The crisis of modern liberalism and science requires skeptical political philosophy—but skeptical political philosophy is itself undergoing a crisis.
Get Hume out of Edinburgh University
Don’t Soil the Great Thinker by Associating him with a Corrupt University
A place calling itself the University of Edinburgh has decided to remove the name of David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, from the tallest building on its campus. The announcement comes from its Equality & Diversity Committee and its Race Equality and Anti-Racist Sub-committee. Hume, it seems, has committed sins against anti-racism (as attested to by 1,700 signatories on a petition). Honors like having a building in his name must be stripped, and, perhaps, statues must also come down.
In this case, Hume’s name is being dropped in favor of 40 George Square.
This is the latest in a long list of re-namings in higher education. A school calling itself Princeton no longer has a Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Clemson no longer has a Calhoun Honors College, named for the Southern secessionist.
Hume, a great critic of ideology himself, would be amused at his dishonoring. He was denied a chair in an earlier iteration of the University of Edinburgh because of his religious skepticism. Such a denial was, at least arguably, made to sustain the university’s Christian mission: a philosopher so skeptical of religion and Christianity in particular does not necessarily deserve a spot at a university, no matter how brilliant the man.
In removing Hume’s name from Hume’s Tower this so-called university sins a second time against philosophy. It does so because a malignant ideology—the anti-racist ideology—is now central to its mission. Anti-racists divide the world into those who devote their lives and thoughts to fighting all alleged disparities between blacks and other ethnic groups (the anti-racists) and those who do not put such concerns at the center of their lives (the racists).
Ibram Kendi, the high priest of this ideology, holds that “there is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’” between anti-racism and racism. If Kendi is right and if “universities” promote only anti-racist thought, then David Hume—and all thinkers who represent the greatest works of civilization—has no place on these places that call themselves universities.
Indeed Hume never elevated action above thought or divided the world into the children of light and the children of darkness. Hume always opposed mobs, whether taken with religious fanaticism or fanatical secular ideologies based on abstract speculative principles. Hume saw such fanaticism as the greatest threat to a civilization based on laws, gentle mores, and mutual forbearance. Hume knew that philosophy and fanaticism mix like oil and water.
Why would any self-respecting man of letters want to be associated with an institution dedicated to undermining the life of the mind and countenancing a malignant and false ideology like Kendi’s anti-racism? A place that sews such a risible ideology into its curriculum, and empowers subcommittees devoted to enforcing this ideology to name buildings, and has faculty willing to let such an ideology define its mission is not a university.
The University of Edinburgh is not worthy of being the home of David Hume, nor is it worthy of the name “university.” No place that dishonors the name David Hume, one of the greatest thinkers of any civilization, is a home of philosophy.
Episodes about statues, the canon and building names have become a common form of modern performance art. Conservatives especially and rightly complain and predict that the standards within the multiculturalism or anti-racist ideology create a slippery slope leading to the cancellation of this guy or that guy. They appeal to the dormant (or extinct) liberal sensibilities of the cancellers, hoping they will re-consider. Cancellers in turn enjoy the wailing and gnashing of teeth as relish in their unchecked power. What started with Jesse Jackson’s “Hey, hey, ho, ho; Western Civ has got to go” has led now to this so-called university’s “Equality & Diversity Committee and its Race Equality and Anti-Racist Sub-committee.” It’s all the same movement.
Enough of this performance art. We see who these cancellers are and what kind of university they are building.
Hume’s works and name should not be soiled by association with the libraries at the University of Edinburgh. We call for their removal from the library and transfer to a genuine institution of higher learning.
Nor should Hume’s great student and friend, Adam Smith, be tainted by association with the anti-intellectualism displayed by the place calling itself the University of Edinburgh. We call for the removal of the special collection of Adam Smith from the Edinburgh library and removal to a place where the works will be respected, like Hillsdale College.
We think the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences should change its name to the School of Dogmatics, Psychology and Language Sciences.
In fact, no thinker dedicated to the freedom of mind should be soiled through an association with this so-called university. No thinker seeking after Truth should have books that remain in this insane asylum that calls itself a university. We call for the removal of all books associated with the Western Canon from the University of Edinburgh library.
John W. Danford, author of David Hume and the Problem of Reason
Scott Yenor, author of David Hume’s Humanity
Nicholas Capaldi, author of David Hume: The Newtonian Philosopher and Hume’s Place in Moral Philosophy
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