The Public Intellectual Series So Far, Cassandra Voices
David Langwallner, November 7 2020
The Public Intellectual Series offers inter-disciplinary journalism, focusing on relevant authors and subject-matters crucial to negotiating our current age of extremes. We avoid specialisation, demystifying topics to provide readers with access to a broad view on contemporary challenges. Our aim is to contribute to a revival in the idea of the public intellectual, which we consider a necessary ingredient in a healthy body politic.
A public intellectual is a generalist, who brings together disparate strands of knowledge with a view to placing events in context. At one level this is a Sisyphean task, but throughout the ages intellectuals have faced the same challenges as today, forcing heavy objects up steep hills only to see them roll down again the following day.
The news media focus on the particular and the immediate sensationalism of soundbites, or the bric-a-brac of our existences, which occludes a wider field of vision.
In authoring this series as a lawyer I have strengths but also weaknesses. I studied history and lectured on the philosophy of law for many years. I read widely and as a mongrel – half-Irish-half-Austrian, now resident in London, and formerly a student in the London School Of Economics and Harvard University in the U.S. – I am lucky to have enjoyed a wide variety of cultural, educational and workplace settings.
Michel Foucault is the acceptable face of postmodernism, in that his focus is on empirical – adopting historical methods, not absurd generalisations. In that sense he is truth-seeking and many of the ideas stand up to serious scrutiny. He seems to have anticipated the mass surveillance society now upon us in the Covid-19 panopticon, with ever more extreme and intrusive regulation of our intimate behaviours.