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Poland's Intellectuals - A Grey Matter

Poland's Intellectuals - A Grey Matter

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In from Wikipedia:

The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll

The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll is a list of the 100 most important living public intellectuals in the world which has been compiled in November 2005 by Prospect Magazine (UK)

The Top 20

Noam Chomsky
Umberto Eco
Richard Dawkins
Václav Havel
Christopher Hitchens
Paul Krugman
Jürgen Habermas
Amartya Sen
Jared Diamond
Salman Rushdie
Naomi Klein
Shirin Ebadi
Hernando De Soto
Bjørn Lomborg
Abdolkarim Soroush
Thomas Friedman
Pope Benedict XVI
Eric Hobsbawm
Paul Wolfowitz
Camille Paglia

According to continent of birth, roughly 40% came from USA and Canada, 25% from Europe and Russia, 22% from Middle and Far East. The other continents received less than 5% (Latin America with 4), Africa with 3 and Australia with two.

View: Well, it's re-assuring to see a Pope of the Catholic Church in the top 20. Perhaps it will bring some 'on the fence' Catholics back in the flock. Although the late Pope JPII wasn't an intellectual lightweight. But I scanned the list of 100 and nary a Polish intellectual to be found. As a grad student here in Poland, I have come across some heavyweights, at least in Philosophy. How seriously should one take this kind of poll? Perhaps language was a factor? And some of the people on the list promoted themselves shamelessly. Does Poland have a dearth of public intellectuals? Now seems like the right time for a few to step forward. Is there a culture of anti-intellectualism in Polish society? It seems to be present in a common opinion I hear from Poles that they value practical knowledge, and that in Poland they get too much theory at school -- this could tie into the generally perceived stereotype of the aloof, 'egghead' intellectual and that this kind of thinking is useless in a society where most people are involved in manual labor, or simply need jobs. And the Church here in Poland, I am not so sure it's a citadel of critical thinking.

The role of the public intellectual is very important as a critical voice. Partly because there is also a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism -- We have a long history of it in North America ("The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee." circa 1642). One of my heroes is Jurgen Habermas (in top 10 this year), and of course one of the greatest, Socrates, and the endearing Diogenes can't be forgotten. And what happened to France this year? From the recent news in France it looks like 1968 all over again, but what really are the young people today fighting about?

Anti-intellectual contrast

Poland could use a public intellectual, especially in a society so homogenous -- because there is plenty of inertia to keep people from thinking against the grain (or upstream), afterall, why rock the boat if most people agree on fundamental values? Although the latest Presidential election revealed some social cleavages. Then again, as a society becomes more diverse it will need to address the question of plurality along a number of important issues connected with values, and public intellectuals can put into words and engage the public in ways that most of us cannot.


1) Wikipedia Article

2) Prospect Magazine - Results Summary

3) Much better lists of intellectuals are based on objective criteria, such as that compiled by Richard Posner at the University of Chicago. See his table in a large pdf file (32 pages)

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