The five most influential public intellectuals?

A few of you have been demanding this, here are those who come to mind, note that “influence” does not have to mean I agree with them.  And I am sticking with the West, otherwise Uncle Xi wins hands down.  In no particular order:

1. Jordan Peterson

2. Catherine Mackinnon

3. Ta-Nehisi Coates

4. Charles Murray

5. A composite alt-right thinker, mixing features of Curtis Yarvin, Steve Sailer, Steve Bannon, and a bunch of others.

In the fairly recent past, both Andrew Sullivan and Peter Singer would have been on this list, but not in 2018.  I would cite Michel Houllebecq as a figure who is important, and relatively influential, but more important than influential and thus not in the top five.  I am not sure if religious figures should qualify for this designation, for the time being I have not considered them.  Obama has a good claim, but adding elected leaders only confuses the matter, relative to what people are asking me for.

One list I saw, which I can no longer find through Google, had on it Peterson, Cass Sunstein, and Samantha Powers, plus two other names I forget.

Arguably a tech person should be on the list, but neither Elon Musk nor Peter Thiel have much written output, nor is either representative of the tech world as a whole.  Maybe a kind of composite tech CEO?  Bill Gates is also a plausible pick, even though to many intellectuals his ideas seem to be quite mainstream.  The mainstream, by definition, is highly influential!

An alternative list could be, again in no particular order:

1. Bill Gates

2. Mark Zuckerberg

3. Jeff Bezos

4. Peter Thiel

5. Brin and Page

6. Elon Musk

7. Jack Dorsey

How’s that?  Better?


JBP and Bannon were not widely influential until the last year or two. Yarvin is still fringe. What serious person takes TNC seriously? I don't even know who McKinnon is. Yes, Sailor, yes, Murray. Don't be modest, maybe you?

I nominate those like Nosek and Ionnidis and Gelman who are tearing down noise-mining masquerading as science.

"What serious person takes TNC seriously?"

A very large portion of the progressive left. Maybe you don't consider them serious, but they are currently a powerful faction.

I would consider Karl Marx to be influential, but not an intellectual.

TNC has writing credits on Black Panther, and from what I've seen he is actually very good at world building (absurd levels of detail: the baker of the small town Wa-lubaba is named Unkaba and his daughter, N'gobo collects the Mopari flowers, etc). So given control over some pop media, he is influential within a dying industry ( (used to be, books would get cancelled by Marvel when they sold under 40k), and I would also say that for a progressive, he is somewhat intellectual. I would venture to guess he is more intellectual than influential.

How on earth is Marx not an intellectual?

Of course communism is very, very, very, very bad--but that's irrelevant to the question.

I think Tyler means living intellectuals, people whose opinions expressed today would be influential.

Given that Marx's labor theory of value was debunked by amateurs within 5 minutes of it getting published, he may have been many things, but bright and intellectual were not among them.

"absurd levels of detail: the baker of the small town Wa-lubaba is named Unkaba and his daughter, N’gobo collects the Mopari flowers, etc."
I always wanted to know what the daughters of fictional African small town bakers did with their time. Grow up, freak.

Believe it or not, people actually do want to hear fictional stories. If you've ever been to the "movies", "library", or "new york times", you'll see there's a small cottage industry around creating fictional stories, and the more detail and realism you can add to the stories, the better they tend to sell. Lighten up, Francis.

Ta-Nahisi Coates is a skilled writer. I don't like his obsession with race, but he has talents.

Yes I would include Tyler Cowen for his push back against the anti-religion crowd that was/is growing influence.

How about an intellectual leader of the left anti-free speech movement? There must be some intellectual pushing the ideas of that movement.

Oh sorry I guess Catherine Mackinnon would be an intellectual leader of the left anti-free speech movement.

McKinnon is a good call.

I don’t even know who McKinnon is.

you know her fruits.

Come now, picking a well known 'feminazi' as a public intellectual?

Especially one so in favor of censorship? The last 3 decades of 1st Amendment cases has merely demonstrated just how thoroughly her views about censorship are simply not acceptable within America.

She's responsible for the entire concept of workplace harassment as a legal issue. She's been insanely influential. People in the comments saying 'how can she be influential I don't even know who she is!' just betray how ignorant they are.

'She’s responsible for the entire concept of workplace harassment as a legal issue.'

No, she isn't. She certainly managed to make a career from it, though.

'She’s been insanely influential.'

If you say so - her censorship campaign seems to have borne little fruit in the U.S., even with Falwell's help. Though admiddetly, the headlines today read amazingly like the headlines 25 years ago - 'Feminists Against the First Amendment

A critique of a movement that is winning new recruits among politicians and on college campuses—a movement that appeals to the widespread loathing of pornography, that promotes a view of men as lubricious brutes, and that has united authoritarians on the left and the right in an assault on free speech'

'just betray how ignorant they are'

Or maybe are revealing that time has marched on?

MacKinnon is also responsible for the view that women are more susceptible to sexual coercion than men, and that male norms about consent and autonomy shouldn’t be applied to them.

When people are that Aziz Ansari coerced Grace into sexual by repeatedly asking for sex and sexual favors, they’re drawing on MacKinnon. The entire “enthusiastic consent” model, in which men are responsible for not only obtaining a “yes” to sex but also for cautiously analyzing, on an ongoing basis, whether enthusiasm has flagged and consent has turned into non consent, is her. The idea that a man ought to know that his partner no longer consents because in between one sex act and another in the course of the same encounter their partner became a less active participant- all MacKinnon. The idea that a subjective sense that one was violated is sufficient proof that a rape occurred is MacKinnon. The idea that a male presence can be inherently coercive even in the absence of intent to coerce or an identifiable act of coercion is MacKinnon. The idea that women are so socialized to do what men want in order to make peace and avoid conflict that overt statements of consent from a women can’t be trusted to mean they actually consent, and that it’s mens responsibility to navigate this under threat of rape prosecution- MacKinnon.

All of those ideas have a major constituency these days. She’s been enormously influential.

'All of those ideas have a major constituency these days'

Just as they did back in the Victorian era, of which someone like MacKinnon exemplifies perfectly in her views concerning 'virtue' and 'female fraility.' She merely managed to package such old fashioned ideas into a shiny new package, and has been peddling them for decades to anyone who will listen.

Falwell was quite on board 25 years ago, by the way. Hard to imagine fundamentalists being so influenced by MacKinnon, yet the historical record is quite clear.

To be fair her name is mentioned much these days. She was more commonly heard of back in the 80s. I had to look her up on Wikipedia to see if she was still alive.

Er, "her name is NOT mentioned much these days"

"Influential" means you are capable of changing people's minds. Murray is *right*. A lot. But he only gets credit for it years later. I've really seen no evidence that he's influenced people. I'm a huge fan.

Ta-Nahesi Coates hasn't change a single mind in his entire life. Although I confess if I ever agreed with him on any issue, I'd instantly reconsider because lord knows, that man is always an idiot and usually wrong. Catherine McKinnon has created an entire line of thought that's been roundly mocked for a decade or three.

Of the first list, only Sailer is influential. He articulated the strategy that Trump used to win the White House, and a *lot* of people who don't admit to reading him read him anyway.

Your second list is just a tech list. Intellectually, those guys are influential only so far as they announce their new philosophical hobby and people rush to adopt in order to get grants.

Who's influential? You missed a big one: Ann Coulter's book on immigration changed a lot of minds. She called Trump's win. I'm not a fan of hers, but when it comes to influencing thought and predicting outcomes, she's been on a role lately. Rush Limbaugh is influential. I can't think of a *single* voice on the left, rather the entire media infrastructure is dedicated to influencing thought. Granted, they've taken a hit lately.

"Ann Coulter’s book on immigration changed a lot of minds."

Seems to me she speaks mostly to the converted. Sailer has probably changed some minds on immigration, but Angela Merkel and Islamic terrorism have probably done far more to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment in the US than any single pundit. On changing attitudes on immigration, you really have to give Trump credit as well. He sold the message to mainstream America that it is OK to live in fear, not Sailer or Coulter.

