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Thinking big

Prospect's list of Britain's top 100 public intellectuals tells us a good deal about the state of ideas in our culture - competent, discerning and conservative

By David Herman   July 2004

In 1955, the American sociologist Edward Shils wrote an essay in Encounter on British intellectuals. What struck him was the “evaporation of ideology.” Everywhere, conservatism and apathy reigned. “Never,” wrote Shils, “has an intellectual class found its society and culture so much to its satisfaction.” A year later came Suez, the angry young men and the new left. Assessing the state of British intellectual life can be a tricky business.

Nevertheless, there are some striking features in Prospect’s list of the 100 top British public intellectuals which are more revealing than individual omissions here or there. We will all miss…

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