Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL SMACKDOWN....For some time Dan Drezner has been arguing that all the tears shed over the demise of the public intellectual in America are misplaced. Today's public intellectuals, he says, are every bit as good as the giants of the past, and blogs have served to give them an ever wider audience. Today he puts his money where his mouth is:

Among periodicals, The New Yorker has Malcolm Gladwell, James Surowiecki and Louis Menand on their payroll; Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, and Virginia Postrel write for The Atlantic; Harper's contributing editors include Barbara Ehrenreich, Thomas Frank, and Tom Wolfe; Vanity Fair has James Wolcott and Christopher Hitchens; Newsweek employs Fareed Zakaria, Daniel Gross and George F. Will. Despite the thinning of their ranks, unaffiliated public intellectuals like Paul Berman, Michael Beschloss, Debra Dickerson, Robert D. Kaplan, John Lukacs, Joshua Micah Marshall, Rick Perlstein and Robert Wright still remain. The explosion of think tanks in the past thirty years has contributed to a rise in partisanship — but it has also provided sinecures for the intellectual likes of Robert Kagan, Joel Kotkin, Michael Lind, Brink Lindsey, Jedediah Purdy, and David Rieff. Within the academy, there is no shortage of public intellectuals: Eric Alterman, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Michael Bérubé, Joshua Cohen, Jared Diamond, Jean Behke Elshtain, Amitai Etzioni, Niall Ferguson, Richard Florida, Francis Fukuyama, John Lewis Gaddis, Henry Louis Gates, Jacob Hacker, Samuel Huntington, Tony Judt, Paul Kennedy, Paul Krugman, Steven Leavitt, Lawrence Lessig, John Mearsheimer, Martha Nussbaum, Steven Pinker, Richard Posner, Samantha Power, Robert Putnam, Dani Rodrik, Jeffrey Sachs, Amartya Sen, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Joseph Stiglitz, Laurence Summers, Cass Sunstein, Michael Walzer, Sean Wilentz, E.O. Wilson, and Alan Wolfe. Their recent books [big slug o' books omitted –ed] are designed to be accessible to the informed lay public. It will be easy for the reader to quibble with one of the names or one of the books listed above. However, most cultural commentators would agree that most of the names and books belong on that list.

Sounds about right to me. Still, I think I might argue that even if the overall PI scene is still vibrant, 40 years ago there were a small number of what you might call mega-intellectuals — people like Buckley and Chomsky and Galbraith and Friedman — who had a bigger influence on public discourse than any single public intellectual does today. Nobody on Dan's list really seems to compete on quite the same plane as some of those 50s and 60s superstars. This might just be the hindsight bias that he talks about earlier in his piece, but if you had to nominate someone to be as influential today as Buckley and Galbraith were in their time, who would you choose? No one really comes to mind.

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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Don't know about the Public Intellectuals....but the internets have been a boon for the Public Imbeciles.

Posted by: demisod on May 13, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

How much of an ability to single out a dominant intellectual voice has to do with the explosion of venues for publicizing an opinion or position on various issues? Buckley had to compete with a few magazines, a few prominent daily papers and jockey for exposure on one of four television networks. Today's vibrant mind must navigate thousands of outlets for his/her voice to be heard.

Posted by: steve duncan on May 13, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with steve -- there will never be another Buckley or Galbraith for the same reason there will never be another Cosby Show or M.A.S.H. The media sphere is far too fragmented now (which is a good thing, IMO).

Posted by: OhioBoy on May 13, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff Sharlet comes to mind, but he is not a mega-star.

James Surowiecki has written two articles about just in time manufacturing for the New Yorker, and either does not understand it, does not understand how American corporate management operates or does not understand both.

Posted by: Brojo on May 13, 2008 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Drezner's argument is rendered invalid by the inclusion of Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, George Will, and Robert Kagan, just to name some of the more objectionable entries.

Posted by: drjimcooper on May 13, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

I would replace Andrew Sullivan with Inkblot.
Even Inky's turds make more sense.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly enough he left out Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell.

Posted by: peep on May 13, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

You dont have influential public intellectuals these days because the reigning administration doesnt respect scholarship in general. In a government environment where partisan advantage is everything, the dispassion intellectual is a liability to those in power, and to those trying to regain power. Part of what made the 1950s and 1960s intellectuals influential was the receptiveness of society and government to reasoned argument.

