January 9, 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates reacts to the reaction to his calling Melissa Harris-Perry "America's foremost public intellectual."

"I made this claim because of Harris-Perry's background," he says, reciting achievements from her resume. Somebody has to be America's foremost public intellectual, right? Actually, that's not right, and any time you create a superlative, you're inviting dispute. Coates humorously restates his designation as the "TNC Public Intellectual Prize," which retracts the invitation. In TNC's opinion, MHP is America's foremost public intellectual. Okay, then... never mind. She's a public intellectual — aren't we all?

And we're all entitled to have our personal favorites, not that I can think of mine, and if I could, I wouldn't use the expression "America's foremost public intellectual." I'd say "my favorite public intellectual." And doesn't that really show Coates's sleight of hand? Both "America's" and "foremost" imply that this isn't a matter of his personal preference or even his opinion of who is the best, but an observation of prominence in America. "Foremost" doesn't mean best. It means first in rank, and to speak in terms of what is "foremost" is to claim that there is a rank. Why do that?

Coates has a special problem with Dylan Byers at Politico: "What sets Byers apart is the idea that considering Harris-Perry an intellectual is somehow evidence of inferior thinking." Ah! That made me see that the reason to visualize a ranking and to put your favorite intellectual at the top of the claimed ranking is that you feel that you've been put down and you need to fight back. Coates didn't just "consider[] Harris-Perry an intellectual." He proclaimed her "America's foremost public intellectual." If we're talking about inference from the evidence, let's be accurate about what the evidence is.

Coates offers this explanation, revealing more of his mindset:
I came up in a time when white intellectuals were forever making breathless pronouncements about their world, about my world, and about the world itself. My life was delineated [by] lists like "Geniuses of Western Music" written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues. Dylan Byers knows nothing of your work, and therefore your work must not exist.
Coates describes his own experience feeling subordinated by proclamations of greatness. Unnamed "white intellectuals" constantly effused about great geniuses and left black people off the list. That's how he feels. I feel that I've seen white people breathlessly idolize Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin — and many other black musicians (e.g., Duke Ellington) — since at least 1975, the year Coates was born. But he's speaking subjectively about how he feels, and he, not Byers, is the one who used the phrase "inferior thinking."

When I wrote "Ah!" above, it was because the phrase "inferior thinking" made me think about having troubling feelings that one has been treated as inferior, and that seemed like an explanation for why Coates may have wanted to declare Melissa Harris-Perry "America's foremost public intellectual."

But what Byers actually wrote was: "Ta-Nehisi Coates's claim that 'Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost public intellectual' sort of undermines his intellectual cred, no?" That is, Byers didn't imply that Coates seems to have an inferiority complex. Byers meant Coates's declaration makes him seem inferior. Obviously, that's got to be really aggravating for Coates, and I can see why he chose to process that slam into a more general observation that white people are continually disrespecting black people. You can hear the aggravation in Coates's grandiose, abstract, free-swinging conclusion:
Here is the machinery of racism—the privilege of being oblivious to questions, of never having to grapple with the everywhere...
Coates, by contrast, must fight, he must grapple with the everywhere — the racism that is everywhere and invisible to white men like Byers.
... the right of false naming; the right to claim that the lakes, trees, and mountains of our world do not exist...the right to insult our intelligence with your ignorance.
That is to say: I'm not unintelligent. You are unintelligent. I see so many things that are invisible to you, and that's my superiority, to counter and to trump your superiority.
The machinery of racism requires no bigotry from Dylan Byers. It merely requires that Dylan Byers sit still.
That is: Byers is intellectually lazy, accepting the world as he, a white man, sees it.  He's inferior.
We suffer for this. So many people charged with informing us, with informing themselves, are just sitting still.
Suddenly, at the end of TNC's essay, we are in the presence of everybody, everywhere, all the suffering, all the racism and the ignorance of racism, all the complacency. Left far behind is the silly assertion that "Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost public intellectual."

Anybody else want to say that's dumb after this very grand and righteous and intellectual assault on that tiny little man Dylan Byers?

150 comments:

Robert Cook said...

If there is a "foremost public American intellectual," it's not Melissa Harris-Perry.

Bob Ellison said...

Rush.

Henry said...

Coates is like the politician who, out of a strained sense of fair play, casts his vote for the other candidate. Then loses by one vote.

Since baseball is America's game, I nominate Bill James as America's foremost public intellectual.

[T]he privilege of being oblivious to questions applies to people who don't understand sabermetrics, let alone those who don't understand baseball.

Clayton Hennesey said...

I've long admired Coates as America's foremost public chubby little black man with a Kangol.

Robert Cook said...

Rush.

Um...we're talking about "foremost intellectual."

Rush-bo will never qualify as an intellectual.

CJinPA said...

Anybody else wants to say that's dumb after this very grand and righteous and intellectual assault on that tiny little man Dylan Byers?

You just did so, wonderfully.

Brando said...

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I'm sure Coates could find a way to explain Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor as intricately related to America's Jim Crow laws at the time. All he can see in everything is white racism and black victimization.

damikesc said...

So, not Condi Rice, huh? OK, got it.

I mean, since he has to have a black intellectual --- why not somebody with the actual credentials?

pm317 said...

Anybody else wants to say that's dumb after this very grand and righteous and intellectual assault on that tiny little man Dylan Byers?

I am tired of these people always whining. Their whole MO is to 'assault' the little people. Someone, somewhere did not give these people their due -- it is always that and tiring and boring and uninspiring. Why can't they use the opportunities they get to assimilate with others and throw the boulder (not the chip) that sits on their shoulders? Hopefully, if they did that, their children may grow up to think they are humans like the rest of us and not BLACK humans.

LarsPorsena said...

Instead of debating the meaning of 'foremost', we need to nail down the definition of 'intellectual'.

Fen said...

Shorter Coates: "I chose Harris-Perry more for racist reasons than anything else"

Brando said...

Coates does raise a good question--who actually is "America's foremost" public intellectual? I don't even know who my own favorite public intellectual is.

