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The World’s Top 100 Thinkers

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In the October 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine they announced their competition featuring “the top 100 world public intellectuals”.

After all, why should populist television have it all its own way with its obsession with top 100, top 50 and top 10 lists?

Well there are pros and cons to Prospect’s list. As the magazine itself admits its competition is rather nebulous and also it is UK-American centric in that the collaborator is an American magazine called Foreign Policy.

That’s the downside. Still, it should be fun to see whom readers vote for because the list is just so odd!

It includes such diverse figures as Pope Benedict XVI, Germaine Greer, and Paul Wolfowitz. Now that would make a good tea party.

The Prospect list follows on from the 24 September 2005 issue of the BBC’s Radio Times revealing that in their readers poll for the smartest people on television, Stephen Fry came first, Carol Vorderman second, and eighth equal with Ian Hislop was Lisa Simpson!

About Danny Rosenbaum

  • http://jmaximus.blogspot.com John Bil

    The Pope top thinker? Pleeease. More like anti-thinker.

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    Wow, a pretty great list with some real intellectual giants in philosophy and literature on there. I had a hard time picking 5.

    And it really, really annoyed me that Thomas Friedman, the increasingly annoying self-promoting columnist from the New York Times who made his name making the media rounds post 9/11 with no particular insight or learning is on that list, especially after his unimpressive latest book. It’s also mildly annoying that the SECOND biggest self-promoter in journalism, Fareed Zakaria, is on the list as well. But Zakaria strikes me as generally more informed and respected than Friedman.

    Greer hasn’t written anything worthwhile in almost 30 years.

    Klein is way too trendy a pick. That’s not that great a book and while I agree with a lot of what she stands for, there are better representatives of anti-consumerist thought, Thomas Frank being among the most prominent these days. He should have certainly been on this list.

    I considered Achebe, Becker, Diamond, Eco, Finkielkraut, Giddens, Habermas, Huntington, Chomsky, Baudrillard, Geertz, Kristeva, E.O. Wilson, Negri, Putnam, Soyinka, Wolfowitz (yes, Wolfowitz, because he’s one of the most influential intellectuals in politics in quite a while), Sen, Singer, Rushdie, and Walzer.

    Dawkins, Gates, Nussbaum, Hitchens, Rorty, Zizek, Krugman, Posner, Pinker and Paglia are all interesting writers and thinkers whom I enjoy but not sufficiently original or theoretically important to be on my Top 5. Gardner’s research IS sufficiently respected, but Multiple Intelligences never struck me as a particularly earth-shattering insight in psychology. I feel sort of the same way about Fukuyama, who was more influential during the whole “End of History” debate a decade ago but made a bigger intellectual splash than most scholars ever do despite the problems many have with his work. I admire ambitious theory as much as I do elegant theory, even when it falls short on its own intellectual content.

    So here are the 5 I picked:
    *Noam Chomsky, not for his notorious and predictable politics but for his status as a living giant in linguistics
    *Vaclav Havel, who is the clearest example of the philosopher-ruler we’ve seen in modern times and certainly the best WRITER in politics since perhaps Jefferson. He wasn’t one of the best executive leaders nor one of the best writers of his time, but he’s remarkable for being one of the few TRUE intellectuals who’s been allowed to bring the richness and depth of his thought and art to the public life.
    *Samuel Huntington, who while proven wrong on some of the details, has always been at the front of predicting the next big ideas in social science, including democratization and the “Clash of Civilizations”
    *Clifford Geertz, whose language and ideas have re-shaped cultural anthropology in our lifetime
    *

    And the 5th was tough — I wavered between Putnam, who while being perhaps the most respected political scientist in America has never said anything profoundly unsettling or era-defining in his very thoughtful work about democracy and civil society, and Negri, the radical leftist intellectual who is one of the few genuine philosophers producing theory tied to praxis today but perhaps lacks the nuance and depth of learning that some of the other philosophers on the list possess to the point that he’s almost emulated Gramsci as the “prison intellectual” of his time. I also thought about Habermas, whose theorization of the public sphere, communication and defense of the Enlightenment out of continential philosophy is well-respected and very deserving, yet doesn’t shake me intellectually. I considered Baudrillard, whose theories on language and simulation are radical but fundamentally bizarre and confusing to even the most theoretically current reader to the point that they are inaccessible to people in the public life. I also considered Rushdie, Eco, Achebe, and Soyinka, but I’ve decided that the literature of identity and post-colonial narratives don’t move people intellectually in a way that has substantively changed our approach to these parts of the world. That’s not to fault their art, it’s to say that literature simply is dead or dying as a cultural force. Amartya Sen deserves credit for returning discussions of morality and public policy to international economics, but I don’t think he ever had any defining insights into the nature of the global marketplace, poverty or inequality.

    So I was torn between Putnam, Baudrillard and Negri. Putnam is the safe choice because he’s always done very meticulous, respected work. Negri is the sexier choice because he’s one of the few proudly radical philosophers in a time of very little noise in philosophy who’s explicitly theorizing the politics of globalization and capitalism. I recognize that Baudrillard is the most unique and different out of the three, but I frankly don’t understand his work or its importance other than as a facile critique of media reproductions. Either I’m either not smart enough to get Baudrillard or his theory is so radically self-confirming that it leaves little room for engagement with the things that do matter to most public intellectuals. Probably both. I sort of feel the same way about Julia Kristeva, whom I recognize as influential to those interested in gender, psychoanalytic theory and semiotics, but whom I frankly can’t grasop enough to understand her value as a public intellectual. I suspect that very few people know her or are affected by her work.