Mickey Kaus went from being purely against illegal immigration to wanting limits on all immigration, just by reading her book. Trump was influenced by her book. I almost put Trump instead of Coulter, but I think Coulter was the first person to make an unabashed case for less immigration.

Rush doesn't preach to the converted. Rush created an entire audience for conservative media. I don't listen to him, but it seems to me his ability to surf that wave for 30 years, after having been a major creator of the wave, is pretty good. I'll accept that as disputed, though.

Mickey Kaus wasn’t influenced by Ann Coulter’s book. He was influenced by his fetish for a blonde dominatrix who talks “dirty” and his desire for revenge on the California Democrats who refused to recognize that he’d make a great Governor if only he could hit a deadline once in a while.

I agreed with this up until the last paragraph. Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh merely preach to the choir. They should not be taken as particularly influential.

Murray's retirement lecture was titled something like, "Right Questions, Wrong Answers". If all his answers have been wrong, one has to wonder how influential he's been. The very definition of influence is that you change things. Very few of his policy prescriptions have been followed, and those that have mostly had the winds blowing at their back anyway (Rush Limbaugh was more influential in getting welfare reform passed then Murray, and did it in a non-Murray way). It doesn't look like the country is getting more libertarian soon, even if some billionaire funds Murray's legal project.

Ta-Nahesi Coates asked the wrong questions but got the right answers. Policy (public and private) is closer to what he'd want then Murray, and its trending in his direction. It may be odious, but its true.

Influence isn't about knowing whats best for society or even having the right facts, its about getting results. Besides, "what's best for society" requires an answer "what's possible" and "how is it possible". Otherwise its kind of inert.

Sailer differs from Murray in that he's focused on results. He asks the same questions, but then tries to think of a realistic path to actually getting the results he wants. The Sailer Strategy is a real world example of this. You can see the "lose nobly" versus "in the game of demographics, you win or you die" response to learning about HBD from looking at the Murray vs Sailer response to the facts.

I think Murray, in his more recent book, Coming Apart, has painted a picture of declining white America that has stuck. The collapse of white working class mores and standard of living has already become an issue. Murray isn't solely responsible for this, but he has helped shape the narrative. I'd be surprised if the people who ran Trumps campaign had not read Coming Apart.

One of Murray's point in coming apart is that successful people live in a way that is instrumental to their success but don't preach it. Peterson is exceptional by preaching it.

The reaction to Peterson's 12 rules here was interesting. Maybe a quibble here and there, but this stuff is obvious. Murray says that it isn't, and that is the problem.

Coates, like many of the alt-fighters, has been responsible for moving a lot of somewhat disgruntled moderates to taking a position firmly on his side. That’s about as close as anyone gets to changing minds, so if changing minds is the measure, he belongs as much as anyone else listed.

I hate to say this, but my position has been shaped more by disgust than than by appreciation. In that the overreach of the left in so many arenas (gender and race relations, treatment of religion and religious differences, etc) has pushed me into mostly being anti-left.

I'm guessing the media apparatus casting a cloud on Trump, deserved or not, creates similar disgust and anti-right sentiment. We're as humans not moved by argument so much as by story. It takes some calming down from the daily grind to listen to what various sides are saying.

To clarify: TNC has probably pushed as many moderates away from his side as towards them. Probably the most influential and most useful person for the progressives last year has been Harvey Weinstein - his disgusting behavior is acknowledged by everyone as true and disgusting, and his condemnation has brought many people into the progressive fold.

Kathy Griffin's Trump head stunt, Ashley Judd, Linda Sarsour and the dumpster fire that was the Wymyn's March of 2017 may have energized their base, but I suspect they pushed far more moderates into opposing the left than supporting it. Similarly, think Milo Yiannopolous, Steve Bannon, and Roy Moore have been far more damaging to the right than the left. In this sense, Roy Moore is one of the more influential people FOR the left, but his influence comes from disgust, not intellect.

Why am I "alt-right?"

I have been reading your blogs for 15 years, and would label you a conservative rather than alt right, although the alt-right label is nut surprising as you will mention things the right are too yellow bellied to mention.

it says right there 'Another way of putting this is that Sailer was alt-right before it was "cool"' on your rationalwiki site. Who are we to argue with rationalwiki? Weird thing is, JBP was tagged as alt-right more often and recently, yet he didn't make the cut in the category on Tyler's list.

In all seriousness: guilt by association.

Taken at face value, your stated positions place you somewhere on the political spectrum near Pat Buchanan i.e. what used to be called a paleoconservative. Given your interest in pop culture and proclivity for snark and sarcasm, you're temperamentally similar to Dennis Miller.

But, the commenters on your site, for example, are predominantly white nationalists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and reactionaries. You and your ideas--HBD, "magic dirt", etc.--are name-checked with some frequency among said groups as well as among libertarians and professional contrarians like Tyler Cowen. Regardless of the merit of your ideas, neither the center-right nor center-left establishments will touch you due to your populist leanings, love of Trump, and your views on HBD (which can at first glance look like an implicit argument in favor of a racial caste system). And, obviously, you're not a liberal or a progressive.

TL;DR: you may not identify as alt-right, but the alt-right identifies with you.

"But, the commentors on your site, for example, are predominantly white nationalists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and reactionaries."

FUBAR007 you've left out a group who read these sites.

Those who think like scientists and not ideologues and understand our genes have a bearing on life's outcomes.

More and more we are discovering our height, IQ, and personality (OCEAN) are mostly governed by our genes.

"Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants."

For an example of how the ideological landscape is changing is this self described extreme Leftist blog author coming to grips with in his words:

The "truth is that IQ is heritable... and that:

Correlations of IQ between parents and offspring range from 0.42 to 0.72."

And his acceptance that IQ is heritable and that a program of `Luck egalitarianism` will lead to wealth redistribution.

And those who think of genetics in scientific terms may only be a minority in the U.S., yet they are majorities in China, Japan and South Korea.

More and more we are discovering our height, IQ, and personality (OCEAN) are mostly governed by our genes.

A finding I don't dispute.

And his acceptance that IQ is heritable and that a program of `Luck egalitarianism` will lead to wealth redistribution.

It should, but I'm dubious that it ever will. Too many people lust for any excuse to denigrate, subjugate, and exterminate others they don't like. We are not a naturally kind, loving species. Quite the opposite.

Accepting genetic determinism as a basis for socioeconomic policy will, at best, lead to a caste system and, at worst, mass murder. I have precisely zero confidence that "benign eugenics" will ever be a real phenomenon. We're too violent and hateful a species for it to.

"range from 0.42 to 0.72."

That looks pretty close to 1/2 nature 1/2 nurture to me. Obviously anyone who thinks it's 100% either one is silly.

It's not even close to 50-50. The problem is that depending on the study design you have measurement error, etc. When you actually look for nurture you can't find any at all, really. Maybe some peer effects.

“Love of Trump.”

I would just note that Steve was surprisingly guarded on Trump throughout much of the election. Right after the election, he finally took his credit after the Sailer strategy was proved to be workable, but even now you won’t see a lot of direct endorsement of Trump per se.

I would wager even Sailer knows Trump is awful, even if they agree on some things.

I think the mainstream media has done a pretty good job of painting anyone who is against unfettered immigration as alt-right. Not sure how Ann Coulter avoided the designation. I'm guessing too many people have bought her books.

Stance of immigration is the ultimate arbiter of "with us or against us." Only over immigration does the left go nuclear, because they know if they win on that winning on everything else is inevitable. Lose on taxes? Just see what we do, when Texas goes blue!

This also includes anyone whose ideas imply being against immigration regardless of their particular position on the matter. For instance, Murray's data shows that its a pretty bad idea to import low IQ people (who are mostly going to come from the Global South, call it the high society version of "shithole countries" comment). It's even mentioned in The Bell Curve, paraphrasing, "this doesn't mean you have to be against low IQ immigration...but mathematically the consequences look to be pretty bad."

