Blogging Public Intellectuals

Matthew Yglesias argues that bloggers are the new media, but not quite like people think:

It’s not the case that weblogs let everyone be a journalist, but they do let everyone be a public intellectual — spouting off their ideas on whatever whether or not they have any particular expertise. The flipside, though, is that it lets all experts be popularizers of their own work, which is a very valuable thing for those people (like, say, me) who are paid more-or-less in order to be generalists.

A case in point is blogger Steve Bainbridge, who also dabbles in teaching business law at UCLA, and has combined the two to publish a new column for TCS on the Dick Grasso case.

Public intellectuals are a fascinating breed in that my training as a specialist leads me to be skeptical of people presenting non-expert views while under the cloak of intellectual qualifications (e.g., the brilliant but often wrong Paul Krugman) but yet I’m strangely drawn to them. Indeed, when pressed for time on various talking heads shows, I invariably skip past the interviews with policy wonks and go right for the roundtable discussions with the bright, amiable non-experts.

A quick perusal of my blogroll will reveal a bias toward intellectuals — certainly a much higher concentration of PhDs, JDs, professors, Ivy Leaguers, and other big brain types than a random selection of the blogosphere would produce — and yet there are almost no specialty blogs on the list. My own blogging is much the same. Certainly, I concentrate on national security affairs, where I have some modicum of geniune expertise, more than the average blog. But I also feel free to spout off on other things that interest me, whether or not I’ve done a lot of research on the topic. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what all the public intellectuals on television do as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    A quick perusal of my blogroll will reveal a bias toward intellectuals — certainly a much higher concentration of PhDs, JDs, professors, Ivy Leaguers, and other big brain types…

    I’m very amused to note that at the time I’m posting this comment, my blog is at the top of your blogroll. I don’t think I qualify in your list of intellectuals there, James. 😆

  2. McGehee says:

    I think in a twisted sort of way maybe I do — of all the high-credentialed poli-sci professors I had in college, the one I found most intelligent and thought-provoking had only a B.B.A.

    No master’s in anything. No degree at all in poli sci. But he was the best poli-sci professor that institution had.

    And that institution was supposed to be the system’s best poli-sci school. Naturally, it was down the rabbit hole in California.

  3. James Joyner says:

    jen: I’ll have to delete you at once, then. 😉

    Kev: I’m not sure how he was even hired, to be honest. Most accreditation boards require a minimum of an MA.

  4. Kate says:

    And then, there’s me -a cautionary tale for making sure you wear a respirator around solvents.

    (Or maybe it’s a nod to “diversity” on the blogroll.)

  5. McGehee says:

    James, he was also the token “classical liberal” on the department faculty. At least, at the time I was there. From what he told us in class at various times, though, he apparently had campus cred from when radical profs were targets of investigations.

  6. delta dave says:

    ‘…the brilliant but often wrong Paul Krugman…”

    Can you be brilliant if you are often wrong?

  7. Eddie Thomas says:

    Wonks have a hard time explaining themselves and a hard time explaining why anyone else should be interested.