Personally, I find Jared Diamond's insights as penetrating and accessible as any in the old pantheon, but there are high barriers between his insights and meaningful policy measures. One of the appeals that Obama makes to voters is that he suggests that he will improve this problem and break down these barriers. Of course, Bush-era politics being what they are, there is no chance in hell that he can say this explicitly in public, only via dog-whistle language.

Posted by: troglodyte on May 13, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

the media domain is too fragmented for such hegemony to ever occur again. though some of us older folks might be uncomfortable about this new arrangement, for the most part, it is a good thing.
further, the internet (and those archives) help remind us of the importance of a Galbraith and just how small Buckley was on the most important issue of his time.

Posted by: larrybob on May 13, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

"But if you had to nominate someone to be as influential today as Buckley and Galbraith were in their time, who would you choose?"

Isn't this simply one more aspect of the (fracturing/broadening) of American society that is likewise seen in the fact that we no longer all watch the same movies & TV, listen to the same music, or read the same books?

On the one hand there is now SO MUCH truly good intellectual stimulation available that no one person can take it all in.

On the other hand, although we still have an awful long way to go in this regard, I'd like to think that at least the uppermost stratum of the public no longer has much tolerance for the sort of simple grand pronouncements of how the world works that we saw emanating from, in earlier times, Marx or Freud, and then from people like Buckley. We've seen enough of both how these grand narratives are false, and of where they lead that our response to anyone with such claims ranges from intolerant mockery to, in the best case "give us some proof".

People like, for example, Fukuyama or Huntington or Jared Diamond are offering a grand narrative similar to, say, that of Marx, but the reaction to them is very very different is it not? And personally I think it's far healthier that we have a society where these views are immediately challenged by others, and thus become simply part of the curriculum rather than hegemonic. God knows, we haven't been well served by the fraction of our public intellectuals that have been willing to jump on the Huntington narrative without a thought, or, similarly, to discuss the Jared Diamond Collapse narrative without a thought.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 13, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Fishing for a nomination, Kevin?

Maybe it's that we're swimming in self promotors these days that nobody is able to be judged on their actual ideas. The pace with which we're bombarded with viewpoints also makes it more difficult for any one of them to take hold and fire the imagination the way the greats did.

Posted by: CRSWA on May 13, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

We surely could use a John Kenneth Galbraith just now. He had a PBS series that I bet is available on line.

Posted by: slanted tom on May 13, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

"You dont have influential public intellectuals these days because the reigning administration doesnt respect scholarship in general." Goddam, that is stupid. I don't like George Bush either, but thinking he somehow de-intellectualized the country is retarded.

Posted by: steve s on May 13, 2008 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

drjimcooper: made me nod in agreement

peep made me lol.

But still an interesting post by Kevin. All politics and biases aside, I never considered Buckley an intellectual. You have to truly engage the opposing ideas. Few people on this list have impressed me as doing so. Maybe Hodding Carter, but does he even write anymore? Also, Krugman belongs I would say, and Wolcott most of the time.

Posted by: jackohearts on May 13, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds about right to me.

*takes a drink*

Posted by: mattstan on May 13, 2008 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

40 years ago there were a small number of what you might call mega-intellectuals ? people like Buckley and Chomsky and Galbraith and Friedman ? who had a bigger influence on public discourse than any single public intellectual does today.

Prove it. Try citing some 50-60s instances of discourse shaping by your mega four that are demonstrably bigger than today's.

Every one you throw up from your Golden Age of PI, I'll throw up a modern that you've forgotten.

Posted by: Nash on May 13, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'll put in a plug for Tony Judt. I can't say that he's as influential as Buckley etc. were, but he certainly deserves to be. His last two books, Postwar and Reappraisals, are absolutely outstanding.

Posted by: david on May 13, 2008 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

there will never be another Buckley or Galbraith for the same reason there will never be another Cosby Show or M.A.S.H. The media sphere is far too fragmented now (which is a good thing, IMO)

I'd say that's about right. There are no Robert Frosts or Carl Sandburgs in today's poetry world, either, and with the death of Norman Mailer, there is no top-dog journalist/novelist, no Hemingway figure anymore either. It's just a bigger and more diverse world of discourse, a lot more centrifugal.

Posted by: Tim Morris on May 13, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

He forgot Jonah Lucianne and his magnum opus on modern political philosophy.

