Thinking For A Living: A Philosopher’s Notebook 3— Kant, universities, The Deep(er) State, and philosophy.

By Robert Hanna

“Diogenes Sheltering in His Barrel,” by John William Waterhouse

48. Kant, universities, The Deep(er) State, and philosophy. In “What is Enlightenment?,” Kant says that

I have put the main point of enlightenment, of people’s emergence from their self-incurred immaturity, chiefly in matters of religion because our rulers have no interest in playing guardian over their subjects with respect to the arts and sciences. (WiE 8: 41)

Even at the end of the 18th century, this was complete bullshit, as Kant at least implicitly knew.

Of course, it’s true that at the end of the 18th century, in the age of the “enlightened despots” like Frederick the Great, religion retained its hegemonic control over public thinking and everyday life — but this was only by virtue of the State.

By the State I mean any social organization that possesses a territorial monopoly on the means and use of coercive power (as per Weber), and that issues commands and compels its subjects to heed and obey those commands regardless of the moral content of those commands merely by virtue of its control of coercive power.

So in fact, even at the end of the 18th century, it’s the State that lies behind people’s “self-incurred immaturity” and their desperate need for (radical) enlightenment, not religion per se.

Substitute “21st century big science” for “religion,” and the result is functionally the same.

Back then, just as now, States, their governments, and big capitalism have a fundamental interest in ideological control and indeed hegemony, especially “with respect to the arts and sciences.”

49. Kant begins his Conflict of the Faculties, “First Part: The Conflict of the Philosophy Faculty With the Theology Faculty,” with a brief but surprisingly sociological description of the very idea of a university:

Whoever it was that first hit on the notion of a university and proposed that a public institution of this kind be established, [recognized that] it was not a bad idea to handle the entire content of learning (really, the thinkers devoted to it) by mass production, so to speak — by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee, and all of these together would form a kind of learned community called a university…. The university would have a certain [kind of] autonomy (since only scholars can pass judgment on other scholars) and accordingly it would be authorized to perform certain functions through its faculties to admit to the university students seeking entrance from the lower schools and, having conducted examinations, by its own authority to grant degrees or confer the universally recognized status of “doctor” on … teachers who are not members of the university… — in other words, to create doctors.[1]

Notice that the “certain [kind of] autonomy” of the university, in this context, has nothing to do with intellectual or moral autonomy (that is, free thinking or free agency), but instead consists entirely in the quality-control exerted by some scholars over other scholars and their scholarly work, by means of the former’s judgments about the latter.

In this way, some scholars play the role of bosses or managers over other scholars, hence the “certain [kind of] autonomy” of the university is wholly a proprietary control over its production and products.

50. More generally, what’s really going on here?

By the late 18th century, universities were already, in effect, intellectual mirrors of big capitalism.

As Kant explicitly points out, universities were established as special factories for mass-producing goods, including ideas, information, and knowledge (disseminated as lectures, books, essays, reports, etc.) and people-with-degrees (“doctors”), and supplying services (teaching and training students for specialized jobs outside the university, as well as inside the university — professors or researchers, aka scholars, administrators, etc.), all for fees, where the division of labor sorts itself into faculties.

— And nowadays, also sub-sorted into departments, programs, etc., etc.

So universities not only mirror the big capitalist system of money/property accumulation, producing goods, and supplying services, they also directly supply that system.

51. But big capitalism is really possible only by means of States, which supply the territorial monopoly on the means and use of coercive power that is needed to keep the big capitalist accumulation of property/money, and its control over the production of goods and provision of services, intact and safe from invaders, thieves, and pirates, and rolling ever forward.

Hence by the end of the 18th century, universities were the intellectual arm of the big capitalist system and its coercive matrix, the State.

52. In turn professional academic philosophy, which, according to Kant, is the highest of “the higher faculties” of the university, is supposed to be the controller of that intellectual arm, by virtue of its (supposed) intellectually autonomous power of judgment:

Now the power to judge autonomously — that is, freely (according to principles of thought in general) — is called reason. So the philosophy faculty, because it must answer for the truth of the teachings it is to adopt or even allow, must be conceived as free and subject only to laws given by reason, not by the government. But a department of this kind, too, must be established at a university.; in other words, a university must have a faculty of philosophy. Its function in relation to the three higher faculties [of theology, law, and medicine] is to control them and, in this way, be useful to them, since truth (the essential and first condition of learning in general) is the main thing, whereas the utility the higher faculties promise the government is of secondary importance.[2]

But in fact, as Kant himself points out in “What is Enlightenment,” since the social purpose of professional academic philosophy, via the so-called public (that is, non-instrumental, intellectually autonomous) use of reason, is only to “argue as much as you will and about whatever you will, but obey!” (WiE, 8: 37 — as per Frederick the Great), whereas in the so-called private (that is, instrumental, official-functionary) use of reason, it is to obey even without arguing (WiE 8: 37), then professional academic philosophy is at best the obedient yet endlessly disputatious pseudo-controller of the intellectual arm of big capitalism and its coercive matrix, the State.

