When it comes to American intellectuals letting us down, I always point to the same specific check point: our most brilliant positive futurist, R. Buckminster Fuller, wrote some pithy stuff in the early 1980s, about the demise of the USA as a constitutional democracy (Grunch of Giants, St. Martins Press), and was soon thereafter dismissed as a crackpot (e.g. by WIRED).
Never mind all the patents, books, degrees, the Medal of Freedom, buckminsterfullerene etc. Objectively speaking, there’s no excuse for squandering the cornucopia of possibilities he introduced over the course of a successful lifetime (calling him “a failure” has been a part of the defamation campaign). We can call him a technocrat, or a cold warrior, but such off-hand labeling is lazy thinking. More attention is paid to Heidegger, despite his importance to the Nazis.
What’s actionable in the wake of this indefensible decision? I work to stay constructive when I look for answers to that question.
Since we’re speaking of intellectuals, might we shift our focus, from politicians to the universities?
In her book The Girl from Spaceship Earth, the author Patricia Ravasio, goes to Stanford with her clipboard to survey random students and/or faculty regarding whether he features in any of their coursework. No, he doesn’t. Do they even know his papers are stored at Stanford? No, they don’t.
I always hope writers such as yourself will find a way to join us in reverting to this check point and pursuing the road not taken. My continuing to hold on to this banner has been a lonely business, although I’m not claiming to be entirely alone in my choice of champions. I’ve met some wonderful people thanks to my taking Fuller seriously, as a philosopher, even while he was still alive, and I was fresh out of Princeton.
Walter Kaufmann, another one of my teachers (and no fan of Heidegger) warned us constantly that fascism, or totalitarianism, or whatever we want to call it, could easily sneak up on us again. As a native born German who fled his country to fight fascism, he had witnessed first hand its insidious spread. That was decades ago, and people tended to laugh him off. Now we see he was prescient.