Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Alan Lightman’s paper,“The Role of the Public Intellectual,” discusses how the idea of who a public intellect is has changed over time. He points out that in the past, an Intellect was a person who embodied the whole.
Emerson puts forth the idea of the “One Man,” by which he meant the complete person, or the person who embodies all dimensions of human potential and actuality — the farmer, the professor, the engineer, the priest, the scholar, the statesman, the soldier, the artist. (If Emerson had lived today, surely he would have used the term “The One Person.”) The intellectual is this whole person while thinking.
The Intellect that Emerson describes is a person who with all his knowledge can create and think up his own beliefs and ideas and be able to communicate them with everyone not just other intellects.
Lightman then continues to argue that more recently, it was Edward Wadie Saïd, a professor at Columbia University, who thought a public intellect should be tied closely with the role of being an advocate, someone whose “mission in life is to advance human freedom and knowledge.”
Keeping all this in mind, Lightman then describes his “Hierarchy of Levels of Public Intellects.” He himself defines the Public Intellect today as someone who is a specialist in a certain field and who speaks and writes about that specialization to a greater audience than just their colleagues.
In the first level, the most basic level, the intellect merely speaks and writes about their specialization.
In the second level, the intellect writes and speaks about their chosen field but takes it one step further and relates it to the rest of the world; socially, culturally and politically.
In the highest level, the third level, the public intellect is asked to do all the above but also step out of the specialized field and comment on a variety of different issues as well.
It is in this third level that I place a person I admire most, Condoleezza Rice, known to most as Condi. In this post, I will walk you through her life and explain how she became the epitome of a public intellect as defined above.
There is a debate as to whether there is a decline and fall of the public intellectual. There have been arguments on why people do not look to public intellects for knowledge anymore. So then how could Condoleeza Rice be considered a Public Intellect in this day and age? The New Democratic Review touches upon that debate and offers the argument that we are not ignoring public intellectuals :
“[T]he fact that academic institutions wield enormous financial, technological, and cultural power—and the fact that, more generally, education continues to be the centerpiece of some of our most cherished social myths (i.e., “the “American Dream”)—are both powerful reasons to doubt that Americans suffer from some instinctive hostility to intellectuals.”
With that argument in mind, there is no doubt in my mind that Condoleeza Rice should be considered one of the greatest recent public intellects.
Currently, Condi is a professor at Staford University, teaching both Political Science to undergraduates as well as Business in the graduate school. She most recently became the director for the Graduate School of Business’s Global Center for Business and the Economy. Additionally, Condi is also a Senior Fellow of Public Policy at the Hoover Institute along with another notable public intellect, Victor Davis Hanson who is outlined by a friend at Gipper’s Chutzpah in a post titled “Victor Davis Hanson and the Western Way”.
Condi graduated cum laude from the University of Denver with a degree in political science at an early age of 19. She then went on to earn her masters, also in political science, from the University of Notre Dame. After working for the Carter Administration at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, she went on to earn her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Denver, focusing her studies on communism in Czechoslovakia. Right after graduation, she began her teaching career at Stanford as an assistant professor. Later promoted to an associate professor, Condi became a Soviet Union specialist and lectured on that subject at Stanford as well as U.C. Berkeley. Condi began her career in the public eye when the former National Security Advisor to President Ford returned as the National Security Advisor for the George H.W. Bush administration and brought Condoleezza on the National Security Council as the Soviet specialist.
Now, with all her early career basic background knowledge in mind, lets turn back to the idea of the “public Intellect” and see where Condoleezza sits on the hierarchy. Keeping in mind that the public intellect must specialize and then speak and write about it and relay that message to a greater audience and then speak out about other issues, Condoleezza Rice, at the George H.W. Bush administration point in her life is nowhere near being considered a public intellect.
After her time in the George H.W. Bush administration, Condoleezza headed back to the Stanford University to the Hoover Institute under the guidance of George P. Shultz, the Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. It was then that Condoleezza took steps in becoming considered a public intellect. She met weekly with a group of scholars to discuss foreign affairs and policy as a part of the “luncheon club”. With a recommendation from George P. Shultz, Condi branched out of foreign policy and into the business world; sitting on boards of big companies such as Cheveron, Transamaerica Corporation, and Hewlett- Packard.
So, now at this point in her life, Condoleezza is a known expert in foreign policy, specializing in the Soviet Union, and is also branching out into other fields like business but is still not known for this.
Where does this put Condi in the hierarchy of public intellects?
Well according to Lightman, she is somewhere in between the second and third level of public intellects.
Later on in her career at Stanford, Condi was acknowledged for her work at the Hoover Institute, and became Stanford’s Provost. She also received tenure, becoming a professor and later was named a Senior Fellow.
Taking a leave of absence from Stanford, Condi joined the George W. Bush’s administration as the National Security Advisor and became publicly known by all during the 9/11 attacks. In 2005, Condi was nominated as Secretary of State, making her the second woman, after Madeleine Albright, and the second African-American, after Colin Powell, but the first African-American woman to hold this position.
After George, W. Bush’s administration ended in 2009, Condi went back to Stanford. As I have mentioned above, she is currently teaching and serving as a senior fellow as well as a director for the graduate business school.
Now that I have walked you through her life and have shown you the steps that lead her to be known as a public intellect, I will explain why I believe she has made it to the highest level possible of public intellects and ranks amongst those noted in Lightman’s piece such as “Noam Chomsky, Carl Sagan, E.O. Wilson, Steven Jay Gould, Susan Sontag, John Updike, Edward Said, Henry Louis Gates, Camille Paglia.”
Going back to Emerson’s view of the public intellect of the “one-man,” Condoleezza Rice embodies this. She not only specializes in her studies field of the Soviet Union but has also become an expert on all foreign affairs relating to the United States. Along with being an international relations pundit, Condi has branched out into the business realm and has made significant strides in that industry sitting on the boards of several global companies.
Looking at Edward Wadie Saïd’s argument (“A more political tone to the concept of the public intellectual”) that a public intellect should be an advocate of “freedom and knowledge,” Condoleezza embodies this idea too.
Condoleezza founded the Center for New Generation in 1992 with the goal of raising the number of high school graduates in East Palo Alto. Sure it is on a much smaller scale but this action along with her many years as a professor proves she is an advocate of knowledge.
In her political career she has been seen as a figure who pushes for freedom. Under W’s administration and having to deal with the War on Terror, Condoleezza was quoted as saying this:
Her main job was not only to keep the United States safe and protected but also to spread the idea of democracy and freedom to other countries which will in turn lead to a more peaceful world.
Now looking at what Lightman considers to be today’s idea of the public intellect, the highest level of public intellect is one who is asked to do all the above but also step out of the specialized field and comment on a variety of different issues as well. Condoleezza Rice fits this description almost perfectly.
As a foreign policy expert and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, Condoleezza is a trusted specialist in international affairs and not just the Soviet Union. As a board member of multiple large companies, professor at Stanford’s graduate business school as well as a director at the school’s institute, Rice is also a trusted expert on business affairs. Condoleezza Rice, over the years, has been asked to speak at various conferences around the world. Her expertise in an array of fields has made her one of the most sought after intellects in the world. Being a political figure has helped her reach out and be known to the public. Because of that, we can see how Condoleezza Rice fits not only the description of a public intellectual but also the description of the highest level of public intellectuals.