The non-global public intellectual

The SMH has come with a list of Australia’s top 100 public intellectuals, of whom the top 10 are (with votes from a panel of 100[1])

Robert Manne – political scientist 39
Peter Singer – philosopher 33
Germaine – Greer feminist 29
Tim Flannery – scientist 25
Noel Pearson – Aboriginal advocate 24
Inga Clendinnen – historian 23
Geoffrey Blainey – historian 22
Helen Garner – writer 21
Donald Horne civil – society 19
Michael Kirby – judge 19

Andrew Norton has some discussion of the list, and the comments are also interesting. I just thought I’d repeat an observation I made in relation to Posner’s book on the subject. Of the top 10, only Singer and Greer (both expats) would have any significant recognition outside Australia.

This isn’t because our intellectuals can’t cut it on the world stage but because, in this respect, there is no world stage. As I observed at the time, Posner’s top 10 US public intellectuals are marginal figures as far as most Australians are concerned (unless they are famous for other reasons). The Prospect list for the UK (not easily available as far as I can tell, and I’ve misplaced my password) had more recognisable names (including our Germs at #2), but few who would fit naturally into a ‘public intellectual’ category. Each country, it seems wants to hear its own policy problems discussed in its own accent.

fn1. I was included in the panel, and also among the also-rans in the list of 100. I voted for three people who made it into the top 10 (Manne, Kirby and Garner) and Raymond Gaita who was ranked #11, as well as a couple of fellow-economists.

7 thoughts on “The non-global public intellectual

  1. I’m glad you nominated Bob Gregory, John. The big question is who, other than Wendy Bacon, voted for you. About ten of the hundred nominators didn’t allow the Herald to publish their lists. Out of these, I guess it was Clive Hamilton.

  2. Who is Germaine, and what sort of feminist is a Greer feminist? Something similar applies to Mr. D.H. civil, who appears to be an entire society in his own right.

    P.S. I must declare an interest. I know Geoffrey Blainey personally.

  3. Your inclusion of Jean Curthoys on your list shows admirable insight, and recognition of a fine mind not accompanied by an overgrown ego.

    A pity that one or two of the panelists couldn’t quite bring themselves to treat it seriously: Catharine Lumby had to engage in affirmative action; Alan McKee apparently needs to take a cold shower.

  4. A helpful ranking would disaggregate some of the variables that contribute to the selection process (apart from personal and ideological preferences), like quality of thought, originality and influence. It would help to have some categories as well, so the scientists could get better representation instead of being shaded by more visible and photogenic commentators and pundits.

  5. We are at the end of the Ideological Age, so most literary intellectuals still willing to speculate on world-historical issues are mostly past their use by date. The global social system is converging on a common ideological structure, most ideological debates are over national idioms.
    The ascetic pleasures of Theological systems are not so alluring to those in secular and affluent societies. Those interested in this way of life will be on the margins of global society.
    The only public issue where intellectuals can make a contribution and political progress, on a global rather than local scale, is imminent is the Technological question. This Third Culture, the interface between ideology and technology, is where sci-tech intellectuals have the big edge.
    I note that Richard Dawkins was voted as the UK’s leading intellectual, although it is not clear whether this was on account of his atheism or his Darwinism.

  6. Why didn’t Ross Gittins make it on the list? He’s a far better journalist than the ponderous Paul Kelly for example. And his range is broad. I won’t always agree with what he says, but he often has something thought provoking to say.

  7. Germaine Greer may be public but she sure ain’t no intellectual. She may have been relevant to a generation of bored housewives in the 70s, but her shrill brand of misandristic rehetoric speaks to no-one anymore (outside of feminist legal studies courses).

    Her appearance at number 3 says a lot about the relevance of the panel.

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