Must-Read: Eric Miller: The Unnamed Behemoth: Review of “Public Intellectuals in the Global Arena”

Must-Read: Eric Miller: The Unnamed Behemoth: Review of “Public Intellectuals in the Global Arena” “Deep learning eloquently brought to bear on the contemporary moment has, quite evidently, not been enough to shore up the aging foundations of our republic…

…If our grounding in tradition is gone, and if the enlightened replacement yet continues its deconstructing course, what have the intellectual avatars of the contemporary order to offer?  Economics, apparently. Desch names the discipline “the preeminent home of public intellectuals” in today’s academy; Mark Lilla drily notes that “Economics 101” is now “the world’s de facto core curriculum.” The economist J. Bradford DeLong agrees, announcing that “Economists are here to tell you what’s what and how to do it”—teachers in the authoritarian mold, it seems.

He follows this pronouncement with the observation that, given the triumph of global capital and subsequent failure of any other organizing principle, mere citizens have no choice but to “listen” to economists. “But you have nearly no ability to evaluate what you hear,” he warns. “When we don’t reach a near consensus, then heaven help you.” As DeLong goes to lengths to show, the country—the world—is in the hands of a field that is nowhere close to such consensus. Such news does not reassure the democratic soul. DeLong baldly states that “a market economy’s underlying calculus is a calculus of doing what wealth wants rather than what people need.” Several contributors are intent on finding a way to thwart that desire and explore alternatives…. is the liberal democratic tradition up to the challenge—the challenge of disciplining an economic order that exists not to prosper democracy but itself?…

Lilla in fact goes so far as to conjure the ghost of Marx…. “Acquiring some of Marx’s ambition simply to describe the reality of contemporary capitalism and its political repercussions would be a genuine advance.”… We now find ourselves illiberally bound to a global behemoth that is yet unnamed—or not named properly: “We have no idea how this system really works, or even what to call it.”… We need a civil society founded upon the bedrock of institutions that store up treasure capital cannot see. And we need teachers—intellectuals, if you will—who can help us to see and seize that treasure. Now.


Brad DeLong


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