|Post:||Associate Tutor (International Summer School, History)|
|Location:||Arts A A121|
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I am currently starting on a new project in which I intend to use the concept of violence (as elaborated by theorists such as Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt) to re-read crucial moments in the relationship between the British state and its subjects, since 1945. This work emerges from a report on the recent student protests in Brighton, which I co-authored with Lucy Robinson (University of Sussex and Louise Purbrick (University of Brighton). The full report is available here: http://tinyurl.com/5vfpmsp
I am broadly interested in the relationship between history and philosophy; my work is an attempt to explore the potential of this relationship through research in the recent intellectual, political and cultural history of Great Britain. To date, I have been focusing on how the history of modern British philosophy can be written as continuous with the political and cultural history of the mid-century. I am particularly interested in the significance of World War II and Nazism as moments in the refashioning of British national identity.
I am finishing a short project on post-war British cultural history, focused on the reception of existentialism and the fear of emotion in Britain, in the 1940s and 1950s. The intellectual engagement with existentialism after the war was part of a tentative and ambivalent re-engagement with the culture of continental Europe, and reflected British fears about the sources of Nazism in continental philosophical thought, and the corruption of the European mind by years of occupation. It also provided a vehicle for the reassertion of the notion of the down-to-earth Englishman as anti-totalitarian by nature. The first part of this project focused on the philosopher who set the tone for this response, A.J. Ayer. I argue that Ayer used his authority as the first philosophical reviewer of existentialist texts in Britain to castigate existentialism as dangerous, emotional, and philosophically fraudulent. The second half of the project demonstrates that this attitude was shared by many of the public intellectuals who followed Ayer into reviewing the existentialists. It also draws this critique into a wider social and philosophical context, examining the intersections between the reception of existentialism and the fear of emotion characteristic of aspects of British culture in the late 1940s.
The Cultural Politics of Analytic Philosophy: Britishness and the spectre of Europe Continuum, March 2010. Paperback October 2011.
The Cultural Politics of Analytic Philosophy offers an historical examination of three generations of philosophers, who between them founded the modern discipline of analytic philosophy in Britain. The book seeks to situate philosophy within the political-cultural context of the mid-century. It explores the way in which powerful strands within British culture, a renewed sense of nationalism linked to the notion of a people’s war, and a renewed hostility to, and suspicion of, Germany, can be traced even into the apparently rarefied sphere of academic philosophy.
The book shows how philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayer, Gilbert Ryle and Isaiah Berlin believed in a link between German aggression in the twentieth century and the nineteenth-century philosophy of Hegel and Nietzsche. I identify this political critique of so-called “continental” philosophy as a significant dimension of the fault line between analytic and continental thought, an aspect of the twentieth-century history of philosophy that remains poorly understood. This belief in the dangerously totalitarian quality of first German, then continental philosophy more broadly was itself a legacy of World War I. It allowed the British to configure World War II as a war of ideas between a characteristically German and a characteristically British worldview, reflected in their rival national philosophies.
The book also uncovers a tripartite alliance within British thought in the mid-century between nation, political virtue and philosophical method. I argue that the analytic philosophers were espousing a national philosophy, one they believed operated in harmony with British thinking and the British values of liberty, tolerance and common sense. This project, then, is an attempt to reinsert the history of British philosophy into British cultural, intellectual and political history more broadly.
Peer Reviewed Articles
"Ayer and the Existentialists" Intellectual History Review published October 2012 (online). Forthcoming 2013 (print).
In the ongoing discussion of the origins, nature and tractability of the analytic/continental divide, little attention is paid to the cultural-political dimensions. This paper examines the first systematic engagement with existentialism by a British analytic philosopher – A.J. Ayer – in the years after 1945. It argues that Ayer’s engagement with the existentialists was underpinned by a cultural politics that contributed to the extremity of his dismissal of their project. It demonstrates the continuities between Ayer’s treatment of the existentialists and the analytic philosophers’ wider engagement with continental philosophy in the middle decades of the twentieth century. The existentialists are dismissed as philosophically bankrupt: obscure, illogical and worthless in their argumentation. They are dismissed as irrationalists, culpably peddling not philosophy but a nihilistic poetry which appeals directly to the emotions. And the French existentialists are associated with the dangerous Germanic tradition that the analytic philosophers saw as leading to Nazism.
“British analytic philosophy: the politics of an apolitical culture” History of Political Thought, Vol. XXX No. 4 Winter 2009.
There is a consensus that post-war British analytic philosophy was politically neutral. This view has been affirmed by the post-war analysts themselves, and by their critics. This paper argues that this consensus-view is false. Many central analytic philosophers claimed that their empirical philosophy had liberal outcomes, either through cultivating liberal habits of mind, or by revealing truths about the world that supported liberal conclusions. These beliefs were not subject to significant scrutiny or attempts at justification, but they do help us to explain the otherwise puzzling disinclination to engage with questions of political philosophy on the part of these politically active individuals
“The Nazi Tradition: the analytic critique of continental philosophy in mid-century Britain” History of European Ideas 34 (2008), pp. 548-557.
While many (perhaps most) of those engaged in the study of philosophy would accept the continued reality and importance of an analytic/continental divide in the discipline, there has been no serious examination of the political dimensions of this rift. Here a series of political assumptions are revealed to be widely held among the British analytic philosophers who were active during the period in which the analytic/continental divide was being established. This paper approaches demonstrating the analysts’ beliefs about the political affiliations of continental philosophy in three ways. Firstly, it produces direct evidence of the analysts’ belief in the relationship between 19th century continental philosophy and various politically undesirable regimes. Secondly, it examines in detail one illustrative example, that of Hegel. Thirdly, it illustrates how the political beliefs already canvassed permeated beyond the limited political critique of continental philosophy into the analysts’ writing on the history of philosophy.
“Writing history for the ahistorical: analytic philosophy and its past: Aaron Preston, Analytic Philosophy: The History of an Illusion” History of European Ideas 35 (2009), pp. 116-121.
“Bertrand Russell Stalks the Nazis” Forthcoming in Philosophy Now.
With Louise Purbrick (University of Brighton) and Lucy Robinson (University of Sussex), Political Protest and the Police (April 2011). Published in association with Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics & Ethics (CAPPE) at the University of Brighton.
This is a report into the policing of two protest marches, held in Brighton in the winter of 2010, against the Conservative-Liberal coalition’s education reforms. It makes use of life history research techniques to write a “history of now”; and will be one of the points of departure for my next major research project [see below]. The launch of this report attracted the interest of national media (The Guardian) as well as local print and broadcast media. We were interviewed on BBC South East television news, and on BBC Sussex radio.
The full report is available to download from here. As of October 2011 a separate document detailing the development of the project and methodology is also available from the same location:
I've been teaching at the University of Sussex since 2005, and for the Open University since 2008.
I teach a broad range of courses in modern and contemporary British and European history. I also teach political philosophy and the history of political thought.
I'm interested in developing and offering courses focusing twentieth century intellectual and cultural history. In particular, I would like to develop teaching on War and Ideas in the twentieth century, and also violence and the British state since 1945.