BOOK REVIEW

PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS
by
Richard A. Posner

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 5, No. 5, 5/1/03.

Homepage

Public intellectuals:

  In "Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline," Richard A. Posner - a Harvard trained Judge on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals - and, in the interests of full disclosure, a classmate of the publisher of FUTURECASTS - proceeds in a rigorously logical fashion - sometimes fascinating and sometimes tediously thorough - through the caliginous bog of modern public intellectual discourse.
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  This book is evidently a marvelous opportunity for Posner to finally strike back - no matter how futilely - after a lifetime of being subjected to the vast accretions of garbage fobbed off on a credulous public by politically and ideologically inspired intellectual commentators. (The opportunity to strike occasional blows at the producers of the smothering heap of intellectual rubbish is one of the joys of publishing FUTURECASTS.)
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  The book is an amazing demonstration of both breadth and depth of reading and research - an accomplishment understandable only upon realization that its author was Number One in the Harvard Law School class of 1962. (The publisher of FUTURECASTS was Number One also for the class of 1962 - but at the Harvard Law School bridge club - where Posner, unsurprisingly, was never to be seen.)
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"[T]heir comments tend to be opinionated, judgmental, sometimes condescending and often waspish. - - - Public intellectuals are often careless with facts and rash in predictions."

  A working definition of the nebulous term "public intellectual" - limited to the particular purposes of this book - is the logical first order of business. Posner dedicates many pages to this essential task, and succeeds in indicating many of the nuances intended. But - alas - a book review must be content with a blunter statement.

  "To summarize, a public intellectual expresses himself in a way that is accessible to the public, and the focus of his expression is on matters of general public concern of - or inflected by - a political or ideological cast. - - - Most often they either comment on current controversies or offer general reflections on the direction or health of society. In their reflective mode they may be utopian in the broad sense of seeking to steer the society in a new direction or denunciatory because their dissatisfaction with the existing state of society overwhelms any effort to propose reforms. When public intellectuals comment on current affairs, their comments tend to be opinionated, judgmental, sometimes condescending and often waspish. They are controversialists, with a tendency to take extreme positions. Academic public intellectuals often write in a tone of conscious, sometimes exasperated, intellectual superiority. Public intellectuals are often careless with facts and rash in predictions."

  In short, a public intellectual writes for a general educated audience, with some specific political or ideological angle.

  Those who intentionally twist their presentations for the benefit of their political and/or ideological causes with reckless disregard for the truth or even with intentional misrepresentations are the public intellectuals that FUTURECASTS refers to as "advocacy scholars."

  Relative prominence of public intellectuals was determined objectively by measurement of popular media mentions and web hits. Web hits relied upon were derived from the Google search engine. Media mentions were derived from three Lexis/Nexus databases for a five year period. Scholarly citations were derived from three scholarly citation indexes for five years - from 1995 to 2000. 
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  This is an admittedly inexact technique that requires exclusion of people who are even more prominent in the media for other reasons - such as politicians, "activists," artists, businessmen - with exceptions for special cases - especially at the top of his list. Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, George Will, Lawrence Summers, William J. Bennet, Robert Reich, Sidney Blumenthal, Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, and William Safire, fill out the top ten in his list of the most prominent 100.
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  These top ten bestride the category like colossi. They account for 31% of all media mentions for the top 100, 26% for the 546 on Posner's main list. 

  "Despite the vast range of topics addressed by the public-intellectual community, it seems that a relative handful of public intellectuals can satisfy much of the demand for public-intellectual work. This is a possible sign of an undiscriminating market. The indolent gatekeepers of the public-intellectual market may prefer having a celebrity intellectual opine outside the area of his expertise to searching for the particular expert on the particular topic."

  It is more likely that there are a few topics - for which these top public intellectuals have expertise - that are of preeminent public interest. World affairs, economics, government, and matters of public morality - including religion - are the particular matters of concern of most of the top ten - and are of preeminent importance to the educated public that is their audience.

  Nevertheless, Posner is probably correct when he speculates that this concentration on a handful of "stars" may be evidence of a "herd instinct" among this audience, and the predominant importance of entertainment value and confirmation of biases over "sources of information and insight." Star public intellectuals become "a focus of discussion, a rallying point, the node of a social network, a personification of [a] community's position."

  "Just buying and displaying [the star's] books may identify one as a member of a certain ideological community, whether or not one bothers to read any of them."

  The list of 546 public intellectuals is incomplete and probably not representative as to intellectual specialties and demographic categories, the author concedes. Nevertheless, it "probably includes most public intellectuals who enjoy prominence today in the United States, and is at least a representative sample of them." There are inevitably some omissions. But at least Posner's lists include a representative group - which is all that is needed for the purposes of the book.
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There is no evidence that the media is discriminating in favor of left-leaning public intellectuals.

 

"Public-intellectual work is more ephemeral than scholarship."

  The lists reveal that, during the 20th century, the proportion represented by female and black intellectuals increased, and more intellectuals were affiliated with institutions - colleges, universities and think tanks - than were independent. The average age of living public intellectuals is 64, indicating that prominence generally takes time.
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  Lawyers and economists have gained and writers have declined. "Increased specialization of knowledge - - - makes it difficult to write with authority about public issues."
Government service is a significant road to prominence, as one would expect.

  "Although about two thirds of the listed public intellectuals - - - are politically to the left, the average number of citations to the left-leaning and to the right-leaning public intellectuals is very close. This pattern is consistent with [Posner's] conjecture that public intellectuals primarily address people who agree with their stance."

  But there is no evidence that the media is discriminating in favor of left-leaning public intellectuals.
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  Luck plays a role in an intellectual's prominence - and once prominence is gained, it is apparently easily maintained. But whether it is scholarly prominence in some narrow subspecialty, or prominent public service, or celebrity, or luck, all of this is only loosely related to the "quality" of the work product.
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  Jews are heavily over represented, due probably to their over representation in the media and in academia, and "perhaps specifically to the fact that Jews' verbal IQ is especially high relative to that of other groups." Dead public intellectuals naturally decline in public prominence. This is different than experience with dead scholarly intellectuals, who continue to be prominent in scholarly citations. "Public-intellectual work is more ephemeral than scholarship," Posner concludes.
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  Posner's concerns about quality are reinforced by the omission from the top 100 list of several intellectuals whom he thinks deserve greater prominence. These include several that he discusses - not without criticism - in the book. Daniel Bell, Wayne Booth, Ronald Dworkin, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Putnam, David Riesman and Richard Rorty are among those who did not make the cut for the top 100 list.
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The quality of expressive activity:

  Problems with the quality of output arise most frequently when

  • their "expressive activity" is outside their scholarly specialty;

  • when they comment on events too current to permit scholarly reflection and collegial input;

  • and/or when the commentary has a political or ideological purpose.

  The danger of exaggeration, distortion, and inaccuracy increases the further outside the area of their specialization, and the further from scholarly processes, that they wander.

  "Real time commentary, in which the public intellectual opines on hot ongoing controversies, such as the Clinton impeachment or the Persian Gulf campaign or the 2000 presidential election deadlock, is, as we'll see, a genre of public-intellectual work that has a particularly high failure rate."

  This does not mean that there is not some good work done in these instances. After all, as Posner concedes, he himself is a public intellectual - No. 70 on the list - commenting on subject matter often outside his area of specialization.
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"In the public-intellectual arena, [public intellectuals] operate without any significant constraints; there is nothing to call them to account."

  In this book, the author is dealing with tendencies rather than absolutes. As such, he explains the problem - especially with respect to academic public intellectuals.
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  This subgroup increasingly dominates the field as the number of public intellectuals that are independent of academic organizations rapidly diminishes. He includes the increasing number of public intellectuals affiliated with "think tanks" as being within the academic category.

  "When academics operate outside their areas of specialization, and particularly when they write for the general public about issues of or fraught with politics or ideology, they operate without guidance from their training and experience and without the constraints imposed on academic work by the norms of the university community. In the public-intellectual arena, they operate without any significant constraints; there is nothing to call them to account."

The public - the highly educated public that is their target audience - seems largely uninfluenced by the work output of public intellectuals. - perhaps due to a vague understanding of the unreliability of the product.

  The saving grace is that public intellectuals actual lack influence, Posner asserts. The public - the highly educated public that is their target audience - seems largely uninfluenced by the work output of public intellectuals - perhaps due to a vague understanding of the unreliability of the product.

  However, some public intellectuals - the advocacy scholars  - have been extraordinarily successful and influential. They have been prominently involved in creating and supporting authoritative myths that have supported and even driven the economic and/or political policies of nations - frequently right over the cliff.
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  The ultimate success for advocacy scholars is the creation or spreading of a propaganda myth to the point that it becomes "authoritative" within some substantial segment of the public or - even better - dominant within a nation. During the last troubled century - Marxism, socialism, Keynesian theory, protectionism, the myth of laissez faire, militant nationalism, intolerant religious orthodoxy, egalitarianism, entitlement welfare state policies, "industrial policy" and other command economy theories - are among the authoritative myths that have played major roles in the constraint of economic and/or political prospects for vast multitudes.
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  Some of these authoritative myths have played major roles in the subjugation and domination and impoverishment of billions of people by the world's worst despots in nations large and small - and the slaughter of hundreds of millions in its conflicts great and small. Other myths have been invoked to support the burdening of the world's freest political and economic systems with policies that provide short term benefits at the expense of the future - and with policies favorable to the influential few at the expense of the public as a whole. The creation of authoritative myths is not by any means a benign practice.
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  Many advocacy scholars really believe their own propaganda - a common weakness amongst propagandists. But others are not really that stupid or sloppy. Their misrepresentations may be intentional. Many advocacy scholars believe that it is acceptable to lie - if the lie is for the cause.
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  History opens windows on the future. If you don't understand the past, you cannot understand the present, and you have no hope of accurately analyzing future prospects. That's why reality so frequently perversely refuses to conform to the predictions and ideological expectations of public intellectuals. FUTURECASTS is dedicated to exposing the most damaging stupidities of the most influential public intellectuals. Posner's book is a marvelous aid in this important work.

