Intellectuals and Politics


The rise of Newt Gingrich, Ph.D.— along with the apparent anti-intellectualism of many of the other Republican candidates — has once again raised the question of the role of intellectuals in American politics.

In writing about intellectuals, my temptation is to begin by echoing Marianne Moore on poetry: I, too, dislike them.  But that would be a lie: all else equal, I really like intellectuals.  Besides, I’m an intellectual myself, and their self-deprecation is one thing I really do dislike about many intellectuals.

What is an intellectual?  In general, someone seriously devoted to what used to be called the “life of the mind”: thinking pursued not instrumentally, for the sake of practical goals, but simply for the sake of knowing and understanding.  Nowadays, universities are the most congenial spots for intellectuals, although even there corporatism and careerism are increasing threats.
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