Who's the Top Public Intellectual?


The American magazine Foreign Policy and British magazine Prospect have published a joint list of the world's Top 100 Public Intellectuals. The list includes several PostGlobal panelists. Who's missing from the list? Who would you take off?

Posted by Lauren Keane on May 29, 2008 2:10 PM

Readers’ Responses to Our Question (14)

Ecru :

'I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.' –William F. Buckley

Venkat :

I think glancing at the list and esp Alam's comments the definition of intellectual must be changed.

Alam should know that proficiency in Koran doesn't make one one on the contrary they must be considered nothing more intelligent than a goat!

Hulla girl :

Whats the point for this list?

to tell people they should read more books of this people?

nothing against britain but british level of intelectual thinking is lower as that of polish farmer who talks with his cows.

i mean c'mon guys! americans cant even atars to talk about politics without to use racist terms and britons cant start to talk with forigners without to insult him with own lack of historical knowledge.

aziz :

Three names left off the list for obvious reasons:

Jimmy Carter, Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer

Criticism of Israel is of course alive and well amongst these establishment magazines. The absence of these three extremely influential thought leaders says much more about the quality of these efforts than the people who are on them.

MikeB :

This list is a roll of bankrupt academics, craven bureaucrats, and ossified blowhards of entrenched economic interests. It would be laughable if these cretins were not so dangerous. Right now, this country, even Western civilization, is teetering on a knife’s edge, the “globalization” theories threatening to wreck it all and these fools provide the peanut gallery of cheerleaders for the parasitical Wall Street sorts, political chattering class, and their useful idiots writing for the press that place “gain” (profits, territory, ideology) above even their own survival – because some other suicidal investor or company will make more money by selling critical technology to an enemy, to ensure a place in some dusty history text, to titillate the herd of morons that read their columns (or, even, get them to watch some new pseudo-intellectual television show on world affairs).

Notably missing are genuine thinkers, critical analysts of conventional wisdom and today’s collection of those few so lucky as to be the chief recipients of Fortunes lucky roll of the dice, actual critics of your “elite” collection of twits.

Expat in Tokyo, Japan :

Whether it is a consequence of what Jag Rao above refers to as the "Washington centric cocktail circuit view of the world," or if it is a muffled indication of perceived or actual irrelevance to world affairs, I find the absence of Japanese "public intellectuals" from this list startling, if not wholly puzzling. That I cannot suggest any one individual suggests there is more at work than a mere language gap.

Anonymous 007 :

With all due respect to each and everyone listed, this is evidently an exclusively Anglo-American list, with Anglo-American perspective, “international” flavour, and all. If we are serious about determining who the Top 100 Public Intellectuals may be, we need a true world list, provided by a genuine international panel, and based on input by internationally recognized authorities from every country, from every continent. In the end, all preliminary lists (national and continental) should be made public, together with the international panel’s conclusions. It is my opinion that exercise would teach us a thing or two on our world, beyond a traditional Anglo-American perspective.

daniel :

Ok, I looked over the list of top 100 intellectuals and I can see immediately that the list obscures one of the most complex problems in the world today. The list has been compiled from a particular and hopeful perspective, the multicultural, give each person his due mindset. But the world has a particular difficulty facing it: on one hand we have the politically correct and hopeful view, of which this list is expressive, but on the other hand we have firm evidence that as we call for attempts to uplift all nations to the economic level of the U.S., Europe, Japan, etc. (first world), the U.S., etc. are becoming more and more devoted to a system which is moving more more into the realm of outright eugenics and are threatening to distance themselves from all lagging nations as never before. A good example of what I mean is that in all first rate nations there is a system of education which is not so much education as we move more and more to the university level but a system of locating the excellent and allowing only them admission to the elite level. The students allowed into elite universities are not there because they have been the most successfully educated, they are there because they have genetically demonstrated themselves to be among the elite. In other words we have on one hand the politically correct notion that we can educate and uplift all peoples, but Harvard university admits those that amount to a genetic aristocracy. Furthermore we can expect the advanced nations to move into the genetic sciences and pinpoint more people that will perform at a high level. Exactly as we have a politically correct notion that we can uplift all peoples we have an opposite movement toward selecting the most promising members of society and giving them all power. This promises to open not only a clash of civilizations (primarily first world against the rest) but a clash between a leveling ideology which will no doubt evoke communism and an ideology which very roughly can be called an extremely enlightened fascism and which is actually an increasing process of trying to select the most promising human beings to carry on the human future. In fact we can see something of the conflict emerging by taking precisely the names on the list of top intellectuals. On one side we have Samuel Huntington, E.O. Wilson, Christopher Hitchens, all physicists and genetic scientists, Jurgen Habermas, etc. (I leave the rest to you), and on the other side we have religious figures, Marxists, those in general concerned with uplifting lagging countries, etc. I fail to see how tension can be avoided. How at the same time uplift all the poor and move toward a system which increasingly gets at the most promising human beings, the cream of the crop that gets to go to elite universities? At the same time we try to uplift the poor we have a movement to move toward a humanity which is more capable and intelligent than even the best of us are today. If I have anything else to say about the list presented to us, it aims in multiple directions for humanity, does not clarify direction, and thus promises confusion. I leave the rest to others....

mohammad allam :

please add two more names in list.M.j AkBAR and Prof.Irfan Habib in the list.
other hand i agree with BobL-VA opinion.these three person should not be in list.

