A philosopher is running for president
- Jerome Segal is a philosopher and social activist from Maryland who's just joined the 2020 presidential race as a third-party candidate.
- He doesn't hope to win, necessarily, but instead to ignite a political renaissance in the country.
- Philosophers have a good idea of what a utopian society should look like, but should we elect one as president?
Jerome Segal, a philosopher and social activist from Maryland, is running for president in 2020.
Segal, 75, will be running as a third-party candidate in the election for the Bread and Roses national party he founded, which was certified in January of last year. So far, he and his party are certified to appear on the Maryland ballot for the presidential election and they are trying to become qualified in more states.
Segal earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan and has worked as a political activist and academic philosopher. He also authored several books including “Graceful Simplicity” (2003) and “Agency, Illusion, and Well-Being” (2008). Besides working as an academic philosopher, Segal has experience working as a policy analyst in the United States Agency for International Development, as a peace activist concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and founder of the Jewish Peace Lobby, and as a research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy. This isn’t Segal’s first time in the political ring either. He challenged Sen. Ben Cardin for Maryland’s Senate seat last year in the state’s democratic primary.
Segal isn’t entertaining any genuine hopes of becoming president. The point of his run for presidency is his belief that third parties should have a larger role, and for the public to have more ideological choices, in national elections.
“This is really about ideas and about adding something to the current political discourse that is lacking,” Segal said to the Washington Post.
Understanding his platform
So what exactly is Segal adding to the political discourse? Overall, he wants Americans to have more free time to spend on what really gives life meaning. He advocates for economic goals that achieve a simple life and modest income and lifestyle; all citizens should have a legal right to employment and paid vacation. And he even wants to shorten the work week.
“Domestically, the heart of [the campaign] is that we have a fundamentally different answer as to what the American dream is,” Segal says. “Our version of the American dream is not to get rich, it isn’t to make it to the top. It is to be very secure in your income and to have increasingly more leisure time to do other things in life… Out of that we think there will be utopian transitions in other areas.”
What Segal is seeking, rather than the office of the presidency, is to help catalyze an American political renaissance that focuses on deep, cultural changes rather than short-term solutions. For him this entails, in part, a reconstruction of the American dream to mean something more simple and relaxed.
“This is an extraordinarily wealthy society, and we have missed our potential,” Segal said to the Washington Post. “We are a society that is anxious and competitive, and there is a resistance to equal opportunity. . . . Our vision is of a society that has more winners.”
While his domestic platform is prioritizing economic security, wealth redistribution, and education, on foreign policy Segal contrasts more starkly with the mainstream democratic party. Similar to his Senate campaign, in 2020 his stance on United States involvement in the Middle East will be a focal point.
As a longtime critic of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, Segal has said that he would support United States official recognition of those territories along with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
What is the Bread and Roses party?
Segal’s budding Bread and Roses party is, according to its website, an “electoral party for both New Socialists and Non-Socialists, a party with a strong utopian and international orientation, one in pursuit of a new American dream.”
The name for the Bread and Roses party derives from the 1912 labor strike by women immigrant textile workers in Lawrence, Masschusettes. Bread represents the value of “plain living” in order to do what matters most in life, liberated from obsessive consumption. The roses element is open for interpretation according to the party website. It means beauty for all, as well as the right for lives that provide more than just the basic needs. Roses are a symbol of the right of human life to achieve meaning and richness.
Although the Bread and Roses party’s goals parallel those of socialism and are central to the party’s vision, it rejects a strict socialist label as an expression of its acceptance of “new ideas with respect to public policy” and to underline that it is not “wedded to big government,” as is stated on the party’s homepage.
Is it wise to elect a philosopher as president?
U.S. presidents have occupied professions as diverse as peanut farmer (Carter), oil executive (the Bushes), newspaper editor (Harding), and movie actor (Reagan). And, lest we forget, the Ukraine elected a comedian to be president. It doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that the U.S. could one day elect a philosopher.
But would it be a good idea? After all, philosophers devote themselves to imagining how a utopian society would function by understanding what systems of government best harmonize with social values and civilian behavior. And in Book 5 of Plato’s “Republic“, Socrates says, “Until philosophers rule as kings in their cities … cities will have no rest from evils…”
Then again, philosopher kings have not had such a good reputation historically. To be fair, the previous problems might have had more to do with the “king” part of the equation.
Political philosopher Jay Geyer makes the case in the Daily Nous that philosophers are uniquely qualified to make a difference in politics by melding the deep partisan divide that threatens American democracy. This is because they’ve acquired a particular set of skills, including the ability to comprehend dense and lengthy documents, the analytical qualities to engage with abstract problems and come up with creative solutions, and the ability to take into consideration opposing viewpoints.
It might just be worth a shot.