Are “They” Us? The Intellectuals’ Role in Creating Division


Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Intellectuals of varied occupations—journalists, artists, teachers, and academics—repeatedly lament the corrosion of Western democracy. Trumpism, racism, and populism are the chief culprits, we’re told, of a growing intolerance and irrationality. But could it be that intellectuals share responsibility for the problems they deplore? That the divisions in society and the resentments pulsing through it are in part the intellectuals’ creation? That they, the ill informed and dismissive, are us, the learned? Intellectuals are harming democracy not through ill will but through a way of speaking and writing—I’ll call it the unmasking style—inherited from the revolutionary tradition. Instead of elevating public discourse, this style coarsens it. It does so by reckless exaggeration, by cruel parody, by stretching concepts like race beyond their proper compass, and by treating large groups of people as idiots or pariahs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-72
JournalHA: The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

What follows was originally a speech at Bard College, NY, delivered in the fall of 2019.


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