Posted by: gregor on May 13, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Some, at least, of the 50/60's public intellectuals moved between politics, government, and opposition. On the Democratic side, many worked for Truman, then Stevenson, then became part of JFK's administration. Galbraith as ambassador to India, Schlesinger in the White House (building on an old tradition that had Hawthorne and Melville somewhere I forget). Except for Summers and Slaughter, I don't recognize any former public officials on the list. If Obama becomes president will Harvard move to DC as it did when JFK became president? Or has Harvard lost its preeminence as a home for public intellectuals?

Posted by: Bill Harshaw on May 13, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Who will last? My nomination would be Jared Diamond. I think Guns, Germs and Steel will be considered one of the most important books of the last 100 years.

Posted by: Wagster on May 13, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Also, the mass culture is further from promoting intellectualism ("Bor-ing!") than in the Twenties and Thirties, much less in the Television age. There was an attempt to be 'highbrow', to program Classical music and interview the "Public Intellectual".
(Although, if you've ever listened to recording of the like of Alexander Wolcott, maybe we didn't miss so much..)

Posted by: MR Bill on May 13, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Also, the mass culture is further from promoting intellectualism ("Bor-ing!") than in the Twenties and Thirties, much less in the Television age. There was an attempt to be 'highbrow', to program Classical music and interview the "Public Intellectual".
(Although, if you've ever listened to recording of the like of Alexander Wolcott, maybe we didn't miss so much..)

Posted by: MR Bill on May 13, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

On the left, I would say Jeffrey Sachs or Paul Krugman carry significant weight today.

On the right, it is hard to overstate the influence of the neocons (Kristol, Podhoretz...)

Posted by: on May 13, 2008 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think being a widely published columnist or oped writer in today's commercial media (which is what that list looks like to me) doesn't automatically make one a public intellectual.

I for one didn't see a whole lot of "intellectualizing" displayed when many of the people on the list became jingoistic cheerleaders for the war.

Posted by: Wapiti on May 13, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

You might agree that they are all public intellectuals, but I'd argue that they are simply good writers who rehash the same themes time and time again. Few if any have any original ideas they can call their own and generally most of them are simply writing superfluous critiques along partisan and/or philosophical diatribes.

Posted by: Paul on May 13, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

"Nobody on Dan's list really seems to compete on quite the same plane as some of those 50s and 60s superstars."

Actually, and quite sadly, there is one man...

He sells books by the truckload...

I won't name him, BUT...

He has a really big mustache.

He's not in the same caliber as the mega-intellectuals of the 50s, but I think he occupies the same space in the public mind.

Posted by: Frank Bruno on May 13, 2008 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

When you said "mega-intellectuals like Buckley, Galbraith, and Friedman", I thought you were talking about Thomas Friedman, who does have an outsized influence on public discourse.

Posted by: scott_m on May 13, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Eric Hobsbawm should have been on the list. His days are numbered but his past works have put historical materialism back on the map.

Posted by: Botecelli on May 13, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

When you said "mega-intellectuals like Buckley, Galbraith, and Friedman", I thought you were talking about Thomas Friedman, who does have an outsized influence on public discourse.
Posted by: scott_m on May 13, 2008 at 3:55 PM

The only thing outsized by Thomas Friedman is his opinion of himself.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 13, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

There were scientific leaders such as Jerome Wiesner who weren't all that well known to the public but who were influential with regard to national defense policy. At a different level, straddling science and culture we had Richard Feyneman and to a certain extent Hawking. There was also Carl Sagan. The fact that they worked to acquaint the public with modern science should not be viewed as somehow less important in the long run, because one of the major failings of the current run of political mediocrities is their failure to be aware of, much less to understand, the laws of thermodynamics. When a Maureen Dowd, for example, refers to math in that slightly fearful but distainful tone we have all learned to recognize, it is something that causes me to worry about our future.

Posted by: Bob G on May 13, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

On that list, Huntington and Fukuyama have both had an enormous influence over the last decade. Are we failing to recognize their ascendency because they are conservatives in the midst of what appears an intensely anti-intellectual (albeit conservative) era, and we're most accustomed to noticing public intellectuals on the left and in eras more open to ideas than our own? Maybe Fukuyama's ambiguous relationship to his own legacy--disavowing the Iraq War as justified by the "end of history"--also clouds his significance.

Also, why no Karen Armstrong? In the realm of religious ideas, she looms especialy large.

