This article explores the problem of the political responsibilities of intellectuals and philosophers through an appraisal of Michael Walzer's work on the idea of “connected criticism.” The author elaborates the main elements of this theory, shows how it approaches various thinkers, like Herbert Marcuse and Jean-Paul Sartre, and shows where it fits into American intellectual life, particularly the intellectual history of Dissent Magazine and the democratic Left. Walzer's idea of a connected social critic contrasts to Sartre's idea of an “engaged critic.” The article also examines Walzer's theory in light of some of the arguments made by “commonsense” moral philosophy, such as those of Irving Howe, John Rawls, Theodor Adorno, and Leo Strauss. Cohen defines Walzer's theory as part of a social democratic approach that also can serve in part as an antidote to intellectual hubris. Finally, this article presents a critique of Edward Said's understanding of intellectuals in his Representations of the Intellectual. The author argues that Said's book misrepresents Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons. Cohen suggests that there are radical differences between Said's description of this novel's central character, Bazarov, and the world in which he lives, and those created by Turgenev. Said's approach is evaluated in relation to the notion of connected criticism and some criticisms of connected criticism are offered.
Mitchell Cohen; Should We Trust Intellectuals?. Common Knowledge 1 January 2010; 16 (1): 7–21. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2009-057
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