We have a "knowledge society" in which any piece of knowledge is regarded with skepticism and can be contested indefinitely. The world is so complex that anyone who claims to know the way forward is regarded with suspicion. We value knowledge but are drowning in the sea of knowledge.
Furedi outlines a number of trends that are working in synergy against public intellectuals:
Instrumentalism: Knowledge is for practical purposes only
Disenchantment with the Enlightenment legacy: The previous century is perceived as one where big ideas such as communism were tried out and failed. People came to see rationality as destructive. Rationality is now marginalised by the sacred and spiritual, eg. nature worship
Relativist approach to knowledge and other cultures: Our western culture has no special merit. Other cultures have a spiritual dimension that we lack.
Knowledge domains are evaluated externally to themselves: Rather than respecting the internal dynamics of knowledge development it is evaluated by criteria such as economic advance, personal identity, providing therapy or social engineering
High standards are attacked from both the Left and the Right: The Left from the point of view of "inclusion", the Right from the point of view of "back to basics". The cultural "Left" (what I call the pseudo left) is more dominant, they promote a politics of inclusion, participation and flattery. It sounds progressive to include people. But it's not a response to a demand from below, it's imposed from above by cultural commissars who are looking around for some way to "engage" the "disengaged masses"
Post-modernism denies the whole concept of Truth: All truth is regarded as relative, it depends on your local conditions and point of view. The universal values from the Enlightenment have to be replaced by the "progressiveness" of particularity and situatedness
Public intellectuals, who wage battle for public hearts and minds and who influence overall social development have been replaced by the professional expert of a particular but limited knowledge domain. These experts use hard to understand technical specialist language. Many of them are academic careerists
We don't hear people speak passionately about the truth like Rosa Luxemburg anymore:
"But this much I know, that it is our duty, if we desire to teach truth, to teach it wholly or not at all, to teach it clearly and bluntly, unenigmatically, unreservedly, inspired with full confidence in its powers"This book is not without fault but it ought to be read and discussed
Prompted by artichoke's The truthiness of Te Kotahitanga and "Haven't got a clue syndrome" in Art Galleries