Even if Murray were at times to come out in favor of immigration (which he's done), and in favor of demographic replacement (which he's done), that stance would be contradictory to his own research facts so he'd still be called alt-right. Any facts that get in the way of the narrative justifying demographic apocalypse have to be destroyed.

HBD obsession?

Because the mainstream right is in thrall to the rhetoric and moral framing of the left.

You aren't alt-right. I wasn't saying you were, sorry. I was just looking at the list of names as influencers, and saying you're the only one that matters. In fact, I wrote a whole piece saying you weren't alt-right.

"Dave Weigel’s otherwise solid analysis linked Steve Sailer and Jared Taylor as “alt right” or “race realists”, which made me very nervous. Yes, Steve is an influential writer at Taki and VDare, and I thought he was well-represented in that piece. But Steve is a writer whose primary sin is that of noticing, as he often says. He’s snarky and sarcastic and occasionally brutal, but if he’s a racial separatist, the sentiments don’t make their way into his writing. Jared Taylor is a political activist with explicit goals of giving individuals and businesses the legal right to self-segregate. If these two are in the same region, it should be a very large one. Weigel makes it sound small."

I'd say you're a middle-of-the-road biological determinist.


I read your stuff on Unz Review once in a while and prefer your non-race, non-immigrant posts about sports, movies, travel, etc. You have a good sense of humor and not an "in-your-face" approach to writing. What you do better than anybody else is your ability to attract both alt-right types and traditional conservatives (including neocons). You give enough red meat to both without completely offending the other.

Rush Limbaugh WAS influential. Certainly he would have belonged on the list back in the 90s. He lost much of his mojo during the Bush years and is no longer particularly cutting edge. Like Andrew Sullivan he's a "has been" influential figure.
Ann Coulter's book is nothing more than political boiler plate, giving voice to things that were already widely believed by some people. That's not being influential; it's "leading"-- or just making a quick buck-- from the rear.

"Ta-Nahesi Coates hasn’t change a single mind in his entire life. Although I confess if I ever agreed with him on any issue, I’d instantly reconsider because lord knows, that man is always an idiot and usually wrong"

Bless your heart

Your support of JPB is increasingly an embarrassment.

I think Peterson is influential but so is Deepak Chopra or Dr. Phil. I like Peterson more than those two because he is a smart and engaging speaker. The irony of Peterson is that he appears to be a big fan of Nietzsche and he seems to be a case study of that which will not kill me makes me stronger. Peterson seems pretty anti-fragile. Perhaps Taleb (is he a decade too late to be on this list?) could chat with Peterson.

+ 1 to A Reader. I think we should be cautious when social scientists speak with such certainty.

If we're talking about the Deepak Chopra and Dr. Phil ideaspace, then the winner is Stephen Barrett. There's lots of quack alt-meds, but only a few skeptics and Dr. Barrett is first among them. His website is

#5 I don't think any of those people would consider themselves alt-right. Yarvin has basically gone silent although Unqualified Reservations was, for my money, one of the funniest blogs of all time. I'd pull a trick and go with YouTube. This won't last since YouTube definitely doesn't want to be this thing, but right now all the naughty and interesting stuff is on there. Among the naughty things is an interview with old BNP madman Jonathan Bowden who predicted this all 5 or 6 years ago. He said the "alt-right" was scary and fascinating, illuminated in a dark sepulchral light, running around and making fun of the poe faced zealots who opposed it. I agree with this. The elites love the alt right for this very reason. They can't help but wonder if they are the real cool kids. Authentic. That weird band you discovered before anyone else. Meanwhile the alt right can barely pay their bills.

Judith Butler is more important than McK in this moment. Alice Dreger has to be in the conversation as well. Justice Kennedy is pretty important if we get to count his opinions as intellectual output.

The tech guys aren’t really intellectuals, but if we are just going by who is influencing the most people Oprah and Osteen have to be up there. Dreher and Douthat are probably the most important public intellectuals on religious front. A shift that hasn’t gotten much attention is the openness to an old Earth and aspects of evolution in conservative Protestant institutions the work by Biologos and Francis Collins deserve credit here. Perhaps Mark Noll too.

I don't think anyone who regularly first-posts on a blog should get to be considered a top five public intellectual, particularly by the writer of the blog in question.

I’m really surprised that no one has tried to think far enough outside our bubble to suggest Malcolm Gladwell or Steve Levitt. Say what you will, but the popularity of their books ~10 years ago has arguably set up much of the mainstream discourse, and backlash to that discourse, we see today.

And Thomas Friedman! If I had a dime for every time a middle aged man talked to me about one of these three people after they found out I’m interested in econ/politics...

Dare I say....Paul Krugman? (hides behind sofa)

"Dare I say….Paul Krugman? (hides behind sofa)"

No need to hid behind the sofa on my account. :-) However, what intellectual positions of Paul Krugman have gained ascendancy largely because of what he's argued?

Everyone listed would make a great guest for a Conversation with Tyler. I also noticed that your list includes any conversations alumni, even though several clearly deserve consideration, like Haidt, Pinker, Chetty, etc.

'Everyone listed would make a great guest'

Amazing how that works, isn't it?

it's weird for Tyler, who is seemingly omnipresent but immensely non-influential (you need to have a solid opinion to be influential), to determine who is influential.

Tyler has a solid opinion in *how* to think about things, and he's enormously influential in that respect.

meh...pretty much all floaters going with the stream. How about in no particular order, Todd Zywicki, Randy Barnett, Frank Buckley, Walter Williams, and Judith Curry.

terrible libertarian takes

Of the two libertarians on my li (and I only considered US citizens, I believe South American libertarians may be more influential in terms of policy impact and minds st, Zywicki was instrumental in getting bankruptcy reform and is currently, I believe, highly influential in supporting the Trump Administrations in turning off the funding spigot for lefty groups via the Consumer FInance Protection Board. Also an all time top 50 SSRN download law professor and of the top 50, in my view, has the most real policy change to show for his work. Walter Williams reaches millions of working class people and is influential in giving them moral support to withstand the daily bigotry of the elite opinion-makers. Preaching to the choir? Yes. Keeping that cocoon strong against savage attacks? Yup. Buckley, a Canadian and only recently a citizen of the US, has written a series of important books that are instrumental in shaping the debate about the future of federal governance in the USA. He more than anyone else has opened more conservative minds to the need for constiutional reform. Randy Barnett is the leading light of constitutional originalism and his work has dramatically altered the lay of constitutional law land. Judith Curry is the most significant voice keeping alight the flame of the scientific search for truth in these benighted days of groupthink and conformism in the scientivic community.

The movements that Yarvin and MacKinnon first articulated and defined, are incredibly influential she took Dworkin and made it safe for upper middle class and wealthy white women. A world without her is pretty hard to imagine now.

What Charles Murray wrought was a basically scientific basis for all that followed him. Imagine a world where modern scientific racists didn’t actually have this love and burning need for sociological data. That his opponents do not actually try to debunk it in any serious way shows he convinced him. ZMP, and the idea of a future of Universal Welfare Serfdom are dependent on his eork, though that is not what he was talking about.

Ta Nehisi Coates and his nihlism is incredibly influential since he is the educated left’s ideal minority and he both destroyed the logic of and made permanent the idiotic reparations argument, he turned white people need to ask forgiveness, to white people can never ever be forgiven and he convinced an awful lot of powerful white people of this in a way that was hard to imagine before him.

Jordan Peterson it is..., though when it comes to cats I have to say I like the cut of his jib.

The real issue here is that I do not see a fifth person. It is too soon to tell because their movement has only just crawled out of the shadows, be it MAGA, Europe for Europeans, the return of the socialism and politics of the Second International? Or maybe in the US ate least some weird hybrid of Radley Balko, Alex Jones, Glenn Greenwald and an electable politician.