Posted by: RMcD on May 13, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

On that list, Huntington and Fukuyama have both had an enormous influence over the last decade. Are we failing to recognize their ascendency because they are conservatives in the midst of what appears an intensely anti-intellectual (albeit conservative) era, and we're most accustomed to noticing public intellectuals on the left and in eras more open to ideas than our own? Maybe Fukuyama's ambiguous relationship to his own legacy--disavowing the Iraq War as justified by the "end of history"--also clouds his significance.

Also, why no Karen Armstrong? In the realm of religious ideas, she looms especialy large.

Posted by: RMcD on May 13, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with a few other posters here: recent public intellectuals don't seem as big as the 50s and 60s intellectuals because the big guns recently have all been conservatives. True, we now have ten competitors for Kissinger's mantle, but together, the neocon luminaries of the last 25 years have been at least as influential over popular culture, and domestic and foreign policy as the left-wing superstars were in the 50s and 60s.

I guess the other reason this is hard to recognize is that these intellectuals are, as a whole, about 100 IQ points dumber than your average left-wing intellectual. But alas, we're talking public stature here, not literal intellectual power.

Posted by: JD on May 13, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You don't really mean that remark about William F. Buckley being an intellectual, do you? Knowing a lot of trivia and then trying to cut'n'paste policy arguments onto the trivia (since there is no real rational connection between the conclusion and the facts) isn't being an intellectual. I hope you're just saying that the conservatives commonly called him an intellectual, and not making a rating of him as actually being one yourself. I never read his stuff that I can recall, but form what I heard about him around the time of his death, he sounds like a glorified wacko to me.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Just to compare him to Buckley, Francis Fukuyama is a conservative intellectual (or was).

He actually made an argument against liberal internationalism, and really knew pertinent stuff, and made a genuine argument for what he was saying.

Anyway, as to the main question of your post, I'm too young to be able to give a good opinion on it (born in '79!).

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

There are a lot of smart people I wouldn't trust to pick up doughnuts for me (because they're so out of it).

They know a lot of trivia, but it doesn't make their opinions any less terrible. I wouldn't call them intellectuals just for the fact that they know a lot of trivia.

Think of Ben Stein. Calling him an intellectual is like calling a spelling-bee champ an intellectual. Maybe a spelling-bee champ is an intellectual in some third grade sense of the word, but not in an adult sense.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

I nominate Grover Norquist.

And I think that might be why we're having this conversation. Once upon a time Richard Nixon established an economic working group that included Galbraith - Norquist was having breakfast with the president weekly, whereas the idea of Krugman and the president casually exchanging ideas is absurd. President wasn't listening to his own appointments.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on May 13, 2008 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Honestly? Al Gore. He's more than a politician at this point, and I'd say he fits into that niche. I mean, people paid millions of dollars to listen to him lecture and see his slideshow. He may not utter profundities, but he certainly helps shape the public consciousness, and not in the way that, say, Tim Russert does.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on May 13, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

buckley might have been a glorified wacko, but he was an influential glorified wacko, at least for those on the right. and unlike many of today's righties, he was at least willing to debate those who held opposite views, including jk galbraith. and i have to agree with earlier comments that the vast breadth of media outlets today tends to dilute voices somewhat.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on May 13, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Walter Russell Mead's "Special Providence" is the only current affairs book I've read more than once, but that's just me.

Posted by: dzman49 on May 13, 2008 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK
... the intellectual likes of Robert Kagan ...

It was at that point when I realized the list, while interesting, is full of people who get their ideas into the discussion, not a list of actual intellectuals. Having Sullivan on there was a hint of it, but including any Kagan sealed the deal.

Sorry, but our whippet is smarter than Kagan. Faster, too.

Posted by: Mark D on May 13, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I would have included Robert Reich and Brad De Long, both of whom served in the Clinton administration. In terms of health care, I would also add Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton.

I would say that Paul Krugman comes pretty close to having Buckley type influence. Two columns per week in the NYT is nothing to sneeze at, but yes, discourse is just a lot more fragmented, or diverse, depending on whether you think the polyglot is a good or bad thing. Also, disciplines are more specialized, so a single person won't have as much credibility on as wide a range of subjects.

Posted by: Barbara on May 13, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

There must be more women than I see represented on that list. You guys need to get out more.

Posted by: on May 13, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but our whippet is smarter than Kagan. Faster, too.

No kidding. Kagan looks like he'd get winded reaching for the phone.

