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123 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2008 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 4, ISSUE 1 PP 123–128 CULTURAL POLITICS DOI 10.2752/175174308X266424 BOOK REVIEW ESSAY ACADEMICS BEHAVING BADLY IAN GORDON The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, Eric Lott, New York: Basic Books, 2006, 272 pages, $26.00/£15.99, HB 0-465-04186-8 Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain, Stefan Collini, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, 526 pages, $45.00/£25.00, HB 0-199-29105-2 Two different underlying assumptions form the rationale for Eric Lott’s and Stefan Collini’s books. Lott writes from a conviction that intellectuals exist in the United States and they have a duty to engage with the issues of the day. His book is a salvo across the bows of some left-liberal intellectuals whom he accuses of drifting from their new left origins to a comfortable accommodation with the status quo through which they have accumulated the spoils of academic appointments and the celebrity of Pooh-Bahs pontificating on matters of high public import. Lott draws comparisons between these baby boomers seeking a workable accommodation with American IAN GORDON IS A CULTURAL AND INTELLECTUAL HISTORIAN AT THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE. HIS MOST RECENT PUBLICATION IS FILM AND COMIC BOOKS (JACKSON, 2007). HIS ARTICLE “NOSTALGIA, MYTH, AND IDEOLOGY: VISIONS OF SUPERMAN AT THE END OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY” WILL APPEAR IN THE FORTHCOMING CULTURAL STUDIES ANTHOLOGY FROM BLACKWELL. > CP 4,1 (press).indb 123 CP 4,1 (press).indb 123 14/01/2008 10:51:45 14/01/2008 10:51:45 CULTURAL POLITICS 124 BOOK REVIEW ESSAY life and The Vital Center, the late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s 1949 rallying point for Cold War liberals. Lott’s is a short fast-paced work that oft reads like an indictment. There is little doubt though in Lott’s work and the responses to it that the role of the intellectual is to engage in just this sort of public stoush. On the other hand Collini leisurely reviews the perceived absence of intellectuals in Britain. The notion of an intellectual is, or was, altogether too French, too continental, for the British, or perhaps that is the English. But of course intellectual activity, be it by “men of letters,” “leading minds,” “men of culture,” “sages,” “social observers,” and a whole host of other names that the British used to define those engaging in public discussion and debate over an array of subjects, most surely did exist. Moreover, the role of such figures was the matter of some public discussion. For instance the English economist and journalist J.A. Hobson wrote in 1926: The “intellectual” is terribly sensitive to the approval and disapproval of rulers and other authorities in the outside world. His strong personal sympathies are engaged in keeping the good opinion of successful practical men. The knowledge that he and his fellows and the intellectual life they conduct are not directly productive of economic values, and are in this sense “parasitic” on the practical life, feeds the sentiment of deference. (cited by Collini, p. 32) Hobson’s view of English intellectuals eighty years ago has much in common with Lott’s critique of current American intellectuals. Lott sets out to be deliberately provocative and to discomfort those intellectuals he sees as being too cozy in their relations with the sort of authorities Hobson mentioned. Lott says he “purposely scandalize[s] a broad range of left-liberal opinion in order to shake up the debates as they are currently played out ... between selfconsciously ‘American’ liberals and doomy post-New Left malcontents dismissive of their country” (pp. 15–16). Lott’s barbs are sharp. For instance after acknowledging Greil Marcus and Sean Wilentz as friends (p. ix) he later targets them in turn as a “backward looking post-Situationist conjurer of Invisible Republic” and a “superb if color-blind historian and polemical antimulticulturalist” (p. 8). Lott disavows sticking it to the man (in the form of right-wing shrills like David Horowitz and Ann Coulter who he sees as easy targets) and instead sticks it literally to his friends. No surprise then that the book...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1751-7435
Print ISSN
1743-2197
Pages
pp. 123-127
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-06
Open Access
No
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