Critchley on Embracing Obama’s Listlessness

“There’s something lonely about Obama’s universe,” said philosopher Simon Critchley at a lecture titled “Barack Obama and the American Void."

Speaking to a crowd of more than 100 at the New School last night—standing room only—Critchley, a professor of philosophy, decided to present an argument that Obama’s beliefs are not, in fact, rooted in the work of 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (There are people who believe otherwise, apparently.)

Obama, these Rousseau-ists say–according to Critchley–has a “sentimental, sometimes teary-eyed belief in the Constitution.”

Critchley finds this idea simplistic.

Obama’s genius, the professor said, stems from detachment, not sincerity. His “inert, listless character generates in us a desire to love him.”

But not too fervently. The love for Obama, says Critchley, is a staid one, unique to liberals, who usually practice irony rather than enthusiasm.

Critchley drew a line between the "strangely restrained ecstasy" of the crowd at Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver, and the "zealot’s ecstasy" that Sarah Palin inspired a week later.

“The more one reads,” said Critchley of Obama, “the more one gets a sense of opacity.”

When the question-and-answer session came around, it was clear not everyone agreed.

What about Obama’s charisma, one audience member asked.

After a pause, Critchley said, “There is a relationship between charisma and libido.”

He added that he couldn’t put his “finger on it.”

Another attendee accused Critchley of overanalyzing campaign literature. (He was mainly working from The Audacity of Hope and Obama’s 2004 and 2008 convention speeches.)

Then he accused Critchley of having the intellect of “David Brooks, Maureen Dowd and Dr. Phil.” (Combined?)

“Next,” said an older woman sitting near the front. Others sighed or muttered.

“Dr. Phil,” Critchley said, “I take as a compliment.”

The audience laughed, the interlocutor surrendered his microphone, and a minute later, according to witnesses, he left.

“He looked like an undergraduate,” said one New School graduate student.

Critchley on Embracing Obama’s Listlessness