“He’s been to too many universities,” says Dennis Prager.

I was teaching right after the inauguration and missed the  commentary on NPR and Pacifica, really the only liberal stations in my red state.  And commentary can be such fun to listen to.  So driving home I thought I’d turn to another talk show, just to hear what was being said.  Sad to say, I turned on Dennis Prager,  yet again!  One of the people with whom, one hopes, the country is fed up. 

So what’s so bad about Obama’s thought that Prager is saying he went to too many universities?  Well, the first thing he lit on was this line:

 Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Honestly, what followed was unfortunate.  Prager argued that only liberals, who are supposedly all totally out of touch with political reality, would believe that having a just cause makes one secure.  Now actually, there is something to be said for his criticism, since, as we know, people with just causes may end up being killed by people  in their own society or by invaders.  What’s unfortunate  is that Prager took it out of the context Obama put the statement in; namely,

They [earlier generations] understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

That is, among other things, it is very risky for the US to continue to act like a rogue state, engaging in highly unethical practices, disregarding international law, and ignoring the wisdom and historical lessons of other countries.   To put it in critical reasoning terms, Obama is saying that power may be necessary but it is not sufficient because  justice is also necessary (presumably in the long term, since a bully can win for a day).  Prager takes Obama to say that justice is sufficient and power is not necessary, which is very different.

But now what about the people who listen to Prager, a conservative and supposedly highly  respected radio show host and lecturer, and who are encouraged to think there’s an ‘overeducated’ nitwit in the presidency?  Is that Prager’s idea of making the nation more secure? 

I think there are very serious questions to be asked about whether there’s some way to stop the nonsense  these populist conservatives people put into people’s minds.  They’re at it all the time, and there seem to be  no  constraints at all on what they’ll say.   Surely something short of unconstitutionally restricting free speech can be done.

5 thoughts on ““He’s been to too many universities,” says Dennis Prager.

  1. Prager’s confusion of necessary and sufficient might be a nice example to introduce that distinction to Intro to Philosophy students.

  2. yet another reason why it’s sad philosophers don’t play a more prominent role in public discourse in america! (or am i just biased? :)

  3. One thing that going to university, and hopefully gaining a liberal arts education, can do is give one the historical context and philosophical nuance to understand the long term relationships between justice, power and security. Iraq and Vietnam show the limits of power and what can happen when America lacks humility (a Christian virtue) and restraint. We pay with lives and dollars and a degraded notion of global citizenship and responsibility. We also gain security from safe bridges and strong levees, from preventative medicine and by providing people with the education, skills and employment opportunities that allow for a flourishing life.

    The problem doesn’t seem to be Obama’s overabundance of education…

  4. lp, I think the situation may be complex. There are a fair number of venues in which academics speak, including magazines such as the NY Review of Books, the public TV and radio stations, and newspapers. The NY Times’ tues science section often features important research, its Sunday Magazine not too infrequently picks up on major academic issues, such as the legitimacy of experimental philosophy. Some philosophers – such as Martha Nussbaum, Tom Nagel, R. Dworkin, J Searle, Dan Dennett, Anthony Appiah, etc – have a fair public presence. Among the questions left are those of audience, influence and countervailing forces, such as the fundamentalists, the strong populist tendencies, and so on, in the States.

    It may be part of the difference in history and tradition. One could argue that Oxbridge has had a strong hold on the British cultural imagination, at least until fairly recently. There might be a downside to that, and an upside to the now more unregulated cultural imagination in the US (as it seems to me). But there’s nothing I could say here that I could defend with any rigor.

  5. Noumena, maybe there’s room for a short book of examples from the ultra right for critical reasoning courses. The fun part would be doing the professors’ answer book.

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