By Chet Yarbrough
American Philosophy (A Love Story)
By: John Kaag
Narrated by: Josh Bloomberg
John Kaag, (Author, Professor of Philosophy at UMass Lowell)
John Kaag’s view of romantic love seems slightly askew when taken in the context of his two books, published two years apart. “American Philosophy” is published in 2016 while “Hiking with Nietzsche” is published in 2018. Having listened to both, one finds “Hiking with Nietzsche” belies the conclusion of romantic love characterized in “American Philosophy”.
In “American Philosophy, Kaag professes understanding the harm done to romantic love by male self-absorption and then ignores that realization in “Hiking with Nietzsche”.
Kaag’s male self-absorption is flaunted in “Hiking with Nietzsche”. Kaag seems quite dismissive of his second wife in his “Hiking…” adventure.
Kaag seems mostly in love with himself and his pursuit of philosophy.
Kaag becomes an organizer of a library of first editions for the Hocking family. The descendants wish to donate the volumes to a library of their choosing but the contents must be organized for appraisal purposes.
Kaag ensconces himself in Hocking’s library of 10,000 books with many philosophical “first edition” writings.
The story of “American Philosophy” is about the life and times of William Ernest Hocking and his 400-acre estate in New Hampshire.
William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966, American idealist philosopher.).
Kaag accepts the task. The library becomes a refuge from his first marriage which ends in divorce. As Kaag reviews the philosophies of greater and lesser philosophers like Emerson, Royce, Kant, and Hocking, he reflects on his failed marriage. He concludes his failure is self-inflicted.
As Kaag begins cataloging the 10,000 volumes, he is joined by a fellow philosopher (who becomes his 2nd wife) from a university for which they teach.
Hocking library on the 400 Acre Estate.
What Kaag realizes is philosophy looks to the supernatural and, in its pursuit, romantic love suffers. Kaag exhibits eating, sleeping, and drinking disorders that reflect a self-absorption that damages romantic love. This is an ironic realization because it seems Kaag celebrates romantic love but cannot partake of it.
Society treats women as less equal than men. Oddly, Kaag shows understanding without behavioral modification. This seems societies’ tragic flaw.
Women are the equal of men, but society does not treat them equally. The consequence is the loss of romantic love and women’s rightful place in society. The resurrection of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Putin’s militancy, Middle Eastern, Eastern, and Western society show the likelihood of change seems remote, if not unlikely.
Some argue Kaag’s book is a celebration of romantic love, but it is not. Kaag’s story is about male societies’ inability to overcome the history of misogyny. The implication is when women are treated as equal, society will change. Reviewing Kaag’s two books suggests the world is not ready.