The economics of the market:

  An analysis in economic terms begins the substantive material in this book - a common approach for this author.

  "The writings and other expressive products of public intellectuals are valued as information but also as entertainment and as 'solidarity goods,' symbolic goods that provide a rallying point for like-minded people."

  The "informational aspect of public intellectual work" is emphasized by the author. He distinguishes between "truth" and "quality" of product - which are not necessarily synonymous. Commitment, credibility and quality are primary factors.
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Demand:

  Demand for public intellectuals has ballooned in recent years with the rapid proliferation of media outlets and ongoing needs for event speakers. Posner believes that this must reflect an expanding public demand for their informational work. However, perhaps not.
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Demand is fueled by "the range of academic disciplines that produce knowledge or opinion in which the general public has a potential interest," and the frequency with which public interest erupts in an issue of previous little interest.

 

The rapid pace of change also generates issues for which academics have as yet not crafted a conventional wisdom, forcing media to present the ongoing dispute as only the cognizant academics can.

 

There are also many issues of public interest that remain hotly disputed.

  With media production costs rapidly declining - the author also recognizes that it may simply be increasingly cost effective to divide existing demand into smaller and more specialized niches. But such factors as a growing population, increased average years of schooling, growing numbers of "leisured, educated elderly persons," and the increasing size and impacts of government are all reasons to expect an increase in public demand for intellectual discourse.
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  Demand is also fueled by "the range of academic disciplines that produce knowledge or opinion in which the general public has a potential interest," and the frequency with which public interest erupts in an issue of previous little interest. Examples are the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election litigation. Precedents for both cases were more than a century old. Also, there was the Microsoft antitrust case - a type of litigation usually not of extensive public interest. Journalists and other commentators have little familiarity with such issues, and are forced to turn to knowledgeable public intellectuals for analytical input.
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  The rapid pace of change also generates issues for which academics have as yet not crafted a conventional wisdom, forcing media to present the ongoing dispute as only the cognizant academics can. The sudden ending of the Cold War and the sudden development of the internet are prominent examples.
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  Similarly, there are many issues of public interest that remain hotly disputed. Environmental issues, the balance between liberty and equality, proper handling of minority issues, and the appropriate severity of criminal penalties are prominent examples.

  "In short, the media's demand for public intellectuals is derived from the demand of the educated general public for intellectual information best supplied by public intellectuals concerning issues of broadly political character."

There are also entertainment and ideological solidarity functions that can best be fulfilled by the public intellectuals.

  There are other roles that public intellectuals play that enhance their marketability and maintain it even for familiar issues that can be competently handled by journalists and commentators. There are entertainment and ideological solidarity functions that can best be fulfilled by the public intellectuals.
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  To be marketable, intellectuals need some type of communications skills - today predominantly via television. They also need an aura of authority - "the audience will be unable to verify at first hand the truth" of what is being said so belief will have to be based on the credibility of the provider. They also need rhetorical skills - "the art of persuasion using language,"  frequently irrespective of logic or veracity.
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In this age of specialization, expertise can be so narrowly based that the most brilliant intellectuals can remain broadly ignorant outside their narrow areas of specialty even within their own general fields.

  The authority of public intellectuals can be misleading on many accounts. Posner points out that they can be both brilliant and stupid.
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  Picasso, Sartre and George Bernard Shaw were brilliant in their fields but nevertheless accepted Stalinism because they were blatantly stupid outside their fields. The philosopher Heidegger accepted Nazism. Einstein was a naif at economics and sociology. Indeed, in this age of specialization, expertise can be so narrowly based that the most brilliant intellectuals can remain broadly ignorant outside their narrow areas of specialty even within their own general fields.
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  Posner remains sanguine about these problems, since he finds that public intellectuals actually have little influence.

  "If this is right, there is little payoff to the public as a whole in becoming well informed about the limitations of academic expertise and even less to an individual member of the public; a single individual's opinion on an issue of public moment is unlikely to be influential -- which is why voters tend to be poorly informed about such issues."

  However, the entertainment and "solidarity value" are, for many people, of major importance. They care less about the actual ideas expressed than the rhetorical performance.

  "The solidarity dimension of public-intellectual work may clash with the informational dimension - - -. It promotes the division of public intellectuals into warring camps, and thus undermines their credibility by underscoring their partisanship." (This is the realm of "advocacy scholars.")

Specialization:

 

Specialization undermines "the quality and impact of intellectuals' interventions in public debate."

  Specialization increasingly undermines public intellectual discourse. Specialization undermines "the quality and impact of intellectuals' interventions in public debate," and increases the domination of academics over nonacademic intellectuals.
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  Moreover, even as specialization reduces the ability of nonacademic intellectuals "to get a public hearing, it reduces the ability of academic intellectuals to speak clearly to general public issues." At the same time, it reduces the ability of the "general educated public to understand arguments about public issues."
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Most nonacademic intellectuals are excluded from pertinent fields and find it increasingly difficult to obtain the specialist credential needed to impress a general audience.

  Specialization creates peer groups that speak to each other in an esoteric jargon inaccessible to the general public. The mathematization of economics is a prominent example noted by the author.

  This is an especially sharp example since the application of mathematical reasoning to so nebulous a practical art as macroeconomics is clearly totally inappropriate and per se incompetent. Economic analysis is dependent on statistics lacking in both precision and completeness - with a currency measuring unit that, during times of currency volatility, has the quality of a stretched rubber band.
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  Then, of course, there is the problem of reliance on invalid theory. Prediction is the ultimate test of theoretical validity. It is hardly surprising that mathematical models have such  lousy records with respect to their predictions.
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  The macroeconomic econometrics technician is like the billiard player in hell - condemned for all eternity to play "on a cloth untrue, with a crooked cue, and elliptical billiard balls." 

  The author deplores "the absurdity of word and syntax of much of the current writing in the humanities." Thus, most academics lose or never develop the ability to communicate their knowledge to the general public. Even more important, most nonacademic intellectuals who can communicate are excluded from pertinent fields and find it increasingly difficult to obtain the specialist credential needed to impress a general audience.
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  Nonacademic intellectuals - like Victor Hugo, George Bernard Shaw, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emile Zola, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Albert Camus, Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin - were a major component of public intellectual discourse. Dickens, Swift and Orwell were influential political satirists. Unfortunately, the scope of action for their modern day equivalents has been narrowed considerably by specialization.
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  For example, George Orwell "wrote literary criticism, satiric novels, sociological and ethnographic commentary, political science, and economics, all in lucid nonspecialist prose -- and he had not even attended university." 

  Both Posner and the publisher of FUTURECASTS frequently walk this path - venturing into fields outside our fields of legal and governmental expertise. However, we can be comforted in these endeavors by the numerous times during our lives when the experts in an amazing number of fields have wound up with egg on their faces.

  Nevertheless, "as the natural and social sciences mature, the room for amateur contributions contracts."

  • "A public intellectual is a generalist, but in an age of specialized knowledge the generalist is condemned to be an amateur; and the views of amateurs carry little weight with professionals."

  • "The public intellectual market has [thus] become dominated by academic specialists who venture outside the walls of their specialty from time to time to cross swords on the field of political and ideological battle, a battlefield not yet academized."

  The audience has also been dramatically impacted by specialization. The audience is also increasingly specialized, few members of which will know enough on any particular subject to catch errors. "The media do some screening, but not much." (FUTURECASTS' "Debunking of Authoritative Myths" - and its accurate, complete and uncompromising Book Reviews - are dedicated to filling an important segment of that gap.)
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  Going somewhat against this trend is the ability of nonacademic intellectuals to use celebrity and demonstrated commitment as credentials to gain a public hearing. Celebrity gives people the feeling that they know an individual enough to evaluate them. Evidence of determined commitment - sometimes including paying some price for their views - is a sign of sincerity and integrity. Robert Bork and Lani Guinier are prominent examples from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But this kind of demonstration of commitment is a matter of luck - not necessarily something related to the quality of output.
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For both academic and non academic intellectuals, there is little at stake in the event of forced exit from the market.

 

The public - sensing the lack of practical commitment - thus views skeptically the opinions of public intellectuals.

  There is little personal risk for erroneous work. For both academic and non academic intellectuals, there is little at stake in the event of forced exit from the market. Academics have tenure. (Lester Thurow remains a prominent tenured professor even after the debacle of his advocacy of government "industrial policy" in the 1980s. John Kenneth Galbraith remains an honored emeritus professor at Harvard even after a lifetime of demonstrated stupidity in support of his socialist proclivities.) Non academics earn their living in narrower pursuits. (Al Sharpton became politically influential with a New York City constituency even after a similar debacle.)
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  The public - sensing the lack of practical commitment - thus views skeptically the opinions of public intellectuals. "This is a factor in the very limited influence that public intellectuals appear to have over public opinion." Legalizing the burning of the American flag has reduced its rhetorical impact "by cheating the burner of 'martyrdom,'" Posner points out. Tenure protection has a similar impact on the credibility of academics.
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Supply:

 

Technology has provided "new opportunities for less prominent intellectuals to reach niche audiences."

  Proliferation and technological advances in media outlets have increased the ability of the most interesting public intellectuals to dominate their markets, and have also created "new opportunities for less prominent intellectuals to reach niche audiences."

  "Since success in the electronic media is not well correlated with intellectual quality, there is no reason to expect the expansion of the media to lead to an increase in either the number or the quality of public intellectuals, though it should increase the aggregate output of the public-intellectual market."

