Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
FATTENING WALL STREET — Mike Whitney reports on the rapid metamorphosis of new Fed Chair Janet Yallin into a lackey for the bankers, bond traders and brokers. The New Religious Wars Over the Environment: Joyce Nelson charts the looming confrontation between the Catholic Church and fundamentalists over climate change, extinction and GMOs; A People’s History of Mexican Constitutions: Andrew Smolski on the 200 year-long struggle of Mexico’s peasants, indigenous people and workers to secure legal rights and liberties; Spying on Black Writers: Ron Jacobs uncovers the FBI’s 50 year-long obsession with black poets, novelists and essayists; O Elephant! JoAnn Wypijewski on the grim history of circus elephants; PLUS: Jeffrey St. Clair on birds and climate change; Chris Floyd on the US as nuclear bully; Seth Sandronsky on Van Jones’s blind spot; Lee Ballinger on musicians and the State Department; and Kim Nicolini on the films of JC Chandor.
Rethinking Michael Eric Dyson’s Attack on Cornel West

The Perils of Being a Public Intellectual

by HENRY A. GIROUX

Michael Eric Dyson has launched in the New Republic a bitter attack on Cornel West.[1] At the heart of Dyson’s critique is a discourse that engages in character assassination but not before he makes clear what is really at stake in his attack. Dyson resents West’s critique of Obama’s domestic and foreign policies. But rather than judiciously and analytically weigh such criticisms, hardly confined to West, he positions West as a spurned lover, angry and bitter because among other things, he did not get a ticket to Obama’s 2008 inauguration. Dyson expands his critique by claiming that West is not a scholar, who has lived up to the standards of decent scholarship, bolstering his case by quoting among others the irrepressible apostle of neoliberalism and unbridled finance capital, Larry Summers. It never occurs to Dyson that Summers’ critique of West may be more political than anything else. In what appears to me to be a move towards infantilism Dyson claims that West is a talker rather a scholar, as if speaking truth to power does not have its place as a legitimate mode of political intervention or that the realm of university-based scholarship is the only true space where truth can speak to power.

Finally, Dyson decries West for not being a prophet in the manner of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others and for not exploring adequately the genealogy of prophecy. I want to argue that the attack should not be seen simply as a personal attack as much as it is a product of the fear liberal intellectuals have about the role of left-oriented public intellectuals and the crucial role that pedagogy and changing consciousness plays in creating the formative cultures that make individual and collective resistance possible. West in this attack is simply a stand in for a range of public intellectuals who no longer believe in existing political formations and are redefining politics through both their words and actions.

Some have complained that there are other more important issues to address than to criticize Cornel West, and I partly agree with that, but at the same time the issue is not whether West should or not be held up to criticism. The issue is that the criticism in this case is close to worthless and another indication of the bankrupt liberalism that wallows in the irrelevant, personal, and soothes itself with what it thinks is a trenchant analysis, one that in reality reads like an apology for a politics that is tied with some guilt to the defense of the status quo. Talking about West’s personal life is a venture into the kind of spectacularized psychosis exhibited in the Dr. Phil show and in full display...

CounterPunch’s Top Stories
BEN DEBNEY
Since 1971, the value of the US dollar, and with it the corporeal integrity of the US economy,...
TARIQ ALI
Three decades ago, with the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the South American dictatorships,...
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY
Voutenay sur Cure, France. The German city of Frankfurt is continental Europe’s largest financial center and host to the...
ALEXANDER COCKBURN AND JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
First in a three-part series. Hillary Clinton has always been an old-style Midwestern Republican in the Illinois style; one...
ROBERT FANTINA
One longs for a candidate for president of the United States possessing those rare traits of statesmanship, honesty...
PAUL STREET
At one point last year, United States President Barack Obama declared that he “believe[d] in American exceptionalism with...
MICHAEL HORTON
Not long before the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, died in 1953, he is purported...
MIKE WHITNEY
“The interventions of US imperialism, with the direct collaboration of the Saudi monarchy, have plunged the entire Middle...
MIKE WHITNEY
“The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise...
Visit our archives for even more interesting articles from past CounterPunch authors.