Posted by: junebug on May 13, 2008 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

That's rich - Dan Drezner commenting on public intellectuals as if he'd actually recognize one.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 13, 2008 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

I have nothing of substance to contribute to this discussion, but I am savoring the phrase "Intellectual Smackdown."
These people should buff up, put on costumes, and step into the ring. In some cases, at least, it would raise the tone of the discussion.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

The paucity of those of the breasted persuasion...

If William Buckley is an influential intellectual, why not Anne Coulter? Who are you talking about influencing?

In terms of people's whose opinions are being emailed and forwarded around the country, maureen down and anne coulter's articles are at the top of the heap.

Susan Faludi, Alice Walker, Susan Sontag (until recently...), Joan Dideon, Mary McCarthy, Jeanne Kirkpatrick (shudder), Madeline Allbright...

Posted by: Andree Pages on May 13, 2008 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

The paucity of those of the breasted persuasion...

If William Buckley is an influential intellectual, why not Anne Coulter? Who are you talking about influencing?

In terms of people's whose opinions are being emailed and forwarded around the country, maureen down and anne coulter's articles are at the top of the heap.

Susan Faludi, Alice Walker, Susan Sontag (until recently...), Joan Dideon, Mary McCarthy, Jeanne Kirkpatrick (shudder), Madeline Allbright...

Posted by: Andree Pages on May 13, 2008 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK


I suspect I could give almost every one of those guys knight odds.

Posted by: gcochran on May 13, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Drezner's argument is rendered invalid by the inclusion of Andrew Sullivan

Sully helped turn gay marriage into a mainstream issue, starting way back in the 1980s when the activist crowd had barely started thinking about it. (In fact, he was the target of a fair amount of abuse from the left for his views.) I think that should count for something. I've found his writings on the subject very persuasive - far more so than being yelled at by red-faced activists. Sure, he's also written a lot of stupid and/or deceptive things. So has Chomsky, but that doesn't mean he isn't an intellectual either.

Posted by: Nat on May 13, 2008 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Sully helped turn gay marriage into a mainstream issue, starting way back in the 1980s when the activist crowd had barely started thinking about it. (In fact, he was the target of a fair amount of abuse from the left for his views.) I think that should count for something. Posted by: Nat

It might count for something if he wasn't gay. Furthermore, a lot of gay men don't think the issue matters as much as protection against general sexual discrimination. Sullivan is very much to gay issues as Clarence Thomas is to discrimination against African-Americans. This is why the left has no use for him - he's been pretty much a useful idiot for the right.

Finally, in my book he'll never live down the Glass incident at the TNR.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 13, 2008 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

I second the nomination of Krugman as a "Mega-PI."

As a technical research economist he has the reach of a Samuelson or a Friedman. He has had revolutionary (to the field) contributions in the intersection of international trade and development theory, imperfect competition, and theory of the firm. He has been active in the microeconomics of geography and city formation. He has been a hugely influential analyst in the area of international finance and international macroeconomics in general, with specific reference to the economics of international currency crises.

That Krugman has not yet won the Nobel Prize in economics is a minor mystery to me, explained best by his age (still on the young side for that award) and his public role---I suspect that the selection committee is perturbed by that NYTimes gig.

It has been a bit of a pity that the politician with whom he has most recently been associated has claimed to ignore economist (and other eevil elite) opinion. But that will change.

I am not, btw, a pure worshipper of the ground upon which Krugman walks. I think his analysis of the California energy crisis was misguided, and his behavior in the current Presidential campaign would be disturbing did it not pale next to that of his preferred candidate. Apparently the Derangement Syndrome works in multiple directions.

But that is just me. Overall, this is an intellectual giant who effectively brings the tools of his discipline, his experience, and his intelligence to bear on the questions of the age. We can admire even when we do not agree.

Posted by: Marcus Sitz on May 13, 2008 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

It might count for something if he wasn't gay. Furthermore, a lot of gay men don't think the issue matters as much as protection against general sexual discrimination. Sullivan is very much to gay issues as Clarence Thomas is to discrimination against African-Americans. This is why the left has no use for him - he's been pretty much a useful idiot for the right.

Why in the world would it matter more if he weren't gay? At the risk of unnecessarily puffing up Sullivan, the logical conclusion of your statement is that King's voice shouldn't matter because he was black. Furthermore, isn't gay marriage part & parcel of protection against discrimination? The whole point is that gay men & women aren't afforded a right that straight men & women are. And you've got to help me with that Clarence Thomas thing. Sullivan's a huge voice for the rights of gay men & women, whereas Thomas has virtually nothing to say about racial discrimination. Finally, in what universe does the right find it useful to have a widely read conservative pundit who's outspokenly gay & stridently supporting Obama?