53. Notice especially, moreover, that neither the “public” nor the “private” use of reason by professional academic philosophers is morally autonomous, even aspirationally.

For in the context of the State, the morally autonomous use of reason by professional academic philosophers would be dangerous.

For example, if professional academic philosophers, like other official functionaries,

should want to put before the public their objections and doubts about ecclesiastical and civil laws that have been given, they would be inciting the people to rebellion against the government.[3]

As a consequence, professional academic philosophers, as members of the highest of the higher faculties of the university, must instead

put their objections and doubts only to one another, as scholars, and the people [will] pay no attention to such matters in a practical way, even if they should hear of them; for, agreeing that these subtleties are not their affair, they feel obliged to be content with what the government officials, appointed for this purpose, announce to them.[4]

In other words, professional academic philosophers must argue endlessly amongst themselves, and publish more-and-more about less-and-less, so that ordinary people will take no interest whatsoever in what they are blathering about — and then, ultimately, obey the government too.

And so it went at universities and in philosophy departments or faculties, through the 19th century. (More on that, shortly.)

54. Things seemed to change sharply, at least in Anglo-American philosophy departments or faculties, in the early 20th century, with the revolutionary emergence of Analytic philosophy.[5]

But by the mid-20th century, however, Anglo-American (and many other European and non-European) universities had become the intellectual arm of what Eisenhower called “the military-industrial [that is, big capitalist] complex,” aka “The Deep State,” that runs the State at one remove, by power-controlling and media-controlling the government.

And by the early 21st century, with its radically expanded opportunities for constant, 24–7 thought-control and surveillance via CCTV, smart phones, TV, online news, online journalism, books, movies, and other forms of digital media, it’s now a military-industrial-digital complex that runs the State, hence The Deep(er) State, at one remove, by digitally power-controlling its government.

So nowadays, utterly pervaded by digital media like everyone else in contemporary big capitalist neoliberal democratic States, universities have become the intellectual arm of the military-industrial-digital complex, The Deep(er) State.

And professional academic philosophy — mostly mainstream Analytic philosophy but also its dialectical professional opposite and nemesis-in-blather, the more recent and increasingly influentual identitarian, coercive moralist, multiculturalist philosophy — just keeps going and going and going, like an intellectual Energizer Bunny, as its obedient yet endlessly disputatious pseudo-controller.

55. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that neither the people-with-degrees produced by the university system — its “bachelors,” its “masters,” and its “doctors” — nor its specialized laborers, the university-insiders, or at least 99% of them, would ever be seriously critical of the big-capitalist and State system itself, including its intellectual arm, the university, challenge any of them, or rebel against any of them.

And this is above all true of contemporary professional academic philosophy, the intellectual Energizer Bunny of the contemporary university, the obedient yet endlessly disputatious pseudo-controller of The Deep(er) State’s intellectual arm.

56. Correspondingly, and by negation, then, it’s no accident that in the early-to-mid 19th century the Young Hegelians — especially including Marx — and the early socialist and social anarchist intelligentsia, like Engels, and above all the later Marxist communist intelligentsia, were virtually all unemployed academics or otherwise failed academics.

As it happened, however, they didn’t ever seriously criticize, challenge, or rebel against the universities — that was left to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.[6]

Instead, the Young Hegelians, Marx, the early socialist and anarchist intelligentsia, and the later Marxist communist intelligentsia all ignored the universities and radically criticized and rebelled against religion, big capitalism, and Statism.

But in any case, it remains true that whenever universities fail to absorb and/or protect their own, then they’re very likely to generate a class of highly intelligent and highly trained, but alienated and exiled, unemployed or underemployed, angry dissenters — radical critics of society and rebels against it.

57. Later however, by the mid-20th century, after World War II, especially in North America, flush as it was with private and public funding that wasn’t already being spent directly on Cold War military build-up, universities became very efficient at hiring, retaining, and pacifying their own university-insider people-products, their own university personnel, thereby reducing social dissent by them almost to zero again.