BobL-VA :

I scanned the list and 3 names stuck out like sore thumbs. How in the world did Gore, the Pope and Petraeus make this list? I can't recover from feelings that Gore lost a general election to arguably the dumbest man to hold the office since its' inception. How bright can Al be? There's certainly nothing exceptional about the current Pope other then he's German. As for Petraeus we all know he was all Bush could find for the job that was turned down by at least a half of dozen other Generals who saw it as a dead end positon. Nothing remarkable there either. Sorry Fareed, I'm real sure I wouldn't want to be on the same list with these 3.

While Jimmy Carter wasn't a very good President he's been a much better ex-president promoting peace and free elections around the world. I was a little dismayed he wasn't on the list. Gore was included for his work promoting understanding about global warming using fuzzy science and Carter wasn't included? Seems a bit odd to me.

Fareed, the rest of the list seems pretty impressive. Congratulations on your selection.

Yousuf Hashmi :

I recommend to add the "unknown intellectual "to this list.

The real intellectuals are those who are known only after their death. The people of fame of today are in fact those who learnt the art to compromise and remain alive in the world of commercialism.

The historian of future when making a research on 100 top intellectuals of 2008 may refer FP listing but will get a doctorate of proving it to be a useless document.

Jag Rao :

These types of lists are arbitrary with very limited objectivity or consistency. They are built on the limited knowledge and biases of a narrow set of individuals and are compiled to tickle the vanities of individuals or institutions or countries. None of these lists can stand any rigorous empirical,logical or methodological scrutiny. They cannot meet even the lowest standard of evidence.

I would be very interested in knowing from the people who compiled this list as to what was their definition of a public intellectual and whether (and how) they made sure that in compiling across disciplines they were using a standard ruler to measure "intellectualism" and a consistent algorithm for sorting and ranking intellectuals. This is basic isn't it especially for two publications that claim to be hard headed and rational?

Also interesting is the bias of this list towards a Washington centric cocktail circuit view of the world. For example it is remarkable to see missing from this list theoretical physicists, chemists, engineers and others whose fundamental insights and experimental ingenuity have provided, or will provide, the basis not only for the economic well being of societies but also satisfy the powerful human urge to understand the nature of the physical world.

Stephen Hawkings or other cosmologists who have made major breaktroughs in cosmology are not intellectuals?! The insights of these people are the basis for future technologies that will support human progress and well-being just as the folks who developed quantum mechanics, relativity, biochemistry provided the basis for the sustained technological and economic progress of current times. Such folks are more deserving to being called intellectuals--- their impact on human beings, societies and humanity has been and will be more lasting than many of the folks currently on the list. I bet that most of the folks on this list will be forgotten in less than a decade. Intellectuals should have longer shelf-life and the term intellecutual should be used far more sparingly; and certainly with much lesser degree of self-satisfied proclamations.

daniel :

You do not want to subtract people from such a list. You want to add people.

My biggest disappointment though with the list is that we still do not have an intellectual environment which respects pure thinking. By this I mean an environment in which writing is not confined to this or that genre but is a pure pleasure in writing to the point of respecting dashed off notebook entries, quick essays, etc. --Just getting to the point and allowing others to fill in statistics, proof, etc. Some of my favorite books are notebooks of thinkers, such as the one I am now holding in my hand: Anima Poetae by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Another problem with the list is that of course and unfortunately to be a public intellectual one has to stir up a crowd, fit in with this or that group, be part of this or that stellar crowd or university, etc. True thinking apparently will not exist until we really get at people, really get at privacies, and find ways to elevate the most fertile privacies, even if these fertile privacies make most of us obsolete. One of the saddest but truest things about thinking is that a society really committed to thought creates a world which leaves many people behind--and to have the human race really committed to thought is to have a human race willing to perpetually make itself obsolete in perpetual civilization creation. In my humble opinion I believe most intellectuals public or otherwise are skirting around one of the most evident facts of our times: that our modern world is really nothing but threshold experience and the human race is gearing up toward producing that last thing we have yet to manufacture, namely human beings themselves. The most advanced societies certainly are coming to be more and more scientific, more and more committed toward producing human beings confident before the natural world, humans capable of that balanced walk between throwing up one's hands to God and pronouncing existence absurd, Godless. We are more and more committed to human beings disciplined and patient before the natural world, willing to be part of a human chain stretching into the future in an ever perpetual pursuit of the secrets the natural world has to offer. That is our faith, an attenuated faith in God and which is faith in reason. No throwing one's hand up to God and no Godless, meaningless existence, but the walk up the middle in patient certainty that the natural has miraculous secrets. Look for science to start producing through genetics precisely such people, the patient, meticulous, those truly capable of seeing the divine in a grain of sand.

Public intellectuals? A lot of people read books, think, have ideas. We have yet to have the statistic as to how many ideas have been lost. It is so much easier to destroy a human than to create one. One day though the human race will take note of all the ideas it is capable of. Maximum efficiency of creation.

Anju Chandel, New Delhi, India :

My strong recommendation for the list of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals":

SHASHI THAROOR, the accomplished author and the former under-secretary-general of the United Nations, who could have been the current United Nations Secretary General - being the 'most suitable man' for the top job - had the US not put its spanner.

And for all those who could be opposed to my views, I recommend, please visit his official website and read his articles/interviews/views/etc - and also his books - and make your own opinion.

There is a 100% chance that you would agree with me :)

Recent Comments

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.