Joad finished his education at Oxford in 1914 -- he was a John Locke Scholar in Mental Philosophy at Oxford in that year -- after which he worked as a civil servant until 1930. According to Jason Tomes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Joad was exempt from military service in WWI due to his position as a senior civil servant. In 1930, he became the head of the philosophy department at Birkbeck College in the University of London "and ran it for or 23 years -- but he was never made a professor." (H/t to Man Without Qualities for that last link.) A. J. Ayer put this point in stronger terms in his autobiography (Part of my Life, p. 302): 'He [Joad] taught philosophy at Birkbeck College, London, where they refused to make him a professor, though he allowed himself to be called so' (emphasis added). In fact, Joad was 'called so' more than pretty much anybody else of his time. The title 'Professor' came to be so indissolubly fused to his surname that Peter Clarke once wrote, 'Like Dr Johnson, Colonel House, or Professor Joad, he [Gladstone] has laid peculiar claim from beyond the grave to a conventional style of address' (London Review of Books [April 17, 1980]). Joad's actual title at Birkbeck was 'Reader in Philosophy'; according to Tomes, 'the University gave him a DLitt degree in 1936 and promoted him to reader in 1945.'
Joad was praised mainly as a great teacher and popularizer rather than as an original philosopher or scholar. He rose to fame in the UK as a founding member of the The Brains Trust, a radio program on the BBC. Here's a clip from the BBC archives (April 28, 1942) in which Joad, Julian Huxley and others discuss the establishment of a public, national health service (and the meaning of 'allergy'). Joad begins speaking at 1.46 and again at 5.06 and at 6.31. On this show he became famous for prefacing his comments with the phrase, 'It all depends on what you mean by ....'
Before achieving his fame on the radio, Joad achieved infamy. He was vilified by many of his contemporaries for his opposition to conscription in WWI and, later, for his role in the infamous Oxford Union debate on February 9, 1933, where -- about ten days after Hitler had become the German Chancellor -- Joad defended the proposition, 'That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.' His role in the debate (as a guest speaker) earned him the enmity of Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill referred to the 1933 resolution twice in The Second World War, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm. On p. 77, Churchill wrote, 'In 1933 the students of the Oxford Union, under the inspiration of a Mr. Joad, passed their ever-shameful resolution, "That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country."' 'Mr. Joad' -- he was no professor in Churchill's eyes. Indeed, according to Churchill, Joad's resolution influenced Great Britain's enemies:
Mussolini, like Hitler, regarded Britannia as a frightened, flabby old woman .... Lord Lloyd, who was on friendly terms with him [Mussolini], noted how he had been struck by the Joad resolution of the Oxford undergraduates in 1933. (p. 150)The Daily Express characterized the debate's outcome in these ridiculous terms: 'There is no question but that the woozy-minded Communists, the practical jokers, and the sexual indeterminates of Oxford have scored a great success in the publicity that has followed this victory.'
Joad had held pacifist views since before WWI. Under the influence of H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw (among others), he joined the Fabian Society in 1912. Like Shaw and Bertrand Russell, Joad opposed the UK's involvement in WWI.
Certainly Joad was not afraid to adopt unpopular positions (he wrote some stinging critiques of Christianity). According to the Spartacus bio at the previous link, he supported the suffragists. Unfortunately, as is noted in that same bio, he became a horrible sexist. The Spartacus bio contains the following quotation from Joad's 1932 autobiography:
I started my adult life, as I have recounted, with such high hopes of women, that the process of disillusionment has left a bitterness behind. If I was never sentimental enough to expect women to be soul mates, at least I thought to treat them as intellectual equals. It was a shock to find that the equality had been imposed by myself upon unequals who resented it. If only women could have remained at the silent-film stage, all would have been well; but the invention of talking has been as disastrous in women as it has in the cinema.That's what a supposedly progressive public figure wrote in 1932. Not surprisingly, Joad doesn't seem to have established any stable relationships with women. He married in 1915 and left his wife in 1921. He had three children from that marriage (two daughters and a son) but wasn't on speaking terms with any of them later in life.
Joad garnered little respect from the most prominent British philosophers of the day. Bertrand Russell disliked Joad and accused him of plagiarism. I'm not sure of the details connected with this charge, but according to an anecdote that Ayer recounts (Part of my Life, p. 302), when Russell was asked to review a book by Joad, Russell replied, 'Modesty forbids.'
Joad had some contact with the Inklings in the early 1940's. He attended an Inklings meeting in 1943. He shows up in two of J. R. R. Tolkien's letters from that year. In a letter to his son, Christopher, dated October 25, Tolkien said, 'Tomorrow night I am going to hobnob, chez Lewis, with Joad of Joad Hall.' I was thinking of starting that joke ('Joad Hall') until I saw that Tolkien beat me to it. (Actually, Tolkien attributes the joke to an unidentified author.) Tolkien elaborated on the joke in a subsequent letter (Oct. 27) to Christopher, which is summarized at the Tolkien Gateway as follows:
Tolkien said that except for his face Joad was very like a toad, and in character closely resembled Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. He found him intelligent, kindly, and they agreed on many fundamental points. Joad had been in Russia and loathed it.Perhaps it was Joad's trip to the Soviet Union in 1930 that initiated the long process in which he dropped many of his earlier beliefs. While he strongly opposed Hitler and Mussolini, Joad was still a pacifist at the start of WWII. However, according to Tomes in the ODNB (linked above), Joad had abandoned his pacifism by May, 1940, by which time he had concluded that war was necessary in order to save civilization.
Another major change in Joad's beliefs concerned religion. By the time he debated C. S. Lewis at the Oxford Socratic Club on January 24, 1944, Joad had become a theist but not a Christian. He seems to have been influenced by Lewis, though, as is evident from a paper by Joel D. Heck (here's the pdf), to the point where Joad joined the Church of England near the end of his life. In 1952, he published his last book, The Recovery of Belief: A Restatement of Christian Philosophy.
Joad was known for his passionate debates. His exchange with Lewis in 1944 attracted more than twice as many spectators as the average Socratic Club debate. According to Joad's New York Times obituary (April 10, 1953), he returned to the Oxford Union for a debate with Randolph Churchill in 1950. Here's the resolution that Joad defended: 'That this House regrets the influence exercised by the US, as the dominant power among the democratic nations.' In this debate, Joad said (I quote from the NY Times obit), 'Britain is tied to the wheels of the American chariot -- a chariot leading us to Hell.' According to Time Magazine's coverage, Joad added, 'Money is the sole American standard of value.' Joad had visited the United States exactly once. It was at this debate that R. Churchill referred to Joad as 'a third-class Socrates.'
Joad's indiscretions caught up with him after WWII. He boasted publicly that he regularly rode trains without paying for his tickets. He was caught doing so in 1948. The BBC responded by firing him. No more Brains Trust for Joad. He returned to infamy.
What a strange character. He could easily have afforded to pay for his rail trips. His habit of not doing so reminds me of rich people who shoplift, except that they tend not to make public declarations of their kleptomania. It's as if Joad wanted to be caught and discredited. Why? Did he feel guilty about something?
(More about Joad in a subsequent post.)