Philosophy, Corporate “Totalitarianism” and New Universities

Adam Kotsko has a new post up on the new graduate school based in Denver that’s been going around on Facebook and twitter. He’s skeptical. But his point about the hard work of people keeping his institution going is important. (A point made more clear that the graduate school advertised before its web site was done, before it had done fundraising, before setting up a curriculum online and so on and so on–you know, the move from potentiality to actuality…) I raise that because I want to push back against this line of thinking:

But should philosophy fold so easily to this prosaic corporate totalitarianism that has subverted all non-corporate methods of thinking and practice? …The illness of philosophy today is all too evident when viewed as a discipline that is wholly enslaved to the corporatized academy.  That is, the academy has become an extension of the corporate workforce precisely because the latter has determined not only what subjects are taught but also how those subjects are taught.  In other words, the corporate world has literally redefined the learning and discovery process thus undermining new and creative ways of thinking and living that would provide us with a healthier peaceful future….The fact that philosophy remains indefinable to the bane of many gives us hope that this revolution is already afoot and that is taking place concretely by the opening of a independent graduate and post-graduate school, The Global Center for Advanced Studies.  

No, it has not. “Fold so easily”–well, that’s a nice sentiment, but one not supportive enough to those who are taking up the fight within any number of institutions. Yes, we can see more than hints even today of how philosophy has to “market” itself, but one wonders what one is doing when “fundraising,” which is easily the bane of academic existence today: universities bending over backward to donors, who then have a hand in all sorts of things unimaginable decades ago. Are the lessons of a whole host of thinkers that no institution is innocent, outside a given system, no matter its potential? But more to the point: I work at Memorial University, which has its neo-liberal aspects, no doubt, and is the cheapest university in Canada and by extension all universities north of the Mexican border. But is philosophy done there? Does it serve its community? Yes. Are all aspects of the discipline “enslaved”? No. That doesn’t mean I’m a tool, but actually because I see how we’re all implicated and the struggles people take in light of that, both inside and outside institutions. The future is not to live off fundraising–Rousseau’s great lines in the Second Discourse about pity and debt are worth recalling–but to continue the arduous work that makes the university funded by and a part of “civic culture” broadly understood. That should be the goal.


  1. It’s not so much sticking my head in the sand as much as it is doing an experiment to risk something different than the main-stream corporate academy. Can philosophy be done in the corporate, neoliberal regime? Of course and that because the very nature of thinking is deterritorial and subversive. So, you’re right that philosophy never folds, it is always unfolding–beyond–in excess. Which is precisely why framing a school that is committed to no boundaries is doing philosophy under the conditions of philosophy. Great post. Thanks!

    1. Ha, yeah, well that’s just the self-deprecating motto of the blog. Nice way of framing it. Good luck!

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