950, the year he was tenured at UCLA, Kalish signed the “Allen Formula” faculty resolution and loyalty oath, which actually had wider scope than the earlier California Oath by refusing employment to “anyone who is disloyal or who will not live up to the University’s standards of impartial scholarship and teaching.”[x]

In other words, the resolution that Kalish signed in 1950 banned not only communists from the University, but also banned anyone else deemed disloyal for any other reason, and if that weren’t enough, the University could also use as a “justification” for dismissal or exclusion that such people were not living up to the University’s (presumably high) standards of impartial research and teaching, i.e., they could summarily fire or exclude anyone for holding or disseminating beliefs or opinions deemed biased or partisan (i.e., dangerous) by the University administration.

Then 15 years went by.

According to Kalish’s New York Times obituary in 2000:[xi]

“For 18 years [i.e., from 1947 to 1965], I was an ivory-towered academic,’ he told the Christian Science Monitor in 1969.

“Sure, I was a liberal Democrat. I backed Stevenson and even Johnson against Goldwater.

“But in 1965, my intense feelings about the Vietnam War pushed me toward issue politics.”

Dr. Kalish also publicized the idea of reducing one’s income tax payment by 25 percent — the share he calculated that was being used to support the military effort.

As vice chairman of the Peace Action Council, Dr. Kalish helped organize a tremendous demonstration in front of the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on June 23, 1967.

About 80 antiwar groups mustered almost 10,000 protesters to gather outside the hotel while President Lyndon B. Johnson was speaking there.[xii]

Then in the late 1960s — as per the image at the top of this essay, Kalish hired and publicly defended and supported Angela Davis — a young Frankfurt School neo-Marxist, Black power advocate, and radical feminist.

Granted, Kalish taught logic, not ethics or political philosophy; and yet, reportedly, throughout his career he never mentioned his political beliefs in class.

Moreover, and according to my search of the PhilPapers archives, he published nothing except the co-authored book with Montague; so presumably, as a philosopher (although not as a logic teacher, at which he excelled), Kalish was basically just punching the professional academic clock for 33 years, from 1964–1997, when he retired.

So, to summarize.

First, Kalish was (i) non-compliant with and actively resistant to the McCathyite/HUAC forces in 1949 as an untenured professional academic, but (ii) compliant and normalized in 1950, just as he was being tenured.

And then second, 15 years later, Kalish was a highly progressive political activist in the mid- to late-1960s — not only, as Chair of the UCLA Philosophy Department, hiring and publicly supporting someone, Angela Davis, who clearly fell under both the disloyalty and non-impartiality disjuncts of the faculty resolution that he himself had signed in 1950, and, presumably, was actually used to fire Davis in 1969 and again in 1970, but also, outside the University, starting as early as 1965 — and yet, reportedly, for 33 years, Kalish never mentioned his political beliefs in class.

That is amazingly inconsistent life-conduct for someone who spend virtually his entire adult life as a professional logician.

So I conclude that this is all very strange, and also that Kalish’s adult life is a paradigm example of what I have called the double life problem:

How is it humanly possible, whether psychologically, prudentially, or existentially, to be at once a [critical activist] philosopher AND ALSO a professional academic philosopher, and still survive?[xiii]

In my opinion, it is only by — in Existentialist terminology — becoming an essentially inauthentic person, and as a consequence experiencing long-term cognitive, emotional, and practical dissonance, and thereby risking serious mental health issues, that such a double life can be survived and sustained.

The other obvious possible way of dealing with this problem is careerist hypocrisy, but in my opinion, this simply cannot have applied in Kalish’s case.

And now, what about Angela Davis?

She was a famously and indeed notoriously critically- and independently-minded, outspoken, and brave neo-Marxist, Black power, and radical feminist activist political philosopher in the 1960s and early 70s, and as a consequence was fired by UCLA and banned/blacklisted from the professional academy during the 70s, then later imprisoned for two years and finally released, and continued her radical activist political work through the 1980s.