I do know what my favorite pizza topping is (anchovies), and can hazard a guess for what America's Foremost topping is (pepperoni), but I'm sure if someone asked TNC he'd say they were just reflecting white racism because pizza toppings are just too Eurocentric and we should be discussing traditional African cuisine.

Wilbur said...

I'm good with Bill James.

Fen said...

Micheal Totten: "They must themselves have been energetic, productive, and creative people. Their society must have been considerably more complex and sophisticated than Castro can admit without destroying the rationale of his own rule. In the circumstances, therefore, it became ideologically essential that the material traces and even the very memory of that society should be destroyed.”

Doris May Lessing: "It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care."

Melissa Harris-Perry: "One of these things is not like the other [giggle]."

traditionalguy said...

I nominate Laurence Meade's wife as fun-intellectual of the year.

David said...

Has Coates read James Baldwin? Some of it, I would guess. He should read Baldwin again. There was a public intellectual. Baldwin took his audiences seriously, white and black. He thought about things. He was original, and much of what he wrote still seems so.

Then he might remember what a public intellectual is. Among other things, Baldwin was public. People knew of him, even if they had not read him.

Who has ever heard of Harris-Perry before this flap.

Or Clarence Thomas. There's a public intellectual.

I liked the Condi Rice suggestion too.

Thomas Sowell?

harrogate said...

It seems a bit unfair to me, to say that after reading Coates's post, "Left far behind is the silly assertion that 'Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost public intellectual.'"

Yes, he broadens his scope beyond MHP to talk about WHY his claim would be dismissed by Byers, but "left far behind" is overly strong to me. ("silly assertion," however, seems about right to me. Why counter those "great white men" Lists Coates abhors, with a different list? The idea of ranking obviously subjective things in such an objective way is indeed silly and I am glad that it is not very prevalent anymore).

But yet and still. If you follow the link, you can see that of MHP Coates writes in two rather substantial paragraphs, in the heart of his post:

"I made this claim because of Harris-Perry's background: Ph.D. from Duke; stints at Princeton and Tulane; the youngest woman to deliver the Du Bois lecture at Harvard; author of two books; trustee at the Century Foundation. I made this claim because of her work: I believe Harris-Perry to be among the sharpest interlocutors of this historic era—the era of the first black president—and none of those interlocutors communicate to a larger public, and in a more original way, than Harris-Perry.

Now Melissa Harris-Perry neither needs (nor likely much cares about) my endorsement. Regrettably, there's no cash attached to the 'TNC Public Intellectual Prize.' Moreover, other people will make other cases. What sets Byers apart is the idea that considering Harris-Perry an intellectual is somehow evidence of inferior thinking.


LarsP wrote:

"Instead of debating the meaning of 'foremost', we need to nail down the definition of 'intellectual.'"

...aaaaaaand, blamo!, that seems to be Coates's very point. He is arguing that Byers sees through a lens that cannot conceive of MHP as an "intellectual," let alone a "foremost" one. This is a discussion woth having.

SJ said...

I think Coates mis-applied the word "intellectual", and is either unaware of (or lacks the courage to) own up to that mistake.

He may have also used the word "foremost" when he meant something equivalent to "person I think should be getting the most attention...today."

For intellectuals who are worthy of study, and have large influence, I nominate Glenn Reynolds.

I don't always agree with him, but he's a sharp guy.

Another example: an intellectual who are under-known, under-appreciated, and whose focus on the history of the 20th illuminated much, I nominate Matthew White.

He's just some guy on the internet, but his careful gathering of historical data is impressive.

Valentine Smith said...

It's certainly not an inferiority complex, it's a persecution complex. And I'm afraid it's collective.

Chuck said...

I still think that the buried lede is that Ta-Nehisi Coates went out of his way to set up Melissa Harris-Perry as "Ameirca's Foremost public intellectual" seemingly as a direct and proximate result of her having presided over a racially invidious television show, and then apologizing for what she herself seems to have conceded was terrible judgment.

The whole thing strikes me as not even being a serious attempt to gauge something like a "foremost intellectual." It strikes me as a way for Coates to try to say (without actually saying so), "she was right the first time; let's quit all of the apologizing."

Unknown said...

Coates does not seem to realize that Thomas Sowell exists.

PB Reader said...

why do that? He and she are idiots.

B said...

Yes, my selection is Thomas Sowell as well.

Illuninati said...

Racism is a normal human trait bequeathed to us by evolution. Until we recognize that whites are racists, blacks are racists, Orientals are racists, everyone is racist we will never be able to deal with racism intelligently.

Racism (aka tribalism)is one reason that it is so important to have equality under the law. That is the exact opposite of modern racial politics. The main problem in the old South wasn't that whites were prejudiced against blacks but that the government codified these prejudices into unequal treatment by the law based on race. This situation has improved somewhat for blacks although it is still far from ideal under the present system of quotas and race based preferences.

Capitalism is another important remedy for racism. Capitalism provides a method for different races to interact in a way that treats all races fairly. Any time government chooses winners and losers and distributes wealth through politics, political clout not merit becomes all important. Political clout depends upon membership in the right group and quickly leads to tribalism. This is why the left are always thinking about race day and night. Their obsession with race is why they think everyone else is obsessed with race. This obsession is why lefties call anyone who disagrees with them "racist".

MadisonMan said...

My life was delineated lists like "Geniuses of Western Music" written by people who evidently believed Louis Armstrong and Aretha Franklin did not exist. That tradition continues.

He needs to cite examples for this kind of claim to have any weight at all.

EDH said...

For over 50 years, has there been any debate in America whatsoever?

"The World's Foremost Authority..."

Professor Irwin Corey.

He's still alive and he will be 100 this year! God bless him.

harrogate said...

tradguy wrote:

"I nominate Laurence Meade's wife as fun-intellectual of the year."

She's certainly one of my favorite public intellectuals.

Bob Ellison said...

I take "foremost" to mean most influential. That would be Rush. Robert Cook, your knee is jerking.