In 2018, I really do think the fifth slot needs to be aligned with the alt right. And while it's true that there's no definitive alt right intellectual as of now, the thing is that I think it's easy to come up with a hypothetical composite. For me, it would be Moldbug, Sailer, Roissy, and Yiannopoulos. (It's true that Milo's written output - aside from his nuked Twitter account - is not impressive, but a public intellectual should also be a speaker to at least some degree, and that's where he shines.)

I find this dynamic interesting because there's a major power vacuum in the alt right leadership right now. An intelligent, charismatic individual who can synthesize those four perspectives into a somewhat respectable - or at least palatable - form could become a transformative political figure. I initially thought Bannon might be that person, but he missed his opportunity. He's too personally abrasive, and his politics are too radical and (frankly) half-baked. The successful alt right champion will need to be gentler, more thoughtful, more devious.

1) Linda Sarsour. Sharia's number one spokesman.
2) Maxine Walters. James Brown's older brother.
3) Angela Rye. The light skin Frankenstein.
4) Lena Dunham. Triggly puff and a little dutch boy combined into one.
5) Justin Trudeau. The most feminine entree on this list.

Only a Trump fan can demonstrate that he homophobic, islamobphobic, racist, and anti-women in one.

modal MR commenter right here.

No one pays any attention to Lena Dunham, except maybe the terminally star-struck. On the Left she is regarded as a self-involved dilettante and poseur.

Interesting list.

I'm not familiar enough with the liberal-left or authoritarian left, or authoritarian right, to say whether Catherine Mackinnon and Ta-Nehisi Coates are the leading public intellectuals there, or whether Bannon is any such things on the right.

But from my vantage point these are the top 5.

Jordan Peterson
Sam Harris
Eliezer Yudkowsky
Elon Musk
Steven Pinker

Peter Thiel and Bill Gates would have been there two years ago, and over a longer time horizon might still be.

Tyler Cowen and the band of Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan, etc. are also probably underrated in their influence.

Eliezer Yudkowsky is arguably the source of the rationality movement, which has spurred things like EA, existential risk and greatly influenced many thinkers from Elon Musk to Max Tegmark.

Sam Harris and the skeptics sphere still has a lot of force. And with his podcast now he seems to be constantly reinventing himself, and have a steady and sustained influence on many influential people.

Jordan Peterson came out of left-field, but today seem to be the prime new force on the intellectual scene.

Steven Pinker is arguably waning, but to this day it is still the person I hear most referenced.

Yudkowsky is a good call. He's writing less important stuff now (though this isn't a fair standard), but the influence of his initial writing is only starting to fully manifest.

Surprised no one has mentioned Daniel Kahneman.


Thinking Fast and Slow should be assigned reading for the Twitter generation.

I;m going to cast a vote in favor of Rod Deher, at least in religious circles (but nota bene: he's a journalist not a religious leader). His "Benedict Option:" is stirring up discussion, debate and criticism all the way to the Vatican.

Good list.

I’d add Ray Kurzweil, especially his promotion of the idea of exponential change and the Singularity.

I would have said Sam Harris a few years ago but his politics have become increasingly irrational for a guy whose schtick is reason.

"I’d add Ray Kurzweil, especially his promotion of the idea of exponential change and the Singularity."

I was about to write the same thing where Elon Musk was nominated below for "techno-futurism." The trouble with Ray Kurzweil in my opinion is that he keeps trying to peer *beyond* the Singularity. If the Singularity happens in 2049 (or whatever year he now says) then it's pointless to write about anything after 2049.

How Ray Kurzweil has influenced me it that he's identified multiple exponential trends in computing leading to the conclusion that computers will be much more powerful than human brains before the middle of this century.

"Elon Musk."

I'd love to talk with Elon Musk. (I'm in the book, Elon. :-) )


1) There's no doubt in my mind that transportation-as-a-service will replace private ownership of automobiles...and well before Elon Musk retires. But I haven't read anything like that from him. He'll need to significantly alter Tesla cars for transportation-as-a-service. Is he thinking about that?

2) I can see how the Hyperloop has many benefits over vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, but it seems to me that vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft are a natural for when aircraft are autonomous. What does he think about VTOL aircraft?

3) He said several times that super-capacitors are more likely than batteries as the ultimate future of cars. But does he still think that? What about other technologies that aren't current lithium-ion technology, such as solid-state batteries?

4) What about alternatives to silicon for photovoltaics? What does he think about perovskites, for example?

4) Does he really think anybody will ever make any money going to Mars?

Long term, the people who have influence are the ones who create (or provide the seed for) a long-lasting intellectual movement. Basically the people whose ideas create the intellectual framework in which people decades later will still be asking questions or having conversations. Elezier Yudowsky is probably the strongest contender for actually doing this that I can see. Yarvin and Sailer may also manage, though I think this is somewhat less likely. (Sailer in particular is too focused on current political issues and not enough of a cult-leader-type, and also I suspect that in another decade, hbd will just be "knowing biology and statistics.")

"Long term, the people who have influence are the ones who create (or provide the seed for) a long-lasting intellectual movement. Basically the people whose ideas create the intellectual framework in which people decades later will still be asking questions or having conversations."

If Ray Kurzweil is right, we won't have any idea what people will be talking about 3 decades from now, any more than the people the people of 1018 could anticipate what the people of 2018 would be talking about.

Perhaps you're right--it's possible that humans will alter ourselves so much, or our societies and circumstances will change so much, that it's impossible to guess who from modern times will have any impact. But I still say that if someone from our time is going to have a major impact on that world, my money's on Elezier and the related stuff like the rationalist movement, effective altruism, and AI risk. It's not that I think everyone's going to be following his ideas, just that I think his way of looking at the world (along with that of many other people) is likely to create the framework in which many people's discussions happen.

The thing about Ray Kurzweil is that he's written several books that basically say that computers will be vastly smarter than humans not merely before this century is out, but even before the middle of this century. (He basically calculates that before 2050, a $1000 computer will be able to complete more calculations per second than the entire human race.)

I would say that more than any other intellectual, he has brought the concept of the Singularity into the public sphere. So *if* the Singularity happens (I think it will) and *if* he's even within a few decades of when it occurs (I think he will be...the evidence in his books seems very strong), then he should get a tremendous amount of credit for "calling" it. It would literally be the most important technological event in the history of humanity.

An important postscript: In my opinion, Ray Kurzweil doesn't give the potential threat from superhuman AI enough attention. So if we're all obliterated by Terminators, he missed that fairly important bit. ;-) But still, getting the Singularity timing part right is huge.

Catherine Mackinnon got me even more interested in porn, so that has to count for something. Consider how the quality and especially quantity of porn has increased geometrically since she started her promotional crusade. Now we even have a President who has screwed porn stars. Mackinnon's influence is remarkable.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is very influential. He's become the next safe black guy for rich White liberals to worship. Will he run for President? He's even got Tyler Cowen saying "bodies" now.

the problem with Ta-Nehisi Coates is that he is so one dimensional. His grand "theory" of white supremacy, to him at least, explains everything and anything. From food deserts, high incarceration rates, black test scores, just look to the legacy of discrimination and you have found your cause. America is far more complex and we don't live in a white/Black Country but one with asians, Indians, africans, Muslims, latinos, etc..

He also denies white and black people agency. This is what white people find so frustrating about him.

Are we sure TNC is really influential? He sells books, sure, but so does James Patterson. He has a fanbase that enjoys his secularized, racialized Original Sin parable, but it's not like he really, say, convinced a bunch of people that reparations was a good idea with his big Atlantic cover story. To me, he's just a left wing "preaching to the choir" pundit, not that much different than a Hannity or O'Reilly.

Philip N. Howard deserves a mention.

I would also suggest it is important to discuss the timeframe of influence. It almost goes without saying that Mackinnon's long-past efforts have vastly more significance than anything she has done, said, or written in recent years.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb? Of Black Swan and Anti-Fragile fame? He has shifted the conversation on randomness and robustness in a society. Of he is a complete ass but I think he is rather proud of that.

