What it means to be a public intellectual in the modern world

Daniel Drezner, a professor and political commentator, has been espousing the benefits of blogging and the new role of the public intellectual for several years, long before many of his colleagues believed that blogging would be anything more than a passing fad.  In a 2008 article for Foreign Policy,  Drezner engages in a public debate with several of his esteemed colleagues, challenging their notions of what it means to be a public intellectual in the modern world.

In 2008, it seems that many members of the old-school media institutions were just beginning to realize that blogging, bloggers, and all the changes these forces entail had officially arrived in the public sphere and were here to stay.  Around this time, countless articles were written decrying this “demise of the public intellectual.”

The main thrust of Drezner’s argument is that not only was mid-century society not better off under the tutelage of such megalithic intellectuals as Chomsky, Galbraith, or Sontag, but that the rise of content democratization has put more pressure on public intellectuals to produce work of substance, as the pressure that bloggers and online commenters place on modern-day Public Intellectuals require them to “respond to criticism and improve their commentary; the worst should fade from view.”

If we are going to hold up these public intellectuals as models for society and if we are going to imbue their words with any value, I see no reason why we should not hold them up to a higher standard, require from them rigorous research and thought, and enter into a dialogue with them.  As Drezner sums it up, “if we’re living in a world where there are more public intellectuals, but they’re more responsive to criticism and less willing to venture way beyond their areas of competence — well, then let me dance on the grave of ‘mega-public intellectuals.’”


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