Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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The oldest theme in the business
I'm beginning to wonder if there's a cognitive tic in my system that causes me to "not get" Jacob Heilbrunn's published output.
This month, Heilbrunn has an essay in World Affairs that bemoans the decline of the public intellectual:
For all the heat it has generated, for all the moments of good theater it has provided, the debate over the War on Terror has also called into question the role of public intellectuals today. In a prior time, these intellectuals could be judged by their output; today it is by the noise they make and the comment they generate....Having battled this meme for several years now, I'm beginning to observe a few pathologies in the standard "decline of the intellectual" essay:
1) Provide as little evidence as possible for your argument: Heilbrunn tries to persuade by asserting that, "Most of the intellectuals who stepped up to the mics at FOX News spent more energy wondering if they were the next George Orwell than writing books that would cast light on what the country faced in a time of terror." This is truly odd for two reasons. First, the only effort Heilbrunn makes to substantiate his argument about intellectual decline is to look at the trajectories of Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. This would be fine, except that neither Sullivan nor Hitchens have been shy in writing books on this topic.The decline-of-the-public-intellectual trope has been repeated so often -- and so baselessly -- that I'm going to make a request to readers, even though comments are down. Is there any way to objectively measure the quality of current public intellectual output?
E-mail me if you have ideas, because I'm getting tired of swatting these kind of articles down.posted by Dan on 04.15.08 at 08:50 AM
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