In response to the curious choices in Foreign Policy magazine’s ’Top 100 Global Thinkers’ list last year, we decided to publish our own. In 2010, Foreign Policy‘s selections were even more abysmal: among others it included Robert Gates, Ben Bernanke, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Thomas Friedman, Ahmed Rashid, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bjorn Lomborg, Richard Clarke, Madeleine Albright, Salam Fayyad…and John Bolton! Would anyone outside FP’s editorial board confuse them for a thinker? Once again, it appears FP chose based on the alignment of an individual’s work with the global military and economic agenda of the US government. We therefore asked our writers and editors to nominate once again their own top 10 global thinkers. The following list was the result. (Also see our Top 10 Media Figures of 2010)
A towering intellect, a moral giant, a master of prose, and an outstanding historian, Tony Judt did what only the greatest of thinkers do: he constantly evolved. More significantly, he never succumbed to orthodoxies, he was always on the edge. In his later years, he also outgrew his middle-of-the-road liberalism to adopt principled, at times radical, positions on war and capitalism. He also jettisoned his youthful Zionism to emerge as the proponent of a single binational state in Palestine. In 2006 he was the only mainstream figure to come to the defence of Mearsheimer & Walt for their groundbreaking London Review essay. He later excoriated Israel as the ‘country that wouldn’t grow up.’ He was also the author of Postwar, an elegant and expansive history of Europe since 1945. We mourn his loss.
An exemplary scholar, Chalmers Johnson metamorphosed from a hardline Cold Warrior into one of the most formidable critics of US militarism, mapping America’s expanding imperium of bases and spotlighting the fraying edges of its republic. His 2000 book Blowback was as prophetic as his subsequent books The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis were prescient. His longtime JPRI associate Steve Clemons has described him as the ‘acknowledged godfather of the conceptualization of the “developmental state“’ and as ‘an apostate and heretic in the field of political economy’ in the neoliberal hive at the University of Chicago. Johnson was also a literary critic, a skill he deftly used in his later writings to show how the imperial imagination was reflected in the language of metropolitan literature. His departure has greatly impoverished the intellectual world.
British-Pakistani writer and filmmaker Tariq Ali has been campaigning for peace and social justice for more than 40 years and seems to have been involved in every important progressive movement during this time. One tiny semblance of this can be seen in a clip (posted by The Nation’s Greg Mitchell) featuring a young Ali hanging out with John Lennon, Robin Blackburn, Regis Debray, and the legendary Miles Davis. Ali gained prominence as an icon of the New Left when he publicly engaged in debate about the Vietnam War with the likes of Henry Kissinger and Michael Stewart, as well as traveled to conflict zones as a member of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and journalist. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books, The Guardian, and many other progressive publications. He has also authored a multitude of books and novels focused on politics and history, most recently The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad which every American could gain from reading. Ali continues to appear at events endorsing progressive and peace-promoting initiatives and is among the world’s top living public intellectuals. A contributing editor of the popular New Left Review, Ali is also the editorial director of London publishers Verso and is responsible for providing many new progressives with a platform through which they can make their voices heard.
A former soldier turned scholar, Andrew Bacevich is a gifted writer and a thinker of immense scope. Like Chalmers Johnson, Baceivch’s awakening came at the end of the Cold War when instead of demobilizing its massive war machine, the United States took the collapse of the Soviet military deterrent as a license for intensified interventionism. Bacevich’s thinking and the scope of his analysis has evolved ever since. He is unsparing in his criticism of the purveyors of permanent war. But for Bacevich war cannot be blamed on warmongers alone; there is a broader tolerance, a conscious manipulation of nationalist symbols of which the military is an integral part, which sustains this militarism. In four superlative books, frequent media appearances, and congressional testimonies, Bacevich has developed these ideas into a ranging and erudite critique of the American Empire.
