I attempted to leave a short amusing response at Foreign Policy.com but was thwarted by their comment system, so I am writing a pedantic post here instead.
Joshua Keating, bursting with admiration for Bernard-Henri Levy, laments the lack of enlightenment of American politicians compared to their much cooler French counterparts:
….I was going to write some kind of quip along the lines of, “Can you imagine President Obama taking phone calls from [American philosopher] in the oval office while he debates whether to send U.S. troops to war,” but I can’t even think of a name for whom that joke would make sense.
France and Germany have a tradition of publicly engaged philosophers that’s pretty much alien to the United States. The idea of an American BHL or even Jurgen Habermas seems pretty laughable. Economists like Paul Krugman are the go-to public intellectuals here while philosophy has become an increasingly specialized and technical discipline, even within academia. What effect the prominence of philosophers in public life has on a country’s political culture and policies is a pretty promising subject for further research.
Philosophers have never had much of an impact on American public life and the politics of their times except…. maybe…. for William James, Reinhold Neibhur, John Dewey, Leo Strauss, Walter Lippmann, Ayn Rand, Herbert Croly, Sydney Hook, Allan Bloom, James Burnham, John Rawls and Thomas Kuhn. That’s just off of the top of my head. If you want to include economists as philosophers who influenced contemporary American political life – and, frankly, we often should – add Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, John Galbraith and Milton Friedman to the list. It should not need to be said, but America was founded on the ideals of philosophers like John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and Cicero by men deeply steeped in moral and political philosophy. Some of the founders would have qualified as philosophers themselves.
I don’t know much about Mr. Keating. Pretty sure he is a sharp guy, but I bet he is 35 or younger and was a journalism or polisci grad. Academic philosophy as a profession has been increasingly irrelevant to policy makers or the general public as described, Keating is spot on there, since the early mid-60′s, which is probably the entirety of his life. It was not always this way. Formerly, philosophers wrestled with problems of general interest and were active public intellectuals, the determined self-marginalization of today’s professional philosophers notwithstanding.
It is a symptom of intellectual decline but the problem Keating identifies is not in American society or even in American politicians but in the philosophers.