Richard Hanania:

With the benefit of hindsight, one can always find a way to connect the Inflation Reduction Act to Foucault or something, but such theories strike me as both unlikely to be true and practically impossible to falsify. We don’t have recurring moral panics about race and sex primarily because of something any philosopher has said. Moral panics exist in many cultures and the legal regime we live under determines the forms that our own ones take.

To the extent ideas matter, I think what is important is usually more likely to be intuitions and emotions than high-minded philosophy. People feel bad about the plight of black Americans. So they adopt the idea of “let’s help them and be sensitive towards their feelings.” When a bureaucrat twists the law in his preferred direction, thus proving the importance of “ideas” in forming public policy and culture, he is more likely to be relying on simple heuristics like this than any kind of well thought out ideological doctrine.

It’s like the joke about the guy looking for his keys under the streetlight blocks away from where he dropped them, because “the light’s better here!” Writers and philosophers are unsurprisingly prone to overemphasize the historical influence of writers and philosophers. Rousseau is responsible for X, Nietzsche is responsible for Y, etc. But speaking of philosophy, I often think that David Hume’s skepticism about causality might be of use in these cases. It might just be that highly literate, contemplative people are good at discerning and articulating widespread moods and “vibes,” as the kids like to say these days. Maybe they’re simply naming something that has already been born.