  However, the balance has been decidedly in favor of a major increase in the supply of public intellectuals - as stated above - but only of the academic kind. The increasing attractiveness of the burgeoning academic world draws an increasing proportion of intellectuals into its ranks - and specialization makes it increasingly hard for non academics to gain sufficient credentials to be heard.

  "There was a time when an intellectual could do as well - or rather no worse - for himself financially by writing books and articles as by being a professor. That time is largely past. The opportunity cost of being an independent public intellectual has skyrocketed because of the greatly increased economic opportunities in the academic market."

  The author analyzes the supply and demand factors in traditional economic fashion, and similarly analyzes the applicable cost, output, price and income factors. The opportunity costs for academics of being public intellectuals are less than those for non academics "because academic employers do not buy an academic's full working time and because of complementaries between, for example, teaching and public-intellectual work."

  "Thus lighter teaching loads and shorter academic years have a dual significance: as making an academic career more attractive and as giving academics more time in which to do public-intellectual work." (This is another reason why most academic public intellectuals are middle aged or older, since they have all their lesson plans well in hand, and they frequently are merely wrapping up or extending research interests pursued more intensively in earlier years.)

Extreme positions improve marketability by providing the drama of debate, and by providing "brand identification" in the marketplace.

 

The academic emphasis on originality, and the superior marketability of extreme positions in the market for public-intellectual work, are frequently at war with the accuracy, utility, and practicality of the academic public intellectual's predictions and recommendations."

 

Political correctness fosters an intolerance towards extreme conservative views that is not matched by intolerance towards "liberal or even extreme-left wing" views.

 

"[A] selective sense of justice, an insensitivity to context, a lack of perspective, a denigration of predecessors as lacking moral insight, an impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism, and excessive self-confidence," characterize output.

  Posner lists the characteristic flaws prevalent among public intellectuals, although conceding that these generalities are far from absolutes.

  "[Public intellectuals have a] proclivity for taking extreme positions, a taste for universals and abstraction, a desire for moral purity, a lack of worldliness, and intellectual arrogance."

  • Aside from being predominantly academic and secure in their tenure, they "tend to be found at or near the extremes of the political ideological spectrum." Extreme positions improve their marketability by providing the drama of debate, and by providing "brand identification" in the marketplace.  (For the most prominent, it also provides them with an ideological claque that will fill their audiences and buy their books and maintain their reputations no matter how ridiculous their output.)
  • For similar reasons, the market also rewards those with novel ideas.

  "Because there is no correlation between the originality and the political or social utility of an idea, the academic emphasis on originality, and the superior marketability of extreme positions in the market for public-intellectual work, are frequently at war with the accuracy, utility, and practicality of the academic public intellectual's predictions and recommendations."

  • The academic frequently has no appreciation for real world imperatives - the need for politicians and statesmen to compromise and accommodate many interests to get anything done.

  "The ethics of political responsibility implies a willingness to compromise, to dirty one's hands, to flatter and lie, to make package deals, to forgo the prideful self-satisfaction that comes from self-conscious purity and devotion to principle. It requires a sense of reality, or proportion, rather than self-righteousness or academic smarts."

  • A "Political Correctness" form of censorship restricts "frank discussion of race, ethnic, and gender differences and of sexual orientation." The domination of the supply of academic public intellectuals by those on the left of the political spectrum plays a major role in this. It fosters an intolerance towards extreme conservative views that is not matched by intolerance towards "liberal or even extreme-left wing" views. Most public intellectuals, being on the left of the political spectrum, will thus be forgiven by their peers for unsustainable views, and thus risk little in expressing them.

  • All of this combines to provide "a selective sense of justice, an insensitivity to context, a lack of perspective, a denigration of predecessors as lacking moral insight, an impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism, and excessive self-confidence."

  Reaching for extreme examples, Posner argues that public intellectuals typically reject balance on politically or ideologically charged issues - such as examining slavery "in its historical context" and both the bad and the good in abolitionists, or acknowledging the "functional explanation for - to us - bizarre practices such as clitoridectomy and infibulation," or acknowledging that Nazis were also fanatical about public health and environmental matters (an obvious irrelevancy), "and that Bill Clinton was the consolidator of the Reagan Revolution." (Not willingly! That was a price he was willing to pay for his presidency - and the result of constraints imposed by a Republican Congress.)

  "The typical academic is a Platonist, not an Aristotelian."

 Market failures:

 

 "Missing are the conditions that ensure reasonable quality in other markets for credence goods."

  All of this is compounded by the nature of their market.

  "Missing are the conditions that ensure reasonable quality in other markets for credence goods. In the public-intellectual there are no enforceable warranties or other legal sanctions for failing to deliver promised quality, no effective consumer intermediaries, few reputational sanctions, and, for academics at any rate, no sunk costs -- they can abandon the public intellectual market and have a safe landing as full-time academics."

The consuming public does not demand quality, since it largely ignores what public intellectuals say anyway. No one keeps a record of their predictions and contentions. Being made fools by historic results does not undermine academic standing.

  The media provide a conduit for their product without filtering for quality. (The media are conduits for authoritative misinformation.) The consuming public does not demand quality, since it largely ignores what public intellectuals say anyway. No one keeps a record of their predictions and contentions. (FUTURECASTS has published an admittedly partial record of the absurdities of some of the most authoritative mythmakers.) Being made fools by historic results does not undermine academic standing. (Again, John Kenneth Galbraith and Lester Thurow are prominent examples - even after producing whole library shelves full of the greatest absurdities - as Posner notes below.)
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  Self interest, ideological or political interests, unjustified levels of certitude, and a disdain for the media and non academic public, vie with desires to inform people and help people in a way that permits no confidence that an interest in the truth will dominate. (As stated above, being a liar is often viewed as just standard operating procedure - as long as it is for the cause.)

  "Imagine how common product defects would be if sellers of defective products were not accountable for the defects, whether directly, through warranty enforcement or other legal actions, or indirectly, through costly reputational losses."

  Such economic markets do unfortunately exist - such as the "fly by night" provider, and the roadside auto mechanic doing work the customer cannot understand.

  Other similar markets impose real penalties - "real costs" - for failure. Journalists, politicians, novel writers, and scholars contributing to peer reviewed journals can be damaged in their full time occupations.
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  The author speculates that the closest analogy is with celebrity spokesmen. Jane Fonda, Charlton Heston, and Robert Redford are examples. "But the public protects itself from them by refusing to take them seriously." Interestingly, "the public inoculates itself against the statements of public intellectuals in much the same way." There are some exceptions - like Ronald Reagan (and Jack Kemp and Sonny Bono) who used celebrity as a launching pad for political success.
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The educated public can no longer determine "whether to trust or distrust the public intellectual."

 

They most frequently are just preaching to the choir - entertaining them and solidifying their prejudgments.

  The audience for the public intellectual is, of course, far more highly educated that the average for these other audiences. However, specialization has changed the nature of the educated audience.

  "No longer is there a shared pool of knowledge from which the public intellectual draws along with his audience and which the latter can therefore use to test the soundness of the intellectual's arguments."

  The intellectual elite is no longer sufficiently current in such subjects as science, history, political theory, and economics "to be able to evaluate intelligently the science writer or the social critic."  The educated public can no longer determine "whether to trust or distrust the public intellectual."
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  More importantly, the audience for each public intellectual is comprised predominantly of those "predisposed to agree with him." They most frequently are just preaching to the choir - entertaining them and solidifying their prejudgments. They are "more likely to solidify than to dissipate prejudices."
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Lack of "care" and "insight:"

  Cloistered academic public intellectuals are compared on point after point with George Orwell, whose life was rich in the experiences of real world challenges and hardships and conflict against thugs and despots, among other things. 
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  There is a substantial chapter on the pitfalls facing academics when they wander outside their fields of expertise. Posner provides numerous examples demonstrating an abandonment of the "care" and a lack of "insight" comparable to that on which their reputations for work within their fields of expertise is dependent. Then, he provides other examples where they are writing within their fields but still provide sloppy work for public consumption.
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Based on Marxist beliefs of breathtaking stupidity, Chomsky has been continuously providing predictions of the imminent demise of capitalist systems.

  Noam Chomsky is presented as Exhibit A for this point in Posner's thesis. An expert in linguistics and cognitive science, Chomsky has for decades been providing absurd tirades against the United States and capitalism in support of an ideology that Posner describes as "anarcho-pacifist." Based on Marxist beliefs of breathtaking stupidity, Chomsky has been continuously providing predictions of the imminent demise of capitalist systems. Needless to say, these predictions have just as continuously been refuted by a reality that perversely refuses to conform to his ideological expectations.
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  Nevertheless, Chomsky has a wide left wing claque in the academic community and abroad, and is among the 100 most frequently mentioned public intellectuals in the media for his forays into fields he clearly knows nothing about. (He remains busy in Europe criticizing the U.S. war against the Saddam Hussein regime.)
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  Eminent scientists Steven Weinberg and Stephen Jay Gould are criticized for "naïve" ventures into theology and philosophy. However, Posner acknowledges that they operate at a considerably more responsible level than Chomsky.
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  Along the way, Posner inevitably examines the propensity of public intellectuals to indulge in various propaganda ploys - like the false evenhanded observer ploy.
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  Stephen Jay Gould on religion and Laurence Tribe on abortion assume the stance of objective analyst "above the fray," but invariably proceed to give all the good arguments for one side while conveniently neglecting many on the other side.

  John Kenneth Galbraith used to assume this false role when examining the periodic economic problems of capitalism - of which there are always many. He would then provide advice that was invariably 180 degrees in error and sure to have collapsed the system if tried - which is precisely what Galbraith wanted - in complete disregard of the vast suffering such economic collapse would cause. He was willing to pay this vast price in the ridiculous hope that a viable socialist system would arise from the ruins.

