Flash Points

Themed journeys through our archive.

The Philosophers Shaping Western Politics

From American academics to viral public intellectuals in Germany.

hajek_jeffries4
hajek_jeffries4
ILLUSTRATION BY OLAF HAJEK

It is not uncommon to hear people bemoan the simplification of public philosophy as a discipline—or the idea that, for instance, “German philosophy today is not so much the kind of intellectual discipline that Martin Heidegger would practice, hermitlike, in his Black Forest hut but rather a successful service industry competing for customers,” as Stuart Jeffries wrote in 2017.

Yet FP writers have argued over the years that the work of public philosophers, along with their academic counterparts, has remained influential to contemporary political thought. This edition of Flash Points explores the lasting impact of philosophers, public and otherwise, on Western politics and society.—Chloe Hadavas

It’s Time to Take Bernard-Henri Lévy Seriously

A close reading by Blake Smith of the philosophical career, and influence, of France’s most ridiculed public intellectual.

It is not uncommon to hear people bemoan the simplification of public philosophy as a discipline—or the idea that, for instance, “German philosophy today is not so much the kind of intellectual discipline that Martin Heidegger would practice, hermitlike, in his Black Forest hut but rather a successful service industry competing for customers,” as Stuart Jeffries wrote in 2017.

Yet FP writers have argued over the years that the work of public philosophers, along with their academic counterparts, has remained influential to contemporary political thought. This edition of Flash Points explores the lasting impact of philosophers, public and otherwise, on Western politics and society.—Chloe Hadavas


The French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy in Paris on Nov. 24, 1986.
The French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy in Paris on Nov. 24, 1986.

The French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy in Paris on Nov. 24, 1986. Yves GELLIE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

It’s Time to Take Bernard-Henri Lévy Seriously

A close reading by Blake Smith of the philosophical career, and influence, of France’s most ridiculed public intellectual.


German philosophers Richard David Precht, left, and Jürgen Habermas, right, both shown in 2013.
German philosophers Richard David Precht, left, and Jürgen Habermas, right, both shown in 2013.

German philosophers Richard David Precht, left, and Jürgen Habermas, right, both shown in 2013.Getty Images

German Philosophy Has Finally Gone Viral. Will That Be Its Undoing?

A new generation of rockstar philosophers are taking the discipline to the masses. But their TED Talks, TV shows, and best-sellers might be ruining it forever, Stuart Jeffries writes.


A photograph of Judith Shklar in March 1972.
A photograph of Judith Shklar in March 1972.

A photograph of Judith Shklar in March 1972.UAV 605.295.11, Box 3. Harvard University Archives

Who’s Afraid of Judith Shklar?

The American philosopher showed that Western politics could only move forward by first taking a step backward, Jacob T. Levy writes.


From left: French philosophers Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze.
From left: French philosophers Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze.

From left: French philosophers Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze.MPI/Getty Images

How Leftist Theory Stopped Making Sense

Progressive thinkers tried to explain ever more of the world—and found themselves explaining nothing at all, John-Baptiste Oduor writes.


Jürgen Habermas in Vienna on March 6, 2004.
Jürgen Habermas in Vienna on March 6, 2004.

Jürgen Habermas in Vienna on March 6, 2004.Jet Budelman/De Beeldunie

Why Jürgen Habermas Disappeared

The German philosopher was one of the 20th century’s most influential public intellectuals. But 21st-century politics has cut him adrift, Blake Smith writes.

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