Intellectuals — a category that includes academics, opinion journalists, and think tank experts — are freaks. I do not mean that in a disrespectful way. I myself have spent most of my life in one of the three roles mentioned above. I have even been accused of being a “public intellectual,” which sounds too much like “public nuisance” or even “public enemy” for my taste.

My point is that people who specialize in the life of ideas tend to be extremely atypical of their societies. They — we — are freaks in a statistical sense. For generations, populists of various kinds have argued that intellectuals are unworldly individuals out of touch with the experiences and values of most of  their fellow citizens. While anti-intellectual populists have often been wrong about the gold standard or the single tax or other issues, by and large they have been right about intellectuals.

More… “Intellectuals are Freaks”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

Student sleeping

This past spring, I attended a championship story slam with a student I have advised and whom I know well. This student is a gifted writer and a funny, self-deprecating storyteller. I could easily claim that I thought attending the slam might give her insight about a research project I was advising her on. But the truth is that I simply thought she would enjoy the slam and might find an outlet for her own storytelling. The issue of engaging with a student outside of formal class time is, of course, a tricky one these days, especially if the professor is a male and the student a female. I will address the potential pitfalls as well huge opportunities of engaging with students outside of class in another essay.
More… “Breaking Baccalaureate”

Robert Anthony Watts is an associate teaching professor in Drexel University’s Department of English and Philosophy.


David Hume turns 300 on May 7. It is fitting, I suppose, that a man so resolutely mortal should be enjoying such immortality. Most of Hume’s contemporaries are long forgotten. Hume, somehow, endures. His old pal Adam Smith (author of The Wealth of Nations), relates that in Hume’s dying days he told his friends, “I have done every thing of consequence which I ever meant to do, and I could at no time expect to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in which I am likely to leave them: I therefore have all reason to die contented.”


It was that ancient and ugly Greek, Socrates, who first made the claim that philosophy is a preparation for death. He said it just before taking his hemlock, so we can assume that he was being… More…