The wealthy have taken over intellectual culture, and it’s devastating progressive politics

Eric Alterman in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_2672 Apr. 19 20.09I haven’t seen much discussion of Daniel Drezner’s new book, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats Are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas—which is weird, because it’s the kind of book that is written more to be reviewed and argued about, as opposed to actually purchased.

Drezner’s book is the latest investigation into the state of America’s public intellectuals and the “debate” they conduct with their patrons and their public, and, especially, among themselves. He joins a distinguished procession of thinkers who have tackled the subject, including Walter Lippmann, Randolph Bourne, Lewis Mumford, Edward Shills, Irving Howe, Russell Jacoby, Edward Said, and, most recently, Richard Posner. (See my “Judging the Wise Guys,” The Nation, January 10, 2002.) Drezner is a reliable and intelligent guide to the current state of play. But while focusing on the trees, he doesn’t always pay proper attention to the forest, which in this case is the power of money to corrupt and control literally everything with which it comes into contact—most particularly intellectual culture.

Drezner by no means ignores the issue. Early on, he makes a crucial distinction between old-fashioned “public intellectuals” and the now-trendy “thought leaders.” The latter model is one that sells itself less to an identifiable “public”—something that has become increasingly difficult to define in a society continually segmenting itself according to ever-more-narrow criteria—than to plutocratic patrons. Once upon a time, we relied on intellectuals to “speak truth to power,” as the saying goes.

More here.

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