The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual / Edition 1

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What ever happened with that liberal intellectual "boom" of the 1980s and 1990s? In The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, Eric Lott—author of the prizewinning Love and Theft—shows that the charter members of the "new left" are suffering from a condition that he has dubbed "boomeritis." Too secure in their university appointments, lecture tours, and book deals, the once rising stars of the liberal elite—including Richard Rorty, Todd Gitlin, Michael Lind, Paul Berman, Greil Marcus, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—have drifted away from their radical moorings toward the political center. At once a chronicle of recent intellectual life and a polemic against contemporary liberalism's accommodations of the conservative status quo, The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual eviscerates the complacency that has seeped into the politics of the would-be vanguard of American intellectual thought. Lott issues a wake-up call to the great public intellectuals of our day and challenges them to reinvigorate political debate on campus, in their writing, and on the airwaves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A gutsy salvo against the neoliberal intellectual establishment, Lott's manifesto will probably go down in scholarly circles as a benchmark text for sheer deconstructive virulence. Aiming indiscriminately at "boomer liberals," the "color-blind club," the "Old Boy's Left" and "cosmopolitan-nationalists," University of Virginia professor Lott (Love and Theft) rails against liberal intellectuals who don't embrace contemporary identity politics. In Lott's view, such intellectuals (from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to Todd Gitlin) are, at best, guilty of a "weak Ellisonianism"; most, however, are "squeamish," ineffectual sellouts. Lott devotes nearly an entire chapter to Michael Lind, whose intellect he clearly admires. Yet, he says, Lind's dismissal of "cultural" politics and adherence to "strategic essentialism" make him "a throwback in visionary's clothes." Lott provides little more than a snapshot of some thinkers from the "vital center"; his work is more academic showpiece than serious survey of the challenges confronting the left. "Highlighting the contradictions between pluralist and cosmopolitan allegiances obscured by the multicultural umbrella," he observes, "Hollinger rejects what Sollors has termed the `pure pluralism' of ethnic and black studies, substituting cosmopolitanism for a multiculturalism he regards as something like a superseded step between an oblivious universalism and an enlightened hybridism." Such dense writing decrees that Lott's book will have little resonance outside academe. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Following a line of argument similar to that of Armstrong and Zuniga, Lott (English, Univ. of Virginia; Love and Theft: Blackface, Minstrels, and the American Working Class) attacks liberal thinkers, once the stalwarts of the Democratic Party, for lacking new ideas, retreating on civil rights, and basically selling out. In this fiery polemic, he labels their condition (based on their generation) "boomeritis." As a radical African American egalitarian, Lott indicts a distinguished list of intellectuals for their slow drift to the center as they traded their passions for the cause of their youth for the comfort of stable positions, money, and acceptance by the Establishment. He also references thinkers on the Right but gives no background for readers who may not recognize the names. Lott's objective: to shock liberal readers out of their complacency. Unfortunately, his intensity and bitter wit can obscure his argument. Not for the casual reader, this is recommended for larger academic libraries and public libraries where warranted. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a dense diatribe thick with quotations and allusions, Lott (American Studies/Univ. of Virginia) argues that liberals have flocked away from the left and settled on the center, if not to the right, of the political power line. The author has weighed in on matters of race and culture before, and here he seems determined to mention and/or quote and/or trash everything he's read and heard in the dozen years since the publication of Love and Theft (1993). His thesis-that many "liberals" have moved toward the center-is engaging enough, though fairly patent, and his almost giddy assaults on famous intellectuals are occasionally entertaining. Cornel West, he writes, can be "mealy-mouthed." Lott lacerates politicians, celebrities and Founding Fathers, as well: Bills Clinton and Cosby take some unkind cuts, the former for his "habits of racial condescension," the latter for his "townhouse jive," while Thomas Jefferson is condemned as the philosophical godfather of Strom Thurmond. The author seems incapable of crafting a clear, declarative sentence, and on his holiday tree of prose he strings not lights but anvils and bowling balls. Time and again, the book is weighed down by long quotations from texts he assails and with lists of writers whose opinions he abhors or wishes to ridicule. He alludes too frequently to talks he heard at academic conferences in the 1990s, or essays he read in esoteric journals. Only in his epilogue, a compelling account of labor disputes at the University of Virginia, does Lott appear to be writing for anyone other than himself. Some significant ideas caught in a hopeless tangle of academic jargon and unpruned prose.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465041862
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Lott is a Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of the award-winning Love and Theft: Blackface, Minstrelsy, and the American Working Class, which won the 1994 Avery O. Craven Award from OAH, the first annual MLA Prize for a First Book, and the 1994 Outstanding Book on the Subject of Human Rights by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights. Lott's writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Village Voice, The Nation, Transition, and American Quarterly. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : boomeritis 1
1 The fate of '68 : when the New Left was old 25
2 The new cosmopolitanism : the color-blind club 45
3 Nation time : liberal nationalism as social theory and literary history 69
4 Public image limited : the new Black intellectuals 95
5 The first boomer : Bill Clinton, George W., and fictions of state 133
6 After identity, politics : Seattle, globalization, and the return of universalism 159
7 Anti-American studies : 9/11, patriotism, and the nation-state 183
Epilogue : treason of the clerks 203
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