Magazine article The Spectator

Swimming against the Tide

Magazine article The Spectator

Swimming against the Tide

Article excerpt


by David Stove,

edited by Roger Kimball

EDS, L29.95, pp. 347, tel 02072400856 For once the title is justified. Usually those who advertise themselves as being outsiders are very much insiders. (Compare Isaiah Berlin's Against the Current; for all his manifold merits, was there ever anyone, anywhere, more with and in whatever current happened to be flowing than Berlin used to be?)

But David Stove is, or rather was, really against the idols of the age. Included in this collection are essays asserting the intellectual inferiority of women and the naturalness of racial antagonism. There are also considerable and impassioned attacks on philosophical idealism, on Darwinism as applied to human affairs and on Popper's philosophy of science. Elsewhere Stove, an Australian academic philosopher at Sydney, has published attacks on Plato, on J. S. Mill's view that innovative proposals should always be listened to (a liberal sacred cow, that, if ever there was one), on republicanism, on Marie Stopes, on the raising of academic salaries (because it would compromise the moral authority of academics), and on the debasement of university humanities (in which he lambasted 'colleagues' from Sydney). He also published equally impassioned eulogies of cricket, of English gardens and of oldfashioned Australian heroes.

All of which, for anyone conscious of the trimming in academia, raises the question, how did Professor Stove, as an academic, get away with it? The answer is in two parts: a) he retired from Sydney early and b) he is now dead (having committed suicide in 1994). Not surprisingly, Against the idols of the Age had more than a dozen rejections before Transaction took it on.

Stove's intellectual mentor was Hume. His arguments have much of the directness, the unavoidability, and - once stated -- the obviousness of Hume. For example, it is fallacious to argue that just because our knowledge is our knowledge, it is therefore not knowledge of real things (but this argument is the basis of most idealist philosophy and of most relativism, including relativism about science); that the intellectual capacity of women is inferior to that of men because the intellectual performance of women is inferior to that of men; that Darwinism is false because human beings simply do not behave as Darwinism says they should; that innovation whether of thought or practice is not good per se, because most innovations have been stupid or worse; that racial antagonisms exist because the grounds for racial hostility are pretty evenly distributed throughout the various races in the world, as are the performances of the various races in different fields. …

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