John Mearsheimer/Stephen Walt
Eminent international relations scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt changed the debate on US foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East with their groundbreaking essay (and later book) on the Israel lobby. They weathered the initial vilification with exemplary grace and through sober arguments have won more and more over to their point of view. Together and separately they have continued to engage the topic in their writings, debates and lectures. Steve Walt’s blog has become an essential daily stop for every student of international relations and US foreign policy, and Mearsheimer continues to provoke with bold and provocative ideas in his writings in the London Review of Books, The National Interest, and other publications. Their well-established reputation as the world’s leading foreign policy intellectuals merely enhanced in 2010.
There are few people one can rely on for a correct opinion on almost any subject. Ralph Nader is one. For over five decades, he has continued to provoke with his ideas and his campaigns for reform. A true non-conformist, he is bound by no dogma. Since the 1960s, his tireless campaigning has resulted in safer cars, cleaner air and water, and a more accountable government in the US. An eminently practical man, in 2010 Nader elaborated the mechanics of realizing his utopia in a provocative (and somewhat mischievous) novel, “Only the Super-Rich can Save Us.” With only a fraction of what Americans spend daily on fast food, Nader explains how the very landscape of American politics can be transformed. For us, Nader is one of the greatest men of the past half century.
Ken Loach/Paul Laverty
Ken Loach and Paul Laverty have produced some of the most compelling political cinema of the past 30 years. They are intellectuals and reformers who have used the medium of film to address issues ranging from war and peace, social exclusion, xenophobia, immigration, homelessness, unemployment, workers rights, nationalism to revolution. Both are masters of social realism and they have evolved a style notable for its grit and authenticity. In 2006, they won the Palm d’Or for The Wind that Shakes the Barley, their gripping drama about the Irish war of independence and the subsequent civil war. Unlike other film makers, Loach and Laverty’s politics is not confined to the mis en scene. They are both supporters of the BDS campaign, and Loach, like Pilger, Tariq Ali, and Michael Moore, was one of the people who posted the bail for Julian Assange.
Writer and political activist Arundhati Roy has been a literary thorn in the side of power figures in India and the US for more than a decade. This year her reports and commentary on Kashmir included enough challenging critique to inspire threats of arrest from within her home country of India. From following and interviewing the antagonized Maoist Naxalite movement deep within central India’s Dandakaranya Forests, to speaking out on behalf of repressed and resilient Kashmiris, Roy continues to break Indian taboos and enrage those who have created them. While responding to recent threats of arrest for sedition from Indian authorities for her reports on Kashmir Roy wrote: Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice. Her words echo in the ears of those who resist repression and occupation (and those who perpetrate it) everywhere.
Amira Hass and Gideon Levy
Among the most important voices of the Israeli-Jewish Left, Ha’aretz journalists Amira Hass and Gideon Levy continue to provide exemplary reporting about the reality on the ground in Israel/Palestine and the effects of the Israeli occupation upon Palestinians and Israelis. The daughter of Holocaust survivors and the 2009 recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, Hass has lived in both Gaza and the West Bank to bypass Israeli censors which would stifle her ability to get to the heart of matters. Although her analysis and criticism extend to both Israelis and Palestinians, Hass has been the victim of several Zionist smear campaigns and yet refuses to be silenced. Award-winning journalist Levy’s reports focus primarily on the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, providing important coverage on issues around Israeli settlement of Palestinian land and the mainstream Israeli psyche which he notes remains resistant to critical discourse about government policy towards Palestinians. Levy’s 2010 released book The Punishment of Gaza provides investigative documentation of the events surrounding Israel’s 2008-09 assault which took the lives of over 1,400 Palestinians in one month, one third of which were children.
A professor of English at Yale, David Bromwich brings literary tools and imagination to read politicians through their rhetoric for a more acute understanding of their political character. His series of essays on Obama in the London Review of Books are fascinating for their range, clarity and style. Equally illuminating are his essays on broader aspects of American domestic politics and foreign policy, many of which appear in the New York Review of Books. Through a close reading of politicians’ words, Bromwich reveals nuances and motifs which are bound up with their political behavior. Bromwich has also tried to restore Edmund Burke, whom generations of neoconservatives have claimed as a patron saint, as a model conservative voice of scepticism about imperial adventures of the type the US is presently egnaged in in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bromwich’s moral probity and the elegance of his style make him the true heir to Tony Judt’s legacy.