  Posner examines at considerable length Gould's criticism of IQ tests and his dispute on that subject with Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, authors of "The Bell Curve." Gould, a paleontologist, has no academic expertise in the subject of human intelligence. His popular book on the subject, "The Mismeasure of Man," has been criticized by scholars "for tendentiousness, political bias, sundry distortions, and, in particular, for denying that there is any such thing as IQ" that involves "general intelligence having a substantial hereditary component."
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  Gould reacted to this criticism by ignoring it. (As an advocacy scholar, he is interested in ideological results, not rational discourse.) In a case of the pot calling the kettle black, he charges Herrnstein and Murray of having written a "manifesto of conservative ideology."
 &
  Not that "The Bell Curve" is without fault. Posner agrees with some that Gould points out - especially "an exaggerated impression of the statistical robustness of [its] correlations between IQ and worldly success and failure." But based on such minor criticisms, Gould launches his ideologically based attack.

  "If their debate were confined to scholarly journals rather than spilling over into the public arena, it would be recognized for what it is when the political overtones are removed: a technical disagreement that cannot be, or at least has yet to be, definitively resolved."

  Posner notes that there was no real need for Herrnstein and Murray to even discuss IQ and race in their book -- unless they were looking for just this kind of dispute to add to its notoriety and marketability.
 &

  Economist Paul Krugman is a public intellectual popularizing knowledge within his field of expertise. However, popularizing such specialist knowledge is no guarantee of consistently high quality either.
 &
  Krugman's book, "Peddling Prosperity," contains the assertion that historic accident - or "path dependency" - rather than economic efficiency, often determines market success. Krugman relies on assertions about QWERTY typewriter keyboards and England's failure to excel in the production of jet aircraft after WW-II despite its early lead. However, it is not the conclusion that Posner criticizes but the supporting argument relied upon by Krugman.
 &
  Posner points to "the casualness with which evidence is handled in much public intellectual work because of the absence of the usual gatekeepers who filter and police academic publications." The QWERTY keyboard example is of dubious origin, and the jet aircraft example is clearly erroneous. Krugman simply ignored papers and books contradicting his examples.
 &

"[A]cademics tend to think of themselves as being on holiday when they are writing for the general public."

  Krugman and another prominent economist, Gary Becker, have ventured legal commentary with similar lack of "care and insight." Here, they have entered into Posner's field of expertise, and he does not let their transgressions escape without mention.
 &
  Becker, in his Newsweek column, had proposed term limits for judges as a remedy for judicial activism. Posner (undoubtedly not without some self interest in the matter) demonstrates the obvious ineffectiveness of such a remedy and inconsistencies in the supporting argument. Judges could just as easily be removed for failing to change a legal precedent as for changing it. Becker advocates constraints against activist judges - but would like the courts to discover "constitutional constraints on the size of damages." Becker also inconsistently opposes term limits for Congress.

  California just a few years ago voted to remove three of its activist Supreme Court judges for obstructing application of the death penalty. Posner's argument to the contrary notwithstanding, the publisher of FUTURECASTS does not know of any instance when a judge was voted off a state court bench for failing to overturn precedent - although that might well have happened to the conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court during its contentious early decisions on New Deal legislation if such elections were required of federal judges.
 &
  Nevertheless, it is late in the day for anyone to dispute that the Judiciary has become another political arm of government - and might well benefit from some judicious new checks and balances - at least in some of its constitutional decisions. See comment in "Declinists," below.

  A similar lack of "care and insight" is demonstrated in Krugman's N.Y. Times column by his mischaracterization of the Robinson-Patman Act as applicable to price discrimination in relation to certain pricing practices of Amazon.com. Also incorrect is characterization of price discrimination as "unfair." In fact, price discrimination is a widely accepted commercial practice.

  "High up in the norm hierarchy of the scientific community are accuracy, open-mindedness, disinterest, and logicality, norms that Chomsky and Gould regularly - and Paul Krugman, a distinguished scientific economist, occasionally - flout in their public intellectual work. This supports my claim that academics tend to think of themselves as being on holiday when they are writing for the general public."

  Posner thus provides a marvelous conclusion - marred by some sloppy thinking of his own. There is nothing "scientific" about economics. It is a practical art - a profession that should be "practiced" like law. Analytical efforts produce professional opinions - not statements of scientific certitude.
 &
  Economics has gone astray with the obviously inappropriate application of mathematical forms of reasoning in its ridiculous effort to appear more precise and "scientific" than it can ever hope to be. Krugman's "scientific" approach is based on Keynesian theory - which even as currently modified is clearly invalid.

  Considerable numbers of fine enlightening books have in fact been written by public intellectuals for public consumption, Posner readily acknowledges. But many of them have been for the purpose of "undoing the damage caused by other public intellectuals." And, some include examples of both the best and the worst of the genre. He notes the widespread acceptance of the "automation" or "over-productivity" scare that continues to appear in many otherwise competent works. 

  This is the result of one of the most successful of the absurd Marxist propaganda myths - that capitalism must eventually destroy itself because of rapid productivity gains that eliminate jobs. As FUTURECASTS has repeatedly explained, only people who have no understanding of capitalist markets - like Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson - could possible fall for such an absurdity. Samuelson and a whole generation of economists was led astray on this issue - and many other issues - by their "scientific" application of invalid Keynesian theory. See the FUTURECASTS comment in "Declinists," below.

Real time commentary:

 

Commentary on breaking events must be viewed skeptically.

  The quality of real time commentary by academic intellectuals is especially suspect. Posner carefully repeats that this is not an absolute - but nevertheless a major tendency. He is also mindful that the commentary on breaking events by non academics must also be viewed skeptically.

  This is especially true of commentary about ongoing conflicts. In addition to the varied levels of understanding of the commentators, there is also the impacts of the "fog of war" and the considerable efforts at disinformation by the combatants. It takes years - indeed decades - for important "now it can be told" stories to come out about conflicts.

Scholars and other intellectuals heaped inapt criticism on the impeachment proceedings in their propaganda efforts to protect the President. For partisan and political reasons, they reached for any arguments that were handy - disdainful of rationality. Most ignored the fact that the case was about lying under oath and obstruction of justice - not some minor sexual offense.

 

The historians' advertisement was a political act - not an act of scholarship - so signers were content to lend their reputations to the effort without concern for its faults.

 

By signing the letter as law professors, they falsely represented themselves as having a "professionally responsible opinion" - which very few of them in fact had, as impeachment law is an esoteric specialty with which very few lawyers are familiar.

  Discussing commentary about the Clinton impeachment, the author is both precise and scathing. Scholars and other intellectuals heaped inapt criticism on the proceedings in their propaganda efforts to protect the President. For partisan and political reasons, they reached for any arguments that were handy - disdainful of rationality. Most ignored the fact that the case was about lying under oath and obstruction of justice - not some minor sexual offense.

  Both the defense and prosecution were blatantly political. But serving as a check on misuse of office is exactly what a political opposition is for. Impeachment and subsequent trial are Congressional activities precisely because these proceedings are more political than legal.

  Posner criticizes Michael Sandel and John B. Judis for rushing to judgment to criticize the prosecution before the evidence was in - only to be confronted by semen stains. Of course, they never deigned to admit their error. Immanuel Kant was cited - erroneously - to defend Clinton's "misleading" statements. Kant did reject the notion of a duty of candor, but would never have condoned lying under oath.

  "The invocation of Kant is a good example of the futility of much public-intellectual writing. Kant has no resonance for Americans. Most of his writing is opaque. Only a tiny handful of Americans read him."

  A large number of historians signed a full page N.Y. Times advertisement asserting "the current charges - - - depart from what the Framers saw as grounds for impeachment," and that the theory of impeachment relied upon was "unprecedented in history." There was no effort to support the first statement, and no statement on what the theory was. For obstruction of justice, there was the precedent of the Nixon impeachment. If "political impeachment," there was the precedent of the Jeffersonian Republican effort to impeach Federalist judges like Samuel Chase, and the radical Republican effort to impeach Pres. Andrew Johnson.
 &
  However, this advertisement was a political act - not an act of scholarship - so signers were content to lend their reputations to the effort without concern for its faults.
 &
  Similarly, a large number of law professors asked Congress to abandon impeachment efforts. By signing the letter as law professors, Posner asserts that they falsely represented themselves as having a "professionally responsible opinion" - which very few of them in fact had, as impeachment law is an esoteric specialty with which very few lawyers are familiar.

  Once again, for advocacy scholars, lying for their noble causes is considered perfectly proper. They are committed liars.

  In Congressional testimony, Sean Willentz on the left claimed "as a historian" that impeachment would do "great damage" to our public institutions and the rule of law. Clinton was impeached without any observable damage to the rule of law or the Presidency. But there was Robert Bork on the right warning that failure to remove Clinton would be "a clear sign that we have turned a corner, that American morality, including but not limited to our political morality, is in free fall." Clinton was not removed - without observable reduction in his ability to govern or the status of the Presidency."
 &

  Similar letter writing campaigns on other issues - afflicted with equal absurdities - included:

  • Two thousand law professors - about 25% of the total legal professorate - participating to oppose Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination.
  • Fifty Nobel science laureates writing to Pres. Clinton asserting the proposed national missile defense system "would offer little protection." Half were either biologists or chemists, and most of the physicists also lacked pertinent expert knowledge.
     &
      "The opinion of these distinguished nonexperts was as pertinent to the debate over the antimissile defense as a celebrity endorsement. They were making a political statement rather than presenting an expert opinion, but they were pretending that it was the latter."

The ultimate decision of the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not have been correct, but it was not demonstrably incorrect and did not justify the disdain of its instant - and very partisan - critics.

