The Social Scientist as Public Intellectual: Critical Reflections in a Changing
World by Charles Gattone (Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers) addresses the question of the public role of the social scientist by
reviewing the work of several key social thinkers, from Max Weber to Pierre
Bourdieu. Drawing on the analyses of these scholars, Gattone argues that
although political and economic institutions continue to influence the course of
academic knowledge, opportunities remain for social scientists to act
independently of these constraints, and approach their work as public
Excerpt: Changes in today's society are so pervasive and are unfolding so quickly that it is difficult to understand them in a comprehensive manner. These transformations are global in nature, but have local consequences and go a long way toward shaping lives at the interpersonal level. As the forces of Western capitalism continue to spread to the far reaches of the planet, newer modes of communication and transportation are connecting disparate cultures more extensively than ever before. The political boundaries of the past have faded and are steadily being replaced by larger and more elaborate governing networks. Industrial nations are linked together in the form of intercontinental federations, and national businesses have grown exponentially to become transnational corporations with bases around the world. These developments increasingly clash with regional and indigenous traditions and have fostered new varieties of ethnic and religious conflict in the domestic realm.
A key outcome of all this is that the arena of politics has become much more complex than it was in the past. Political leaders today are unable to approach their responsibilities in an informal or cavalier fashion or act solely on the basis of their own experiences, but must consider a broad array of institutional factors underlying each of their decisions, and consult their advisors at every turn. They may present an image of self-confidence and independence in their public appearances, but behind the scenes they are required to tread carefully when weaving their way through the multifarious mazes of public administration.
These difficulties in understanding extend to members of the larger population as well, leaving many at a loss in their efforts to make sense of contemporary developments on the basis of informed judgments. The mix of messages in the mainstream media may provide some insight into current events, but this cacophony rarely offers the kind of analyses needed to form a broader worldview.
The attempt to comprehend today's society at both the institutional and individual levels has facilitated a renewed interest in the work of social scientists. Their expertise in a range of areas such as politics, economics, and culture has drawn them into the domain of public affairs in a number of ways. Social scientific knowledge is systematically derived, hut it is also fundamentally interpretive and can shed new light on complex practical questions. Researchers have the ability to examine what appear on the surface to he isolated occurrences and to demonstrate how these are connected to one another and to larger societal changes. While they cannot predict the future, they can show where current trends are leading and suggest viable ways to respond in the present. Their conclusions are certainly not infallible, but have proven to be an integral component in creating new assessments of the modern world and are now an essential ingredient in the formation of public policy.
Although social scientists have become more involved in public affairs in recent years, they continue to he ambivalent about their role in this regard and tend to be divided in terms of how to approach their work as public intellectuals. A fundamental belief in their tradition is that it is important to maintain a healthy distance from politics in order to provide an evenhanded and objective assessment of its principal actors and institutions. From this perspective, when scholars are embedded in the ideas and activities of everyday life, they lose their ability to see the larger picture of the situation they are studying and can develop findings that support preconceived beliefs or goals. A contrasting position in the field is that virtually all social scientific investigations have some political dimensions to them, whether the researchers involved are aware of these or not. From this latter standpoint, while it may he convenient to characterize social scientists as set apart from the real world, they are unavoidably attached to it and, as such, have a responsibility to acknowledge these connections and take them into consideration in their own work.
This conflicting set of ideals places pressure on social scientists to engage in analysis from a neutral position while at the same time operating as integrated social actors. It raises difficult questions regarding the ethics of their profession and of their relationship to the political realm generally. Can they be both detached observers and public intellectuals at the same time, or are these two roles necessarily at odds with one another? What does it mean to he a public intellectual, and how does this relate to social research? What are some of the underlying issues involved in this debate, and how are these playing themselves out in the contemporary world?
The above questions are not entirely new but are part of an ongoing series of dilemmas social scientists have had to confront throughout modern history. The dominant perspectives in academia today did not arise in a vacuum but evolved in relation to changes in the constitution of society over time and as a function of the orientations and assumptions of its principal contributors. One can argue that these issues have been thoroughly addressed by past scholars and in more eloquent and insightful ways than has been done in recent years.
