A friend who edits a well know conservative business magazine is anticipating the new Obama administration. He wants to know what liberal thinkers will be influential in the coming years.

He writes:

Barry: We’re putting together a list of the 50 most influential liberal thinkers/intellectuals in America (academics, thinktankers, columnists, even politicians…) for a XXXXXX.com Opinion section slide show. I’d love to have your thoughts on some names that should be there. . . Obviously not all 50, but as many as you can muster without cursing me out!

The first few off of the top of my head are Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, George Soros, Al Gore, Barney Frank, Lawrence Lessig (Stanford), Dean Baker (Center for Economic and Policy Research).

Media: Keith Olbermann (MSNBC), Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central), Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo), Mark Morford (SF Gate), Bob Herbert (NYT), Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury), Joe Conason (Salon),

Bloggers: Arianna Huffington, Kevin Drum (Mother Jones), Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (Daily KOS), Matthew Yglesias,

Authors: Greg Palast (author), Jake Tapper, Nat Hentoff (VIllage Voice).

And lastly, I have to add John Maynard Keynes, who remains to this day one of the most influential liberal thinkers in terms of economics.

(How could I have forgotten Bono! — Oh wait, he’s not American!)

Who else would you consider an influential liberal thinker?

Category: Economy, Financial Press, Politics

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

122 Responses to “Who Are the Most Influential Liberal Thinkers?”

  1. Transor,

    yes, re: Actors, it’s a curious development.

    this: http://books.google.com/books?id=Y-5zq3GGGEUC&printsec=frontcover#PPP9,M1

    though, begins to give background on Lenin’s, and Stalin’s, take on the Importance of the ‘Cinema’= vital.

    re: Dennett, I know him not, though, his picture, and his, self-offered, bio, speaks, loudly, to your impression of him..
    http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incbios/dennettd/dennettd.htm

  2. patient renter says:

    Though the term “thinker” doesn’t imply correct thinking, I have to second the nomination of Krugman, since the policies he supports look to be the exact poison medicine we’re in for in the near future.

  3. Transor Z says:

    Scott Dikkers – editor-in-chief/co-owner of The Onion from 1989 – 2000 and editor-in-chief until 2005.

  4. Transor Z says:

    A lot of former Onion writers went on to work for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

  5. RW says:

    There’s been a lot of names mentioned, and some might plausibly have an impact on Obama’s thinking too, but one name that already has had an impact and will surely continue to do so hasn’t been mentioned yet and that’s Rahm Emanuel.

    Obama has stated he’s read Emanuel’s book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America, more than once and the Emanuel will be the one person Obama is likely to see and speak with every day (and that’s not likely to change even if the Blagojevich dust-up turns into something truly colossal) so, if I wanted to get some ideas for which way Obama would like to move, I’d be inclined to read that book too.

  6. Rene Korda says:

    While Keynes definitely was an influential liberal thinker, I doubt he fits well into your list – he was British, not American:)

  7. Che Stadium says:

    @ Boo-urns: I read and hear a lot about how Bush et. al. have government perform poorly to further their objectives. I think that line of reasoning overrates the administration, the defining characteristic of which has been its incompetence.

  8. Wes says:

    Hey BR,

    If your colleague was not being too precise in using the term “liberal” as opposed “progressive”….

    David Sirota (The Huffington Post)
    I often get asked what the difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive” is. The questions from the media on this subject are always something like, “Isn’t ‘progressive’ just another name for ‘liberal’ that people want to use because ‘liberal’ has become a bad word?”

    The answer, in my opinion, is no – there is a fundamental difference when it comes to core economic issues. It seems to me that traditional “liberals” in our current parlance are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society. A “progressive” are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.

    I don’t know much about the 10 on the list, but, when I came across this I thought I would offer it up.

    btw, I first heard of you when you did the interview with Eric King for Financial Sense liked what I heard and then looked up your blog, and really enjoy checking in for your latest posts.

  9. Hackarific says:

    That is a fine list to choose from.

    If your “conservative editor” friend picks up a bunch wimpy left wing poseurs — think Colmes formerly of Hannity and Colmes — they need to be outed as hacks themselves.

