It is too easy, too frighteningly easy, to ridicule the grammatical faux pas of Marco Rubio and the bizarre present and former views of those leading the race for Republican presidential candidacy. What is far more frightening is the philosophy — yes, philosophy — that apparently drives the strategy and tactics, and ultimately the political intentions, of these candidates.
Apparently Mr. Rubio’s use of “less” rather than “fewer” was closer to the mark he intended than we thought. He was, I suspect, really encouraging us to engage in less philosophy and more welding. Consider the rationale he provided for his statement. He recommended that we have fewer philosophers (and presumably fewer of anything that a university might designate as within the purview of the liberal arts, such as history, art, foreign languages, literature and certainly English) because, he said, welders made more money than philosophers. Never mind that he was wrong about that. The point is that his announced measure of value to the community was purely monetary. By Rubio’s reasoning, a person’s value is measured by the amount of money she makes.
Take a deep breath and consider that. Subtracting the televangelist hucksters, those priests and nuns and pastors and other religious who dedicate their lives to their fellow humans while living a voluntary life of poverty might wonder how Rubio was going to be evaluating them. Those dedicated men and women who practice medicine and do research on human needs and give of their time to public office in the true interests of the people — all of these many, many people are, by Rubio’s announced standard, somehow just a drag on what he apparently considers the true measure of a human and of a community, i.e., making a buck.
It is not sufficient to characterize this as a dumbing down of America, or even, as one Columbia professor suggested, a playing to a community that has already been successfully dumbed down. It is far worse than that, and it is what scares me most about every one of that horde of people whom the Republicans allow on stage. What Rubio, and what all of these people, are recommending is no less than an abandonment of the American ideal of responsibility for our fellow humans and a devolution to a standard of greed and self-interest.
We should remember that the founding fathers were all well-educated, and that they were all familiar with the political and moral thinking of the great philosophers of their time. The American ideal, so succinctly and eloquently expressed in the Declaration of Independence, is grounded in the profound thinking of John Locke. The founders had been thoroughly trained in the fundamental and critical problems of justice and statesmanship set forth by Plato in The Republic. They had all given of their time freely, without consideration for profit, and profit is nowhere to be found in their considerations of what the foundation of this government and way of life is and should be.
During the ill-fated war in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked why things were not going as predicted. He answered by saying that the public should be more concerned about the world series or some other sports event. The philosophy suggested by such a scurrilous comment seems to be blossoming among these Presidential pretenders. Don’t think, and certainly don’t question what we do with your government. Just go make money and watch football.
The word “philosophy” is too often misused to describe a certain set of first principles, principles that are far too often set forth without question or verification. The real meaning of philosophy lies far deeper than that. It is, as the philosopher Richard Cohen once wrote, a search without regard for the consequences. It is a striving to know who we are and what we mean without allowing prejudice to sway the answer. It is the queen of the sciences most of all because, without it, we cannot long survive in any meaningful sense.
We might indeed need more welders. We clearly do need more philosophers, and less Rubios.