Previous
Next

Bright lights in the White House.

November 10, 2008, 9:30 am

Jonathan Raban:

Every White House has had its intellectuals, but very few presidents have been intellectuals themselves – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, the list more or less stops there.

This is surely wrong. Theodore Roosevelt definitely belongs on this list, and, a correspondent suggests by email, so does Herbert Hoover, even if he wasn’t very good at making his ideas succeed as policy.

Before we get suggestions about who else belongs on this list, let’s try to be clear about what we mean by “intellectual”. I think you have to grapple with ideas for their own sake, rather than for political ends. So for example if we could read Lincoln’s book on unbelief, instead of reading about how he burned it, we might count Lincoln: but as it is, almost all his genius was bent toward specific ends.

So: Madison? JQA? Garfield?

This entry was posted in history and current events, Obama. Bookmark the permalink.