Publics That Don’t Exist and the Intellectuals Who Write For Them

This Thursday, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History is convening its annual conference in Washington, DC. I’m thrilled to announce that I will be delivering the keynote address; it’s a tremendous honor for me. The full conference schedule is here; my talk is scheduled for Friday, October 16, at 2 pm, in the Hamilton Ballroom of the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel. If you’re in DC, stop by and say hello. The title of my talk is: “Publics That Don’t Exist and the Intellectuals Who Write For Them.”

Here’s a sneak preview:

The problem with our public intellectuals today—and here I’m going to address the work of two exemplary though quite different public intellectuals: Cass Sunstein and Ta-Nehisi Coates—has little to do with their style. It has little to do with their professional location, whether they write from academia or for the little magazines. It has little to do with the suburbs, bohemia, or tenure. The problem with our public intellectuals today is that they are writing for readers who already exist, as they exist.


  1. Rhys William Roark October 12, 2015 at 10:32 pm | #


    A nice snippet for your keynote for S-USIH. After that I wanted to keep reading. But for those of us who cannot attend, will you make the full address available later?


    • Corey Robin October 12, 2015 at 10:51 pm | #

      One way or another, Rhys, yes.

  2. aletheia33 October 13, 2015 at 10:57 am | #

    seconded. i very much hope to read, watch, or hear this talk. it is important.

  3. Alex Walker October 13, 2015 at 12:11 pm | #

    As one of the few progressive African-Americans who does not like Ta-Nehisi Coates and finds his much-hyped new book almost unreadable, I am curious to know what you think of him and the “publics” he is supposedly writing and speaking for. Accordingly, I also want to read your keynote address.

  4. David Egan October 13, 2015 at 12:31 pm | #

    good luck Corey!

  5. erik October 13, 2015 at 2:40 pm | #

    This looks fascinating. And, thirded!

  6. Al October 14, 2015 at 7:36 am | #

    This abstract reads like nonsense. You would prefer intellectuals write for some hypothetical people and experience? Sounds like an argument for economics, which has no basis in reality.

  7. Copito (@copito61) October 14, 2015 at 2:58 pm | #

    Can a country whose most influential ‘thinker’ of recent times is Ayn Rand actually claim to *have* an intellectual history? Or a public who can read it?

  8. Mike O'Connor October 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm | #

    S-USIH is a great conference and I am disappointed that this will be the first one that I am unable to attend. Like the other commenters, I am grateful that you will make the talk available in some other format for those who cannot make it to DC.

    As a side note, I wrote something a while back on a nearly identical topic. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, you were quoted in it.) Should you be interested, you can find it here:


    • Corey Robin October 16, 2015 at 5:02 pm | #

      Yes, I know, I loved this piece!I also use Dewey in a similar fashion.

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