It might have ben Ben Barnanke, or it might now be Janet Yellen. Awfully important intellectuals. It's a dismal science they practice, though.

Paul Krugman, maybe.

rehajm said...

I'm good with Bill James.

Me too. The profund influence he's had on...everything.

MattL said...

She has a PhD, so I guess she's a credentialed intellectual, for whatever that's worth.

I think we should focus more on the "public" aspect. Her main (only?) outlet to the public is MSNBC. I only hear about the most inane things she does (tampon earrings, ridiculing babies) like almost everyone else in America, because we aren't forced to watch MSNBC. If you're the "foremost public" anything and all you do is be on MSNBC, then it must be a tiny niche of a thing, and that doesn't sound like "public intellectual" to me.

I'd have to think that if we had a foremost public intellectual, it would probably be someone like Krugtron. He seems to have a fair amount of influence and reach.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

"Public intellectual," unfortunately, is one of those niches that you see people perpetually wangling for. Cornel West, for example, is quite desperate to be thought of as a "public intellectual." Ditto Noam Chomsky; ditto, also, Stanley Fish and Camille Paglia, both of whom at least deserve the title. I'd throw in Nat Hentoff and Stanley Crouch, both of whom have a massively larger body of work, on any number of topics, than does Ms. Harris-Perry.

I mean:

I made this claim because of Harris-Perry's background: Ph.D. from Duke; stints at Princeton and Tulane; the youngest woman to deliver the Du Bois lecture at Harvard; author of two books; trustee at the Century Foundation.

Apart from the Du Bois lecture (an honor I should think de facto unavailable to anyone not Black), that's the kind of resume held by scads of youngish academics. It doesn't make you the "foremost" anything.

Bob Boyd said...

When you're a hammer, everything's a nail.

Fen said...

Sj: I think Coates mis-applied the word "intellectual", and is either unaware of (or lacks the courage to) own up to that mistake.

Agreed. He appears to conflate "intellectual" with "communicator"

dbp said...

Not that I have one, or claim to be an intellectual, but people with a couple of books under their belt and a PhD are a dime a dozen. So, lets give MHP the title of intellectual, but foremost and public?

If we were to limit the contenders of foremost public intellectual (FPI) to black Americans, then Sowell, Thomas and Rice would top the list IMHO. But okay, this is TNC, so lets further limit this to people on the left. Aren't Cornell West and Skip Gates far more prominent than MHP?

B said...

"If you don't recognize her status as an intellectual based on the elite schools she went to that's because of your privilege." wut

- Popehat on twitter

Ken White is challenging Althouse as my favorite and the foremost law blogger. I better check my male privilege.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I nominate Honey Boo Boo.

Rumpletweezer said...

Thomas Sowell. He's one of a handful of people who, even when I disagree with them, I think are probably right and I am wrong.

Valentine Smith said...

And when you're a nail, everything's a hammer.

jacksonjay said...


Well, you see, the problem with Affirmative Action is ......!

Bob Boyd said...

@VS

When you're a nail you need a hammer to achieve your potential.
After that your world is a nail hole and its all you can do to just keep things together.

Bob Ellison said...

Oh! Nate Silver.

jacksonjay said...


How about this title: The Foremost Wearer of Tampon Adornment

Robert Cook said...

"'Public intellectual,' unfortunately, is one of those niches that you see people perpetually wangling for. Cornel West, for example, is quite desperate to be thought of as a "public intellectual." Ditto Noam Chomsky; ditto, also, Stanley Fish and Camille Paglia, both of whom at least deserve the title. I'd throw in Nat Hentoff and Stanley Crouch, both of whom have a massively larger body of work, on any number of topics, than does Ms. Harris-Perry."

I don't know how you presume to know that any of the persons you have named are "quite desperate to be thought of as a 'public intellectual,'" or why you think people are "perpetually wrangling for"such a designation.

JZ said...

I'm going to step out on a ledge and suggest that Coates likes MHP because she's cute. I'm standing on firmer ground when I say that no intellectual of any type hangs tampons from her ears.

Clyde said...

With those earrings, yeah, Melissa Harris-Perry is "America's foremost pubic intellectual." Period.

Humperdink said...

"When you are black, everything looks white." (or racist)

ErnieG said...

George Orwell — "Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them."

Humperdink said...

If I google "foremost intellectual", will I see person wearing tampon earrings?

AReasonableMan said...

I like about half of TNC's writing and do not have a problem thinking of him as a public intellectual. Unlike most bloggers, who largely just recycle news stories, he often adds something to the debate.

Humperdink said...

Beat me to it Clyde.

TomHynes said...

Tyler Cowen suggests Andrew Sullivan as the most influential public intellectual.
http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/06/who-is-the-most-influential-public-intellectual-of-the-last-twenty-five-years.html

"Influential" is more testable than "favorite" or "foremost"

TomHynes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marshal said...

harrogate said...
LarsP wrote:

"Instead of debating the meaning of 'foremost', we need to nail down the definition of 'intellectual.'"

...aaaaaaand, blamo!, that seems to be Coates's very point. He is arguing that Byers sees through a lens that cannot conceive of MHP as an "intellectual," let alone a "foremost" one. This is a discussion woth having.


It's quite easy to understand why Byers doesn't consider her an intellectiual. Consider Cook's comment:

Rush-bo will never qualify as an intellectual.

There seems to be a general understanding an intellectual is something more than a public commenter or pundit. Maybe it requires deeper thinking, or maybe empiricism. Maybe the appearance of honestly evaluating circumstances rather than cheerleading. Something more than a mere political advocate. I'm sure many standards might apply.

Does MHP meet any such standard that would be failed by Rush? She thinks stunts like tampons as earrings are funny, and she panders to the lowest of the left with her race baiting. She appears on a TV network primarily known for valuing political advocacy over honesty or any other principle.

But instead of considering those facts, Coates claims those who don't consider her an intellectual are racist. Weak sauce.

Humperdink said...

America's Foremost Intellectual?

That's easy. America' lovable lug, Vice-President Joe Biden. Second in command to reigns of power. "I can see a 7-11 from my house."

