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Letter on Julius Tomlin

LETTERS
Dear .Bf.,
I am sure that readers of RP respect the tenacity and
courage with which the philosopher Julius Tomin resisted
the brutality and irrationality of Czech totalitarianism.

Clearly the significance for Oxbridge philosophy of even its
limited contact with aspects of the situation of Czech philosophy goes far beyond what Martin Walker’s journalistic
summary in the Guardian could possibly convey. I would
like to express my gratitude to Tomin for indicating as
much in his short piece in RP No. 37, and my appreciation,
too, to the editorial collective for agreeing to carry the
report of someone whose philosophy can hardly be termed
‘radical’. It is Tomin’s postscript with which I feel one
ought to take issue: in it Tomin raises Socrates claim
against the’ Athenian authorities for free time, or schole,
for philosophy. In directing this at his Oxford colleagues
Tomin, who remains unemployed, transmutes this claim,
somewhat paradoxically into a claim that he be allowed
three hours in a fortnight in intellectual exchange with his
more fortunate (i.e. employed) colleagues. And it is implied
that in this claim, it is the deprivation of human dignity by
the modern concept of redundancy which is at stake.

Tomin’s case really does raise in a pointed and
poignant manner issues of importance for philosophers, professional or non-, and especially for the way in which they
conceptualise labour, including their own. For that reason
it is vital to clear up some of the confusion sown by Julius
Tomin.

The kind of free time demanded by Socrates for philosophy was only ever conceivable against the background of
Athenian slave-labour, and ‘the slave labour has come to an
end which guaranteed him his idleness (Musiggang)’ (Waiter
Benjamin). It is not ‘in the power of philosophy to restore
the dignity and direction of free time’ (as Tomin claims). It
was not in slave-owning Greece and it is not in a Britain
on the road to underdevelopment, and permanent unemployment.

Philosophy as a ‘living human activity’ (Tomin) is a
privilege.

As an esoteric, self-perpetuating and selfindulgent profession, academic philosophy is even more so.

Tomin, a courageous exile who has lived philosophy, addresses a plea to the Oxford dons, most of whom only teach it.

Of course his plea is justified. It would be even more laudable if it had been made on behalf of the many, many unemployed and unemployable graduates, some of whom desperately need to participate in the academic life of the

universities both to keep their minds alive and as the only
way of furthering blighted academic careers.

Few of the great philosophers of the past restricted
their labours to philosophy and only a limited number of
past thinkers who today matter most to us had professional
academic sinecures. No-one could fail to respect someone
like Spinoza who, forced to grind lenses to earn a living
and forced to consort with artists and bohemians because
his views were not respectable, was still able to rise above
all feelings of bitterness, and retain an absolutely undiminished faith in the reality and ubiquity of truth.

I fully support Tomin’s plea and I applaud RP’s decision
to publish it. I only wish it had carried the motto, again I
quote Benjamin: ‘There is no document of civilization which
is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’

Philosophical works, too, ‘owe their existence not only
to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have
created them but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries’ •
Yours sincerely, Lloyd Spencer

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Addendum to Levitas article
Addendum
The Social Security Report affirms the principle of
a minimum income (whose level is unspecified). It
sets aut four principles for the reform of the benefits system:

(a) Help should go only to those in need (hence
the abolition of universal benefits such, as child
benefit).

(b) Help should be in the form of financial
support so that the recipient can provide a basic
standard of living (not defined) for his (sic) family,
while retaining personal choice.

(c) There must be work incentives, so increases
in income will only be penalised by a 90p in the LI
deduction from benefit. (Greater incentives arenot

pcssibl~

because oi the conflict with (a).)
(a) There should be a shift to a sys tern of compulsory private insurance, with the State paying
minimum contributions for those unable to pay.

Cost-based benefits (housing benefits, rent rebates)
will be ended, and a flat-rate average payment substituted (although this will be regionally variable).

Minimum income levels for categories of individuals
and families will be adjusted for ‘local and even
seasonal variations in housing, food, transport and
so on’. Individuals will be assessed and given ‘tax
codings’ defining their entitlement to benefit, which
might be distributed by a ‘bank card’ bearing this
coding and combined with the ‘medicard’. Descr iption of the administrative arrangements is singularly
absent.

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