Volume 24, 2020
Elia Kazan and the Hollywood Blacklist
Some Philosophical Reflections
In April 1952, Elia Kazan appeared before HUAC and named names. Although he refused to do so in an earlier appearance, this time, having been warned that his film career was in jeopardy, he named many of his colleagues and friends. While he is far from the only one to turn informer, his case garners the most attention for a variety of reasons. In this essay, I examine Kazan’s justifications for his acts, acts that contributed to the destruction of the careers of many of his talented colleagues and friends. I wish to discover whether his arguments are philosophically plausible and how the themes in his film On the Waterfront (1954) contribute to the debate over these issues. In contrast, I examine the film High Noon (1952), largely seen as an attack on the practice of informing. I examine how Utilitarian and Kantian moral theories might be used either to justify or condemn Kazan’s actions. Finally, if we stipulate that Kazan’s acts before HUAC were immoral, does this mean that we should boycott his art or deny him accolades that his work would otherwise merit?