CONF Feb 10, 2001

H-Ideas Forum:"A Brave Old World: Utopia, Dystopia, and the Intellectual Historian"

H-ArtHist (Bruhn)

Intellectual Historian"
Date: Freitag, 9. Februar 2001 22:22
From: H-NET List for News and Announcements [H-ANNOUNCEH-NET.MSU.EDU]

H-IDEAS announces

"A Brave Old World: Utopia, Dystopia, and the Intellectual Historian"

an online discussion with Professor Russell Jacoby, Department of History,
University of California-Los Angeles, beginning Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2001,
at 9:00 a.m. CST


Russell Jacoby of UCLA will be joining the wider H-Net community from
Feb. 13-19 to field questions and participate in a wider discussion on the
past and future of public intellectuals. The H-Ideas editors hope to spark
discussion on a debate that in recent weeks has spilled into the pages of
Harper's Magazine and The Nation: have public intellectuals
abandoned all hope of a more humane society?

This online discussion is unrelated to, but neatly coincides with, the
publication of a forum, held several weeks ago in New York City, on
the "future of the public intellectual" (The Nation, Feb. 12, 2001).
Panelists in this forum included Russell Jacoby, Stephen Carter, Herbert
Gans, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Christopher Hitchens, John Donatich, and
Steven Johnson. A transcript of their exchange can be viewed at


Over the past decade, historian Russell Jacoby has distinguished himself as
an incisive and provocative critic of contemporary liberalism. In his most
recent book, The End of Utopia, Professor Jacoby lamented the retreat of
public intellectuals from once-inspiring Enlightenment ideals. Their inward
turn has hastened the decline of a critically-engaged progressive politics:
"radicals have lost their bite," he wrote, "and liberals their

Two months ago, in an article printed in Harper's Magazine, Professor
Jacoby focused his critique on early twentieth-century thinkers, including
Isaiah Berlin and Karl Popper. Revulsion at Nazism and Soviet
Communism fueled in these intellectual historians a deep skepticism of
utopian platitudes. But despite the defeat of Nazism, the retreat from
utopianism continued unabated. Jacoby finds contemporary intellectuals
awash in a "convenient cynicism" that "dismiss[es] utopian visionaries as
dangerous cranks." Lost is the spirit of hope that "inequality and
suffering are not inherent to the human condition, that a more humane
society is possible."[2]

The H-Ideas editors have invited Professor Jacoby to help us address
a vital question, one that transcends the putative boundaries between
politics and the practice of the history of ideas:

Have public intellectuals--specifically, intellectual historians--abandoned
all hope of a more humane society?


[1] Russell Jacoby, The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of
(New York: Basic Books, 1999), xii.
[2] Russell Jacoby, "A Brave Old World: Looking Forward to a
Nineteenth-Century Utopia," Harper's Magazine, vol. 301 (Dec. 2000),


Preparations for the H-Ideas exchange with Professor Jacoby will begin on
Feb. 9, when a summary of his Harpers article will be posted to the
H-Ideas discussion list. After a brief exchange between Professor Jacoby
and the H-Ideas editors, the discussion will be opened to the entire
H-Net community on the morning of TUESDAY, FEB. 13. ALL list
subscribers are invited to post questions to Professor Jacoby and
participate in a moderated discussion.

Those interested in the discussion may monitor its progress Potential participants should subscribe
to the H-Ideas discussion list. (Subscription instructions are provided on
the aforementioned website.) For more information, please contact Andrew
Rieser, Co-Editor, H-Ideas,

CONF: H-Ideas Forum:"A Brave Old World: Utopia, Dystopia, and the Intellectual Historian". In:, Feb 10, 2001 (accessed Aug 16, 2022), <>.