I suspect that being an anti-social ass (low agreeableness, low need for socialisation) gives you significant bonuses in avoiding groupthink and finding profitable minority positions, which seems to be Taleb's thing.

Tyler is timing the influence, and Taleb's influence is mostly 'done', and absorbed into where we are, like Andrew Sullivan's. He'd make the list in 2010, not in 2018.

Taleb is actually just starting to make a dent.

In certain circles, surely Zizek, but what he stands for is unclear. Communism, really? Or is he just staking out an attention getting position on that score?

I find it odd that Malcolm Gladwell doesn't get on lists like this. He should. He's done so much to change the way we think about decision-making, talent, performance, incentives...

He's changed the way I thought about writing airport books for the slightly uncritical IQ 110 readership, who want to be "shocked" in a not-really-shocked-in-an-affirming-and-empowering-way.

It's funny that Blink is a snooze and Outliers is mediocre. Gladwell can be a great story teller at his best and there are more IQ 110 people in the world to influence than IQ 140.

It might be a rather large error to eschew truths the 110 pointers can handle.

Gladwell is interesting. I wonder if a lot of these folks are influential in the ways that academics are considered famous - very narrowly within a relatively small group of folks.

TNC is the most overrated intellectual. He has one idea, which was never that interesting, and which is definitely not interesting any more. It keeps getting repackaged into 10,000 word Atlantic articles which metropolitan white people claim to read (actually the random article I clicked just now was 17,016 words.) His writing style is verbose and confusing. Most of the 10000 words seem to be there to set up a gigantic emotional apparatus under which you might accept his logical reasoning. I have to admit, I so enjoyed John McWhorter's rant about him. Not to mention Cornel West whose tweets apparently led TNC to delete his Twitter.

I'd never heard of Catherine Mackinnon. Thanks for the tip; watching her on youtube, she is definitely not boring...

TNC: You are objectifying his bodies with the whiteness of your words and oppressive non-African norms of logic. Give him some money to make your guilt go away (for a bit).

MacKinnon was a major feminist theorist back in the 80s and 90s. Together with the late Andrea Dworkin she's responsible for the feminism we know today. However I don't think she's done anything noteworthy in a while, so belongings on the list of has-been public intellectuals.

Bill Nye, at least for those under 30(?). I’m not sure when they started using his videos in school. A generation has grown up learning about climate change from him. Don’t @ me about climate silence.

My own list:

Steve Sailer
Jordan Peterson
Jon Haidt
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Scott Adams (as the joker in the pack?)

These guys are all associated with the right nowadays, although it can be argued that years ago some of them would be considered solidly left wing, but for the shifting of the Overton window.

To further refine this list, it may be useful to state the period of influence. The above list/s probably applies to what I consider to be the Trump era (2016-now), but would probably be very different if we consider a ten year span, or a twenty year span. Over a longer time frame, Charles Murray would surely rank very high on any list.

I'd unironically nominate Scott Adams for the list. His 'persuasion filter' model has outperformed every other political theory for the last couple years. He's become the Lebron James of political prognosticators.

Scott Adams only applies "persuasion filter" where it post-hoc fits the data and ignores it everywhere else.

Still, he gave Trump a 98% chance of winning when everyone else thought Trump was a joke, and I said if he turned out right he ought to go up in status, and I still have to hold to that even though he was wishy-washy about affirming that 98% chance.

He did predict a landslide for Trump, which did not materialize. But he was prescient in predicting a Trump victory long before the Republican primaries, and his prediction was based on first principles that he explained. His Master Persuader theory is probably the most insightful explanation of the Trump phenomenon.

Yes, he's definitely a rising star in explaining how the world actually works.

Both of your lists are terrific.

It is telling how no one from Apple makes the 2nd list.

Perhaps someone from China’s mega corps should be on the 2nd list. Clearly most would gravitate toward Jack Ma, but he does seem to be, in every way, a discount Jeff Bezos. How about Ma Huateng?

Your comment about Uncle Xi is spot on.

Nobody from Apple makes the list because Steve Jobs, the great thinker behind Apple, is no longer with us. Steve Jobs had more intellectual influence within the tech industry than any of the others. Everyone tried to mimic Steve Jobs's presentations and mimic Apple's product quality. A computer is a bicycle for the mind.

I second the suggestion of Taleb, he should clearly be included.

I would add Deirdre McCloskey since the trilogy is out.
I personally love Jeffrey Tucker. As someone said, he converted more people to anarchism than Rothbard met in all his life. The last two years focus on the Hegelian roots of Trumpism is consistent and useful, although not particularly innovative.
And I would offer a place to a joint group of GMU: you two, Caplan, Boudreaux... I especially like Alex T. keeping warm the idea of “public goods” provided by the market through proprietary communities, I think it is an idea that will explode in the next decade.

What about life coaches? People pay to be told how to live their lives. Coaches sell millions of books and the audience in their conferences is counted by thousands.

Personal motivators were dear to Tyler not so long ago. Is Jordan Peterson more "intellectual" than Brian Tracy?

Of course he is more intellectual- just let Prof. Peterson tell you.

'Dr. Peterson is a professor at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist and the author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Jan 2018, Penguin Books). His now-classic book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, offers a revolutionary take on the psychology of religion, and the hundred or more scientific papers he published with his colleagues and students have substantively advanced the modern understanding of creativity and personality. As a Harvard professor, he was nominated for the prestigious Levinson Teaching Prize, and is regarded by his current University of Toronto students as one of three truly life-changing professors. His classroom lectures on mythology and psychology, based on Maps of Meaning, were turned into a popular 13-part TV series on TVO.'

Though if this web site is to be trusted, the above is nothing more than an attempt to justify a claim of higher status. Or possibly virtue signalling - always hard to tell whenever one is free to bandy 'mood affiliation' and 'Straussian' about.

GMU must be in there somewhere. You really seem to have a hard on for him.

Well, he is considered to be one of the truly life-changing professors, so of course any awe is undoubtedly well earned. Just ask him about his students in case you had any doubts..

Oddly, though, his students don't seem to be writing much in the way of testimonials - maybe you could link to a couple? (Admittedly, I'm not bothering to look for any - one should obviously trust Dr. Peterson completely when he refers to things like a now-classic book he authored.)

Scott Alexander. He's like the Velvet Underground of internet intellectuals. Only 30,000 people read SlateStarCodex, but everyone single one of those readers went out and started a well read blog or column.

aye I was waiting for this comment.

I've heard Ezra Klein is pretty influential is some circles.

Public Intellectuals who should be more famous but isn't: Nick Szabo.

Yeah, in terms of 1) writing about relevant issues and 2) actually convincing readers to see them in a new light Alexander is a mile beyond the pack.

Scott is too cautious. Too many qualifications to his assertions. I mean this in the best possible way, but every one of his posts reads like Industrial Society and its Future.

Although he's still probably underrated because no ones ever heard of him.

The thinking man's thinking man.

Slate Star can be great, but Scott frequently gets things very wrong, and the community is absolutely nuts (the comments section frequently is like some college/post-grad confessional of dysfunction).

The SSC comment threads include some really high-quality discussion. Also some folks who are way, way, *way* out on the tails of pretty much any distribution of human attributes you can imagine.

Agreed that the comments are very high-quality, better than just about any graduate seminar you can imagine, fascinating sub-discussions on related issues, etc. But a huge number of the commenters have very, very serious issues, but don't seem to recognize how far out they are, given the sea in which they swim. To be clear: one of my favorite sites.

So, let us put that list into a framework from a previous era -

1. Victorian concerned about the future of the Empire's manhood

2. Victorian prude putatively concerned with 'virtue'

3. Victorian abolitionist/reformer concerned the burden of Empire on the conquered

4. Victorian imperialist, using the latest in racial science to demonstrate why the Irish deserve to be ruled for their own good, as they lack any of the virtues necessary for proper self-government

5. A composite of people that no one will care the least about in a century after the end of the Victorian era

You are a strange guy.

