28 April 2008

The Top 100 Public Intellectuals? Top 5?

"As far as I have been able to determine, the word “intellectual” was popularised as a term of abuse during the Dreyfus affair. The coinage then suggested that the pro-Dreyfus faction was insufficiently rooted in nation and loyalty, preferring as they did the urbane abstractions of “the intellect” to the verities of church and soil. I personally hope the word never quite loses this association with the subversive." ~ Christopher Hitchens
The magazines Foreign Policy and The Prospect have teamed up to sponsor a popularity contest of a very odd sort. The point is to identify, by reader vote, the very top public intellectuals in the contemporary world. Their criteria are that:
"Candidates must be living and still active in public life. They must have shown distinction in their particular field as well as an ability to influence wider debate, often far beyond the borders of their own country."
You can find the list of the top 100 here. The opening passage is from an essay by Hitchens that accompanies the list and invitation to vote. I have not and will not vote because it seems to me that you cannot determine the worth of ideas I think the the worth of ideas by majority vote. Their value and robustness emerge from being examined and actively contested in debate and, then, in practice. Public intellectuals are interesting only insofar as they articulate ideas.

Three individuals not on the list that spring immediately to my mind are Adam Michnik, Arundhati Roy, and Roberto Mangabeira Unger. Any other suggestions?

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Blogger mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Pope Benedict XVI -- you are kidding me! I can hardly speak, except to say Pope Benedict XVI! Um...

29 April, 2008 03:17  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I actually wondered about that and several others ... David Petraeus? Both men are well educated (I believe DP has a PhD in History). But they are doing their "job" when they make public pronouncements. and accomplishment in his field means that he has to deeply violence - which is anathema to intellectual exchange.

29 April, 2008 07:49  
Blogger Stan B. said...

We may well have to start another list. First two names that come to mind: Tim Wise and Michael Eric Dyson.

29 April, 2008 10:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have liked to see Benny Morris on that list.

29 April, 2008 18:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would exposure have to play some sort of role in all of this? As a result, you could nominate those with the most media coverage, right? Then the list must include the likes of "W" and Al Gore. I think the definition of intellectual needs to be hashed out more.

What role does popularity play in this vote as well? An idea may be ahead of its time, but supremely unpopular, is the author still a top intellectual?

What do you think?

30 April, 2008 19:51  
Blogger Navid said...

Terry Eagleton

Anthony Giddens

...and no, I'm not from the UK.

01 May, 2008 03:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie, Robert Spencer.

Woops, you won't allow that possibility will you, Lefty boy?

02 May, 2008 14:55  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Rushdie clearly is a serious contender. Ali seems more of a self-promoter, but might clear the hurdle. I'm not sure whether she is anything other than an ideologue, but it is hard to say.
As I have explained here before (I suspect in response to one of your missives) Spencer is a hack to whom the word "intellectual" simply doesn't apply.

I'm stunned you managed only one clear crackpot among your suggestions.

02 May, 2008 17:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Lefty boy"?

Heh. The quality of critical appraisal around here isn't too sharp, is it?

In photography terms, I'd put the Harmina/Lucaites duo in there somewhere, and Andres Lepik of MoMA.

10 May, 2008 12:53  

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