John Lynch said...

Never heard of her. I have heard all of the other names people in this thread have mentioned. I think that's a good anecdotal proof that she's not "public" enough.

Based on influence, and having heard of them, here's my list.

Noam Chomsky (not a fan, but everyone's head of him.) Hugely influential if you like him or not.

Andrew Sullivan. He created gay marriage. That's a big deal.

Jared Diamond. Pushes mostly nonsense now, but "Guns, Germs and Steel," got people talking about why the world is the way it is.

Niall Ferguson. Perpetual doomsaying isn't popular, but his analysis of what happened in the World Wars brought home the self-destrution of Western Civilization in a way that a pure military history cannot.

My favorites, who are not very popular, are Walter Russel Mead and Francis Fukuyama. They worry about institutional decay and social change, which I think are what we need to address.

AReasonableMan said...

If the gong for foremost public intellectual goes to the person who first and most publicly promoted an extremely unlikely idea that became reality then Sullivan wins easily. I think even Sullivan would expect a broader definition. He would probably have voted for Christopher Hitchens.

Greg said...

One time I was driving from Cody, Wyoming to Salt Lake City and stopped in Hudson, Wyoming to eat the "the world's best steak!"

Is that kind of like what we're talking about here?

John Lynch said...

Hitch is dead, so he can't win.

Yeah, I'd pick Andrew Sullivan as #1, because I like to look at results.

Paul Zrimsek said...

She's written two books. Take that, Richard Posner!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

My only exposure to Melissa Harris-Perry is seeing her on MSNBC. If she is also an intellectual, she is very good at compartmentalizing her life.

John Lynch said...

Went on Amazon to look at her books.

OK, these are probably good books, based on reviews, but they aren't much of a basis for being the foremost public intellectual. If the subject matter is important, then why not go with Cornell West? It seems to me that it's the same thing, he's done more work, and he's not dead yet.

I'd have to read a book to make a final judgement.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Robert Cook,

I don't know how you presume to know that any of the persons you have named are "quite desperate to be thought of as a 'public intellectual,'" or why you think people are "perpetually wrangling for"such a designation.

I wrote "wangling," not "wrangling." They do not mean the same thing.

I would say that someone who, like Cornel West, gets all huffy when someone fails to take his new hip-hop CD as the sort of serious scholarship Harvard University expects its top-paid professors to produce really, really wants to be regarded as a "public intellectual," i.e., as someone whose every utterance is to be regarded as gold.

His response to Larry Summers' mild suggestion that he produce something slightly more scholarly was to announce that he was packing up all his toys and going to play in Princeton's front yard instead, so there. Given that Peter Singer was already there, he didn't even get to be the most reprehensible member of the faculty.

John Lynch said...

One of them is on Audible. Hey Althouse, is there an Audible portal the way you have an Amazon portal?

Jim said...

Thomas Sowell
Victor Davis Hansen
Nasseem Taleb

BTW, I just started reading my autographed copy of Terry Teachout's Duke. It is not about John Wayne. It's about Duke Ellington. The white man from Limbaugh country thinks he is a genius. He must not have gotten the Western Music message.

John Lynch said...

Thinking about it, I haven't heard of her for two reasons.

She's on MSNBC, which I do not watch, and I'm not in college.

Television should not be the basis for being a public intellectual, and a public intellectual by definition needs to be read outside of academia. Looking at these books she wrote they are probably in college bookstores across the country. I'm positive that many recent college grads have read them.

But that's not a good basis for being a public intellectual.

Original Mike said...

"America's foremost public intellectual" is doing a program on MSNBC? That just doesn't pass the laugh test.

Lyle said...

Coates is a really ignorant, maybe even unintelligent man. I'm glad more people are starting to recognize this.

John Lynch said...

This is where Coates lost me forever. No matter what the facts are, my position will not change. I will justify it no matter what.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

The question of who is America's foremost public intellectual should be submitted to a panel of experts.

Michael said...

Coates and Harris-Perry are two of America's foremost mediocrities. In the category of public intellectuals I would put Victor David Hanson. Having opinions and writing about them in a way that subjects and verbs agree does not make one an intellectual even if the writing and thinking is sometimes stimulating. One has to have some confidence that the "public intellectual" has read and studied extensively even deeply,possibly in more than one language. Hanson qualifies. Hitchens qualified. Coates and Harris-Perry, I would wager, have fewer books combined in their libraries than I do. And I have read most of mine. What have they written? Three books between?

Still, I suppose it is an achievement when one considers that all of Africa's ideas were stolen by the Greeks, a thesis proffered by another black public intellectual some years back.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

At least he didn't claim she had great diction.

I'd say America has made extraordinary progress if a person with a pronounced lisp can get employment as a speaker.

Why not celebrate that?

exhelodrvr1 said...

I agree with Michael - Victor David Hanson would be a great choice. But he isn't a Democrat.

MattL said...

VDH is a Democrat (registered). He just doesn't act like one.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Michael,

You mean Martin Bernal of Black Athena fame. He died last year, but did manage to publish the second and third volumes of his argument first. I hadn't thought of him for nigh on 20 years. I would be curious to see whether his Vol. 3 (on "the linguistic evidence") deals with the amazing smackdown two linguists gave Black Athena in a volume of essays on it. That was the most thorough demolition of an academic argument I've seen since Allan Bloom reviewed John Rawls' A Theory of Justice.

Sorun said...

Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost black public intellectual. Does that change the meaning any?

AReasonableMan said...

Michael said...
Coates and Harris-Perry are two of America's foremost mediocrities. In the category of public intellectuals I would put Victor David Hanson. Having opinions and writing about them in a way that subjects and verbs agree does not make one an intellectual even if the writing and thinking is sometimes stimulating. One has to have some confidence that the "public intellectual" has read and studied extensively even deeply,possibly in more than one language. Hanson qualifies. Hitchens qualified. Coates and Harris-Perry, I would wager, have fewer books combined in their libraries than I do. And I have read most of mine. What have they written? Three books between?