The Victorian era ended in World War 1.

More like 1901. Then came the Edwardian era.

Full points to msgkings for getting the year of Queen Victoria's death right.

Ah, I can see how that was misinterpreted - I meant that in 2118, it is as likely those people will be of any concern as five Victorian era colonialism apologists are considered important today.

Judith Butler, Jurgen Habermas, Thomas Piketty, Paul krugman, Joseph Stieglitz, Zizek, Michel serre, Bruno Latour, David Graeber, Amartha Sen, Arundhati Roy, Nassim Talen, Barack Obama

Corr : Amartya Sen , Nassim N Taleb

I think TC's reached the point in the life of a celebrity when he starts to hate his fans. Like Justin Bieber starting like four years ago.

I think what's interesting about Tyler's list that it lacks both a "conventional conservative" as well as a "conventional radical / marxist". Both these categories are increasingly unfashionable.

There is no classically conservative Burkean on that list who calls for restraint, private virtue, scepticism of natural right, defence of custom and tradition, gradualism, empiricism. Charles Murray probably comes closest, though not quite.

Nor is there a classical radical thinker on the list who calls for unbridled liberty, against all forms of identity and tradition, radical notion of equality, dissolution of private property etc. Let's say a combination of Lord Byron and Marx.

"conventional radical / marxist”. Both these categories are increasingly unfashionable."
Can you mention a fashionable Marxist from, say, a decade or two ago. Not some obscure Hindu, mind you.

Doesn't Peterson come close?

Peterson and Murray both call for those things. Sailer and Moldbug dont preach but are both straight-laced guys with quiet personal lives who point out a lot of problems boil down to poor life-choices.

All the institutions have been pretty well scoured of traditionalism. Even Chesterton from way back when did not consider himself a conservative

I think Tyler probably deserves a place in a few people's top 5 lists.

What makes him unique in my view is his blending of classical liberal economics with an acknowledgment of the compulsions of a democratic state. Here's a man who defends economic theory, yes. Defends free markets, free trade and all that jazz. But never takes doctrinaire positions based on the same, and is always willing to make concessions for policies that are in conflict with textbook economics. A pragmatic libertarian if ever there was one.

Also unique is his scepticism of unbridled social liberty and his tacit, almost straussian, support for social conservatism on many issues (which needs to be read between the lines), including a generally favorable disposition towards religion. I find that remarkable, particularly so, because he is very nuanced and understated in his social conservatism. Not very explicitly old fashioned like Princeton's Robert George, which can put many people off, in this age of irreverence.

"But never takes doctrinaire positions"

or non-doctrinaire positions

Strauss always wins out in the end.

A couple of names from Asia that I'd like to add -

Tarek Fateh - This guy is a Pakistani Canadian. And you can think if him as an Asian Sam Harris of sorts. A very vocal critic of Islamic fundamentalism and its impact on subcontinental culture.

Rajiv Malhotra - He is an Indian American who lives in New Jersey. A very very important influence on Hindu nationalist politics in the past 15 years or so. A very vocal critic of Western Indology and its lenses. A man who has used social media effectively to promote the idea of a civilizationally united India. Prior to Malhotra, HIndu nationalist movement was primarily antagonistic to Islam. But post Malhotra, Christianity has increasingly become the focus of attention as a force antagonistic to the idea of an Indian state. He is a rage among educated yuppie Hindus.

From wiki on entropic gravity:
In 2009, Erik Verlinde disclosed a conceptual model that describes gravity as an entropic force.[4] He argues (similar to Jacobson's result) that gravity is a consequence of the "information associated with the positions of material bodies".[5] This model combines the thermodynamic approach to gravity with Gerard 't Hooft's holographic principle. It implies that gravity is not a fundamental interaction, but an emergent phenomenon which arises from the statistical behavior of microscopic degrees of freedom encoded on a holographic screen.


In stead of "information associated with position of...", read "implied queueing of particles", then we solve the whole problem, really as a combinatorial problem of packing a sphere. Time and position are derived from the implied scale among the aggregates. Breakthrough stuff, theory of everything. We get complexity measures which can bound the umber of potential standard particles. It also gives an algebra of large panel trucks arrive into Walmart and shopping bags out of. We get a measure of how well 'centered' is a Walmart store, does it see agravity,.

Here i what this means for economics and finance. The financial network can automatically detect and eliminate arbitrage moments in trade. Thus, the only trade opportunity comes from revealing inside information. This is singua;rity stuff, and we are turning on version one of the singularity in 2018, fintech. We are moving to an all auto-traded system. The trading pits create structures that define the economy as best as can be known, and these structures are observable, to some bounded error.

You forgot the top YT and Inst influencers. PewDiePie should be #1

He's not as active as he used to be, but I would put Richard Epstein on the list of the top five.

Rush Limbaugh is #1, and has been for years, and it isn't even close.

He's had tens of millions of people hanging on his every word, for hours every day, for decades. Game over. Back to your bubble, boy.

By that token, why not Kim Kardashian? Limbaugh's influence on other conservative or nationalist 'intellectuals' has been pretty minimal. When he is cited, it's often in an "I don't often listen to him, but a lot of people do and so it matters what he says" kind of way. Michael Savage has had much more of an influence on the conservative and nationalist movements.

Interestingly, some of the people Tyler mention make Limbaugh feel like a leftist.

Limbaugh is very much a has-been in 2018. His influence peaked in the 90s-- anyone remember the NR cover that showed him as "Leader of the Opposition"? Like much of the Right he was besmirched with the failures and fiascoes of the Bush administration, not to mention his own drug addiction. I doubt you'd find very many people under 50 who pay any heed to his tired act nowadays.

He is certainly influential, but is he a "public intellectual"?

I must say, this is one of my more enjoyable reads of the comments. I’m learning some interesting names.

Can we call him Moldbug? The guy never asked to be famous.

Why does everyone feel obligated to have TNC on this type of list?

I'm not terribly impressed with the alternative list. Business visionaries are different than public intellectuals. Henry Ford recreated society, but he wasn't a public intellectual.

Of course, "influential public intellectual" is an oxymoron; an intellectual is rarely if ever influential, if for no other reason than she is unknown to the public. Cowen's two lists include a few individuals I would agree are influential but I wouldn't identify them as intellectuals; being contrarian doesn't an intellectual make. I recall a time when shows such as the Today Show and the Tonight Show hosted what were at the time "influential public intellectuals", so it was much easier to identify them. A few shows today host what might be called "influential public intellectuals", but more for the purpose of ridicule than enlightenment. This is not an intellectual age, even though the work of intellectuals is much more accessible as the result of the internet.

Conor Friedersdorf makes my point by way of example (Jordan Peterson is the influential public intellectual in the example):

Does someone like George Kennan or Henry Kissinger count as an intellectual?

Daniel Drezner has written an entire book on the diminishing (more partisan) role of the influential public intellectual:

Would be helpful if the writer first told us how he defines public intellectual and the criteria for being significant rather than these endless lists the writer seems fond of.

What if, rather than judgement, we looked for metrics?

The best selling nonfiction is an old standby

But it is a bit old media. We could look at YouTube or Twitter followers, but how do we extract intellectuals from influencers? Or should we?

"The best selling nonfiction is an old standby."

Yes, I nominate Al Franken for his persuasive, "Al Franken, Giant of the Senate." It convinced me he'll be in the Senate for a long, long time.

It is not uncommon for influential public intellectuals to have a sell-by date.

By the way, I just noticed that Wranglerstar has more followers on YouTube than Peterson.

Rustic Influencers for the win?

