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Public intellectuals

August 22nd, 2002

Among a bunch of interesting posts, Don Arthur links to a critical review of Richard Posner’s bestsellet Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. I thought I’d grab the chance to plug my own review which adds an Australian angle. My two-para grab:

For an Australian reader, though, the really striking feature of Posner’s list is the obscurity of so many of the names on it. and especially of the American academic public intellectuals who are the primary focus of the book. I could only recognise about half the names in this category, and my efforts were boosted by the overrepresentation of economists in the list, reflecting the fact that my academic roots and Posner’s are much the same.

Although we are allegedly living in a globalised world, it is evident that the market for public intellectuals remains nationally segmented. Each country, it seems wants to hear its own policy problems discussed in its own accent. To illustrate this point, a Google search of Australian websites gives over 900 references to Donald Horne and over 2400 to the late Manning Clark, compared to just over 100 for William F. Buckley and 33 for William Kristol. Even rank-and-file Australian public intellectuals (such as the present reviewer) are better represented on Australian websites than these giants of the US scene.

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