  But the election crisis of 2000 provided the worst examples. Posner spends about 10 pages detailing the illogic and ignorance displayed in the hurried rabid propaganda campaigns of letter writing, article writing and advertisements. He notes that the ultimate decision of the U.S. Supreme Court may or may not have been correct, but it was not demonstrably incorrect and did not justify the disdain of its instant - and very partisan - critics.

  "Seven Justices, including two of the liberals, thought that the hand recount ordered by the Florida supreme court four days earlier was, because of its lack of standards, a denial of the equal protection of the laws. This conclusion may be correct or incorrect, but it is not crazy or usurpative, - - -."

  Similarly, the view that the U.S. Constitution prevented a state court from altering the electoral procedure established by the state legislature "was not demonstrably correct, but it was not so far out that it merited the intemperate abuse heaped upon it by one of our leading public-interest magazines before the abusers could have analyzed the issues in sufficient depth and with sufficient calm to write responsibly."
 &
  The remedies suggested for the ballot count problems were ludicrous - ranging from recounts limited to Democratic counties to this otherworldly suggestion from Laurence Tribe.

  "A corrective election could be limited to people who voted the first time around, and those voting could be required to submit sworn affidavits that they will vote for whichever candidate they had intended to vote for on Election Day."

  Prominent public intellectuals involved in these propaganda efforts included Jeffrey Rosen, Bruce Acerman, Sean Wilents, Ronald Dworkin, Cass Sunstein, and Michael Walzer. That liberals have no monopoly on such stupidity was demonstrated by Stephen Bronars and John R. Lott, Jr.
 &

Dershowitz also stooped to use of the "perfect virtue" propaganda ploy. He asserted that because Congress was prone to various imperfections, it had no right to judge Clinton.

  A telling blast at Alan Dershowitz closes this chapter. Dershowitz evaluated Clinton's behavior solely as to tactics - without any concern for whether he was actually guilty of obstructing justice. He also stooped to use of the "perfect virtue" propaganda ploy. He asserted before Congress that because Congress was prone to various imperfections, it had no right to judge Clinton.

  "These examples of public intellectuals' questionable interventions can be multiplied, and there is very little to place the balance on the other side. They - [along with many others in the book] - show that many prominent public intellectuals, whether or not they are academics, are not prudent, careful, or sensible in their commentaries or predictions. The emotionality of the public intellectual, so well illustrated by the perfervid reactions of public intellectuals to the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 presidential election deadlock stands in particular contrast to the official image of the academic."

Forecasts:

  Prediction is the ultimate test of the validity of understanding - of the validity of theory. While no one can expect scientific certitude from public intellectuals, a fairly high level of success should be achievable.
 &

Many public intellectuals leave behind a long trail of failed predictions without any apparent embarrassment or loss of status. Predictions of various catastrophes - demographic, environmental, political, economic - are commonplace.

 

The most frequent error of public intellectual predictions is the "fallacy of induction" - due to naïve extrapolation.

  However, not only is success rare, but nobody seems to care enough to even keep score. "Although keeping score on a forecaster thus is important after all to evaluating the quality of his insights, it is rarely done on public intellectuals."
 &
  Indeed, many public intellectuals leave behind a long trail of failed predictions without any apparent embarrassment or loss of status. Vast numbers of them predicted the economic triumph of socialism - or of Japan. Predictions of various catastrophes - demographic, environmental, political, economic - are commonplace.
 &
  Indeed, some public intellectuals actually become famous for the absurdity of false predictions - such as Paul Kennedy - predicting American decline, and Francis Fukuyama - implying an "End of History."

  "Economic pessimists such as John Kenneth Galbraith and Lester Thurow, and environmental pessimists such as Barry Commoner and Paul Ehrlich, have been consistently wrong for decades, yet they retain the public's respectful attention."

  The most frequent error of public intellectual predictions is the "fallacy of induction" - due to naïve extrapolation - the tendency to generalize trends without sufficient understanding of their causal forces or limits.

  • Paul Ehrlich - in 1970 - predicted water rationing in the U.S. by 1974, food rationing by 1980, a 500% increase in hepatitis and epidemic dysentery by 1974, a shortening of U.S. life spans by about a decade because of DDT and other pesticides, 100-to-200 million starvation deaths worldwide per year by 1980, the end of marine fisheries by 1990. Most famously, in 1980, he made a losing bet that five common commodities - of his choosing - would cost more by 1990 due to increasing scarcity.
  • Robert Bellah - in 1991 - predicted disastrous economic results for the U.S. economy "in the not so very long run."
  • Lester Thurow - in a series of books - has accumulated a vast array of mistaken economic predictions - generally about U.S. decline - especially in comparison with Japan and Germany - which according to Thurow have adopted policies that make them "more economically flexible, and more socially resilient." Japan's "communitarian companies have been impossible to beat." Japan will own the 21st century.
  • Paul Krugman - in 1990 - predicted sluggish economic growth for the U.S. in the 1990s, with inflation rising to 7%, and with both Europe and Japan moving ahead of the U.S. by 2000. He predicted the retreat of globalization. He repeated these predictions as late as 1994.
  • Martin Feldstein - in 1993 - predicted that Clinton's economic plan would "hurt incentives, weaken the economy and waste investment dollars." The increase in income tax rates would generate no more than about $7 billion. "Bad economic prophecy is not a liberal monopoly," Posner points out.
  • Jeane Kirkpatrick - in 1979 - argued that communist regimes - unlike right wing autocracies - never evolve into democratic societies.
  • Daniel Bell - in 1960 - wrote of the exhaustion of the traditional ideologies of the West - just as the Western ideological struggles were entering their most feverish phase. He, too, predicted economic and political decline for the U.S. (In this, he was right, at least for the coming decade of the 1970s.) In 1973, in "The Coming of Post-Industrial Society," he predicted that the university will displace the business entity as the nation's central institution, that government will make the most important decisions determining how the economy will grow, that the intellectual and scientific community will dominate "the entire complex of prestige and status." (Some intellectual wishful thinking, here. Galbraith was writing in a similar vein in the 1970s.) Indeed, Bell joined Galbraith in predicting convergence of the characteristics of capitalism and communism. In 1996, Bell joined the declinists  with predictions of U.S. decline and "the unraveling of the middle class." (This was one of Karl Marx's most ludicrous predictions, and left wing ideologues have been stupidly reviving it ever since.)
  • Military analyst Edward Luttwak - in 1983 - pronounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a success. In 1989, just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, he expressed the opinion that glasnost and perestroika would succeed in augmenting Soviet military power. In 1992, he joined the throng predicting the imminent decline of the U.S., and the rise to preeminence of Japan. In 1999, he was still pessimistic - his prevailing trait - but this time basing it on "turbo-capitalism" growing disruptively fast. His expertise was sought and given during the Gulf War. He predicted Saddam Hussein would evacuate Kuwait after two weeks of bombing. (Hussein didn't - but should have!) He also predicted that any ground war would be "bloody, grinding combat with thousands of [U.S.] casualties."

"The views of public intellectuals are not important to most people, even those who read their books and articles."

    Just about all these public intellectuals keep selling books loaded with predictions already proven false. "These are clues to the ability of public intellectuals to survive the falsification of their predictions." Posner offers the following explanation of their ability to survive such demonstrated incompetence.

  "First, they are not intended to be tested. - - - When a public intellectual's prediction goes awry, normally as a result of his having extrapolated from some current trend that his ideological confrères consider dire, they are reluctant to drop him. To do so would discredit their side of the ideological divide. Instead they close ranks around one who has fought the good fight, albeit unsuccessfully."

  Other reasons include that nobody is keeping score, and that nobody is really paying that much attention to what they are saying. "The views of public intellectuals are not important to most people, even those who read their books and articles."
 &

The influence of public intellectuals:

"Public intellectuals are read for information but also for entertainment - - - and for buttressing the reader's predispositions."

  So, why do people continue to read and listen to them? Posner offers an explanation.

  "Public intellectuals are read for information but also for entertainment -- educated people enjoy reading the writings of lively minds on current affairs even if they realize that the writers are opinionated, incompletely informed, and basically unreliable -- and for buttressing the reader's predispositions, that is, for solidarity, - - - for 'rallying.'"

"The public intellectual's predictions - - - are almost a parody of scientific hypotheses."

  Since these predictions are not relied upon as a basis for action, no one suffers any costs as a result of their error. Otherwise, they would be discredited - like the securities analysts whose errors recently resulted in major losses for clients. 

  • "The public intellectual's predictive propensities are related not to truth-seeking and hypothesis-testing but to the competitive and undiscriminating character of the public-intellectual market. The public intellectual's predictions are risky but dramatic."
  • "The public intellectual's predictions - - - are almost a parody of scientific hypotheses."

  Again, unfortunately, dire events have all too frequently resulted when such preposterous predictions have become a part of a myth that becomes authoritative enough to become a basis for policy. Entire nations relied on the absurd predictions of Marxists and socialists - resulting in catastrophic losses in public welfare - and it still took a century for them to be discredited. In the 1920s, a world wide trade war was initiated on the basis of the protectionist philosophy of conservative political advocates that promised prosperity and jobs. This played a major role in the chaos that descended on the world in the 1930s - first economically and then militarily.

  The main problem from the point of view of economic analysis is that there is so little "benefit" from ascertaining the accuracy of public intellectual information and prediction "that even inexpensive means of assessing the reliability of public intellectuals, such as by tracking their predictions, are evidently not cost-justified."

  "The educated public spends little time, and incurs few other costs, in consuming public intellectual's wares and derives correspondingly modest benefits."

