Writing About a Life of Ideas
When an intellectual dies, there are no heaps of flowers or public mournings. The odd wistful editorial will be written in upmarket newspapers; colloquia organized in ivy-clad colleges. Few Americans will know, for instance, that Ronald Dworkin, a formidable figure in American liberal philosophy, died last year.
In part, this is because intellectuals occupy a small corner of the public imagination. Nobody ever proposes a lecture from Michael Sandel for the Super Bowl halftime show. Also, ideas outlive individuals in any case. Intellectuals stop writing when they die, but they don’t stop publishing. Ideas are immortal. Indeed the true measure of intellectual greatness, according to Goethe, is “posthumous productivity.”