    I wasn’t happy with any of these choices as my #5, so I looked at two others.

    After doing some research on some of the scientists, I thought Steven Weinberg (who won a Nobel Prize for electroweak force in physics) seemed pretty important to his field. Yet I’m not educated enough about physics to make him my choice.

    So then I had to swallow hard and I decided to vote for Paul Wolfowitz. I disagree with almost all of his politics and I think he’s had a deleterious effect on our foreign policy, but there’s no denying he’s the most powerful intellectual in the world, from his early advocacy of the Iraq War to his running the World Bank, which is arguably the most important international body in the world for the development of the Third World.

    So that’s how I voted.

    If any of the rest of you vote, let me know who you pick.

    That is all.

  • Nancy

    The pope? A great thinker? Of what – the 5th century?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Trying to make a list like this using only those who are actually alive seems excessive. There aren’t 100 great intellectuals who are also famous to choose from, which explains the inclusion of second-raters like Krugman, loonies like Chomsky, obligatory inclusions like the Pope, and flavors of the week like Al Sistani. Thankfully I only had to pick 5.

    I ended up picking Zakaria because he always makes sense and also has a sense of humor, Eco because he’s the greatest living intellectual novelist and also readable – which most of the others aren’t, Freeman Dyson because his ideas are unique and original and stretch the boundaries of physics, Bernard Lewis because I’ve enjoyed his books and because he was my dissertation adviser’s dissertation adviser and of course Hernando de Soto because he has done more than any modern economist to improve the lives of real people and bring about positive change in the third world.

    To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have included Zakaria – who I kind of threw in on a whim at the last minute – if I had noticed that Havel was on the list, but somehow I missed Havel when I read over it.

    But the real question is – who did everyone include as their non-preselected ‘power ball’ choice?

    Mine was French historian Emmanuel le Roi Ladurie.

    Dave

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    For all our differences, Dave, I do appreciate that we’re the only ones on this site who would take this kind of topic seriously.

    Sharky poo, I want to see which hippies you pick out of this list.

    That is all.

  • David Frisch

    Hello all, I’ve never posted here before (or really anywhere…except imdb); was googled here as I followed up on my Public Intellectuals voting.

    First, my voting:

    Top five was easy because all of them are among my favorite writers (though that meant not voting on some more impressive/influential PI’s): Fukuyama, Garton Ash, Havel, Ignatieff, and Zakaria. For the bonus vote I easily choose Alan Wolfe (the best American P.I. sociologist since Daniel Bell slowed down) – though when I later realized the Dalai Lama was missing I thought again. I must mention (at the very least) five honorable mentions – all of whom have had a major impact on my education: Bhagwati, Giddens, Huntington, Putnam, and Walzer. (Yes, I studied polisci.)

    And here are five “characters” (all of whom I waver on “trusting” but always enjoy reading): Dawkins, Hitchens, Kagan, Krugman, and Paglia. Finally, here are five, whom, frankly, I loathe: Chomsky, Friedman, Negri, Posner, and Wolfowitz. (Especially from that last list, I’d be curious if anyone can predict my political/ideological orientation – but wait, that assumes that even I know! – oh never mind – no, I take that back, if for some reason you are still reading this drivel, then please, guess away!)

    Second, the real reason for my posting here:

    To be brutally honest, outside of school, I’ve never actually spoken with anyone casually (for fun even!) about public intellectuals….so…..

    …to Dave, Nancy, or anyone else who knows and cares about (lets say) at least half the names on the list – I invite you to email me personally – that is if you, like me, are a quasi-isolated-pseudo-intellectual-type.

    Regardless,
    Cheers.

  • David Frisch

    Oh, sorry – my email is [address deleted].

    Cheers.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com alienboy

    Top thinkers – “Pope Benedict XVI, Germaine Greer, and Paul Wolfowitz” ?

    I seriously don’t know whether to laugh or cry having read that seriously depressing claim.

  • me

    putnam was “very” wrong..or off in his work on social capital..beleive it or not…See Edwards…I think 2000-something….

    or think for yourself.

  • http://www.cambodian.info/ Cambodian

    I just google this topic today, Thank for sharing such a great info.

  • ADP

    I don’t like your choice of Wolfowitz. you should have stayed with Putnam. The list is not a list of 100 biggest douchebags or 100 most powerful intellectuals. It is a list of the top intellectuals. And on this list, Wolfowitz has absolutely no place, given his credentials.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Top thinkers, in the political arena? The age of statesmen is long gone.

    They’re all whores to the highest bidder.

  • mikemo23

    hellen keller was one of the worls greatest thinkes to live.

  • Robbie Long

    I would have to say my hero is Leonardo Da Vinci

  • winston kaizilege

    top thinker in politics include Julius Nyerere

  • Philip Emeagweli

    His calculation has changed the world computing system