  The impact of public intellectual rhetoric on public controversies over civil rights, the Vietnam War, animal rights, globalization, Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination, competitive politics within despotisms or democracies, are extensively discussed by Posner, who finds a mixed bag. Much of this discourse is generated by the need to refute other intellectuals.

  "But to the extent that public-intellectual work is dominated by the propounding and refuting of false beliefs, its net contribution to policy, even to sanity, may be small. The opposing forces may be playing a zero-sum game or even a negative-sum intellectual game."

  But taking part in the game is nevertheless essential, as to abandon the field is to cede it - and considerable influence - to the opposition. When a properly discredited conservative wing ceded the propaganda field to New Deal liberals in the 1930s, the result was enactment of command economy experiments that greatly worsened and lengthened the Great Depression.

  The result is widespread disappointment in the quality of the product (and perhaps widespread disappointment by the public intellectuals in the paltry results of their efforts). With this in mind, Posner tries "simply to place the public-intellectual market in perspective by showing that, and why, its average quality is low - 'disappointing' - and perhaps failing.
 &

Literary critics:

  For his first example, Posner examines literary critics as public intellectuals. He confines this chapter to those who apply a moralist viewpoint. Any critic that just judges on the basis of aesthetics is excluded because that "does not contribute to public discourse on political or ideological matters."
 &

  Modern academic literary studies have moved sharply to the cultural left, the author notes, and have adopted "a forbidding jargon and an unappetizing selection of works to study - - -." Thus, the two prominent critics he discusses - Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum - "are not in the mainstream of contemporary studies."
 &
  Posner is rigorously critical of moralist literary critics. He examines the work on contemporary literature of these two critics in some detail. He concedes that "some literature fairly begs to be evaluated in political terms." However, that doesn't include classic great literature.

  "The fact that great literature is almost by definition separable from the social context of its creation does not eradicate that context, but neither does it suggest that injecting great literature into  modern political debates is a fruitful way to treat that literature. Doing so is more likely to diminish the literature than to improve the debates."

Political satire:

  George Orwell's great satire, "1984" - discussed next by Posner - is an "overproduction school" fallacy.  (Here, too, we see the noxious influence of the imbecilic "scientific" expectations of Karl Marx.) He compares its presentation of technology unfavorably with that of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." He notes:
  • Externality: Technology that increases productivity does lead to reduced employment for some workers, but leaves more resources available to produce and consume goods and services not previously economically feasible - thus increasing employment and even average wages, as workers continue to capture the lion's share of the benefits of productivity.
  • Marginality: While the marginal consumer benefits from increased productivity and reduced prices, this may reduce the welfare of the "intramarginal" consumers - who now must share some product or service with many additional consumers. His example is the business traveler who now flies - in normal times - in airplanes more frequently filled uncomfortably to capacity.

  Posner drops the ball on this one. The business traveler can now travel first class for less money - adjusted for inflation - than the cost of his regular 1970s ticket prior to deregulation. A better example is the auto commuter on today's increasingly crowded rush hour roadways as more and more people are able to afford more and more cars, but society can no longer afford the roadways to accommodate them.

  • Rent seeking: Rent seeking is defined as income gained without benefit to society. Posner gives the example of an arms race that leaves both those with evil intent and their opposition in the same relative position.

  Here, again, Posner drops the ball. Safeguarding society from those - both domestic and foreign - with evil intent cannot be defined as of no benefit. Avoiding a loss of well being is as important as increasing well being. The traditional example of rent seeking involves corrupt practices - where rent seeking effort is rewarded with substantial benefits despite a consequent reduction in social well being because of the existence of successful corruption. But this does not involve technology. The only technology development that can be viewed as rent seeking is that used specifically for evil intent.

  • Interaction effects: There can be massive unforeseen consequences - both good and bad - from technological advances. The awful destructiveness of modern warfare - suddenly revealed by WW-I - provides a dramatic example of the bad consequences. The stirrup in Medieval  times and the many innovations that have freed women in modern times - contraceptives, labor-saving devices, fasts food, etc. - are examples of bad and good consequences.

"[N]ot only [does competition remain] a more efficient method of organizing production than central planning but - - - the more technologically advanced the economy, the greater the advantages of competition."

 

"[T]echnology seems to have increased rather than diminished popular control of government, - - -"

 

Technology leads to increases in "both economic inequality and political stability," contrary to one of the Orwell's main themes.

 

Thought control - with all its hideous characteristics - has proven far less effective than Orwell feared.

  That technology would destroy both economic and political competition - both competitive markets and democracy - was a left wing Marxist fallacy that both Orwell and Huxley fell victim to - as did so many other credulous intellectuals of their times. They believed that economies of scale and scope would make centralized control by technocrats increasingly efficient - ultimately reaching a point where centralized control would become the dominant form of organization.
 &
  However, "contrary to widespread fears in the 1930s and 1940s, not only [does competition remain] a more efficient method of organizing production than central planning but - - - the more technologically advanced the economy, the greater the advantages of competition." (See the FUTURECASTS comment in "Declinists," below.)
 &
  Also, privacy - as a "superior good" - is increasingly demanded by an increasingly affluent public - facilitating both independent thought and civic engagement. On balance, "technology seems to have increased rather than diminished popular control of government, contrary to the fears of the technology pessimists."
 &
  Although intended as commentary about contemporary conditions, "Brave New World" has in fact already had many successes as prophecy - especially many aspects of women's liberation, dependence on mood drugs, vacuous attitudes, and conformism. But in the real world, these things are happening "without foresight or direction," rather than pursuant to direction as Huxley envisioned - and feared.
 &
  Orwell, too, has had prophetic successes. The idea that totalitarian society  retards scientific and technological progress was spectacularly proven during the collapse of communism. However, technology leads to increases in "both economic inequality and political stability," contrary to one of the book's main themes.
 &
  Prophecy was an even more minor part of Orwell's book than of Huxley's. His commentary easily survives without success in prophecy. And, thought control - with all its hideous characteristics - has proven far less effective than Orwell feared.
 &

"1984" was as much about the Catholic Church as about Communist Russia - and both have failed to control minds by means of brain washing.

  Posner provides an interesting commentary on these two commentaries. He compares and contrasts them and deals with their unique characteristics - including their attitudes towards sexuality, the family, technology, and religion.
 &
  "1984" was as much a commentary about the Catholic Church as about Communist Russia - and both have lost the battle to control minds by means of brain washing.
 &

  "1984" is not about technology, but about "technocracy."

  "[Max] Weber's vision of human life so completely rationalized that all enchantment would be squeezed out of the world is anti romantic and therefore dismaying to persons of Romantic temperament. It is also an accurate prediction of the transformation of the modern university and resulting decline in the independent intellectual."

  Specialization and the misapplication of pseudo scientific analytical techniques to non scientific practical arts like economics and sociology are examples of this academic phenomenon.

The displacement of the independent public intellectual by academic public intellectuals  will materially reduce the likelihood of new great satire being written on our time.

  Indeed, "the economics in both novels is terrible -- and another sign of the diminishing scope for public intellectuality: no longer is economics an appropriate subject for amateurs' speculations." (Given the atrocious forecasting record of professional economists during the last half century, economics is apparently no longer an appropriate subject for professional speculation, either.)
 &
  Posner emphasizes the importance of satire as social criticism. He predicts that the displacement of the independent public intellectual by academic public intellectuals  will materially reduce the likelihood of new great satire being written on our time.

  "The classic satires are not enough; their social criticism is dated. We need new satires to keep alive the satire as a public-intellectual genre and we are unlikely to get them from the academy, except insofar as universities may be willing to employ writers on terms that do not academize the writer to the point of crippling his literary talent."

  Because of its artistry, classic satire survives even after most of its commentary becomes dated.

  "Public intellectuals who treat the novels of yesterday as political tracts are merely demonstrating the ephemeral character of public-intellectual work, their own and their subjects'. Public intellectuals date; artists need not."

Declinists:

 

For the last 2500 years of recorded history, the human race has been viewed by these Jeremiahs as descending into moral decay.

  "The Jeremiah School" is comprised of public intellectuals who view the past as including a golden age - the present as full of moral decay and descent into barbarism - and the future as bleak. In short, for the last 2500 years of recorded history, the human race has been viewed by these Jeremiahs as descending into moral decay.

  "Declinist works get much of their rhetorical force from contrasting an idealized past, its vices overlooked, with a demonized present, its virtues overlooked."

  Of course, Posner himself - in writing this book - is a "declinist" with respect to public intellectuals. But predictions of some specific decline are more likely to prove valid than predictions of general decline.

  A primary fallacy is "the assumption of cultural unity." If there is weakness perceived in law, popular or elite culture, religion, family structure, "even etiquette," it is presented as proof that the whole structure is falling apart.

  "[There is] uncritical conflation of social phenomena that have different causes, are differently amenable to correction, and differ in gravity. They are thrown together and the resulting stew is labeled a morally sick society."

  Conservative public intellectuals Gertrude Himmelfarb and Robert Bork are prominent examples - as are liberal public intellectuals Robert Putnam, Richard Rorty, and many others. Ecological pessimists -  such as Jeremy Rifkin and Paul Ehrlich - are invariably leftists. Ecological pessimism, such as that of Ehrlich, is a "thriving genre of doom prophecy."

  "The liberal paints a roseate future, the conservative a roseate past, and both a dismal present, so that the curve is downward for the conservative but potentially upward for the liberal. But whatever the author's politics, the genre is tailor-made for public intellectuals and largely monopolized by them. In an age of academic specialization, a work of scholarship devoted to tracing the decline of the United States in every sphere of culture and behavior, and to establishing the interrelations of the spheres and the implications of the decline, invites dismissal as academic charlatanry.