Nevertheless the contemporary situation of universities worldwide, in the second decade of the 21st century, significantly resembles that of German universities in the 1830s and 40s.

They’re neither absorbing (by hiring) nor protecting (by means of tenure, which as it also turns out, doesn’t actually protect professional academic freedom of expression even despite its official verbiage to the contrary) all or even most of their own, and indeed alienating, exiling, and/or expelling some of their most talented and free-thinking personnel, turning them, willy-nilly, into intellectual nomads and renegades.

Therefore, we might reasonably expect these intellectual nomads and renegades to become radical critics and rebels of contemporary society at every level — targetting not only big capitalism and the State, but also the professional academy itself, as the intellectual arm of The Deep(er) State, and also its obedient yet endlessly disputatious pseudo-controller, its intellectual Energizer Bunny, professional academic philosophy.

As a consequence, we might also reasonably expect that a class of specifically philosophical nomads and renegades would also arise.

58. Indeed, there is even some logical space in Kant’s sociology-of-the-university for them.

In his original sketch of the university and its “incorporated (zunftigen) scholars,” Kant also explicitly describes a special class of intellectuals he calls

unincorporated (zunftfrei) scholars, who do not belong to the university but simply work on part of the great content of learning, either forming independent organizations, like various workshops … or living, so to speak, in a state of nature so far as learning is concerned, each working by himself as an amateur and without public precepts or rules, at extending [his field of] learning.[7]

The incorporated scholars, the professional academics, especially including professional academic philosophers, all work within the framework of “public precepts or rules” and can argue as much as they like and about whatever they like, provided that they ultimately obey.

Their so-called intellectual autonomy, their so-called “public use of reason,” is at best obedient yet endlessly disputatious blather, falling infinitely short of moral autonomy.

But unincorporated scholars, aka independent scholars, aka anarcho-scholars, especially including unincorporated, independent, anarcho-philosophers, are intellectual and philosophical nomads and renegades who exist

in a state of nature, so far as learning is concerned, each working by himself as an amateur and without public precepts or rules.

Hence the unincorporated, independent, anarcho-philosophers are the only philosophers who really can, even if only aspirationally, be authentically intellectually and morally autonomous.

59. The significant challenges of being a contemporary intellectual nomad and renegade, and in particular of being a contemporary philosophical nomad and renegade in big capitalist neoliberal democratic States, whose governments are controlled by the military-industrial-digital complex, aka The Deep(er) State, of course, are these:

due to their extra-university status, they will have no jobwork that is inherently related to their lifework, hence no source of jobwork income for their lifework, and, due to overt or covert blacklisting and/or censorship, they will have little or no access to mainstream venues of dissemination and publication.

Their only hope for physical, intellectual, and moral survival is to rely on the generosity of a few patrons, and to create their own samizdat-style vehicles of philosophical dissemination and publication.

So they will simply have to go on like intellectual versions of Beatrix Potter’s happy-go-lucky, pastoral Flopsy Bunnies, who were “very improvident and cheerful” — the very antithesis of the relentless, mechanized Energizer Bunny.

I ironically mean, that contemporary philosophical nomads and renegades will simply have to tough it out.

60. Well — if it be so, then so be it.[8]


[1] I. Kant, Conflict of the Faculties, trans. M. Gregor (parallel texts edn., New York: Abaris, 1979), p. 23, underlining added.

[2] Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, pp. 43 and 45, underlining added.

[3] Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, pp. 47, underlining added.

[4] Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, p. 47, underlining added.

[5] See Thinking For a Living: A Philosopher’s Notebook 1 (21 May 2018).

[6] See A. Schopenhauer, “On University Philosophy,” in A. Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, trans. S. Roehr and C. Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 125–176; and F. Nietzsche, “On the Future of Our Educational Institutions,” trans. J.M. Kennedy (London: Toulis, 1910), available online at URL = <>.

[7] Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, p. 25, underlining added.

[8] See, e.g., Philosophy Without Borders, available online at URL =<>; Against Professional Philosophy, available online at URL = <>; and Borderless Philosophy, available online at URL = <>.



#2 (28 May 2018): When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster.

#1 (21 May 2018): Introductory; The rise and fall of Analytic philosophy; Cosmopolitanism and the real philosophy of the future; How to socialize the philosophy of mind.



Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Wednesday 27 June 2018

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

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