Where Have the Intellectuals Gone, and Do We Need Them?

Almost every generation suffers from a certain sense of pride and vanity—or “exceptionalism,” to borrow a popular neologism of the moment—whereby its particular civilization is seen as having arrived at a summit of human achievement. Ours is no exception: our athletes routinely obliterate previous records, modern science and medicine have leapt forward by unfathomable bounds, and living standards in the developed world are beyond compare. Sometimes these beliefs are tempered by a sense of nostalgia for golden eras past, but there is nevertheless an overwhelming agreement that we have built on previous progress to take every field of human activity further than ever before.

However arrogant it may be, the sentiment is of course justified on a number of levels. It is therefore all the more curious to come across an area where society appears to have stagnated or, indeed, even engaged on a reverse course. In the U.S., anti-intellectualism has been bemoaned by many for decades (and could be seen as a fundamental constituent of the narrow definition of “exceptionalism” as an American brand of progress that relies on a pioneering spirit and the relentless pursuit of prosperity—doing, not thinking), but even in the land of the free there once existed a particular cast of thinker that has been waning of late: the public intellectual. … Read More Where Have the Intellectuals Gone, and Do We Need Them?