As a sociologist who has been grappling with these questions for quite some time now, I thought it would be enlightening to study this topic from a range of theoretical perspectives and with an eye toward some of the larger social implications involved. I could see that the conditions in academia were in many ways connected to the changes taking place in society broadly, and I felt it would be worthwhile to approach this investigation from a contextual standpoint. On the basis of this interest, I put together a study of some of the key thinkers in the social sciences, looking at the relationship between their observations about the trends of their time and their suggestions about how social scientists might proceed as public intellectuals in the face of these changes. I thought it would be valuable to discuss these ideas to see how they could inform the work of contemporary scholars operating in the midst of some very similar challenges in the field today.
Perhaps the greatest obstacles to designing a study of this nature are selecting the authors to he included in the discussion and deciding how to justify this determination. To facilitate this arduous and somewhat perilous task, I developed a series of criteria to serve as guides in the selection process. Chief among these was an interest in focusing on the work of scholars who devoted considerable attention in their writings to the ongoing rationalization of the institutional order and the implications of this trend in the arena of culture. I sought out those whose analyses centered on the growing interconnections between government, business, and academia and the influence of these ties on the direction and character of social scientific knowledge.
I also looked for authors who addressed the tension between democratic and authoritarian forces in modern society and the difficulties this tension presented for social scientists attempting to forge critical assessments of the dominant regimes in their respective milieus. My primary concern in this area was to consider the ways political and economic organizations can undermine the potential for democratic participation, and the bearing of this dynamic on the work of social scientists in the public realm.
I also sought out those who focused on issues associated with education and propaganda and on the relationship between scientific analysis and public opinion. I assessed the work of scholars who considered the ethical questions involved in attempting to shift public opinion and the ways social scientists could take on the dual role of being both a participant and an observer in the world of politics.
The authors who managed to survive this somewhat grueling list of constraints are among those who have made a substantial contribution to their fields and to the social sciences broadly. They include Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Mannheim, Joseph Schumpeter, C. Wright Mills, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Pierre Bourdieu. Their analyses vary in a number of respects hut also share some underlying themes, and their conclusions can he seen as providing the building blocks for an informed contemporary position on this topic.
Before entering into this investigation, I thought it would he helpful to review the foundations of early modern social thought on some of the issues involved to establish a starting framework for our current discussion. To that end, I begin the book with a chapter on the ideas of two nineteenth-century social thinkers, Auguste Comte and Henri de Saint-Simon. I do not present the work of Comte and Saint-Simon as an ideal to be applied in the present, hut their formulations set the tone of this debate in the early stages of modernity and have acted as a principal foil against which more recent analyses have been framed. Many of the authors studied in this text developed their orientations in dialogue with these classical social philosophers, either refining their positions or opposing them outright, and therefore it seems appropriate to begin the book with an assessment of their work.
One will quickly see that the proposals of Comte and Saint-Simon are somewhat idealistic and a bit problematic in terms of their practical application. For instance, one of their principal suggestions is that the men of science, or the savants, he placed in positions of authority in the newly emerging social order. They believed that the superior knowledge of the savants entitled them to oversee the political and economic affairs of the state, thereby reducing errors in policy formation and providing moral guidance in the absence of a theological foundation. These aspirations grew out of their assumptions that the positive methods of science could produce universal truths about the nature of social phenomena and that a unified class of scientists would lead the Western world toward continually advancing forms of social organization in the future. Their recommendations were not accepted in their original form by subsequent thinkers but did inspire further inquiry into the questions of the relationship between social scientific knowledge and public affairs and of possible ways to bring these two worlds together.
The second chapter of the hook turns to the writings of Max Weber, examining his understanding of the events in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century and his position on the political dimensions of social science. Weber offered an important contribution to social thought on this issue by contrasting the ethics of social science with the standard practices of politics. He observed a major transformation taking place in the West from traditional forms of economic and political organization to state-centered
capitalism, and he characterized this change as part of the growing rationalization of society and the decline of individual autonomy. His primary concern regarding the influence of these trends on academic life highlighted the ongoing tendency of social scientists to be drawn into the logic of conventional knowledge. He observed their eagerness to hide behind the safety and security of institutional affiliations and considered the ways this interfered with their potential to develop new and enlightening analyses of the social order emerging around them. His writings helped clarify the relationship between social science and politics and continue to provide a rigorous theoretical framework for scholars wishing to avoid similar pitfalls in their own research.