  10. @BDW Says: January 2nd, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Here’s my question: Why is this “conservative” (something, I, a “liberal” try to also live up to)

    “….and by conservative I mean essentially living within your means. If you can’t afford it you don’t buy it until you’ve saved for it. If you cut your taxes you cut your spending equally. The military is about defending your borders and your people, not about building empires and securing resources. Those are done by trading your best goods for theirs at fair market value. And best practices are always what is done if and when they can be afforded. If they don’t pay for themselves they are called luxuries. Spending and growth is produced from your own wealth and not the wealth of someone else via borrowing”

    when, historically, “liberal” administrations have actually done a superior job of doing this (outside of Vietnam perhaps) than “conservatives”? I think that is the ultimate rub. Bush is not “conservative” in the least bit, and neither is Newt or Reagan

    I agree wholeheartedly. I think if many of the elected officials were forced to wear the labels that they actually lived by there would be much aisle hopping in many of the elected houses. Of course in many of their elected jurisdictions they probably wouldn’t get elected if they actually switched labels so that is probably why many of them choose their labels but act differently.

    I have also heard it stated that many of these people run by appealing to their constituency but govern by appealing to the center in order to get re-elected. I’ve also heard it stated that a Democrat in America would be considered an ultra conservative in many other countries who have more socialist leanings so a lot of this is relative.

    I’ll also wager that most of these borrow and spend democrats(and republicans for that matter) do nothing of the sort with their own finances which makes me wonder why they are so generous with the public purse

    As for myself, I try to live by what I say so if I call myself a conservative I will make the effort to be one.

    Another thing about the differences between conservatives and liberals that you will probably better be able to differentiate with. I learned this when I was in my 20′s and when I still believed in politics. I heard it stated that a liberal is defined as someone who looks at a person and sees that they are basically good. Therefore, they must be doing ‘wrong’ or be in poverty because of external influences/limitations. That is why liberals focus on changing a person’s environment be it social, economic or what not.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that every man is capable of doing evil given the right circumstance. That is why they are more inclined to create incentives and disincentives in order to give people the desire to choose good over evil. Hence you get a society where ‘liberals’ are out building social programs in order to make the world a better place. On the opposite of that you have a society on the other side giving tax cuts or tax credits while at the same time making effective punishments for criminals and those who would do wrong.

    If that definition of liberal and conservative are classically accurate then I would still fall on the side of conservative

  11. bondjel says:

    -Jake Tapper is NO liberal, he is strictly a careerist, opportunist looking out for his own reputation and saying what he thinks will please the most people.

  12. DC says:

    Bob Cesca. Funny as hell but also slices through the bullshit better than any other liberal blogger.

    As to “major media types” I second those who cite Fareed Zakaria. Blinding intellect with a perspective that this country desperately needs.

  13. ronin says:

    Hey Barry, it would seem that most of your readers are 16 year old girls!!!

    What I mean is, anyone to consider Arianna Huffington, her writers, and/or her pop star Hollywood fluff web site as “thinkers” must still be in high school locking themselves in their bedroom lip syncing to Rihanna.

  14. gregmills says:

    Ho, ho, ho there kids. (Not Santa ho-ho-ho. “Hold the f up” Ho-ho-ho.)

    There are foundational thinkers that inform liberalism — and while Bob Cesca is funny, he’s not, you know, a THINKER.

    John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice attempts to reconcile liberty with equality through application of “fair choice”. This books pretty much is the foundation and philosophical justification of modern American liberal thought.

    Thomas Nagel is a Hungarian American philosopher who has written extensively about liberal moral and political theory in The Possibility of Altruism.

    Richard Rorty traced modern American Liberal thought back to the Pragmatism of Charles Pierce and William James, through John Dewey in Achieving Our Country. His sees the Liberal tradition as an attempt to bring the promise of American democracy to fruition. He suggests the best way to organize a diverse Liberal society is a collective opposition to cruelty.

    Amitai Etzioni’s ideas around Communitarianism informed a lot of Clinton’s social policies and to an extent Bush’s.

    And of course John Kenneth Galbraith for championing Keynesian economics in North America.

    Buckminster Fuller and Rachel Carson contributed a lot of understanding of resource management and ecology.

    It’s funny, because it seems to me (grand sweeping generalization here) that liberals don’t have that strong of a sense of their own intellectual history, and I wish that wasn’t the case. It’s a really shame, because there is some really rewarding stuff out there.

  15. bluestatedon says:

    I agree with those who raise the question of just whatinhell is a “liberal.” My 92-yr old mother has been an atheist Unitarian for virtually all of her adult life, was a card-carrying member of the ACLU for many years, voted for socialist Norman Thomas for president in 1948, and was disappointed in FDR in 1944 because he wasn’t “liberal” enough… talk about a deep shade of pink!

    Yet, when it comes to issues of personal lifestyle & behavior, especially in financial matters, there is no person more truly conservative on this earth than this pinko liberal mother of mine. She didn’t start working until after raising 4 children (all of whom went to college on their father’s tiny Unitarian minister’s salary), and in spite of that managed to accumulate a sizeable nest egg that has sustained her in comfort and security in her later years. And all of it due to unrelenting frugality and a tight hold onto every nickel. Every purchase was scrutinized, credit cards were avoided, and prudent investments were made at every step. So what is she, liberal or conservative?

