They no longer exist according to Mark Bauerlein. Writing at Brainstorm, he laments the lack of intelligent commentary in today’s media saturated world:
And the more one listens to TV commenters giving their potted judgments (with a few exceptions, including Williams), the more dismay one feels for intellectual exchange on the public airwaves. In a book review a few weeks back in the The Weekly Standard, Joseph Epstein had a depressing but all-too-accurate opinion of the state of affairs, particularly in light of intellectuals in public settings.
“For it is far from clear that we even have intellectuals any longer—at least not in the old sense of men and women living on and for ideas, imbued with high culture, willing to sacrifice financially to live the undeterred life of the mind. Intellectuals of the kind that T.S. Eliot sought as contributors to the Criterion—Ortega y Gasset, Paul Valéry, E R. Curtius, Arthur Eddington—no longer exist. Nor do the intellectuals, of lesser fame and distinction, who helped fill Elliot Cohen’s pages.
“Instead, we have so-called public intellectuals, a very different, much less impressive, type, whom I have always thought should be called Publicity Intellectuals. Public intellectual is another term for talking head—men and women who have newspaper columns or blogs or appear regularly on television and radio talk shows and comment chiefly on politicians and political programs; they tend to be articulate without any sign of being cultured, already lined and locked up politically, and devoted to many things, but the disinterested pursuit of the truth not among them. Frank Rich is a public intellectual, so too are Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza.”
Yes, indeed. The term “public intellectual” refers now more to anybody with a regular public forum who talks about politics or culture. The former standard for “intellectual,” that is, someone bookish and learned and cultured and articulate and independent who takes ideas and ideologies seriously while communicating with a non-specialist, non-academic audience, no longer holds.
Tom Van Dyke says
If you've ever read Hitchens' book reviews in The Atlantic, his erudition is stunning.
When he became a pop star, on defending Dubya and Iraq, or showing his ignorance of Christian theology in his “God is not Great” anti-theism polemics, he disappointed.
You, John, were disappointed in at least one.
The fact is that once one feels the need to speak on current events—and I don't object to that—one loses his timelessness.
Although I agree with Hitchens on Dubya and Iraq, and disagree with his anti-theism, I must say that I find his attack on Mother Teresa of more value, without agreeing with it in the least. We will miss Hitch, apparently soon.
“Publicity Intellectuals” is funny.
I might allow Excitable Andrew Sullivan is a “public intellectual,” although he has run out of intellectual steam. Dinesh D'Sousa at least held up his end for theism in public debate with Hitchens although I'm lukewarm.
Frank Rich, a “public intellectual?” Surely we jest. He was the drama critic of the New York Times, transitioned to the op-ed page.
There is absolutely not one semi-public intellectual [You? Me?] who cites or gives a hoot what Frank Rich says or thinks. Let's get real.
The right would contribute $1 million easy to to see the mindless drone Frank Rich crawl his sorry ass up on a debate stage with Krauthammer.
Liberalism would be destroyed forever.
But partisanship aside, I do agree with your basic thrust, John. But I don't know if these “public intellectuals” were ever all that public. The astonishing Ortega y Gasset? They didn't listen to him then, don't listen to him now.
Mario Vargas Llosa just won the Nobel Prize for literature, and is a visiting professor at Princeton. He speaks English fluently.
But his politics are center-right, as a result of the horrors in his native Peru.
Where is he in the public eye, John? Perhaps your university might invite him to speak. Perhaps he'd say yes, since you're just down the road.
Especially since the American academy and American media are clearly disinterested.
He has a 60 Minutes interview coming up.
And if he went on Fox News, his reputation with the academy would be destroyed forever. Had he already gone on Fox News, he wouldn't have won the Nobel. Let's stay real here, my friend. Vargas Llosa is the very defintion of a “public intellectual,” but were he to associate himself with any organ of the right, he would be discredited immediately.
And the so-called “mainstream” have no interest whatsoever in giving a platform to his POV.