The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe

The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe

The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe

The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe

Excerpt

At the time The Last Intellectuals was published in 1987 I could not anticipate that my argument on the eclipse of public intellectuals would soon be disproved. I could not foresee the explosion of university-based public intellectuals who would enrich political and cultural life; nor did I imagine the battalions of new specialist intellectuals who would subvert the establishment from within. I failed to predict these things because I was wed to an obsolete model of intellectual life, privileging old white guys and gals from the past. My sharp-eyed critics upbraided me for these deficiencies.

If this admission is diplomatic, it is also disingenuous-- and rubs against my own inclinations. The Last Intellectuals is hardly perfect, but happenings since its publication do not cause me to revise its main points. The book's working title, "The Last Generation:
The Eclipse of Public Intellectuals,"
captured its tenor. I perceived a generational move from public intellectuals earlier in the century to university thinkers at its end. Intellectuals have not disappeared, but something has altered in their composition. They have become more professional and insular; at the same time they have lost command of the vernacular, which thinkers from Galileo to Freud had mastered. Where the Lewis Mumfords or Walter Lippmanns wrote for a public, their successors "theorize" about it at academic conferences.

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