    In this general vein, I nominate Andrew Sullivan. Sure, he’s a self-professed conservative who is concerned about an unwise expansion of government activity in economic matters under Obama (who he strongly supported in both the primaries and general election), but he’s also been relentless in his criticism of Bush “conservatives” on issues of torture, illegal government surveillance, and anti-science know-nothingism in contemporary conservativism (favorite “liberal” causes, all), and is a rarity among mainstream political commentators in his forthright if not strident defense of full rights for gays.

    As far as the question of bringing dirty politics into discussions of economic issues goes, it’s ridiculous to assume that there is no connection between the two. Pretending as though there isn’t is fantasy and denial.

  16. ardano says:

    Saw this string and thought I’d wait a bit to see if anyone thought of…Hillary Clinton

    I saw Bill Clinton mentioned buy Bubba was a centerist Democrat. Observers of his Admin. are generally of the opinion that it was Hillary’s undue influence that moved Bill, (time-and-again,) to the left. Here is a woman who believes there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved by big/federal government; that health care is a “right” and she didn’t make the cut?

  17. peachin says:

    “Libertarian and Reality based does not = Liberal” – BR

    Excellent statement Barry – I guess we should first start by the definition of Libertarian – which by asking any one of them to define – would be different than the others – and of course any defining of ..Wanting… a current definition of Libertarian is NOT reality based – a political reality today is untenable by anyone’s current reality.

    For johnnieA – I believe for a fair amount of $ – DeLorme has a map of “out of the way CAVES in the USA

    finally “defining me” any “me” by any other person, does not understand my conservative and my liberal attitudes after considering the pre-potent prejudices of the accuser.

    Having said that – Howard Zinn is the ultimate – having gone to his after hour lectures at BU 45 years ago. – of course my opinion.

  18. schmoo says:

    Why does the British John Maynard Keynes get a non American exemption and the Irish Bono doesn’t?

  19. DC says:

    to gregmills –

    A mild hold-the-f-up backatcha…the original request to Barry was for ‘academics, thinktankers, columnists, even politicians.’

    Cesca is as qualified as any other blogger (let’s take Kos for instance), and bloggers are basically as qualified as columnists (just what has Mo Dowd or George Will actually ever done besides opine?).

    Your point is nonetheless well taken in that the core of any school of thought begins with the ‘deep thinkers.’ But without the evangelists and popularizers in the mass media much of that deep thought remains buried and ultimately useless. (Etzioni may be an exception in that he’s been a relentless self-promoter for the 30 years I’ve lived in Washington.)

  20. @bluestatedon Says: January 3rd, 2009 at 2:32 am

    I think you raise a great point. Because humans are so diverse it really is hard to stereotype any person into any distinct category. That is what makes politics what it is, a hodgepodge of diverse opinions loosely strung together by party affiliation. I don’t know if that is a bad thing or a good thing but it is what we have so I suppose we have to go with it

  21. cognitive dissident says:

    I would eagerly second many of the suggestions already made in the comments:

    Eric Alterman
    Noam Chomsky
    Robert Kuttner
    Lewis Lapham
    Bill Moyers
    Tom Tomorrow
    Howard Zinn

    as well as contribute these:

    Bob Altemeyer
    Eric Foner
    Todd Gitlin
    William Greider
    Sam Harris
    George Lakoff
    Michael Lind
    Juliet Schor
    Gore Vidal

  22. I’ll just add:

    “…Virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed…so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.” — Patrick Henry

    “The government of the Western nations, whether monarchical or republican, had passed into the invisible hands of a plutocracy, international in power and grasp. It was, I venture to suggest, this semi-occult power which….pushed the mass of the American people into the cauldron of World War I.” — British military historian Major General J.F.C. Fuller, l941

    “The real menace of our republic is this invisible government which like a giant octopus sprawls its slimy length over city, state and nation. Like the octopus of real life, it operates under cover of a self created screen….At the head of this octopus are the Rockefeller Standard Oil interests and a small group of powerful banking houses generally referred to as international bankers. The little coterie of powerful international bankers virtually runs the United States government for their own selfish purposes. They practically control both political parties.” — New York City Mayor John F. Hylan, 1922

    “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” — Thomas Jefferson

    “Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    “Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” — Spencer Johnson

    “A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.” — Barry Goldwater

    “Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature … If the next centennial does not find us a great nation…it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.” — James Garfield in 1877