The importance of public intellectuals to the cause of socialism cannot be understated. People like Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, are essential to legitimizing leftism and anti oppression politics and will always be more vital to our movement than Chapo Trap House or pundits like Angela Nagle or Michael Tracy.
We need more public intellectuals, and less pundits and podcasters.
I do not want to sound like I am coming down on leftist podcasts by the way, I am not a kill joy. However I will say that it’s a fine line between podcasting and punditry. I also acknowledge that some public intellectuals do in fact live stream or podcast, such as Tim Black or Benjamin Dixon. Hell I used to vlog about socialism, but vlogging was too time consuming, I was not able to met the production standards I wanted, and for the record I would never claim to be either a pundit or a public intellectual. I’m just an organizer who likes to write about socialism.
Now, you might be wondering how I define who is a pundit vs who is a public intellectual. I define them as such;
A pundit is someone who sits outside of the cause and reflects on it as an outsider, however they present it in a way that makes it seem like they are offering insider knowledge. They reflect publicly on the cause while not actively participating in it.
If you are on left twitter you know for a fact that this is true. A pundit is someone who sells themselves as an expert on a topic but in fact has no authority on the subject because they merely reflect on the work being done, they do not actually engage in it. Angela Nagle and Michael Tracey’s post mortem of the Bernie campaign was classic punditry, both individuals make their living selling themselves as experts about the left with insider knowledge, yet neither one has ever been active in DSA nor did either contribute labor to the Bernie campaign, nor has either done any campaign work whatsoever for any leftist cause.
This does not stop either from constantly reflecting on other organizations’ work.
Counter to punditry, a public intellectual is someone who both organizes on the front lines for the cause and can elaborate on their efforts to the public in a way that connects with them and both elevates and educates the public.
Public intellectuals use their words to bring people into the cause, whereas pundits have no cause except their own self validation as experts. Public intellectuals want to talk to the public about the cause, pundits just want to talk.
The best example of a public intellectual I can think of is Cornel West, a man who actively shows up to the front lines for justice yet simultaneously can connect with large groups of people in a manner that both gets him heard and enables his audience to be heard. Before I read Marx I was reading West, and it was his work that first made me realize I was a socialist.
This, to me, demonstrates the importance of public intellectuals. If I had never discovered the work of Cornel West when I was 16, I would never have joined DSA as an adult.
That is the key difference, not only are public intellectuals qualified they engage with their audience and increase the collective power of the cause. Pundits talk at you, public intellectuals talk to you. There is no socratic dialogue with punditry, the opposite is the case with public intellectuals.
Which one is more likely to recruit someone to socialism? A lecture or a dialogue?
So we don’t need more Michael Tracey’s and podcasters, we need more Cornel Wests. We don’t need to hear disapproval over the latest DSA vote on twitter, we need to hear how you engaged and excite people to organize, march, and strike.
Punditry is not socialism, and it will never advance the cause.