  The invariable "systematic slanting in favor of the decline thesis" in the use of both anecdote and selective statistics is a second obvious weakness. Logic and consistency are generally weak. Evidence is invariably handled with casualness. (The advocacy scholar paints with a broad brush. He cannot be bothered with inconvenient details.)
 &
  There is often a "picking and choosing among scientific theories"
by people with no scientific competence with respect to the pertinent scientific subject matter. Posner provides some examples:

  • Bork considers abortion always the killing of a human being, but refuses to address the issue of abortion of the severely deformed fetus. However, he would not countenance the killing of a severely deformed human being.
  • Left wing anti-smoking crusaders enthusiastically support scientific evidence against smoking, but refuse to address application of evolution theory to differences between the sexes or to homosexuality, or "statistical evidence indicating racial differences in intelligence."

  Posner dissects Bork's antiabortion arguments at some length, as well as several other arguments.
 &

  There is often considerable hyperbole. Leftist public intellectuals frequently compare pertinent modern conservative ideological views with those of fascism - conservatives similarly frequently compare modern leftist ideological views with  those of communism. We will descend into a new "Dark Ages" - or at least to Third World status.
 &

  A perceived need for "a more bracing concept of national purpose than liberalism, with its pluralism and tolerance, its materialism and anti materialism, affords," is felt by both extreme right and extreme left wing declinists. They are both "antiliberal."
 &
  Right wing declinists express appreciation for the moral disciplines of conflict and even outright war. According to Robert Kaplan: "Universal peace is something to be feared." Standing armies serve to discipline unruly youth. Without that, there will be an increase in youth gang activity. Strong religious beliefs can also provide moral discipline. Two examples from right wing declinists:

  • "Whereas war leads to a respect for large, progressive government, peace creates an institutional void filled by, among other things, entertainment-oriented corporations." (9/11 did save television news from total trivialization. Most news media were converging on the People Magazine model.)
  • "We think we know what political correctness is: we have no idea how intensely suffocating public discourse could become in a truly unified and peaceful world."

  Left wing declinists are frequently afflicted with Marxist idiocies. Many believe that capitalism inherently suffers instability that is chronic rather than just cyclical. This is due to overproduction and overcapacity. (Remember the automation scare of 40 years ago?) Prosperity, consumerism, and above all, inequality, are all purported ills of capitalism that must lead to economic disaster.

  Among other things, as FUTURECASTS has repeatedly explained, the process of creative destruction and the constant growth in economic capacity to provide new and better goods and services not previously known or economically feasible, render these Marxist fears ridiculous. Capitalism is dynamic, not static as ignorantly perceived by Marx. Workers continue to reap the largest share of productivity gains, and prosperity increases market demand. Modern banking systems and investment markets have no trouble putting all savings to productive use during prosperous times and even during times of ordinary cyclical recession.

  Both extremes advocate "practices or beliefs that they themselves would find irksome, or even intolerable," which is enough in itself to cast doubt on the soundness of their advocacy.
 &
  Indeed, "limousine liberals" think left but live right, while certain rigorous conservatives advocate orthodoxies they do not themselves believe in.
 &

"Limousine liberals" think left but live right, while certain rigorous conservatives advocate orthodoxies they do not themselves believe in.

 

The extreme positions taken by public intellectuals is not a reflection of the body of the public and gives a false impression of a divided nation.

  Both extremes need each other, since they provide examples of the dire trends they purport to reveal. This mutual criticism is useful, Posner suggests, and may even be valid - until it is accompanied by declinist propaganda. Bork seems to be trying to vindicate the leftist opposition to his Supreme Court nomination with "his advocacy of censorship, his proposal to amend the Constitution to allow Congress to overrule the Supreme Court's constitutional decisions, and his call for a return to Victorian morality and old-time religion." 

  As the Supreme Court gets increasingly politicized, additional political checks and balances may in fact be justified. Measures could include a requirement for elections of judicial appointees about every seven years as in California, or the ability for Congress to nullify by some supermajority any constitutional decision receiving less than seven votes.
 &
  Decisions based on constitutional grounds can have the practical effect of removing highly contentious issues from normal political consideration, leaving sometimes large opposition groups feeling disenfranchised and resentful. Ballots are better than bullets.

  The left is hostile to mainstream culture and society and is afflicted with "millenarian dreams."
 &
  The right is hostile to mainstream culture and society and is afflicted with "millenarian nightmares."

  "There is only a small center in public intellectual land, because public intellectuals have difficulty differentiating themselves without taking extreme positions and because the demand for public intellectuals is to a significant effect a demand for creating solidarity within groups that feel in jeopardy by virtue of their own marginality. The imbalance between the wings and body creates a false impression of a divided nation."

  Most declinist literature reflects hopelessness. Since the golden age was 25 or 2500 years ago and cannot be retrieved, we are surely lost.

  "It is easy enough with anecdotes and a few statistics to create an impression of a nation on its moral uppers. But it would be more accurate to speak not of a cultural revolution but of a change in morals and manners resulting from diverse material factors that include changes in the nature of work, growing prosperity, advances in reproductive technology, increasing ethnic diversity, and a communications revolution that has created a better-informed population."

Both wings do usefully dissipate the energies of those who might be prone to more physical actions, and they both provide justification for each other.

  As a result of their efforts, the left has stirred up some "silly students" to riot against globalization, and has taken control of and ruined some university English literature classes - and the right doesn't occupy any "commanding heights" of culture or politics. However, they are both fringe groups. They both embarrass their own liberal or conservative wing of the political spectrum. But, they both do usefully dissipate the energies of those who might be prone to more physical actions, and they both provide justification for each other.
 &
  Since Bork wrote his declinist alarums in 1995, all the supposedly weakening trends have continued, but the results have been opposite of his expectations. There is less crime and less abortion and less divorces and less out-of-wedlock births, etc. Welfare reform and tougher criminal laws have in fact been enacted. Reality perversely refuses to conform to right wing ideological expectations as well as to left wing ideological expectations. And, in modern times, this occurs fast - quickly falsifying this type of prophetic literature.
 &
    Richard Rorty has been predicting the imminent collapse of the United States for well over a decade. From his belief in 1987 that "time seems to be on the Soviet side," to his alarum in 1995 that the U.S. "seems to be having a nervous breakdown," he never seems to tire of getting everything about the U.S. wrong.
 &

  Robert Putnam in "Bowling Alone," writing from a left wing perspective, like Himmelfarb in "One Nation, Two Cultures," writing from a right wing perspective, attacks excessive individualism as a threat to society. However, Putnam's book is richly researched and sourced. This gives Posner a target, which he hits at a few points for sloppy scholarship. Claims that "road rage" causes 28,000 deaths a year - and that federal domestic spending is only 2.2% of GNP - are clear factual errors, and Posner adds several instances of weak reasoning.
 &
  Putnam, too, believes that war and material deprivation are socially bracing. But he fails to prove that a reinvigoration of "social capital" would be beneficial. Happiness and prosperity cease to be good answers, because they are viewed as part of the problem. "And he presents scant evidence that any of the acknowledged improvements in American life would have come faster had the amount of social capital remained constant."
 &

  David Riesman's book, "The Lonely Crowd," is contrasted by Posner with that of Putnam. Instead of viewing the 1950s as some golden age, Riesman deplored the "groupiness, the substitution of cooperation - - - for competition, the heightened sensitivity to the opinion of one's peers, the displacement of the highly individualized 'inner directed man' - - - by men who were 'socialized, passive, and cooperative.'" Except for passivity, Putnam views all these deplorable traits as assets essential for prosperity and happiness.
 &
  Riesman found "scarcely a trace of moral righteousness [in the WW-II generation's] scant political participation." Putnam lauds that generation for such civic virtues. Yet "The Lonely Crowd" is cited as a precursor to "Bowling Alone" on the latter's dust jacket. 
 &
  "One of them must be wrong - could both be? Quite possibly," concludes Posner. 

  "For what in the end unites Riesman, Putnam, Bork, Himmelfarb, Kaplan, Barzun, and Lasch is deep misgivings about the present, whether it is the late 1940s, for Riesman, or the 1990s for the others. Jeremiah looks backward to a golden age and sometimes forward to the possibility of redemption, but the present is for him, at best, a trough."

The public philosopher:

  Martha Nussbaum and Richard Rorty are the focus of a chapter on the American public philosopher. They follow in the footsteps of John Stuart Mill.
 &

Martha Nussbaum:

  Nussbaum's concerns include social justice and such public policy concerns as multicultural education, the plight of women in the third world, and homosexual rights. Rorty's concerns include redistributive policies and trade unionism.
 &

  Philosophers used to be generalists, but are now an endangered species because of the degree of specialization - within the field of philosophy as well as in other intellectual fields. This is too bad, Posner notes, since philosophy provides society with much needed gadflys. But he finds much to criticize in these two modern philosophers.
 &
  In defense of homosexuality, Nussbaum refers all the way back to Plato. This is misplaced, according to Posner, since Plato was expressing more of an appreciation for Platonic male friendship than homosexual relations, and more of a contempt for women's intellectual capacity - an unacceptable view today. 
 &

  To promote the liberal agenda as "rights," Nussbaum marshals philosophical arguments. She advocates a "capabilities" approach based on some objective standard of what people require "in order to enjoy a rich, fully human life."

  "These requirements include reasonable longevity, good health, freedom to travel, freedom from unreasonable fear or want, political freedom, sexual and reproductive freedom - within limits -- in fact the full menu of human rights as they are understood in liberal circles in the wealthy countries."

  Establishing entitlement to economic goods and services as "rights" is an economic and legal nightmare. It is doomed to failure for many of the same reasons that socialism fails. Governments simply don't have the managerial capacity for administering broad economic entitlements. Efforts to do this in just one field - health care - are presently hurtling rapidly towards grim failure.
 &
  Such proposals, again like socialism, are invariably based on determined denial of the obvious fact that all civilization is based on budgetary constraints. Utopian rationalizations that attempt to avoid those constraints are oxymoronic. Ultimately, only the lawyers can be winners by establishment of affirmative economic "rights," and they, not government administrators, will determine how such "rights" are administered. Due process decision making procedures are devised for reasons other than efficiency.

