Outsider Intellectuals

In 1987 Russell Jacoby published a book called The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, where he argued that it was no longer possible to be an intellectual beyond the academy in the neoliberal era. The days of freewheeling, book-reviewing, tv-appearing intellectuals like Edmund Wilson or Gore Vidal were over. At the same time, academe was entering a new era of scholasticism, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Tenure depended on publishing inspissated jargon-ridden essays in journals almost nobody reads and many people built their careers on the claim that they were either themselves oppressed or were acting in the cause of people who were oppressed. Styling yourself an outsider to the establishment was almost de rigueur, and the more it became apparent that the people who did this most successfully in fact were the establishment, the more risible became their rhetoric of oppression and their efforts to find real world proof of it. As a result words like ‘microaggression’, ‘safe-spaces’, ‘discursive violence’, ‘misgendering’ and so forth, have entered the English language.

Despite the truth of much of what Jacoby argued in ’87, a few people do manage to be intellectuals outside the academic echo-chamber. Some, like Roger Scruton, do it after being expelled for going off-script, and others like Graham Hancock have seemingly hare-brained notions that they pursue for years until, sometimes, the academic establishment starts to realise that maybe they had a point. Sometimes they’re excluded from academe because they have dodgy standards of evidence, or are appealing to mystical experiences that can’t be empirically verified but that are real enough to them that they base their intellectual practice upon them. Colin Wilson, John Moriarty and William Irwin Thompson arguably fall into this latter category. Then there’s a serial murderer like Ted Kaczynski; a white nationalist like Richard Spencer; or David Icke whom it’s hard not to see as insane. Even if you dislike them, there’s no denying the courage it takes to be a true outsider.

I’ve made a website to catalogue those who are marginalised because of the content of their intellectual work. You don’t become an outsider intellectual just because you can’t land an academic job in a tough market. This is about people who are outsiders to the mainstream academic conversations, and not about the grievance-mongers who populate the queer, feminist, trans and marxist academic communities and exercise power by pretending not to have any. If in our contemporary moment it contains a preponderance of conservatives and rightists that’s not a policy-decision but because their values and arguments are more likely to be illegible within the paradigms that the mainstream operates by.