Still, I suppose it is an achievement when one considers that all of Africa's ideas were stolen by the Greeks, a thesis proffered by another black public intellectual some years back.


I am not sure if this was intended but this post drips with condescension.

From wikipedia: VDH wrote of Rumsfeld that he was: "a rare sort of secretary of the caliber of George Marshall" and a "proud and honest-speaking visionary" whose "hard work and insight are bringing us ever closer to victory".

Public intellectuals of all stripes are ripe for mockery. Apparently none more so than VDH.

Paddy O said...

foremost is a funny word.

Is the least influential public intellectual (I nominate myself) the rearleast?

cubanbob said...

Brando said...
Coates does raise a good question--who actually is "America's foremost" public intellectual? I don't even know who my own favorite public intellectual is."

While who is America's foremost intellectual is open for debate by process of elimination it's easy to determine who isn't America's foremost intellectual. MHP just doesn't make it in to the running.If he were alive today George Carlin would be a far more credible candidate.

Paddy O said...

In the time to read comments, Althouse posted on "foremost"...I guess I was in sync with the blog

paul a'barge said...

Coates's sleight of hand

ah, Coates. I would add:
- sleight of hand
- slight of mind
- bright (not)

You don't have to be very bright when you're a black pundit; just puff out your chest and walk about, doing that chicken-picking, head-bobbing, "I'm a bad-*ss m*th*" act.

William said...

Dylan Byers loses all street cred when he names Naom Chomsky and Susan Sontag as preferable to MHP--although lately Sontag has been doing her best work. Conservative thinkers are the true invisible men in academia........If I were into classical music I would probably put a higher value on Mozart and Beethoven than Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong belongs in the canon, but not in the classical music section. Is it possible that Coates' irritability is as put on as the happy smiles of the field hands that that Duck Dynasty guy encountered.

Michael said...

Michelle Dulak Thompson: There was an entire volume "Not Out of Africa" which also demolished the preposterous thesis. I do like to bring up the topic in relation to the thin intellectual life of black Africa. It offers a plausible reason if you are gullible enough to think that an idea can vanish from the brain and into the minds of crafty white Europeans.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

AReasonableMan said...

From wikipedia: VDH wrote of Rumsfeld that he was: "a rare sort of secretary of the caliber of George Marshall" and a "proud and honest-speaking visionary" whose "hard work and insight are bringing us ever closer to victory".


You write that as if his Rumsfeld comment is mockable. It is, in fact, a fair and wise observation about DR.

CJinPA said...

AReasonableMan,

You equated an opinion with a statement of erroneous fact. Do you really not see the difference?

AReasonableMan said...

These statements are eminently mockable based on the results of the occupation of Iraq. If you can't see that, you should probably get out a little more. Rumsfeld was effectively sacked by Bush after his re-election.

Ann Althouse said...

"One of them is on Audible. Hey Althouse, is there an Audible portal the way you have an Amazon portal?"

Audible is part of Amazon, so just look for the book you want in Amazon and the Audible version will be listed in there along with hard cover, paperback, and Kindle.

cubanbob said...

William said...
Dylan Byers loses all street cred when he names Naom Chomsky and Susan Sontag as preferable to MHP--although lately Sontag has been doing her best work. Conservative thinkers are the true invisible men in academia........If I were into classical music I would probably put a higher value on Mozart and Beethoven than Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong belongs in the canon, but not in the classical music section. Is it possible that Coates' irritability is as put on as the happy smiles of the field hands that that Duck Dynasty guy encountered.

1/9/14, 10:51 AM

Mozart and Beethoven weren't composing classical music in their day, they were composing the popular music of their day. They were simply among the best of their genre of their time. Armstrong wasn't composing what we call today classical music, he was composing a genre of American popular music of his day and in that he was among the best. I suspect that in a couple centuries from now Armstrong will still be listened to and in that time he will be considered a classical musician as well in his genre of music.

MayBee said...

Dylan Byers made the mistake of responding to TNC on Twitter as if he and MHP were white.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

AReasonableMan said...

These statements are eminently mockable based on the results of the occupation of Iraq.


Bush administration and military won the Iraq war, Obama/Biden lost the peace.

If you are lucky enough to still be here, future historians will certify that for you.

Mary said...

One has to have some confidence that the "public intellectual" has read and studied extensively even deeply...

-------------

This.
Audiobooks and connections can only get you so far as a writer.

Humperdink said...

Sorun said "Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost black public intellectual. Does that change the meaning any?"

So where does that leave Rev Al "resist we much" Sharpton?

Mary said...



At some point you need to think, not dismiss critics as rascists and hope others join in.

ann knows the game tho.

courting diversity, and new audiobook customers with her recent links. wait for a talking heads to drop soon, as the young folk say.

Mary said...

Humperdink said...
Sorun said "Melissa Harris-Perry is America's foremost black public intellectual. Does that change the meaning any?"

So where does that leave Rev Al "resist we much" Sharpton?
-------

and Jesse jr. is hollering something about legacy from his prison cell...

Mary said...

beyonce and jay-z can get deep, in their own way, and they are very public and known worldwide...

kanye says they shoulda gotta the award.

Mary said...

we all know down deep, coates gives this one to his father paul, who made it all possible...

MayBee said...

Black privilege: the ability to assume any criticism or bad action that happens to you is because of your race. Also, the ability to imply anyone who hurts you in some way is doing so because they are racist or don't understand race history.

White straight men just have to take criticism and bad actions at face value.

furious_a said...

Um, Cornell West or Louis Gates, Jr.?

from the Atlantic Article: none of those interlocutors communicate to a larger public, and in a more original way, than Harris-Perry.

MHP's viewing audience fits in a circus clown car.

And neither Noam Chomsky or Susan Sontag, however much I disagree with them, ever donned tampon earrings for a public appearance.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

If you are lucky enough to still be here, future historians will certify that for you.

This has to be my least favorite form of the appeal to authority: appeal to someone in the future who is therefore not available to endorse or refute your statement.

