Occupy the Syllabus!

It appears the writers at The Onion have snuck one by the The Daily Californian, the student newspaper of UC Berkeley.  An op-ed published last week entitled “Occupy the Syllabus” complains about a course in “classical social theory” whose reading list consisted of “Plato and Aristotle, then jumped to modern philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Foucault, all of whom are white men.”  These authors are “obsolete,” the two writers of the op-ed claim.  You have to read it, not to believe it.

Now, silly me, but you’d think a course called classical social theory would, um, use the classics of the tradition, and if you don’t like so many white guys, then don’t take the course. (Similarly, I doubt these whiners would be satisfied if someone offered to teach a course by that notable person of color, St. Augustine, or Arabic authors such as Alfarabi.) No, I suspect these authors are serious, though it hard to take them seriously when they write of the aforementioned list of authors that they are “economically privileged white males from five imperial countries (England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States).” I’m having a hard time placing Plato and Aristotle in one of those empires (and I guess Locke is an honorary American?), but that’s just me.  And as for oppression, didn’t Plato write chiefly about a guy who was executed by the government for subversion? Why did Hobbes have to live and write in exile? And Foucault—what’s the problem here? I guess he’s not gay and left enough. Just how did the entire critique of oppression develop anyway?

Rather ironic to see Karl Marx included in a list of risible white males who are “obsolete” for understanding the present moment. I used to half-joke that some day conservatives might be the ones who stick up for Karl Marx; looks like that moment as arrived a bit ahead of schedule.

Judging from the comment thread, the two writers of this article have beclowned themselves with Berkeley students.