Saturday, 18 August 2012

Intellectuals and The Crisis

The French (Voltaire, Rousseau and more recently Foucault, Derrida and Lacan) and the Germans (Goethe, Weber, Luhmann, Offe) have always enabled the role of public intellectual, and made space for them in their newspapers and other media.

We Btitish are much more suspicious of intellectuals, and those who have been elevated to the role of public sages have tended to discredit it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Ottery St Mary (footloose junkie), John Ruskin (impotent cuckold) and Bertrand Russell (pacifist philanderer) are obvious examples of how the popular imagination was fed images of the intellectual by our cultural organs.

I must admit that I have always gone out of my way to avoid the identity of intellectual, or even academic. In my younger days I thought of myself as a social worker, a social activist and a sportsman, and even now I somewhat puritanically confine my writing activities to the hours between 2am and breakfast time, using the daylight hours for farming and socialising.

But the intellectual classes have hardly covered themselves with glory during this economic crisis. Where are the great alternatives to the discredited nostrums of those fatcat economists when we need them? I haven't read much out of the French or German academies to enlighten or invigorate me just lately.

About the only thinker to enhance his reputation has been Guy Standing, whose book The Precariat has been a global smash hit. And he is English. Just don't appoint him to any distinguished post in the Royal Society or the Privy Council. That would be tempting fate.

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