Piketty - inequality is a big deal in public discourse lately, welfare state marching again

Larry Summers - via trade with N. Korea´s client and bank deregulation, seems important to squandering neoliberal hegemony

Scott Sumner - central bank bigwigs seemingly taking aggregate demand seriously

Putin - replacement of grand strategy and horizons in IR and political economy by conservatism, tactical reaction, friendliness to illiberal states

Alex Jones - there r a LOT of dedicated anti-establishment folks, with ´establishment´ a broad category

Political leaders (Putin) are purposely being left off the list.
Alex Jones is nuttier than a fruit cake. I suppose that doesn't stop him from being influential, but there's nothing remotely like a coherent ideology coming from him, unless tin foil hattery is some sort of system.

CNTRL + F + "Lopez" yields no hits. Surely I'm as influential on this blog, the most read economics blog in history, as the obscure Jordan Peterson is in whatever forum he writes in?

Bonus trivia: the first letters of the months of July, August, September, October and November spell the name "JASON".

Phil Tetlock?Sam Harris? Steve PInker? I'm not sure how Bezos qualifies as an intellectual and I am not sure many people see him as such. Same from Brin and Page. I can understand Thiel and maybe Musk. If you are going for Tech leaders with an intellectual bent I would also include Marc Andreessen and Patrick Colison as they are both cerebral in their disposition and outlook.

Even with the addition of Jack Dorsey, I still fail to see how you have sufficiently exalted me or my ingroup. I give this effort a D-.

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

what about kareem abdul-jabbar?

Nassim Taleb
Scott Alexander
Deirdre McCloskey
Naval Ravikant
Ed Latimore
Claire Lehman

Those are yesterday's men/women. TC is talking about the future, Xavier Faure.

Now that he is not President, I would suggest Barack Obama here. Like Bill Gates his ideas seem to be extremely mainstream. The mainstream, by definition, is highly influential and could be the intellectual leader of the Democrat for another couple decades! (Much like the Image of Ronald Reagan was the intellectual leader of Republicans until Trump)

In this sense, America's most influential public intellectual would seem to be Newt Gingrich.

In the 90s, sure. Today? Not so much.

What has Obama added to the knowledge base? Maybe before he got elected there was a kind of hope he would, but surely nothing after but pure partisanship.

What any of the people Cowen mentioned added to the knowledge base? Knowledge base, not propaganda.

Does not one have to be an "intellectual" first before you can be a "public intellectual"?

Coates is a college dropout and has never had an original thought.

you have to have a BA to be an intellectual? Who cares?

Before TNC, I don't believe anyone had ever argued that reparations were owed to African Americans from 20th century housing policy. You may not agree, but it was original.

“My favourite definition of an intellectual: 'Someone who has been educated beyond his/her intelligence." Arthur Clarke

You need to have "some" education. Coates could not even get thru a third rate college.

There were calls for reparations well before TNC's long-winded article that white liberals patronizingly pretend is brilliant.

Based on housing policy

Have you been in a classroom lately? Rick and Morty hands down.

Surprised no one mentioned Richard Dawkins. New Atheism was a major influence on politics, from its founding in the 2000s it pulled a lot of bright people away from the right, helped by the Right's myopic decision to embrace religious identity politics, until around 2014, when it became the target of the Left's increasing radicalism.

Dawkins' atheism is widely panned, not only by the religious, but by other serious atheists. Christopher Hitchens pronounced himself embarrassed by it, com,paring it to the haughtiness of high school A-list girls.

Dawkins - like Hitchens - is one of those who I would have placed on the list c. 2005-2010 or so. New Atheism is just not that influential anymore. You could make the argument that he's had a lasting impact (and he has) but it's now mostly indirectly, by way of his influence on other intellectuals like Coates and certain alt-right figures.

What, not a mention of Picketty? But he was such a YUGE deal not so long ago...

Chapo Trap House

Jordan Peterson seems like he's influential, but I suspect that, like me, most people have no idea what he's rambling on about. Watch one of his videos and see if you can put in to words what you saw. He's like Paglia in that it feels like he's saying interesting things, but it's incomprehensible. Even so, I still enjoy listening to him for some reason and I look forward to Dr. Cowen's interview.

I wonder if Ta-Nehisi Coates has un-influenced more people than he's ever influenced.

Also, I gave an interview with Jordan Peterson a listen to see what the fuss is about. It's the same old soft-pedaled, facile reactionary garbage you can read on any "liberated thinker" Twitter feed. "Science tells us that men and women are different!" he boldly asserts. Wow, no kidding dude, tell me more.

"Oh, he has so much more to say about topics besides the transgender debate," you tell me.

"As a man, you should learn to take responsibility for your actions!" Holy cow, I'm blown away. Truly the thinker for our time.

This. I would be interested to hear from his fans what they take his intellectual contribution to be. Does he have noteworthy original ideas or research? Is he a particularly good popularizer or synthesizer of other people's ideas?

Wikipedia and a general google search make him seem like an articulate (and very Canadian) advocate for center right cultural positions, which seems to me like a weak resume for a top public intellectual.

I think his great strength is as a synthesizer. He sees us as still living in the fallout of "God is dead", which I think is correct. His philosophy mostly tracks that of 19th century American pragmatists like William James. He applies Darwinism to human cultural history to bolster an essentially Burkean argument that there is value in institutions that have survived to be handed down to us that we probably don't understand or appreciate. He thinks the great triumph of the West is the idea of the sanctity of the individual, that this idea flowered in the Enlightenment on a bedrock of Western Christendom, and there is danger that we are losing sight of this signal achievement.

He acknowledges the truth of the post-modern claim that there are an infinite number of possible interpretations for any phenomenon, and he recognizes how tricky it is to navigate in such a world.

He thinks a lot of things in a lot of areas. I'm sure he's wrong about plenty, but there is a thoughtfulness and consistency and formidableness running through it all.

He claims that Dawkins' "meme" concept is kissing cousin to Jung's "archetype" idea. He thinks Dawkins is, at heart, a Newtonian and not a Darwinian. Clever, that.

What do mean by "Newtonian" here? As far as I've heard, Newtonian physics is completely consistent with Darwinian evolution.

Scientific rationalists posit that there is an objective reality that is "fundamental" and the methods of science are the key to understanding this fundamental reality. Most scientists, including guys like Dawkins and Sam Harris, are down with this view.

The problem is: is a brown table an objectively brown table, or is the brown table simply a mental image drawn based on applying borders and shading to how wavelengths and collections of atoms register on your retina? Without the peculiar observer, is the any sense in thinking of it as a brown table?

An alternative view is that fundamental reality is a radically subjective idea- that all we have access to are our subjective experience. I remember a college professor who quoted (I think) Virginia Woolf saying something to the effect of "I'm in my house and you're in your house and that's that"- that there is something unbridgeable between the subjective experience of two individuals.

Peterson sees fundamental reality as residing in the interplay between a conscious entity and the objective world. In this view, "Darwinian truth" is "good enough truth" to survive and propagate (see William James). The most important things that are happening have nothing to do with the objective Newtonian view.

You get an envelope with your MCAT scores. What is it? To a Newtonian, it's just a piece of paper with ink stuffed inside an envelope. But of course it's your whole future hanging in the balance inside that envelope. Point to it. Show me it. It doesn't exist in objective reality.

Interesting. I think "Darwinian" sounds more like Nietzschean epistemology than anything Darwinian.

As an aside, his Darwinian approach to cultural history seems rather fraught. Culture and institutions perpetuate themselves because they are good at perpetuating themselves. Sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. One needs some other kind of value criteria - such as the sanctity of the individual - to evaluate them.

As a further aside, it is hard for me to believe that there was anytime in the past in which the sanctity of the individual was more respected than the current day. As far as I can tell, more individuals enjoy more freedoms than at any time in human history. Is there a time in which he claims we were better in touch with this signal achievement?

Peterson contends that objective reality, as understood by the methods of science, is not the fundamental level of reality. He might be wrong, but he brings an impressive depth of understanding, including a thorough grasp of what science is, to this viewpoint.

