Public intellectuals 1 28th June 2004
Your top British 100 public intellectuals poll (July) is the most pompously idiotic thing I have seen for many years. Viz once did an excellent parody of this sort of thing with their “Britain’s Best Bob” survey, in which Bob Charlton narrowly beat Bob Monkhouse because of his superior goal-scoring ability. Get a grip.
Peter Wilson Shipston on Stour
Public intellectuals 2
12th July 2004
We are not alone among friends and colleagues at expressing incredulity and disappointment at your choice of top intellectuals, particularly as your criteria of “distinction in some field of intellectual or cultural endeavour” as well as “the ability to articulate or represent an important strand of British cultural life” appeared to offer an enlightened breadth of reach. Your list of white, middle-aged male academics was lazy and parochial, betraying a major lack of engagement with British culture today.
Clare Cumberlidge and others General Public Agency
Public intellectuals 3
28th June 2004
David Herman, commenting on your list of intellectuals, suggests that philosophers are now less prominent in our public debates than they were 40 years ago. But the list contains six declared philosophers – John Gray, AC Grayling, Mary Midgley, Onora O’Neill, Mary Warnock and myself – together with at least four others (Noel Malcolm, Jonathan Sacks, Raymond Tallis and Rowan Williams) who would be described as philosophers were it not for the fact that they are also distinguished in other fields. Moreover, it is surely to the credit of our profession that half of Herman’s recognised philosophers are women, which gives us a special claim to be central to the intellectual life of the nation.
Herman also laments the passing of the polymath. His list shows the lament to be premature. Raymond Tallis, Melvyn Bragg, Matt Ridley, George Steiner, Tom Stoppard and several more are the equals of Bronowski in their range – so too is Lisa Jardine, Bronowski’s daughter. And if there has been a polymath in the past to match Noel Malcolm, who reads in every European language, has published authoritative works on Balkan history, on the music of George Enescu, on English Renaissance history and on central European politics, while entrenching an academic position as the leading editor and commentator on Thomas Hobbes, then I should like to know who he was.
Roger Scruton Brinkworth, Wiltshire
Public intellectuals 4