Posted by: junebug on May 13, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

There aren't any Beatles or Rolling Stones, either. It ain't 1965 anymore. Would you want it to be?

Posted by: Hiram Cross on May 13, 2008 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why in the world would it matter more if he weren't gay?

What's so remarkable about a gay man championing gay anything in the late 20th Century? Stonewall was heroic. As a an anti-abortion, Catholic, conservative, Sullivan is just confused. Breeders for fags, as Dan Strange might say, is more of a "man bites dog" story than a semi-oppressed minority fighting for rights.

Furthermore, isn't gay marriage part & parcel of protection against discrimination? The whole point is that gay men & women aren't afforded a right that straight men & women are.

It is to some gays and lesbians but, just like straight folk, they were co-habitating long before it was either socially acceptable or engendered any legal rights. And with many, legal status is all they are seeking - not white dresses, the "Wedding March" and a honeymoon in Vegas. Domestic partner status does it for most people, straight or gay.

And you've got to help me with that Clarence Thomas thing. Sullivan's a huge voice for the rights of gay men & women, whereas Thomas has virtually nothing to say about racial discrimination.

Look, the Log Cabin Republicans or conservative Republicans (like Sullivan) are pretty much the same as conservative African-Americans - tolerated at best by both the party powers and the rank and file. In short, neither do "their people" any good - Sullivan because he is, as I wrote before, a useful idiot, and Thomas because he has no apparent appreciation of the hard work done on his behalf during the 1960s and 1970s by King and others, otherwise, he'd have never gotten where is today.

Finally, in what universe does the right find it useful to have a widely read conservative pundit who's outspokenly gay & stridently supporting Obama? Posted by: junebug

Because though he'll never really be on the team, he has otherwise championed most of the right's agenda over the last fifteen years or so.

And as fucked-up as Sullivan is, he may be supporting Obama simply because of his raging hatred of the Clintons.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 13, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

"The paucity of those of the breasted persuasion..."

Hugh Hewitt just isn't smart enough to make the list.

Kevin, how to you plan to break the news to Inkblot that Drezner has snubbed him?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on May 13, 2008 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's largely because of the blogosphere. You can find people who you think are just as good--or you yourself can be just as good.

For instance, Ezra Klein is as good as any man alive on healthcare and nothing changes that. Personally I think that while respecting those old 60s intellectuals is important, our ideas are just as good in terms of how to deal with the world.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 13, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

MrBill @ 3:37PM "...the likes of Alexander Woolcott,...".
I have always considered Woolcott to be sui generis - newspaper reporter (before WWI), theatre critic, writer for the New Yorker (both in the 1920's), author, public speaker, radio personality (1930's and 40's). His influence was enormous, especially after he began his broadcasting career. From what I have read by and about him, I don't see him as a "public intellectual", but more as a "public populizer"; whether of books, movies, or support for Britain. He wasn't an originator, but rather, like his friend Noel Coward, had "a talent to amuse."
I almost forgot, also an actor: as well as starring in one or two quite forgettable productions, he starred as Sheridan Whiteside (himself) in a touring production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" in 1940, I believe.

Posted by: Doug on May 13, 2008 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

What about the neo-atheists -- Dawkins, Dennet, Harris and Hitchens? What about Naomi Klein? Barack Obama is of course the world's most famous intellectual now.

Posted by: john on May 13, 2008 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Moyers. He's more television than print, but he certainly qualifies.

Posted by: Varecia on May 13, 2008 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Does a Canadian such as Naomi Klein count? - though I guess if Galbraith counts. If able to go offshore (IMO we should really be talking about the English-speaking intellectual world), let me add James Lovelock and Arundhati Roy.

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 13, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

and John Ralston Saul, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Bjørn Lomborg...

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 13, 2008 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Pinker, George Lakoff and the most cited living person, Noam Chomsky.

Posted by: Linguist on May 13, 2008 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

Alexander Woolcott an intellectual?
I may vomit.

Posted by: dSmith on May 13, 2008 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

I notice that intellectuals rely on intellectuals to "prove" their current point. They take two intellectuals. usually deceased, and pit them against one another so the intellectual, whatever that really is, writing his paper, can 'prove' the point they are trying to make while not actually taking a position.