Chapter 3 evaluates Thorstein Veblen's position on this subject and focuses on his conception of "the higher learning." Veblen wrote at roughly the same time as Weber but from the vantage point of the events unfolding in the United States. He is perhaps best known for his study of the elite in American society, The Theory of the Leisure Class, but throughout his writings, he examined the connections between the knowledge and material conditions of various social groups. Although he has been perceived erroneously as a utopian advocating the rise of the "engineers" in the management of the social order, Veblen actually rejected the idea that technical experts could assume a leadership position in the realm of politics and economy. He did not consider this a realistic possibility within the context of the ongoing trends of his time, but he did accept the premise that social scientists could significantly influence the course of history by virtue of their ability to shape the foundations of understanding in everyday life, and he developed an assessment of their public role from this perspective.
The fourth chapter of the book contrasts the opposing ideas of Karl Mannheim and Joseph Schumpeter on this topic and outlines their very different conclusions on the responsibilities of social scientists in the modern world. Mannheim witnessed the rise of Fascism in Germany and in Italy and raised serious doubts regarding the viability of laissez-faire principles to oppose this trend or act as an adequate guide for political decision making in the future. He characterized this transition as the decline of liberalism, by which he meant the gradual diminishing of open and free discussion of public issues and the eventual collapse of representative democracy. He recommended that social scientists intervene immediately and become directly involved in the task of managing public affairs, not only in the formation of policy objectives, but also in shaping the directions and focus of public opinion. Schumpeter, who also wrote during the years of the Nazi ascendancy, rejected the position that social scientists could provide any significant opposition to the ongoing deterioration of liberal values and practices. He suggested that social scientists were instead inclined to speed up the rationalization of society due to their narrow-minded vision of history and hostility to the capitalist order. The writings of these two authors, when viewed together, reveal some of the challenges of scholars living in the midst of the growing threat of authoritarianism and the consolidation of political power in the Western world.
Chapter 5 compares the work of C. Wright Mills and John Kenneth Galbraith, investigating the ways in which the events of the postwar world influenced their views on social science and politics. In the period following World War H, Mills and Galbraith examined the ties of business, government, and academia in the United States and addressed the ramifications of this arrangement in terms of a concern for individual liberty, democratic participation, and the development of long-term political and economic goals. Mills observed the impact of these changes on the university and formed a harsh critique of mainstream American social science. He sought to fashion an alternative approach to the study of society that could inform public officials as well as members of the larger population. Galbraith focused on the changing structure of the advanced industrial nations and observed a growing political leverage on the part of what he termed "the educational and scientific estate." He argued that as the task of policy formation grows increasingly technical and interdisciplinary in nature, political power becomes diffused, and this provides the opportunity for intellectuals to play a greater role in the creation of institutional knowledge and objectives. When taken together, the writings of Mills and Galbraith reveal the newer pressures facing academics in the postwar era and the ramifications of these pressures in terms of the potential of social scientists to approach their work in an independent manner.
The sixth chapter of the book examines the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and his conception of the circumstances facing intellectuals in the later years of the twentieth century. Bourdieu also developed an analysis of the changing structure of advanced industrial society, and he focused on the ties between established frames of understanding and the conditions of their formation. He was particularly critical of the French academy and its tradition of eagerly accepting and abiding by the conclusions of accomplished scholars, regardless of the blatant inadequacies or inherent contradictions in their thinking. Bourdieu argued that the symbolic power of intellectuals enabled them to play a key role in supporting the current system of domination but also gave them the potential to transform this arrangement at a fundamental level. He presented his ideals to address the dilemmas facing social scientists and to suggest possible ways they might overcome these obstacles in the future.