If you know enough about a subject to know how future authorities will assess it, then you don't need them, say it based on your own authority. If not, don't try to appropriate theirs.

furious_a said...

ARM: If the gong for foremost public intellectual goes to the person who first and most publicly promoted an extremely unlikely idea that became reality then Sullivan wins easily.

Agreed. Sullivan's forensic gynecological research into Trig Palin's parentage was groundbreaking!

Michael said...

MayBee: I believe you are right. Black privilege gives these two mediocrities an audience that two similarly situated white pontificators would not enjoy.


Otherwise we would, none of us, give one little shit about what Ta-Nehisi Coates or Melissa Harris-Perry think on any topic. Ever.

Humperdink said...

It has been reported that Chris Mathews is a finalist for America's Foremost Northeast Librul Caucasian Intellectual. Be on the lookout for him to have a condom hanging from each ear in an upcoming show. It will put him over the top.

Lydia said...

Chuck said @ 8:53 a.m.: The whole thing strikes me as not even being a serious attempt to gauge something like a "foremost intellectual." It strikes me as a way for Coates to try to say (without actually saying so), "she was right the first time; let's quit all of the apologizing."

I think that is spot on. As Coates said in his first MHP piece, there's a "weighty subtext" involved in the situation of "a black child being reared by a family whose essential beliefs were directly shaped by white supremacy, whose patriarch sought to lead a movement which derives most its energy from white supremacy."

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ignorance is Bliss said...

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

If you are lucky enough to still be here, future historians will certify that for you.

This has to be my least favorite form of the appeal to authority: appeal to someone in the future who is therefore not available to endorse or refute your statement.

If you know enough about a subject to know how future authorities will assess it, then you don't need them, say it based on your own authority. If not, don't try to appropriate theirs.


I suppose you think I didn't think of that? You would be wrong.

'AReasonableMan', in case you haven't noticed, is a special kind of case of close-minded dumb. He will put zero importance to my opinion, so I merely told him to wait awhile, and perhaps even liberal historians will catch up the truth, and agree with me.

A good rule of thumb is, if you find yourself thinking of something obvious, and you then think 'I bet SomeoneHasToSayIt didn't take that into account', best pause and think again.

furious_a said...

Mike: "she was right the first time; let's quit all of the apologizing."

Being a member of a protected class means never having to say you're sorry.

Mary said...

Here is a link about the afternoon mr. coates spent in formerly beautiful englewood, on the south side of chicago doing driveby public relations.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/12/the-gangs-of-chicago/282468/


he meets black school children in safe passage zones and is reminded of himself. he rails against the cops who did not introduce themselves or seem to recognize him and seemed resentful of his presence interviewing the children who should usually be moving on.

then he gets his moment.
the cop runs their plate and writes a ticket to the rental company, before he heads back to his hotel downtown to practice his french. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/12/how-to-read-camus-like-a-boss/282408/

guess what. the cop -- white black or spanish -- was there the next shift, and the next and the next, whilst mr. coates was back to listening about oppression on audiotape.

do read those links.
please tell me this is not good reporting.

MayBee said...

I mean, Coates could have responded to Byers without invoking race, because there was no reason for race to be a part of it.
And how laughable in the whole butt hurt brouhaha they both completely ignore conservative intellectuals. Doesn't that just drive home how ridiculous it is for TNC to view this through a racial lens?

"How dare you keep black people off your list! We all know its conservatives who don't belong there!"

EMD said...

Did anyone bother to ask Peter who is favorite pubic intellectual is?

Alex said...

This Coates guy is a nasty racist who bans anyone who calls out his racism.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

SomeoneHasToSayIt -

Of course I realized that you were using it to add weight to your opinion. And I did assume that you neither knew nor cared that I would disapprove of such usage.

I was only pointing it out to make it more obvious, and therefore less effective, in order to discourage its future use.

We will have to wait for that future to come in order to know how my strategy turns out.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ignorance is Bliss said...

SomeoneHasToSayIt -

Of course I realized that you were using it to add weight to your opinion


Literally nothing in your post in which you calling me out, supports your "Of course I realized"

And I need no supporting weight for my opinions.

But in any event, suggesting that some people wait until later to get valuable input for their beliefs, is not in any way invalid.

So of us are sufficiently objective, un-biased, and truth-seeking, to make wise contemporaneous assessments of current events, and some of us aren't.

Those who aren't are directed to keep their powder dry, and wait for more input.

What's wrong with that?

Mary said...

In his newest post, someone asks Jews can win the America's public intellectual award ...

He says yes, but it's not a cash prize.

Try that on a college campus today.

Mary said...

or his last op ed in the NYT, peppering the n-word with the idea that only black writers can use it now.

ooook.

you elect this one at your own risk too, professor, if you don't see what is coming. translation = overrated. and costly with the race card.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

But in any event, suggesting that some people wait until later to get valuable input for their beliefs, is not in any way invalid.

True, but that's not what you did. You tried to tell him now what those future historians will say.

MattL said...

If you are lucky enough to still be here, future historians will certify that for you.

The ensuing discussion of this statement is a great demonstration of why you should never explain a joke. Though in fairness, I can't tell if IIB was actually joking about turning SHTSI's joke into an appeal to authority. It's funny either way!

Michael said...

Look, T-N Coates' father was a Black Panther. You cannot get more down than that, more authentic, more up-close to near out-and-out rebellion than that. Serious shit. So T-N grows up and goes to college but doesn't finish because he wants, has, to get into writing. Journalism. To write about his many experiences of being black and the son of an oppressed rebel who nearly started a revolution and possibly being oppressed himself. Except in many more nuanced and subtle ways than his father who had had it up to here with oppression. So T-N Coates is hyper on the ball sensitive to oppression, especially the hidden kind, because it is in his fucking DNA. So listen up to T-N.

Mary said...

This Coates guy is a nasty racist who bans anyone who calls out his racism.
---------

He does not accept criticism, period.