Its chickenhawk intellectualism. =P

As for todays PI's, its all been said before and I am more interested in investigative writing which has become nearly extinct since the advent of tabloidal journalism cloaked as 'News'

Posted by: Jet on May 13, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Michael Pollan

Posted by: harold on May 13, 2008 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

Glenn Greenwald's name needs to be on that list. I read him everyday.

He may not have the influence of a Buckley yet...

Posted by: dsc on May 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

What's so remarkable about a gay man championing gay anything in the late 20th Century? Stonewall was heroic. As a an anti-abortion, Catholic, conservative, Sullivan is just confused. Breeders for fags, as Dan Strange might say, is more of a "man bites dog" story than a semi-oppressed minority fighting for rights.

I'm not following you. What does this have to do with whether or not Andrew Sullivan can be considered a public intellectual? I'm certainly not arguing that he is, but you seem to be suggesting that he needs to be a disinterested party in the argument he's making in order for that argument to be taken seriously. I have absolutely no idea what this has to do with Catholicism or abortion, either.

... And with many (gay men & women), legal status is all they are seeking - not white dresses, the "Wedding March" and a honeymoon in Vegas. Domestic partner status does it for most people, straight or gay.

But Sullivan isn't presenting his case to the Catholic church. The point is that marriage *is* a legal status, and it's a legal status that's been denied to gay couples. While domestic partnership can be made legal, the point that many gay-marriage advocates are making is that domestic partnership simply hews to old ideas about separate-but-equal.

Look, the Log Cabin Republicans or conservative Republicans (like Sullivan) are pretty much the same as conservative African-Americans - tolerated at best by both the party powers and the rank and file. In short, neither do "their people" any good - Sullivan because he is, as I wrote before, a useful idiot, and Thomas because he has no apparent appreciation of the hard work done on his behalf during the 1960s and 1970s by King and others, otherwise, he'd have never gotten where is today.

How does this relate to your original comment that "Sullivan is very much to gay issues as Clarence Thomas is to discrimination against African-Americans"?

And as fucked-up as Sullivan is, he may be supporting Obama simply because of his raging hatred of the Clintons.

You'd probably be on to something here, except for one important detail: Sullivan prefers Obama over McCain. You're right, though, in that his hatred of the Clintons is nothing short of bizarre.

Posted by: junebug on May 14, 2008 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

If I may offer a slight addendum to the "fragmentation" point brought up a few times:
I think it's more about trust. There are constant (valid) charges of plagiarism, bias, misrepresentation and general mendacity particularly aimed formerly trustworthy institutions (e.g. Rathergate, Judith Miller and, um, the Executive Branch). So, people are using their own intuitions more on what's right, as well as the opinions of a smaller cohort that they feel a closer connection to - a trusted source of news. Enough people simply don't trust Krugman or anyone else all the time for him/her (though apparently more "him") to be that much of a giant.

Basically, it's all Nixon's fault.

Posted by: marc on May 14, 2008 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting discussion. Before extolling the virtues of American intellectualism as a whole, however, it pays to remember deTocqueville's stinging remark regarding Americans: "Their life is so practical, so confused, so excited, that little time remains for them for thought."

Has the environment changed all that much since the 1830s? Or is Mencken's ascerbic branding -- Booboisie -- still applicable?

Galbraith has been mentioned frequently, but Michael Harrington's "The Other America" was just as influential, if not more so, than "The Affluent Society." But the Keynesian-based philosophy of those thinkers was eventually eclipsed by the original pack of Neocons, including Irving Kristol who may be the most influential intellectual of the past 50 years.

Along with Daniel Bell (who now teaches in China) he ran The Public Interest, which substantiated Free Market policies such as Friedman's monetarism, Charles Murray's Bell Curve and his assault on social programs, Reaganism, massive deregulation, as well as the sundering of affirmative action and welfare. Also, Arthur Laffer justified lower tax rates -- the abiding foundation for W's cuts (just ask CNBC).

Throw in Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom, Jude Wanniski, George Gilder, and few others and -- presto -- the left and the intellectual base of the Democrats were reduced to virtual obsolescence.

Give the right, the financial supporters for think-tanks like the AEI, William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and the architects of the PNAC mission statement credit. Not for their ideas, which are generally ideological and foolhardy, but for their victory over common reasonable discourse. They made intellectuals, such as George Will, look like pussy cats.

