The Case for the Public Intellectual as Gadfly


Andrew Bacevich, political-science professor at Boston University, has posted a new essay, “Rationalizing Lunacy: The Intellectual as Servant of the State.” It’s a look back at the role of the public intellectual within the U.S. federal government since the time of the New Deal, focusing particularly on their impact on foreign policy, the Vietnam War in specific as well as policy since. Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran himself, retired with the rank of colonel before becoming an academic. His son was killed in Iraq. He argues that the “gravitas” of insider intellectuals continues to be respected long after their ideas have been proved (often by the course of events) wrong-headed and sometimes even corrupted by the needs of domestic politics:

As [Ashton] Carter has taken the Pentagon’s reins, he also has taken pains to convey the impression of being a big thinker.  As one Wall Street Journal headline enthused, “Ash…

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