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Public Intellectuals

Public Intellectuals

A Study of Decline, With a New Preface and Epilogue

Richard A. Posner

ISBN 9780674042278

Publication date: 07/01/2009

In this timely book, the first 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. And he offers modest proposals for improving the performance of this market--and the quality of public discussion in America today.

This paperback edition contains a new preface and and a new epilogue.

Praise

  • Posner is, despite it all, a marvel. He is hyperactive like Harold Bloom, audacious like Christopher Hitchens and a practical man of the world like Alan Greenspan. About how many Americans can that be said? So he deserves attention no matter how infuriating he can be. Moreover, he charges gaily into the fray, voraciously aware of his own superiority.

    —David Brooks, New York Times Book Review

Author

  • Richard A. Posner retired as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2017. He was previously a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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