Sunday, May 11, 2008

Foreign Policy Mag's Top 100 Intellectuals

The current issue of Foreign Policy magazine (May/June 2008) has a list of what the magazine says are the top 100 public intellectuals living today. The subjective nature of the definition of "public intellectual", and the names of people I notice included, and left out, is enough to make me not take this exercise seriously.

But some of the people included are indeed inspirational to many people, regardless of the subjectivity of the foible of defining who a "public intellectual" is. So it got my attention, especially for those on the list who actually, in my perspective, strive to promote global peace and social justice (Noam Chomsky, Shirin Ebadi, Muhammad Yunus, etc).

I found it interesting that there are six Africans included (the magazine says 4, referring to "Sub-Saharan Africa"), two of them from Ghana (Kwame Anthony Appiah and George Ayittey). The other Africans are J.M. Coetzee (South African novelist and Nobel Laureate in Literature), Mahmood Mamdani (Uganda), Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (Egypt), and Wole Soyinka (Nigeria).

I imagined a realistic chance of finding at least two Malawians there as well, Thandika Mkandawire and Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, but they are not included. There's an option for write-in candidates, so I went ahead and wrote-in both of them (I'm not sure if more than one write-in is
allowed). Ali Mazrui is also curiously missing, as is South Africa based political economist Patrick Bond, Michael Eric Dyson, Tariq Ali, Naomi Klein, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, among others (I guess one can argue about the infrequency with which some of these names appear in the public arena).

Other interesting characters on the list are Pope Benedict XVI, and Gen. David Petraeus, the US Commander in Iraq. There's also what I found to be an informative essay by the unpredictable Christopher Hitchens. He contends, for example, that the list is dominated by university professors, and informs something I had no idea about, that Gore Vidal never went to university. Jurgen Habermas and Slavoj Zizek, influential critical social theorists, are included.

You can find the whole list, and indeed write-in your own candidates whom you feel deserve to be included, at <>. The closing date is May 15, after which the magazine will release it's version of the world's top 20 intellectuals.