Quiz question: name three influential political scientists or academic theoreticians who play a major role in shaping world opinion on important global issues.
If I spend my day asking this question to everybody I see, I expect to hear two alternating answers:
b) “Noam Chomsky” (followed by silence)
I am ashamed to admit that I can’t even come up with three good names myself. But, please understand that I have only been running this blog for a week, and have barely begun doing the research that will, I hope, make this site informative and useful (I’ve actually spent the last few years absorbed in literary news and fiction and poetry scenes, and I’m only now beginning to invest the same amount of my time into staying thoroughly up to date on political topics).
So, at this moment, I am in the same position as most people I know — I’ve read some Noam Chomsky, and other than that I have absolutely no idea what the most brilliant representatives of our top universities and research centers and think-tanks are doing to improve our world. I know there are many academic journals read by specialists in the field, like the Political Science Quarterly, but I don’t know anybody who reads or talks about these publications.
What should we think about the fact that our top contemporary academics have so thoroughly failed to penetrate popular consciousness? Doesn’t this amount to some kind of failure? I think it does.
And then there’s this amusing fact about Noam Chomsky, the only academic I can think of who has managed to penetrate popular discussion of global issues in our times: he’s not a professor of political science. Noam Chomsky is a linguist, and he made his reputation in 1956 with the introduction of the Chomsky-Schutzenberger Hierarchy, described by Wikipedia as a containment hierarchy of classes of formal grammars that generate formal languages (which is probably a very exciting development if you’re a linguist). Books like 9-11, Failed States and Manufacturing Consent have benefited from Chomsky’s reputation as a highly-respected academic, but Chomsky is an academic in a field completely unrelated to political science or history.
It seems that the contemporary community of top political academics are utterly failing to play a role in the popular understanding of global issues. I hate to use a cliche like “ivory tower”, but that’s apparently where these guys are broadcasting from, and it doesn’t seem like anybody’s tuning in.