Ben Alpers has opened a discussion of the PGR in terms of intellectual history (see also this post at Daily Nous). This comment from Cathy Kemp about the PGR's origins deserves a signal boost as a good contribution. Originally from here, it is reprinted with permission, with slight editing.
Perhaps some context is helpful here. As is well-known, Brian wrote a dissertation on Nietzche at the University of Michigan in the 90s and he brought philosophy to law faculties in California and Texas in the same decade (the Yale stint aside). In both contexts he was working, surely, in an underrepresented sub-field for that context, with most colleagues generally unfamiliar with his subject matters. He was writing papers on Heidegger, objectivity, and legal indeterminacy when I knew him in Texas, at the law school. Legal theory was going through a milder version of literary theory’s upheaval over postmodernism (as they understood it, variously), with legal positivism à la Raz and Coleman the primary *philosophical* counterweight. When I first encountered the “Gourmet Report in 1995, as a photocopy, in Courier, handed to me by its author, I found my PhD-granting institution listed in the “Continental Underground”. In the ensuing discussion it emerged that the the classification, along with the we-do-it-better claim, was no casual addendum to the “Report”.
At the time I formed an impression–-I put it no higher than that–-that Brian had
- carved out a vantage of relative safety for his own work inside a traditional Anglo-American analytic department,
- distinguished it by favorable comparison with that done at institutions outside the mainstream,
- opened a franchise in the defense of legal positivism with the ostensible credibility of someone working on the very figures championed by the postmodern tradition, and then
- turned around to draw a picture of the philosophical world in which these distinctions and valuations made sense, all from the institutional vantage of a law faculty,
- to the glory of positivism and its exponents.
My memory of the early years of the PGR, before it became useful to enough people and departments and entered the broader prestige market, is that there were slight idiosyncrasies of valuation and ranking that reflected that picture and its autobiographical origins as well as aspirations. Others may remember it differently, of course.
Which is to say, in effect and with some trepidation for the consequences, that this was always personal as well as professional, though far from simple. I vehemently disagreed with Brian over the rankings, the reification of the historical marginalization of classical American and European scholars and departments, and especially over the we-do-it-better claim.
(This, even as I had my own reservations about the too-familiar provinciality of some of the work done in his “Continental Underground” and its deleterious effects on those departments).
In the same year, his first and my last, I and another philosophy PhD in the same law school class at Texas toasted Brian after he returned from defending his dissertation. He, in turn, was genial and *very* supportive when I was going on the philosophy job market for the first time that fall. He kept his cool at an APA meeting when I introduced him to a close friend who argued forcefully and at length (more than an hour) against the PGR’s methodological claims.
Over the years I have read the blog with alternating exasperation (at the familiar prejudices and their limitations), gratitude (at the calling-out of bad behavior in academia esp. in philosophy, including new and improved corruption and mediocrity at the “Underground” schools), and increasing distress (at the more recent, untenable, and at times appalling, lashings-out).
Throughout I wished we could, as a profession, overcome the tendencies to provinciality–of tradition, institution, race, sex/identity, ability, rank, employment status-that seem endemic to the culture no matter particular persuasions. The “Underground” suffers terribly from the lack of sunlight; that Brian has aided, even as he has called out, those growths, is something that warrants thinking on as we go through this.
One would wish there had been a gentler, more sociable way of transforming the Leiter franchise into something that preserved its usefulness (philosophy newsfeed and information clearinghouse, for example) and started to unwind its harmful effect on the profession, a way less costly in personal terms to its owner as well as to the people injured along the way.