In this month’s Prospect podcast (downloadable, and available on the right of this page) Nigel Warburton considers the links between racism, philosophy and the history of prejudice that underlies much of the western philosophical tradition. As he points out, the belief that racism is usually the result of stupidity is itself a form of prejudice. Some the world’s great thinkers have themselves been guilty of surprising bigotry.
Acknowledging that prejudice can co-exist with intelligence is important in other ways. It could be argued that the BNP’s recent electoral success is partly the result of complacency on the part of mainstream political parties: far-right groups were assumed to be too politically incompetent to ever pose a genuine political threat. The British government’s failure to take Islamist radicalism seriously in the 1990s stemmed from a similar complacency: militant groups were simply not seen as a genuine threat.
Perhaps the only way to confront prejudice effectively is to acknowledge that it sometimes goes hand in hand with intelligence, cunning and even philosophy.
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