In the final chapter of the book, I draw the connections between the work of these thinkers and more recent social transformations, building on the themes in their writing that continue to be relevant today. Their assessments of the economy, public opinion, democracy, and academia illustrate the ways in which ongoing institutional changes are related to the formation of prevailing beliefs and can shape the directions of society. Although the vast majority
of social scientists tend to situate themselves within one or more of the respective traditions in their field, the few who manage to sidestep these limitations are in a better position to create alternatives to the central tenets of mainstream social thought. Of course, the members of this relatively small group are not the only ones capable of accomplishing such a goal. Social scientists on the whole have the potential to enhance the foundations of contemporary perspectives and establish new forms of understanding, even within the confines of today's relatively restrictive institutional environment.
Developing knowledge about the world and how to proceed in it is a task that entails more than simply gathering and conveying information. It means actively interpreting phenomena in a comprehensive, innovative, and enlightening way. The question of how to meet this challenge begins with an assessment of the agents involved in the formation of new knowledge. Are social scientists able to forge analyses that are relevant to the ongoing transformations taking place in the present? Can they effectively communicate these ideas to others outside their field? What are the forces they must contend with in doing so? Do their conclusions have any bearing on the future path of civilization? Hopefully, this book will shed some light on these and other issues that are so pressing in this rapidly changing and unpredictable age.
Public Intellectuals: An Endangered Species? by Etzioni Amitai (Rights and Responsibilities: Communitarian Responses: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) investigates the definition, role, and decline of public intellectuals in American society. Drawing from a wide range of commentaries and studies, this edited volume demonstrates the unique importance of public intellectuals and probes the timely question of how their voices can continue to be effective in our ever-changing social, academic and political climates.
For fifty years Americans have been warned that public intellectuals (PIs) are an endangered species, that the remaining ones are poor copies of the true (earlier) ones, and that one ought to be troubled by their demise because, as a result, society is lacking. To examine this thesis one must first ask, who qualifies as a PI? Have their ranks thinned out and their qualities diminished? The examination then turns to inquire, what is that special service that PIs are supposed to render for the body politic? And—is society being shortchanged?
Before a nose count can be attempted, one clearly needs to list the defining attributes of the species. There is some agreement on what are several key attributes of PIs, but there are also some telling differences among various students of PIs as to what qualifies one as a PI. Agreed is that PIs opine on a wide array of issues, are generalists rather than specialists, concern themselves with matters of interest to the public at large, and do not keep their views to themselves. People who are "well-traveled and broadly educated men of letters who [can] speak on a myriad of topics and [are] listened to by important sectors of the public, thereby shaping public opinion and, in the case of some who [gain] access to political powerbrokers, public policy" is the way two communications professors,
Daniel C. Brouwer and Catherine R. Squires, put it. And, they write, 'public intellectuals should be able to speak about a wide range of topics, out they should also address serious or grand issues and should do so with exquisite depth of knowledge."
Russell Jacoby, whose book on disappearing PIs is often cited as having sounded the alarm warning that PIs are declining, concurs: PIs are people who have "a commitment not simply to a professional or private domain but to a public world—and a public language, the vernacular."3 Richard A. Posner, who most recently joined the list of those who come to bury rather than praise PIs, writes that a PI "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."4 (Similar definitions have been provided by journalist Robert S. Boynton, professor Kitty Calavita, author Joseph Epstein/ professor Frances Ferguson, sociologist Charles Kadushin, professor J. Hillis Miller, and author Rick Perlstein.) It is this definition that is followed here.
There is less consensus on one key attribute of PIs, which will become clear shortly and has a great influence on the societal service PIs are expected to render: whether they must be critical and, above all, to what extent they ought to be critical. Epstein puts it carefully: "The intellectual . . . functioned best as a critic." The Enlightenment philosopher Marquis de Condorcet stated that public intellectuals should be devoted to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." Edward Said held that intellectuals should be the "ones to question patriotic nationalism, corporate thinking, and a sense of class, racial or gender privilege." C. Wright Mills argued that "the intellectual ought to be the moral conscience of his society," which contrasts sharply with the notion that "intellectuals need to be nonpartisan and non-ideological," a position favored by Brouwer and Squires.
Even a cursory scanning of those considered PIs, for instance the 546 lined up by Posner, shows that PIs are typically critical, though they vary a great deal in the extent and scope of their criticism. Some are critical merely of select policies or conventions, while others are severely critical of whole political or belief systems. Drawing on Posner's list, some of the more critical PIs include Richard Falk, Paul Krugman, and Noam Chomsky. We shall see that PIs cannot do their societal service without being critical, although they surely need not be nearly as one-sided, extreme, or holistic as the extreme practitioners of this art.
