As an 18-year-old
I also distributed leaflets with that message before a meeting of a Stalinist-dominated maritime union. A six-foot sailor took one look at my leaflets and threw me into the gutter. We were right about Stalinism, but we were wrong in regarding World War II as an imperialist war, which, like World War I would end in widespread social revolution. I declared at the time, “The exploiters of the world are sitting on a powder keg.” Years later our views of the
Now, as a retired philosophy professor, I can no longer claim the title of “professional revolutionist.” But I can say that the habits of rational argument, first honed in those early years, remained with me, both in philosophy and in politics. For the next 50 years, I spent much of my time teaching, from first grade through graduate school. I taught many different courses, including philosophy of religion. I think that if God appears in my afterlife, I would inform him that I have refuted all the arguments for his existence.
In 1963 and 1966 I published articles strongly criticizing Hannah Arendt’s view that in the Holocaust almost all Jewish leaders cooperated with the Nazis in the murder of Jews “to an extraordinary degree.” Her claim, I said, was made in shocking disregard of available evidence. After reading one of the articles, Sidney Morgenbesser, the late
I opposed the Vietnam War and organized a teach-in at
En route to
At the Congress, a friend and I met with three Soviet philosophers in an amusement park just outside
I never criticized the feminist movement but I felt that women with real ability—like me, for example—had done pretty well and didn’t need them. I began to change when I discovered that, although there was nothing wrong with my teaching evaluations or publication record, the chairperson would prevent me from being promoted unless I took on almost half of the secretary’s departmental work. The ex-professional revolutionist knew how to fight back. The chairperson finally collapsed and I became an associate professor. I wondered whether other academic women had failed to obtain the advancement they deserved. I remembered Eleanor Kuykendall who, at one time, had been a part-time lecturer in my department. Although she had more philosophical ability than some of the men who were promoted to tenure track positions (with my support), she was never promoted to that rank.
I read studies showing widespread sex discrimination in universities. For example, in 1972 a team of sociologists, who had performed a carefully controlled study, concluded that “sex discrimination is rampant in academe.” Then I acted on what I read. In the early 1970s, universities were required by the government to take “affirmative action” to end sex discrimination by setting reasonable numerical goals for hiring women and minorities by departments that had clearly excluded them. In the next decade much of my political activity consisted of arguing for numerical goals. I spent three months organizing a New York Times advertisement with 3,000 signatures and lots of endorsements from academic VIPs—Nobel Laureates, distinguished professors, and the like. The upshot was that President Ford invited two professors—a male academic who opposed numerical goals and a female academic who supported them. Referring to a particular study, the female stated that women in that study “produced more.” President Ford asked “Produced more what?”
Ford concluded that the paperwork of universities had to be reduced, but the numerical goals would be kept because of all the support for them out there. But the conservative campaign against numerical goals using a misleading analogy with quotas (like those that had excluded Jews from professional schools) was successful. Definite numerical goals were eventually abandoned in favor of an indefinite concept: “diversity.”
One consequence of my campaign for affirmative action was the hostility I engendered from some academic men. Often when they lost out on a job, they blamed it on affirmative action (without relevant evidence). In some cases where they could take it out on me, they did so.
My activity on behalf of affirmative action was not limited to academic women. In 1991 I published a book Racism and Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action which turned out to be a great success (Cornell University Press). The book has been used in ethics, social philosophy, and black study classes.
I look back now when, as an 18-year-old professional revolutionist, I issued the revolutionary declaration that the exploiters of the world were sitting on a powder keg. I was wrong then. But why? Because the Communist International, which was supposed to be the agent of world revolution, had become the foreign agent of the
Note the World Social Forums involving hundreds of thousands of people declaring “a better world is possible”; the seismic knowledge that today’s children will have a lower living standard than their parents; the takeovers by workers of bankrupt businesses in Latin America; the widespread land invasions by impoverished agricultural workers around the world; a disastrous global financial crisis with high worldwide unemployment rates especially among young workers leading to protests in countries as varied as Latvia, Chile, Bulgaria, and Iceland; strikes in Great Britain; the riots in 2008 that plundered the streets of Greece, invoking solidarity actions throughout the world.
This last prompted a Christian Science Monitor journalist to write: “
Gertrude Ezorsky, professor of philosophy at