Jack Beatty, Public Intellectual

Note: this interview was reviewed on PRX and earned 4 stars! And it was broadcast on WRNC-LP, and the public radio stations WCAI/WNAN, the Cape and Islands affiliates of WGBH.
Who are our public intellectuals today? What purpose are they meant to serve, and are they in fact serving it — or us? How public are they, and how accountable? Is there a venue for such people to even be heard — and if so, who would bother to listen? Are they no better than the talking heads we see endlessly on TV, or are they some newfangled model of the Renaissance Man?
Well, ThoughtCast has tracked down one bona fide public intellectual. His name is Jack Beatty, and he’s not only a “thinker”, he’s also a writer. His most recent book is Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865 – 1900. He’s also a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly, and a regular contributor to the NPR program On Point. Let’s see if he has some answers…

Click here: to listen. (28 minutes)

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3 Responses to Jack Beatty, Public Intellectual

  1. Michael Pener July 13, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    Jack Beatty is the most impressive “public intellectual” that I have come across since Chalmers Johnson. Too bad his and other intellectuals’ thoughts have fallen on deaf ears these past decades. So now I repeatedly watch “Idiocracy,” a movie about the future 500 years from now where a character boasted about getting a law degree from Costco! The only problem I’m having is I realize that we do not have to wait 500 years to verify this future prediction by Mike Judge, it is happening now!

  2. Arne Hessenbruch April 6, 2008 at 10:19 pm #

    This is a moving interview. I have often heard Jack Beatty on On Point, and while I continue to be impressed with the breadth of his knowledge and his articulation of it, I have also been mildly irritated by the intensity with which he discusses social hierarchies, an intensity that on occasion resembles an harangue. But I have now looked into the soul of the man (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) and I am now at peace with his intensity. Jack, please continue to wear it on your sleeve.

    The topic of the public intellectual seems to be particularly apposite for this site. Jenny Attiyeh has all the makings of an intellectual (Beatty does too, of course) and she also would like to see the intellectual discourse in the public realm. But I would like to posit the view that for an intellectual to count as public, the public realm has to feature her or him prominently. (Sartre qualified – he was generally known throughout the French populace.)

    Assuming that I am right, it might be interesting to speculate just why the public realm no longer includes a niche for public intellectuals.

  3. Caleb Baker July 29, 2007 at 8:38 pm #

    This interview makes one think of R. Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.” Edmund Wilson, author of the classic “To the Finland Station,” also comes to mind as the preeminent man of ltrs of the first-half of the 20th cent. The interview, while well done, could have been broadened by eliciting Beatty’s thoughts on these two pivotal works.

    Arguably, the current intellectuals of greatest import are science fiction writers, which is another realm unaddressed.

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