Closely related is the disagreement over whether PIs are, or ought to be, engaged in matters of moral judgment. Posner is disdainful of public intellectuals who introduce considerations of morality into their analyses. For Posner, "claims of moral authority are nearly always hypocritical,coercive, or both. 'Moralism' is a greater enemy than any of the sins it proposes to suppress, and discussions of morality never settle anything, nor change anyone's mind."19 Following in the footsteps of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a so-called legal-realist, Posner yearns to divest discussions of the law from their ancient associations with "moral philosophy." He views it as "theology without God," a "preachy . . . solemn... dull" business, equaled in its perniciousness only by "theology with God." Posner instead seeks to rely on economic analysis for what are, in effect, value judgments, without realizing that he, of course, is a public intellectual engaged in moral judgments, built into his preference of seeing things through the dollar sign.
Paul Johnson goes further:
The belief seems to be spreading that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors, or worthier as exemplars, than the witch doctors or priests of old. I share that skepticism. A dozen people picked at random on the street are at least as likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters as a cross-section of the intelligentsia. But I would go further. One of the many principal lessons of our tragic century, which has seen so many millions of innocent lives sacrificed in schemes to improve the lot of humanity, is—beware intellectuals.
Actually, even academic scholars, when they comment publicly about matters concerning their narrow area of specialization, from what is referred to as a "technical viewpoint," cannot avoid making normative statements. For instance, when scholars comment on the proper size of the deficit, which may seem like a judgment based solely on the science of economics, they are actually concerning themselves with such issues as the level of burden this generation may legitimately impose on future ones, whether one ought to endanger the financing of Social Security and hence violate our social contract with senior citizens, and so on. These and other such normative issues are evident in the economic tomes of Robert Solow, Milton Friedman, and James Tobin, among many others. Whatever the subject—affirmative action, the size and shape of tax cuts, school vouchers, grants to faith-based institutions, campaign financing, or environmental policies—moral issues are involved.
In short, PIs must engage in moral deliberations because all major public and social policies that they routinely criticize have important moral dimensions.
For some earlier observers of PIs, being a PI was associated with railing against the prevailing regime, ideology, and social structure. Indeed, in earlier decades, especially between the 1930s and 1970s, many of the most-cited PIs were on the left or liberals. However, as of the 1970s, with the rise of the neo-conservative PIs, a growing number of PIs became critical of the Left, of government excesses, and of people who are self-indulgent, other than of the prevailing economic, social, or political system. And, in he last decades, there has been a significant increase in conservative think anks (such as the Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973; the Competitive Enterprise Institute, formed in 1984; and the Progress & Freedom Foundaion, founded in 1993) and in foundations that underwrite conservative PIs such as the John M. Olin Foundation and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum). ['here is also an association of conservative scholars, some of whom are Is, the National Association of Scholars, founded in 1987. None of these Ls uncritical, nonpartisan, and non-ideological. In short, being critical and normatively prescriptive, although not necessarily in a holistic way, and surely not in a left or liberal sense, are inherent attributes of PIs.
There is a group of people who have many of the attributes of PIs, who quack like PIs, but who do not qualify as PIs, precisely because their role is to form conceptions that support their employer, rather than to be critical. These people, sometimes referred to as "spin doctors," do address the public, on a broad array of issues, in the vernacular rather than in technical terms, but are a distinct species, because they are retained by the powers that be, or volunteered to serve them as their advocates. These include propagandists or PR experts such James Carville and Mary Matalin, as well as some who served as PIs before and after their advocacy service, but who, while in the advocacy role, clearly toe the line of those who employ them, seeking to justify policies that are transparently failing (e.g., the war in Vietnam), trying to make bad judgments seem like savvy moves (e.g., justifying tax cuts that have led to debilitating deficits), and so on. They might be referred to as "house intellectuals." In the Old Testament a similar division is found between true prophets who spoke truth to power and false ones who blessed whatever the king did, especially characterizing his wars as just.