To some extent, Fukuyama's End-of-History thesis was fuel for the PNAC crowd who in turn advocated spreading freedom via neoimperialism after 9/11 -- the foreign policy that still prevails today despite 70% of Americans disagreeing with it. Fukuyama deserves credit for eventually denouncing the Neocons, but he was a day late and a dollar short. The fix was in, which Huntington's Clash thesis fortified. It's Us -- the lovers of Freedom -- versus Them -- the Axis of Evil.

What the Neocons have demonstrated is that there is no Emersonian circle where all the best ideas are sorted out in America. The outlets for ideas, at least the commercially viable ones beyond academia, are now controlled, thanks in part to Bill Clinton's deregulation of the media, by a league of true believers interested in perpetuating their ideology. Consequently, intellectualism is more of a Manichean game than it ever was, and the left is losing badly.

It's a strange phenomenon to see Obama rolling in cash, which is largely dedicated to 30-second spots, while at the same time, Where's the support for the liberal version of The Public Interest, The National Interest, The Weekly Standard, etc? Do the intellectual liberals feel as if looking the other way will make the Democrats' intellectual bankruptcy disappear?

Really, What exactly is the Democrats' intellectual core? Univesral Healthcare? Bring the troops home? Freeze the ARM interest rates for 5 years? And provide a gas tax holiday? Nor very cohesive; it's been more like strands of spaghetti than ideas: throw them against the wall to see what sticks.

Truly, Obama's aim for bipartisan accommodation is ideal. It's time the polarization ends. But so far, it's more hope than intellectual design. What's needed is, well, a group of intellectuals to piece it together, brand it, market it, and then make it work -- you know, like the right has been doing for the past 25 years. Without that all the left has to work with are hope and pandering, and a few more boilermakers along the campaign trail.

Posted by: arty kraft on May 14, 2008 at 6:23 AM | PERMALINK

Daniel Patrick Moynihan had the most direct impact of any of those on the list. He was both an intellectual and a pragmatic politician who believed that government could work and that he could work with anyone in government.

Along with Daniel Bell (who now teaches in China) he ran The Public Interest, which substantiated Free Market policies such as Friedman's monetarism, Charles Murray's Bell Curve and his assault on social programs, Reaganism, massive deregulation, as well as the sundering of affirmative action and welfare. Also, Arthur Laffer justified lower tax rates -- the abiding foundation for W's cuts (just ask CNBC).

Throw in Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom, Jude Wanniski, George Gilder, and few others and -- presto -- the left and the intellectual base of the Democrats were reduced to virtual obsolescence.

And all of them about as anti-intellectual as possible. They misrepresented data, cherry-picked and made stuff up. They're the Creationists of public policy. Liberals really blew it when they didn't fight back hard against this dishonesty.

Posted by: freelunch on May 14, 2008 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Posner is the most cited judge. His legacy 100 years from now will rival Holmes, Brandeis, Frankfurter, L. Hand, etc.

Posted by: josh on May 14, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Richard Dawkins is becoming a mega-star, and he is a real intellectual.

Posted by: Brojo on May 14, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Why is only one person in that list, E. O. Wilson, a scientist? Maybe count Steven Pinker, too, and add in Richard Dawkins (not American, but gets a lot of press in the U.S.), for three individuals, one who is pushing eighty. Was the 50s-70s respect for science and scientists in America an aberration of the Cold War need to beat the Soviets militarily and in space, or have the last dozen years been the aberration?

Posted by: jason on May 14, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

The Gores, Al and Vidal.

Posted by: on May 14, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK
there will never be another Buckley or Galbraith for the same reason there will never be another Cosby Show or M.A.S.H. The media sphere is far too fragmented now (which is a good thing, IMO).

The media sphere is far more consolidated than it was in the 50s or 60s. There may be more superficially distinct offerings, but, viewed across the whole spectrum of the major media (at least, excluding new media like the internet) there are fewer actual corporate parents that control all of the major radio/TV/newspaper/newsmagazine outlets. And not only do they share corporate parents, but they likewise share content and "public intellectuals", which is one reason why you won't get as many greats rising to the top.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 15, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

If these intellectuals are all so great, why is the country so screwed up?

Posted by: Tony Wikrent on May 15, 2008 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Karsten on March 21, 2010 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty good article. I saw a webpage with a post almost identical to this one a couple of days ago. This article is a week older so I recon they have just copied and eddited it. I'm not accusing you of copyright abuse it's merely just it is out there. I can't remember the website, sorry (age thing)

Posted by: Rob Wessels on March 1, 2011 at 5:57 AM | PERMALINK
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