Published in May 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
It’s striking that those who have come top of Prospect’s poll to pick the World Thinker of 2014 have devoted their lives to questions of development. We don’t, I should say at the start, make claims for this poll beyond what it straightforwardly is: a canvassing of public opinion, conducted online and internationally, about who has generated the ideas that have had—and should have had—the most influence on debate about how to solve the world’s problems. The poll has always reflected the passions of the day—and of some countries; this year’s results have been shaped, among other factors, by the enthusiasm with which India’s lively media embraced our award. The top three places in our list are held by Indians—Amartya Sen, the economist; Raghuram Rajan, the new Governor of the Reserve Bank of India; and novelist Arundhati Roy. The fourth is Chinese, while the fifth is the Pope.
That said, India is an excellent berth for thinkers who have the intellectual breadth and authority to take on the world’s problems. A highly verbal country, it has always put words well to its problems—and it has many of those; it has embraced the best of the modern world, such as democracy and technology, while failing to overcome historic, deeply embedded cruelty in relations between different parts of its society. Sen, in his cover story for us, asks why we tolerate poverty, and rightly dwells on his own country, but arguably makes too little of the consequences of the caste system. Or of religious differences—as the election campaign and the likely victory of the divisive Narendra Modi is showing.
What counts as a world thinker? Rodin’s image is unhelpful; it suggests someone observing from the wings of the world stage even i…