It is important to note that being a PI is not a regular job or vocation. Rather, it belongs to a small category of roles that carry only a temporary social accreditation. (Reference is to "social" because the accreditation involved is neither legal nor technical, but rather informal.) Like movie stars and leading sports figures, PIs must continuously prove that they still qualify for their title. Thus, just as movie stars who have not had a role in a movie for, say, a decade will be considered extinct or dimming, so PIs who have not written or spoken publicly or otherwise made their voices heard on significant public issues for long stretches of time will lose their title. Many a PI who shone brightly in some periods is barely discernable in others.
Moreover, for many, serving as a PI is a phase in their life's work, and not a lifelong vocation. Just as many natural scientists "burn out" young and become academic administrators or college teachers, so academics may become PIs for some years and then return to scholarship or viceversa, or even switch back and forth several times. C. Wright Mills, often cited as one of the most important PIs of the 1940s and 1950s, started as a more or less run-of-the-mill sociologist, doing survey research (in Small Business and Civic Welfare, 1946). He then wrote books that are more intellectual but less based on social science (compare Character and Social Structure: The Psychology of Social Institutions, 1953, to The Power Elite, 1956), and ended up composing a work that is mainly one of advocacy if not sheer ideology (in Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba, 1960). The following analysis hence focuses not on the people involved but on the role of the public intellectual. Those who occupy it may come and go, their personal attributes may change, but the role of the PI does not.
One should not conclude from the fact that new kinds of PIs have risen, even if their quality is lower rather than merely different from earlier types, that the quality of PIs in general is declining. For instance, much has been made of "talking heads" and the "chattering classes" or "pundits" on TV, who superficially comment each evening on some topic, using sound bites that last nine seconds or less. Obviously these did not exist before 1950, before the advent of television, although they were not unknown on radio.
Many of these "talking heads" do not qualify as PIs because they do not meet the criteria used to define this role, and hence reflect no decline of that species. However, some, who receive considerable chunks of air time, say on National Public Radio, C-Span, and public television, which enable them to explore serious matters in a serious fashion, do meet the criteria of the definition of PIs cited above. Thus, for example, "The Power of Myth," a series of several dialogues between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers recorded in the 1980s, and aired on public television, may well not be lower in quality than, say, public lectures presented at the 92nd Street Y in earlier decades.
True, television may not provide the same opportunity for interaction with an audience (although the technology and opportunities for such interactions are improving), but television does provide PIs with many opportunities that were unavailable earlier, including the ability to reach a huge national and even transnational audience who can use new technologies such as tapes, CDs, and downloading to hear and view these presentations as often as desired, at the pace and at the time of their own choosing.
In short, many of the criticisms of contemporary PIs, which are supposed to show their declining quality, actually either refer to people who act to some extent as if they are PIs (e.g., those who comment on the news) but are not, or constitute new breeds of PIs, with profiles of their own, but not necessarily a weaker breed. Moreover, the rise of "pundits" and TV PIs is paralleled by an abundance of other PIs, as Posner's long list shows. In short, the new breeds—whatever their qualities—have not replaced the earlier ones.
The role PIs can play in a given society is greatly affected by the extent to which the "public" is receptive to their ideas, which in turn affects their access to governing elites. And their access to the governing elites affects their public following and the impact of their criticism. As has been often observed, "the American temperament invites wariness toward intellectuals."111 Moreover, the United States differs from many other societies in that, in earlier eras, the governing elites were highly segregated from PIs. This segregation limited the influence of PIs in the United States as compared to other countries—and after this segregation diminished, as of the Kennedy Administration, PIs' influence increased. To document these preceding observations would require a multi-volume history of American intellectuals. All that can be provided here are some preliminary indications that lend some limited support to the arguments here advanced.
