We are culturally illiterate. And because of our cultural illiteracy we are easily manipulated and controlled.
The great writers—Marcel Proust, Anton Chekhov, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Max Weber, Samuel Beckett, George Orwell, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and others—knew that thought is subversive. They challenged and critiqued the dominant narrative, assumptions and structures that buttress power. They freed us. They did not cater to the latest fashion of the academy or popular culture. They did not seek adulation. They did not build pathetic monuments to themselves. They elucidated difficult and hard truths. They served humanity. They lifted up voices the power elites seek to discredit, marginalize or crush.
Sheldon Wolin was a writer of this stature. He gave us the words and the ideas to understand our corporate despotism—what he called “inverted totalitarianism.” He did so by battling the dominant trend within university political science departments that, as he lamented, has seen them become de facto social science departments “addicted” to quantitative projects, chasing after an unachievable scientific clarity and refusing to take a stand or examine the major issues facing the wider society.
This quantitative gathering of “value-free” facts may get you tenure. It may get you invited as a courtier into the machinery of power—indeed, academic writing too often serves the ends of power. But these pursuits, as Wolin reminded us, are intellectual treason. Wolin was not afraid to ask the huge, esoteric, uncomfortable and often unanswerable questions that make the life of the mind and political thought vital and important. He called out corporate power for its destruction of our capitalist democracy. He railed against the commodification of the individual and the ecosystem. He unmasked the mechanisms of manipulation. He denounced our corporate coup d’état. He upheld the integrity of the scholar. And he was often alone.