When black professors took issue at one of his earlier proclamations on black history, he yelled louder in bigger more prestigious places. I really do think he gets a lot of commenters from his father's party days -- it's so 'this is the best thing i ever read. only you can tell it' it is almost unbelievable.

but the liberal whites are linking, and paying him to teach writing, even though he admits using audiobooks and audiodictation to complete his thoughts on race, much of which came from propaganda pamphlets, self published by his father's organization.

he hasn't been vetted by any scholars, black or white, in terms of degreed work or non-memoir published work. unless you count the liberal rags looking desparately for black talent.

Mary said...

oh, and he turned down the columnist job offer from the new york times...

so there's that.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

MattL

I was serious, and if there was a joke in there, or an attempt to explain a joke, I don't see it.

And I do believe SHTSI was appealing to the authority of future historians to support his side.

MattL said...

IIB,

I thought it was a bit of snark about ARM not acknowledging a fairly obvious thing.

Maybe I'm just not a serious enough person to be in the running for most prominent blog comment intellectual. I can live with that.

Mary said...

Michael said...
Look, T-N Coates' father was a Black Panther. You cannot get more down than that, more authentic
-----------------

Physically, he is a big man , TN.

Don't tell me the whites selecting the black winners at the workplace don't like
that. Especially the white liberal guys opening the door for the diversity.

young black and big.
authentic panther connections.

we'll help him with the writing...

Mary said...

So T-N Coates is hyper on the ball sensitive to oppression, especially the hidden kind, because it is in his fucking DNA. So listen up to T-N.
------


His father had 5 kids with 3 women. TaN was the last, and the father stayed home to raise him and self publish while the mom worked. the dad is a vet w/benefits.

TN talks a lot about the fears black people know of their siblings being sold off as slaves and the families separated.

I imagine his fears were closer to home than slave auctions, even if the father stayed the third time around.

it affects your thinking, that kind of family. you blame others, hundreds of years past for your person pain.

*and some guilty white people who know they have benefitted unfairly over the years buy it, and you get published.

liberal white elite befriends black oppression to rail against working whites and white newcomers and ethnics. and the liberalsand the chosen blacks often win a cash prize on this one.

wildswan said...

It used to be that an intellectual commented on the current situation in the light of the tradition - that made him an intellectual because he didn't just respond to the circumstances around him. Then some took to saying that their comment was that the Western tradition was invalid - e.g. bourgeois reactionaries or dead while males. They wanted to substitute some other tradition e.g. Marxist writings or feminist studies. This line of thought is pretty much of a dead end at this time - no great Marxist writers or philosophers, not even historians or economists - no one from the Thirties that people are still commenting on. No current great women writers or philosophers coming out of the universities. So to me, MHP is not an intellectual because she isn't commenting on her own tradition and asking why there's less there than in Harlem in the Twenties - she is trying to kill the western tradition as many others have also tried to do. It's no more than some Egyptian Pharaoh scratching his predecessors' names off their monuments and writing his own in their place and doing this because he could not build any thing of his own of equal value.

Lydia said...

@wildswan -- The latest class taught by MHP at Tulane fits your analysis perfectly, I think:

POLA 4010: Hip-Hop & Feminism
This course seeks to address, analyze, explore and contest the political aspects of hip-hop music and culture through a close examination of feminism. This course is an analytic space for debate and discussion about the impact of hip-hop culture on the sexual, gender and political understandings of Americans and others around the world.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Ignorance is Bliss said...

MattL

I was serious, and if there was a joke in there, or an attempt to explain a joke, I don't see it.

And I do believe SHTSI was appealing to the authority of future historians to support his side.


And you are wrong in that belief. ARM is as close-minded as can be, typical for Leftists.

Any weight he puts on appeals to 'authority' are is simpleminded as this: NYTimes = true, FoxNews = false.

So if he needs authority that he will respect, I pointed him to some hopeful time in the future when even (even!) Leftist 'authorities' will have to admit what happened in the Middle East, and why.

Forbes said...

Paul Zrimsek said...
She's written two books. Take that, Richard Posner!

Hell, take that Richard Epstein!
Or, take that Charles Murray!
Or, James Q. Wilson! (Someone said last 25 years)

If MSNBC didn't exist, nobody would've ever heard of TNC or MHP, and as it is, few actually have heard, given the 6-digit audience. Not much of a public anything.

damikesc said...

...aaaaaaand, blamo!, that seems to be Coates's very point. He is arguing that Byers sees through a lens that cannot conceive of MHP as an "intellectual," let alone a "foremost" one. This is a discussion woth having.

If somebody opts to not carry themselves or speak like an intellectual, people won't take them seriously as one.

Krugman was, once, a regarded economist. Now? He's a bit of a clown. Who's fault is that?

Kirk Parker said...

Fen @ 8:40am,

Whoa. Awesome illustration. (Some will get it, some won't).


David,

Sowell, Sowell, Sowell. Definitely. Walter Williams, perhaps. I wouldn't call Rice a public intellectual, though, because her scope seems to small. That's why so few Nobel prize winners get such a title: they may be giants in their field, but that's not what being a p.i. is about.

As to MDT's nominations, Fish and Paglia for sure. Hentoff and Crouch, not so sure--I guess I just have a narrower definition of the term, such that I only want to award it to people who have substantially advanced our thinking in multiple, broad areas; not merely those who have help promote such advances.

Chomsky, sure (but alas!) Sontag, yeah.

But come off it, you people (and you know who you are)--Mr. Limbaugh is perhaps the greatest or most influential public proponent of a certain point of view, but being a PR and Marketing person (or being an entertainer) is NOT the same thing as being an intellectual.

Kirk Parker said...

ARM,

Sure, but then TNC just as often subtracts from the debate; in my estimation it's pretty close to a net zero. So: no.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

So you are telling him that future historians will agree with you, and you are telling him that because you believe that he will respect their authority more than yours.

And you believe I was wrong about something.

Glad we got that straightened out.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

I believe that I am far more capable of knowing what I meant, than you are.

Mary said...

Krugman was, once, a regarded economist. Now? He's a bit of a clown. Who's fault is that?
---------

Ezra Klein.

Kirk Parker said...