Some intellectuals visited Washington—and a selected few even served in presidential administrations—before the Kennedy era. For instance, Fannie Hurst in the first half of the 1900s, "was as likely to appear in the pages of leading newspapers as she was in the conference rooms of the White House, where her friends the Roosevelts gave her an open invitation." Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt could themselves be considered intellectuals (the first earned a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins and the second wrote books) and may have consulted intellectuals informally and on an ad hoc basis, but in these early administrations of the twentieth century, "intellectuals had no official role to play"114 (emphasis added). Franklin Delano Roosevelt is believed to have been the first president in this century to have brought intellectuals to the White House, which contributed to an opening and an increased role for intellectuals in politics." However, the intellectuals in FDR's administration (called the "brain trust") were not particularly influential. In this early period, many American politicians considered being associated with PIs as damaging to their political success and their attempts to present themselves as common folks. For instance, one of the main difficulties of Adlai Stevenson, when he was seeking the presidency, was that he was considered somewhat of a PI himself.
Washington differed in these early periods from other capitals, such as Paris, Moscow, and Jerusalem, in that it did not have a major university and bohemia was very limited. The Washington Post was not nearly as highly regarded as it is today. Most publishing houses and small magazines (e.g., the influential Partisan Review) were located elsewhere, especially in New York City. Hence the kind of frequent, easy, and informal contacts between PIs and the political elites common in other capitals (e.g., having dinners in each other's homes, attending the same seminars) were not common, although far from unknown, in Washington, in the decades before the Kennedy era. Thus, for the most part, governing elites and PIs remained segregated until the mid-twentieth century. Then, the developments that began with FDR "culminated in the 1960s, [when] intellectuals attained stature and presidents felt that they needed a liaison to the increasingly important intellectual community.
Kennedy was the first president in recent history who brought academically based PIs, largely from Harvard, into the White House in any significant way. Kennedy "realized and capitalized on the potential of America's intellectuals."117 These academics included such names as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Richard Neustadt, the author of Presidential Power. Kennedy was deeply influenced by Michael Harrington's book, The Other America. The Kennedy Administration provided a model for the inclusion of public intellectuals in government. Kennedy appointed PIs to important posts in "a higher proportion . . . than any other president in history."119 These intellectuals left a profound legacy. As Tevi Troy writes, "Since 1960, intellectuals have become increasingly important, shaping the millions of words written about presidents that determine presidential support and reputations. Consequently, every president [since that time] has had to deal with the intellectual community."
From Kennedy on, various PIs worked in the White House. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton had PIs working in the White House (e.g., Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samuel Huntington, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Amitai Etzioni) and many others were invited to Camp David for consultations. While the segregation of PIs and governing elites decreased, it did not end. (When I served in the White House in 1979-1980, I was told to address Zbigniew Brzezinski, at the time a Columbia University professor on leave, as Mister and not as Doctor or Professor. Doctor or Professor, I was told, smacked of being academic rather than bestowing legitimacy.)
The George W. Bush Administration is not necessarily following this tradition. True, it has been reported that President Bush read Eliot Co-hen's Supreme Command and was indirectly influenced by Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong? and The Last Lion by William Manchester. However, no PIs work in his White House. It seems, as Troy noted, that "on the whole . . . [George W.] Bush showed little interest in reaching out to the so-called mainstream intellectual community." However, this is an exception to the pattern that prevailed for more than forty years, although a closer examination would show that there were ups and downs in the PI-White House relationships during that period.
PIs' increased access is helped by the fact that in recent years more of them have been nearby. Although Washington still has no Harvard, its universities have improved over the last decades; many think tanks have sprung up; the Washington Post's quality has greatly increased; and several small magazines are published in Washington (including Foreign Policy, The National Interest, The Public Interest, and The Weekly Standard, all launched after 1960). Informal contact between elites, while not as rich as in other countries, is greater than in earlier eras
The effect of the increased contacts among PIs and the governing elites remains to be studied—in both directions. To what extent have PIs directly affected the communities of assumptions of the governing elites and their specific policies versus indirectly affecting the assumptions held by the public? And, to what extent did the increasing involvement of PIs in Washington weaken their critical power as they became anxious to be heard and invited to the White House?
Until such studies are undertaken, it seems safe to suggest, on the basis of the limited observations listed above, that (a) PIs have far from disappeared, (b) their contact with governing elites has increased and so, it seems, has their influence, and (c) while such contact may have weakened criticism from PIs who work or want to work closely with the powers that be, there is no shortage of outsiders who strongly challenge those in power.
insert content here