Public intellectuals

Lawrence Solomon
FP Comment
May 1, 2008

Foreign Policy/Prospect lists the world’s top 100 public intellectuals, “the thinkers who are shaping the tenor of our time,” as it describes them. Now it’s up to us to select the best from among them, by choosing our five favourites.

Most of the intellectuals on offer, I confess, are unknown to me. The rest I divide into those I admire, or not.

Al Gore falls into the latter camp. He would make my top five in many a category but public intellectual? He epitomizes the anti-intellectual, someone who shuts off debate by bullying people off the arena by labelling them as deniers. He doesn’t make my list. Neither does Noam Chomsky or Lee Kuan Yew, the patriarch of Singapore. They are both too pure for my taste.

But the list has many people whom I admire. In the global warming arena, I’ll pick Bjorn Lomborg, the Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg, more than any single individual, has injected perspective into a debate generally marked by blindness and unreason.

In the realm of Islam, Bernard Lewis seems a no-brainer. Who has made a greater contribution, or a more learned one, to the subject.

I have long admired George Ayittey, an African economist, for his clarity of thought and courage. I first came across his writings perhaps 20 years ago in The Wall Street Journal. In his writings I first came across the term kleptocracy. My vote, in some small way, is designed to reward him for his freshness of thought.

Among the courageous, Garry Kasparov, too stands out. I attribute his longevity – Russians who speak out tend to have abbreviated lifespans – to his chess mastery. But I always fear his next gambit may be his last.

Finally, I choose Pope Benedict. What a hard act he had to follow, and how prepared we all were to judge him wanting. And how well he is wearing by being both public and uncompromisingly intellectual.

You may cast your votes here. And you may share them with everyone.

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