The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.—John Maynard Keynes.
David Hume, who to this day is known as 'le Bon David' and a nice guy within philosophy, was a nasty racist. Don't believe me? Read this awful footnote. I used to think that one could accept much of Hume's moral and political philosophy without the racism. But Hume's account of the rule of law as being constitutive of 'civilization' also encourages the violent exportation of it as is illustrated by his rather favorable account of English conquest of Wales (essentially a tale of cultural genocide) and Ireland (see this article). With law-governed civilization (as opposed to barbarism) as a necessary prerequisite for (and co-development with) philosophy, Hume's approach facilitates, despite the significance of the moral virtue humanity in his project, empire and patterns of systematic cultural exclusion.* Despite vigorous eighteenth-century criticism of Hume (in Smith, Herder, Wollstonecraft, Millar, etc.), it is undeniable that these ideas survived in mitigated form, perhaps, in the works of some of the greatest philosophers, Kant, Hegel, and even Mill.
So, individual philosophers can have both (a) pernicious philosophical beliefs as well as (b) very dangerous meta-philosophical conceptions of their own enterprise. This is no surprise ever since Socrates was put on trial, fairly or not, for corrupting the young and for having too many high profile students caught up in collaboration and dictatorship as Aeschines emphasized. (I.F. Stone wrote an important book on it that for all its flaws deserves more respect among philosophers.) This is why I tend to talk about these issues in terms of the enduring Socratic Problem for philosophy, and experts more generally. But it is worth noting that (a-b) are compatible with (c) being a nice (or not) professional colleague, and (d) exhibiting moral courage (or not) under duress.
There is no doubt that Heidegger was a terrible colleague, had pernicious individual beliefs, as well as very dangerous meta-philosophical conception of his own enterprise. My teachers and friends (and a few opponents) within analytical philosophy often enjoy pointing this out (see Brian Leiter's legitimate skewering of a dumb defense of Heidegger). The Carnap-Heidegger debate is really also moral in character and both sides understood it as such (recall this post drawing on Abraham Stone). It is perfectly legitimate to evaluate the character of a philosophical sensibility and system for its social consequences.
But it doesn't follow that all so-called 'continental' philosophers and all continental philosophy has been infected by all of Heidegger's sins nor does it follow that we 'analytical' philosophers deserve the high ground we put ourselves on. Several leading continental philosophers showed courage in resisting the Nazis and others were victims. Since WWII much effort has gone into developing continental philosophy in a direction that can do justice to our responsibility for others (e.g., Levinas). Whatever one might think of Derrida, there is no doubt that he, more than nearly all other enduring philosophers has developed a metaphilosophical conception that can resist philosophy's complicity in domination and exclusion--the ongoing ridiculing of his thought among professional philosophers is, thus, a terrifying condemnation of the thoughtlessness of much of what passes as 'philosophy.'**
That Frege-our-Father was an antisemite is well known (but it is amazing that Wikipedia is far more informative than the authoritative SEP entry). His reactionary politics is not intrinsic to scientific philosophy and logic. But it is by no means obvious how one can develop a metaphilosophical conception that is proper to scientific philosophy that does not open the door to political abuses. The topic and value neutrality of formal approaches and their technocratic self-conception leave these relying on the esprit des corps of practitioners to prevent abuses. This is too flimsy a shield, and we should not be surprised by past and future abuses (recall).
Even if there is more nobility to be found in the metaphilosophical conceptions than I have allowed thus far among my peers in professional philosophy, there is no doubt that our teachers and those of us that are now distinguished and eminent in the field have participated in a practice that has allowed systematic patterns of exclusion and worse to cohabit in our midst (notice, that is compatible with many of them being nice colleagues and generous supervisors to those of us that have succeeded them). One reason why I have been fascinated by the critical responses to Peter Singer's work from the mathematical-economist, MA Khan (born in North Waziristan), is Khan's sensitivity to not just Singer's pseudo-economics, but also the cultural imperialism of Singer's enterprise (recall) that happily appeals to powerful international institutions and countries to help implement his ideas.
A few weeks ago, I called attention to Samir Chopra's call (in light of the black absense in academia)*** that "what is perhaps needed is a deeper and more fundamental change, a reconceptualization of the nature of philosophical inquiry and practice." That we must do so while rebuilding our ship in ordinary professional sense (hiring, curriculum), and while remaining engaged in first-order enterprises, makes this no less urgent. For without a metaphilosophical conception that prevents the facilitation of philosophical thought in the politics of domination, hierarchy, and exclusion, we may well do better than Heidegger, but little better than, say, Frege or Hume. That's not good enough.
*I thank Justin Smith for discussion on facebook in light of my response to Nathaniel Coleman's piece. To be clear: Hume advocates peace among civilized nations, and -- on the whole -- he is no friend of cruelty and injustice toward the powerless.
**That is to say, what is problematic in Derrida's thought (and there are, of course, plenty of problems), may well be the price of what is most noble in it.
***Problematic ethnic and gendered patterns of exclusion along color lines within professional exist in countries that do not conform to Anglophone cultural templates.