Co-Authored Essay “In Defense of Hierarchy” at Aeon

A new essay called “In Defense of Hierarchy,” the joint responsibility of several of us but largely written by Julian Baggini, has been published at Aeon. It is the fruit of discussions at a conference sponsored by the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center, and is an interesting example of comparative or what some folks are now calling cosmopolitan philosophy. Enjoy!

9 replies on “Co-Authored Essay “In Defense of Hierarchy” at Aeon”

  1. Hi, Steve. Congratulations on the article. I think I may have raised this before but at risk of sounding like a broken record, why doesn’t Berggruen, if you know, seek to involve more women scholars in these projects? Especially when the subjects – like hierarchy – are both firmly in a feminist wheelhouse and traditionally incredibly problematic where gender is concerned. I really don’t want to sound uncharitable, but I fear that many women have already heard men saying that hierarchy is not so bad. I understand that the article is trying to argue for legitimate and just hierarchies but at the very least the optics here are bad, one woman out of 15 authors and an ambiguous statement about marital hierarchy that seems to say there might be some “due measure” form of hierarchy along the traditional line… Again, sorry to sound so critical. I am pleased that Berggruen is taking a global approach to philosophy but across its boards and on all the projects I’ve seen, its gender dynamics seem very old school.

    • Not a broken record, but rather an album that we should listen to as many times as it takes.

      I entirely agree with you, and my own work on hierarchy is explicitly in the context of a larger critique of oppression, using gender-based oppression as my main example. Which is to say: we should be very careful about how we raise these issues, especially when the “we” in question are largely representatives of one or more groups on the top of current hierarchies. Some of these ideas are reflected in the joint document, here and there, but there’s a lot else going on.

      And anyway, your real point is not about the content of the essay but about the authors and the Berggruen Institute. To which I can only reiterate my agreement, and do my best to push for more balance.

  2. Hi Amy and Steve, thanks for bringing up this important topic! I just finished your (Amy’s) text on “Degenerate Skepticism”; find it very well argued and very much to the point (as far as I can say from my perspective in East-Asia). The situation may be slightly different in Europe, but not as different as one might expect. Over the last days, I have been working on an essay on “Non-Western hermeneutics”. Many of your concerns will also come up in my analysis. Thus, Amy, may I ask you to send me a copy of your upcoming text on “Philosophical Exclusion”? I would love to read it… Thanks, Kai

  3. Steve,

    Have you and your co-authors received any responses or pushback? I’m curious to know what critics might say. Instinctively, the idea of arguing for hierarchy in the twenty-first century sounds completely wrong to me (unless the word is being misused to mean something akin to “organizational structure”), so I’m curious to know whether there have been any objections–before I start to gather my thoughts and articulate some objections of my own.

    • Hi Paul — There have been a bunch of responses on Aeon, overall rather positive though some objections too.

    • Did I miss where you guys explain what you mean by “hierarchy” in the first place? My understanding of that term must be fundamentally different from yours. And maybe that’s the cause of most of my confusion.

  4. Thanks for posting, Steve. The piece helped start a good discussion near the end of my comparative phil class this afternoon, which just happened to be on the concept of respect. Nice to be able to show them brand-new and wide-ranging content like this as part of class.

  5. Dear Prof. Angle:
    I have three comments on this wonderful and much needed piece:
    (1) Packing Daoism with Ruism (Confucianism), and then using them together to argue for recovering the legitimacy of hierarchy is not a good idea in the long run. First, this may imply that all Chinese philosophies are essentially the same, which is not true. Second, Daoism (both its philosophy and its religion) has a great tension with Ruism in exactly this targeted issue: how much hierarchy should human society need in order to stay closer to Dao? Third, the tradition that combines Legalism closely so as to make bad hierarchy in China is either Daoism or Ruism. Overall, I didn’t find enough historical and philosophical details about Chinese philosophies so that the argumentations made in relation to Chinese philosophy can be sustained in the long run.
    (2) I still do not like “Confucian” or “Confucians.” I think we ‘Confucian’ scholars should cooperate one day to write a manifesto about changing “Confucianism” into “Ruism”, and “Confucian” into “Ru” or “Ruists”. Once people know the meaning of “Ru”, they will immediately understand that wow, “Ru” has nothing to do with coercive hierarchy. But when you use ‘Confucians’, it is paternalist down to earth.
    (3) For the tenet of the article, yes, I fully agree, to deny meritocratic difference and ‘ranks’ is folly. This is the major reason why Plato constructs his Republica because of the death of Socrates.
    Bin Song.

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