Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline

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9780674006331: Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline
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In this comprehensive study of the modern American public intellectual - that individual who speaks to the public on issues of political or ideological moment - Richard Posner charts the decline of a venerable institution that included worthies from Socrates to John Dewey. With the rapid growth of the media in recent years, highly visible forums for discussion have multiplied, while greater academic specialization has yielded a growing number of narrowly trained scholars. Posner tracks these two trends to their inevitable intersection: a proliferation of modern academics commenting on topics outside their ken. The resulting scene - one of off-the-cuff pronouncements, erroneous predictions, and ignorant policy proposals - compares poorly with the performance of earlier public intellectuals, largely nonacademics whose erudition and breadth of knowledge were well suited to public discourse. Leveling a balanced attack on liberal and conservative pundits alike, Posner describes the styles and genres, constraints and incentives, of the activity of public intellectuals. He identifies a market for this activity - one with recognizable patterns and conventions but an absence of quality controls. He also offers modest proposals for improving the performance of this market - and the quality of public discussion in America today.

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In "Public Intellectuals"...Posner trashes fellow smarties who expound on public issues outside their expertise. He says they abandon rigor when they write general interest books and op-ed pieces, publish open letters, and speak on television. They are in decline, he says, because more of them than ever have safe jobs as professors, protecting them from the consequences of bad predictions and stupid proclamations...Posner fires both left and right, nearly always hitting the mark.--Peter Coy"Business Week" (02/11/2002)

About the Author:

Richard A. Posner is Circuit Judge, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

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Publisher: Harvard University Press, 2003
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