Thrashing the pundits

Near the end of Public Intellectuals, Richard Posner observes that Richard Nixon was forced from office in 1974 “because people were outraged.” This was perhaps the public’s most dramatic gesture of the second half of the 20th century. But the people Posner defines as public intellectuals would never have understood this, since his public intellectuals concern themselves only with public policy—not with public philosophy, public ethics or public theology, and not with matters of moral and spiritual outrage.

This view is not unique to Posner. Almost all public intellectuals today would agree that they should focus on hard-headed policy questions rather than soft-headed value questions. Such public intellectuals would attend, for example, to the politics and the legalities surrounding Nixon’s impeachment and resignation, but not to how his behavior undermined the nation’s moral and spiritual stature.


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