John Gardner at Home

Memories from Brian Leiter

Dear John,

I saw Jenny’s note and so wanted to write to share some of my many fond memories about you over the past quarter-century.

We first met, I believe, in summer 1995 in Oxford, at the Oxford/USC forum, or something like that, Joseph was there, also Jo Wolff, Marty Levine from USC and some others. You invited me to review Duxbury’s book for OJLS afterwards which was a thrill for me (and no doubt the harshest review Duxbury ever endured). Thank you for doing that, it meant a lot to me.

I recall having a dinner in London shortly after you’d been appointed the Professor of Jurisprudence—it was a crowded, somewhat noisy restaurant, and I remember the woman next to us, who had some private sector job, wanted to know your salary and was very pleased to be earning more than the Professor of Jurisprudence! A triumph of neoliberalism.

Two of my fondest recollections are from fall 2005, when my family and I spent the term in London at UCL. One, of course, was the opportunity to present some of the early ideas that became my Why Tolerate Religion? book to the Gardner/Honoré seminar in Oxford: that was a treat and a great help. The other was when you came to UCL, and we had some small seminar with you, me, and the “Little Dworkinians” as I called them, including Riz Mokal. Riz was a remarkable combination of Dworkinian dogmatism and obnoxious aggression about it; I remember enjoying greatly as you “wiped the floor” with him, as we say in New York. It was a deliciously brilliant performance!

Of course, the Gardner/Green seminar in Austin was wonderful, and I learned a lot from it, as I have from every encounter. You once said of Les, “He is one of the five most clever people I know.” I can say the same of you. And this despite your moral realism and anti-naturalism!

I’ve appreciated more than you probably realize your support and insights starting with the PGR revolt of 2014, and the subsequent crack-up of segments of the philosophy profession. As you memorably put it,

These people with their pathological self-righteousness are just not worth the trouble. It is like trying to argue with religious fundamentalists. I wish you luck in your continuing struggle with them. You are a more determined guy than me. I will stick to my policy of occasionally posting comments about the evils of contemporary capitalism. Even the modern multinational corporation is a more rationally intelligible foe than this bloodthirsty mob of wacko philosophy profs.

When it seems like everyone is mad at you, it meant a lot to know that I had serious and smart people who saw things the way I did. Thank you for that.

You’re a gem, John, and if there’s something concrete I can do for you or your family let me know, or tell Les to tell me.