But also, during the 1980s, she returned to the professional academy as a professor of ethnic studies at San Franciso State; and by 1991 she had switched over permanently to feminist studies with another professorship at UC Santa Cruz, where she has remained for 29 years, as an exceptionally productive scholar and writer, and is now a professor emerita. In other words, she evolved from neo-Marxism and Black power radicalism in the 1960s, to professional academic multiculturalist philosophy in the 1980s and 90s, right up to the present day, although she has never held a position in a philosophy department.

Indeed, I am sure that she would have hated being in a professional academic philosophy department with a passion, especially in the context of post-classical Analytic philosophy[xiv] as it was and is practiced at UCLA in the 1970s and beyond, by Kalish and his colleagues and their successors, right up to 6am this morning.

What is exceptionally striking and even mind-blowing to me, however, is how anyone so intellectually and morally courageous, so rigorously critical as a thinker, and so independent-minded, as Davis, could have ever allowed herself to become subject to the hegemonic ideological discipline of the professional academy under the multiculturalist rubric, and, for almost thirty years, put up with all the normalized professional academic bullshit and conformity that this entails?

So again I conclude, that this is all very strange, and that Davis’s adult life is another perfect example of the double life problem, which in an exceptionally ironic and mirror-reversed way, parallels Kalish’s double life problem.

Moreover, in a way that is also exceptionally ironically and enantiomorphically analogous to Kalish’s case, the other obvious possibility is careerist hypocrisy; but in my opinion, this simply cannot apply in Davis’s case either.

IV. Conclusion

And aren’t all philosophers supposed to be like this?

There are, of course, the careerist hypocrites.

But, leaving them aside, then every other professional academic philosopher, for their own good, and in order to flourish as a person, needs to face up to this problem.

Your options clearly and distinctly are: either (i) to exit the professional academy before it’s too late, and change your life for the better, or (ii) to experience essential inauthenticity as a person, in the form of long-term cognitive, emotional, and practical dissonance, and the risk of serious mental health issues.

So, which is it to be?[xv]


[ii] B. Kuklick, The Rise of American Philosophy (New Haven CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1977).

[iii] J. McCumber, Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era (Evanston IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 2001); and J. McCumber, The Philosophy Scare: The Politics of Reason in the Early Cold War (Chicago IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2016).

[iv] Wikipedia, “Donald Kalish” (2020), available online at URL = <>.

[v] Wikipedia, “Angela Davis” (2020), available online at URL = <>.

[vi] A. Honneth, Pathologies of Reason: On the Legacy of Critical Theory, trans. J. Ingram et al. (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2009), appendix: “Idiosyncrasy As a Tool of Knowledge: Social Criticism in the Age of the Normalized Intellectual,” pp. 179–192.

[vii] R. Rorty, “The Unpatriotic Academy,” New York Times (13 February 1994), available online at URL = <>.

[viii] J. Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).

[ix] See, e.g., M. Davis and J. Wiener, Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties (London: Verso, 2020), pp. 472–473.

[x] McCumber, The Philosophy Scare, pp. 152–153.

[xi] New York Times staff, “Donald Kalish, 80, a Vietnam-Era Protest Leader,” New York TImes (18 June 2000), available online at URL = <>.

[xii] See Davis and Wiener, Set the Night on Fire, pp. 306–308, and ch. 18 more generally. The march turned into what Davis and Wiener accurately call “The Century City Police Riot,” and was a catastrophe. This must have also been a personal tragedy for Kalish, who, as a co-organizer of the march, altogether failed to anticipate the very real possibility of police brutality.

[xiii] See R. Hanna, “Consequences of Consequences: Against Professional Philosophy, Anarcho- or Borderless Philosophy, and Rorty’s Role,” Borderless Philosophy 3 (2020): 39–84, at p. 50, available online HERE; and R. Hanna, “How to Philosophize with a Hammer and a Blue Guitar: Quietism, Activism, and The Mind-Body Politic,” Borderless Philosophy 3 (2020): 85–122, available online HERE.

[xiv] See R. Hanna, THE FATE OF ANALYSIS: Analytic Philosophy From Frege To The Ash-Heap of History (2020 version), available online HERE.

[xv] I’m grateful to the members of The London Calling Back group for extremely helpful conversations on or around the topics of this essay.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 6 October 2020

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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