The methodology of economic analysis is not amenable to alteration to suit new philosophical approaches.

 

Philosophical rhetoric can't change the blunt fact of socialist failure and market capitalism success.

  The utility of philosophy for this kind of "constructive" role - which reaches beyond the more usual "purely critical" role - is viewed by Posner as dubious. Rejection of such a constructive role is based simply on the obvious fact that people do not adjust their approach to practical economic and political affairs in response to philosophical arguments. The methodology of economic analysis is not amenable to alteration to suit new philosophical approaches, and those not convinced by Nussbaum's liberal philosophy are not going to change their minds because of her impractical philosophical rationalizing.

  "Ethical argument is notoriously inconclusive."

  Nussbaum also likes Aristotle - another ancient philosopher with a negative view of women's capabilities. And, Aristotle viewed slavery with approval!
 &
  Yet, Nussbaum tries to redefine a segment of his philosophy to provide philosophical support for her liberal agenda.

  "Nussbaum is assiduous in mining the Greeks for foreshadowings of modern views - among the Stoics, in particular; but considered as a whole, ancient Greek political and philosophical thought is not social democratic."

  Prominent aspects of Greek ideology included slavery, infanticide, misogyny, and militarism.
 &
  Philosophical rhetoric can't change the blunt fact of socialist failure and market capitalism success. (Reality perversely refuses to conform to ideological - or philosophical - expectations.) Posner points out:

  • "The empirical triumph of capitalism has removed redistributive policies from the policy agenda in most countries.
  • "[R]eal-world events have a much greater impact on public opinion than academic theories do."

Richard Rorty:

  Rorty rejects Nussbaum's approach. Instead, he depends on an experimental approach. Philosophical discourse that claims certitude makes no room for "social experimentation."
 &

Rorty is hopelessly ignorant of the realities of economics and politics, of pertinent sociological and anthropological factors.

  We really don't know what will work, so we must be open to a "diversity of approaches."

  But, we can know many things that can't possibly work. There was no need for billions of people to suffer under socialist despotisms to prove the stupidity of socialist concepts. There was also no reason for democratic systems to be nearly fatally weakened by socialist experiments during the height of the Cold War. The illogic of socialism is plain without such dire experiments.

  Posner goes on at some length about the differences in philosophical approach of these two who have such similar objectives. Ultimately, however, Rorty's proposals are just "armchair proposals, and lack a knowledge base." He is hopelessly ignorant of the realities of economics and politics - of pertinent sociological and anthropological factors.
 &

Nussbaum, in particular, tilts at philosophical windmills - while providing little examination of the practical aspects of her proposals.

  Posner's philosophy is pragmatic - a concentration on the practical social, economic, and/or political consequences of proposed reforms. Nussbaum, in particular, tilts at philosophical windmills - while providing little examination of the practical aspects of her proposals. Posner has a very interesting view of utopians.

  "Utopianism and despair are closely allied. Acutely conscious of the gap between the actual and the conceivable, the utopian despairs when there is no prospect for bridging it. Intellectuality conduces to utopianism by stimulating the political imagination. The ordinary person has difficulty imagining an ordering of society radically different from the current one. The intellectual does not, and, being inclined by his calling to blame shortcomings on intellectual confusion rather than on practical impediments, thinks that merely pointing to the gap between ideals and achievements is a significant contribution to the cause of social reform."

  Posner accepts a subsidiary role for philosophy, in dealing with issues at the margins of practicality - where religion, culture, and morality may outweigh marginal economic benefits. He notes that Allan Bloom, "The Closing of the American Mind," accepts Western philosophical tradition and refers to it, as does Nussbaum, but draws the opposite conclusion from Nussbaum. Philosophy should be confined to the academic sphere rather than used for public discourse on practical matters. However, Rorty believes in renunciation of philosophical tradition.
 &
  "What a cacophony," Posner concludes.
 &
  Posner concludes this chapter with an examination of John Stuart Mill and his seminal effort at public intellectual work, "On Liberty."
 &

The public intellectual and the law:

  As expert witnesses and as commentators, public intellectuals commonly play roles in legal proceedings. As a prominent judge, Posner is in his realm in examining these practices.
 &

The truth is something public intellectuals do not take seriously - even when under oath.

 

"[A]cademics regard the courtroom as a political forum in which concerns for accuracy should play no part; the oath be damned."

  With respect to expert testimony, Posner points out that public intellectual testimony, affidavits and other official submissions are almost never relied upon by judges in their written opinions - except in obscenity cases, where evaluation of the existence of "redeeming social value" is an issue. Judges prefer to avoid "political or otherwise ideological" sources as authorities for their opinions.
 &
  Nevertheless, that does not mean that they are not influenced by the political and ideological discourse of the day. When cases are not clear-cut - when established rules of law are not quite applicable to some novel set of facts - a decision may well be swayed by a judges informed ideological or political views.

  "[A]t the higher levels of the judiciary, where the conventional materials of decision cannot resolve a case and the judge must fall back on his values, his intuitions and, on occasion, his ideology, public-intellectual work may have an effect on the judicial process. How large an effect one cannot say. But what is clear is that the work of public intellectuals is only one of the nonlegal influences on judges, others being temperament, life experiences, moral principles, party politics, religious belief or nonbelief, and academic ideas."

  Even when testifying about "redeeming social values," public intellectual testimony is worthless, since even the worst junk will be supported for the ideological purpose of always defeating censorship. The truth is something public intellectuals do not take seriously - even when under oath.
 &
  Even inconsistency with their own prior writings troubles them not. Martha Nussbaum on Greek philosophy and historian Alice Kessler-Harris on sex discrimination in the allocation of workplace gender roles, and historian James Mohr on 19th century public policy toward abortion are prominent examples provided by the author.

  "Just as in the case of the public intellectual's erroneous predictions, there is no accountability for inaccuracy - or worse - in testimony by public intellectuals. Indeed, it is even harder to keep track of a public intellectual's testimony than of most other public-intellectual work, because courtroom testimony, although nominally public, is not published and is therefore not readily obtainable by outsiders."

  Indeed, it appears that "academics regard the courtroom as a political forum in which concerns for accuracy should play no part; the oath be damned." (Well, what else can one expect, when courts make it so difficult to prosecute perjury and the penalties as imposed are so light?)
 &

  For commentary about contemporary proceedings, Posner uses the example of the impeachment proceedings against Pres. Clinton. He goes into considerable detail about  Ronald Dworkin - an advocacy scholar-style law professor - providing legal analysis twisted in favor of the results he wants. Dworkin openly wishes to change the Judicial branch into a political organ of government to achieve his liberal agenda.
 &

  All of Dworkin's predictions of the dire consequences that would flow from impeachment failed to materialize - a typical result for public intellectual forecasts. Hyperbole, inaccuracies and inconsistency is readily found in Dworkin's writings about the proceedings - also typical of public intellectual work.
 &
  Charges of subornation of perjury, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, repeated lying under oath - were all ignored by Dworkin. For Dworkin, the affair was a simple matter of lying to cover up an extramarital affair.

  "Dworkin has not explained why it was right to quiz Clarence Thomas about sex but not Bill Clinton. Anyway, Clinton did not refuse to answer the questions put to him; he answered them falsely."

Difficult truths:

 

Attorneys, being advocates, are ill suited for objective evaluations.

  The proper role of the public intellectual, according to the author, is to be "the bearer of bad tidings," or "difficult truths," that cut across political and ideological lines, and that may, at times, support positions at odds with those of the public intellectual himself. Attorneys, being advocates, are ill suited for this proper role.

  However, lawyers aren't the only advocates. All advocacy scholars are similarly ill suited for reliable public intellectual work.

  The vanishing of the independent public intellectual is deplored by Posner. From their ranks came the essential "gadfly and counter puncher." Specialization has had a pernicious impact, as educated people - both academics and the college educated public - become more and more expert about less and less.

  "[B]y fragmenting the educated public into slivers of specialists - - - and destroying a common intellectual culture, the university-induced specialization of knowledge has made the audience for public-intellectual work undiscriminating. Neither the public intellectual's academic peers, nor the audience for his public-intellectual work, disciplines his output."

  The media uncritically acts merely as conduits for authoritative misinformation.
 &

  The resulting unreliability of the "credence goods" provided by academic public intellectuals is due to their carelessness once they are outside the constraints of their narrow academic specialties and peer reviewed media.

  FUTURECASTS is not so kind. Many public intellectuals are intentional liars - for the cause - whatever that cause may be - and proud of it. At other times, they are in reckless disregard of the truth - painting with a broad brush - for the cause - and proud of it.
 &
  That's why FUTURECASTS labels them "advocacy scholars." They are simply not to be trusted. They by definition lack credibility for their assertions and thus do not deserve respect for their work. FUTURECASTS - as a public service - will continue to expose them - regardless of their ideological proclivities.

  The basic problem is "lack of accountability." Intelligence is not synonymous with "scrupulousness" or "good sense" or "character," Posner points out. Brilliance in some narrow specialty "does not imply a talent for government or politics."
 &
  The author offers some half-hearted suggestions for improving accountability - such as a norm supporting voluntary record keeping of public pronouncements by each public intellectual, but he has little hope of any improvement in accountability in the foreseeable future.

  FUTURECASTS has published the publisher's published forecasting record - extending over a 35 year period - including the errors - which have not been many. See the three pertinent links in the About the publisher page.

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Copyright © 2003 Dan Blatt