Wilentz, West, and Black Intellectuals: A Reply

Wilentz, West, and Black Intellectuals: A Reply

Let me say straight off that I do not think the Sean Wilentz article “Race, Celebrity, and the Intellectuals” (Summer 1995) warranted publication in Dissent. Why? Because of protocol. As a long-time reader of Dissent from its start-up days under the deft leadership of Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, I don’t ever recall Dissent’s publishing reputation-measuring articles on members of its editorial board. Cornel West is one of two African-American members of Dissent’s editorial board.

And make no mistake about it, the essential thrust of the Wilentz article was reputation-measuring. It was not, I admit, like the vulgar piece by Leon Wieseltier on Cornel West in the New Republic. Wilentz is a more balanced intellectual. Wilentz himself characterizes the Wieseltier article as an assault against West—or at least this is how I interpret his description of Wieseltier’s article as “aggressive, even fierce.”

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