He is grappling with "the hard problem of consciousness"- something nobody really has a good handle on in my opinion. These are hot questions today, and they have been hot questions for human beings for tens of thousands of years, which is a point he makes.

Not a lightweight by any stretch.

As far as I understand he subscribes to John Wheeler's idea of "it from bit"; that consciousness essentially creates the universe as we come to understand it.

He is perhaps more of a synthesizer of very diverse ideas and extraordinary oratory talent than a pure original thinker. But what is really original thought anyway? And he is quite old-school in that he is more of generalist psychologist and are able to hold a pretty comprehensive view of everything from Jungian psychoanalytics to Cybernetic neuropsychology. I can really recommend to skip the popularized 'controversial' Youtube clips and go straight to his( almost wholly improvised) lectures done in a strange zig-zagging impressionistic style, or alternatively the excellent Transliminal interview series. Also, his way of explaining very complex matters in plain language with personal anectotes is top-notch.

He is just getting started.

The American Left: Fires Harvard Presidents for stating that men and women are different, but also dismisses it as an "obvious truth."

So obvious that you're not allowed to say it

The question is influence, not whether he is a "great thinker of our time."

No doubt he's influencing how people think about gender, free speech, the humanities, critical theory, and the plight of the modern male.

A public intellectual has to be in the public eye a lot, and an intellectual, meaning he trades in ideas, right or wrong. Catherin MacKinnon is not in the public eye these past 20 years, is she? Influential, yes, but not a public intellectual, unless I'm missing something.

Rush Limbaugh needs to be there. He likes to clown, but he's superb at conveying simple ideas and interacting them and applying them.

I'm conservative, so I'd value a list of the 5 top leftwing public intellectuals, people I don't come across so often. It should be someone who pubilshes a lot, and in popular outlets like newspapes and blogs, but not a mere pundit who is part of an echo chamber--- he should be the one that makes the noise that starts the echo. At the same time, it's fine if the noise is a 100-year-old one and everybody in some niche knows it, but he is the one who brings it to the public discussion.

Once again, Limbaugh is a has-been and, er, has been for a long time now. His influence faded with the 00s. Young people, even on the right, pay him no heed. He's like some old crooner still serenading the Geritol set who hasn't had a song hit the top 100 in a generation.

Oh come on, this is ridiculous.

It's also unreasonable to leave off political figures. Political figures can be influential without being public intellectuals (e.g., just through the powers of their position). They can also be powerful as public intellectuals (through ideas and persuasion). I have no idea what the point of the list of tech executives is -- if someone is a top public intellectual, you should be able to name their big idea (and a company is not a big idea). Musk and Thiel, maybe, but the others? Gates is immensely influential as a businessman and philanthropist, but certainly not as an idea-guy, etc.

And you certainly need to be able to name the big idea/social current associated with someone to put them on this list. For most of these people, I have no idea what that is. The most obvious markers of public intellectual influence are that: many people read/listen to your ideas, your ideas are important, and your ideas are associated with YOU in the public conversation. So, either you need to have original ideas or you need to "own" a given issue (which rules out someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates).

Here's what I would propose:

1) Bernie Sanders: Economic inequality
2) Sheryl Sandberg: Women's empowerment, etc. (certainly much better known than MacKinnon)
3) Samuel Huntington (if the recently deceased are allowed): Intellectual roots of Trumpism/white nationalism. A much more important and influential set of ideas than any of the alt-right figures mentioned and multiple best sellers.
4) Elon Musk: Techo-futurism
5) Alex Jones: The alt-right (in a much more significant way than any of those you listed), anti-establishment conspiracies, broad suspicion of elites and the media

Alex Jones is a political pornographer. I'd go with Sailer over him easily: Steve Sailer has a coherent world view and marshals evidence in its favor.

How about an intellectual leader of the left anti-free speech movement? There must be some intellectual pushing the ideas of that movement.

I'm guessing you are another one of those people unfamiliar with MacKinnon.

For that list, Warren Buffett needs to be included.

The only people Peterson influences are a small set of aimless twenty-something males. Regardless of what one thinks of him, he cannot really be called influential.

I am stunned that most of these lists do not include Steven Pinker. It is debatable whether Thomas Friedman can be called an intellectual, but there is a pretty big professional, upper-middle class part of society that drops his name often.

Mackinnon is a great choice. Just the other day, I was struggling to come up with representative figure for the resurgent feminist moment: she's it, no question.

Regardless of your opinion of him, I don't think one can possibly exclude Ta-Nehisi Coates from this list. He's extraordinarily influential among what is currently (I would argue) the most powerful wing of American liberalism.

To the alt-right composite figure, I might add Heartiste/Roissy, who has been much more influential than many realize: without him, there's probably no "red pill" masculinity, which has been a very effective complement to the alt-right's racial politics.

I'm not sure how much is Roissy and how much other people, but the whole game/PUA community is another thing that will probably still be around and self-sustaining for many decades to come. I don't know how much of an intellectual structure you get from that--there's some sort-of evo-psych/right wing worldview in Roissy's writing, but this is overlaid with supporting a lifestyle and a value system that's basically impossible to reconcile with any kind of conservative values, and it doesn't seem like it's all that fundamental to being a pick-up artist.

How about a list of the most influential PRIVATE intellectuals? I’m thinking of arcane thinkers who influence public thinkers, without the awareness of influence percolating down.

(Nick Land is an example. He’s the direct inspiration for the “speculative realism” movement in philosophy (Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani et al); and the “accelerationist” movement. But his post-2007 embrace of Neoreaction and the Dark Enlightenment make him unmentionable in polite society.)

Also, how about a list of the dead intellectuals exerting the greatest influence beyond the grave on society in 2018? Edward Said? Sayyid Qutb?

So I read a lot of stuff, but I've never heard of Jordan Peterson. He can't be a very PUBLIC intellectual.

Catherine McKinnon and Charles Murray are important people, but I think they're too old to be spending much time in public. When was the last time Ms. McKinnon showed up on Fox News or MSNBC?

I'll have to add Tommy Sotomayor, the Great Black Conservative talk show host.

Zeynep Tufekci is a serious thinker on the intersection of society and social networking/adtech/etc. I'd put her broadly on the left, but I think any thinker worth reading/listening to is going to be an imperfect fit for an off-the-shelf ideology. She's certainly affected how *I* understand the world.

Glenn Greenwald has had a big impact on the world in the last decade or two, reporting on surveillance policies and helping found The Intercept. He's more a journalist than a public intellectual, though.

I will always like Newt in fashioning an argument with extended perspective. His quiet support of Trump during the primaries likely assured many Tea Party voters in the end.
Sebastian Gorka's historical perspective on events is refreshing and, to me, is as important as David Horowitz's knowledge of the left's "blame and destroy America" agenda as it relates to domestic and foreign policy.

Oh yes, we forgot about Newt Gingrich and Sebastian Gorka. Thanks for reminding us!

*throws up*

If one is considering tech personalities I'd say Linus Torvalds.

However you roll the historical dice, the moment you get computers you're going to get major tech companies.

But the development of open source software and its wider influence on the Internet and technology sector is probably a historical anomaly.

Richard Stallman started the free software movement but he doesn't really have much influence in the current day. But Linus (via Linux) was the major party who made Open Source mainstream, and he still wields significant influence over the movement.

There's a follow-up question of who will be the five most influential public intellectuals next year (of in five years), and more to the point, how will it change.

Generally I'd expect moderates on the political left (like Andrew Sullivan) to lose influence and I expect more extreme rhetorical bomb-throwers to rise.

On the political right I'd expect someone like a David Frum to gain influence as moderate conservatives break with the mainstream right. I'd expect that to have already happened but none of the major conservative media organizations give those moderates a platform.

1) George Soros
1) Charles Koch
1) David Koch

All tied in first. All rest are their employees.

Soros doesn't employ; he commands.

In Brazil the most influential intellectual is probably Olavo de Carvalho.

Comments for this post are closed