MattL,

"VDH is a Democrat (registered). He just doesn't act like one. [emphasis modified]"

Sure he is; just not a thoroughly modern one.

he's every bit in the tradition of folks like HHH, Truman, my dad, and some of the rural state-government D's we have here in WA state (who so dislike what the modern party is doing that they're actually caususing with the R's in our state senate, taking control away from its rightful owners, the lib dems mostly from the Seattle area. Boo hoo.)

mtrobertsattorney said...

I doubt if MHP or TNC have ever even heard of Thomas Sowell--a true intellectual. And if they have, I doubt they have ever read anything he wrote.

But more to the point, I doubt that either one of them is even capable of understanding him.

Mitch H. said...

Rush-bo will never qualify as an intellectual.

Why not? "Intellectual" is a squishy, worthless term with no substantive qualitative underpinning to it - the modern equivalent of the 19th century accolade "philosopher". It basically means "pundit with high status". Although I agree that Limbaugh isn't exactly who I'd field in such a pissing contest. A lot of people seem to be fond of Thomas Sowell for that laurel, although I haven't read him since I was a teenager...

Coates does seem desperate to claim his own little cheesecloth-square snippet of this "intellectual" business, and the best way to bootstrap your way into public intellectuality is to Boswell your betters, and what better way to do that than to mint your very own intellectuals? If you do it right, they'll do the same for someone else, and that someone else will do the same for you, and you'll all bask in your mutual affirmatory circle-jerk.

Oh! Nate Silver.

I don't think a quant, however clever and of however good a track-record, can really lay claim to the status of "public intellectual". Ironically enough, science and math geniuses don't get to be public intellectuals unless they've stooped to becoming clownshow parodies of themselves. Even a Richard Feynman, as brilliant and storied as he was, still relied heavily on his store of clever, accessible parables to make his public mark. Or Bertrand Russell, for that matter, although his clownshow aspects were along political lines rather than his skills as a raconteur.

My favorites, who are not very popular, are Walter Russel Mead and Francis Fukuyama. They worry about institutional decay and social change, which I think are what we need to address.

I think those are good choices, although Fukuyama seems to specialize in being cleverly wrong in an unfortunate fashion.

He would probably have voted for Christopher Hitchens.

That's the thing, I wouldn't call Hitchens a public intellectual, if only because he lacked the primary characteristic distinguishing statesmen, pundits and intellectuals: the credentials. Hitchens was an ascended journalist, not a defrocked academic.

Victor Davis Hanson

He counts, he's a serious historian with a long list of real work that predate his punditry. I read his Western Way of War in college, albeit for pleasure rather than a class. And his later books are much less serious, more pop-cult light, than his early work, which often characterizes "public intellectual syndrome".

Dylan Byers loses all street cred when he names Naom Chomsky and Susan Sontag as preferable to MHP

Well, Noam Chomsky is getting a little long in the tooth, but in his time was the very epitome of "public intellectual" - and a sterling example, along with Linus Pauling - of why the breed fell out of favor with any self-respecting member of the commons. More often than not, the "public intellectual" trades on her deep knowledge in one field, to pontificate upon all sorts of fields in which, in point of fact, she most likely knows less than your garden-variety educated individual.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I believe that I am far more capable of knowing what I meant, than you are.

I'm sure you are. However, when you describe why you said what you said, you describe the exact fallacy that I was pointing out.

So I'm not sure what you believe I'm wrong about.

Mary said...

Gore Vidal
but before he embraced
both McVeigh and Obama and died.

Alex said...

What Cook means is that you have to have a PhD to your name to qualify as an intellectual.

Sigivald said...

I'm barely willing to accept her as "an intellectual", after having looked at her CV.

Foremost?

Seriously?

That's inane even for Coates, who I don't think is a very serious thinker in the first place.

(I mean, I don't pay a lot of attention to general popular culture ... but I'd assume that a truly foremost public intellectual, by nature of being the foremost public one, must precisely be someone I've heard of before Coates said it.

I could comprehend - thought disagree with - any number of other candidates.

But Harris-Perry? She's almos a non-entity as a "public intellectual".

Mitch H. said...

What Cook means is that you have to have a PhD to your name to qualify as an intellectual.

Ah, I see. Credentialism, red in tooth and claw. Alrighty then!

Mary said...

Ah, I see. Credentialism, red in tooth and claw.
-------

To be fair, not all college is full of crap like reynolds is writing.

The non-state schools especially.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Kirk Parker,

Yes, Thomas Sowell. Everything became a bit different for me after reading Preferential Policies.

I would add (and should've added earlier) Richard Posner. And Virginia Postrel.

Kirk Parker said...

Michelle,

OMG.

Virginia Postrel.

Yes yes yes. How could I have forgotten her? I must be a sexist or something...

Seriously, she belongs in the top tier.

David said...

Larry Flynt.

Typo intellectual.

Revenant said...

Virginia Postrel is a good choice, but she's not all that "public" these days.

Jupiter said...

Come on. We all know that America's -- nay, the World's! -- foremost intellectual, public, private and all points in between, is Ta Nehisi-Coates.

Jupiter said...

He speaks French, did you know that? He does! The man can actually converse in more than one language.

Jupiter said...

He reads books! And not just comic books, either. Real books, like you see at the airport!

Martinkh said...

On the left, any black person who can read without moving their lips to visibly sound out the words qualifies as an intellectual- provided that they are not conservative.

Jupiter said...

"In Fall 2013, Professor Harris-Perry is teaching the following course:

POLA 4010: Hip-Hop & Feminism
This course seeks to address, analyze, explore and contest the political aspects of hip-hop music and culture through a close examination of feminism. This course is an analytic space for debate and discussion about the impact of hip-hop culture on the sexual, gender and political understandings of Americans and others around the world."

john marzan said...

"When I wrote "Ah!" above, it was because the phrase "inferior thinking" made me think about having troubling feelings that one has been treated as inferior, and that seemed like an explanation for why Coates may have wanted to declare Melissa Harris-Perry "America's foremost public intellectual."

I blame amy chua's new book.