Contemporary Thinkers is a series of websites devoted to the ideas and influence of pioneering intellectuals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It features men and women of exceptional insight whose writings on politics, society, and government profoundly influenced their contemporaries and continue to shape public debate today. The sites are for students and inquiring readers of every level and background—with biographies, introductory essays, bibliographies, texts, commentaries, and multimedia resources. They aim to show how the best contemporary thinkers have advanced knowledge and understanding, as well as practical politics and social welfare.
The Contemporary Thinkers websites explore the lives and works of individuals of wide-ranging backgrounds and perspectives. Many are from academic disciplines such as political science, philosophy, economics, and law, while others are journalists, critics, and novelists. Some would be called conservatives, others liberals. Some wrote in the early decades of the twentieth century, others are very much alive and at work today. Some are famous, others are known mainly to specialists. Currently the site features thirty thinkers—and many more are to come. Contemporary Thinkers does not presume to provide an encyclopedic account of all currents in contemporary thought, but rather to offer a guide to some important thinkers whose work cannot or should not be ignored. The featured thinkers have four essential things in common:
Brilliance: They possess outstanding talents of perception and analysis and are accomplished writers. To read their work is to be in the presence of demanding authors who lead us to see familiar issues in new ways and help us, with effort, to penetrate the most difficult problems.
Ambition: They apply their talents not to dusty academic questions or passing political fancies but rather to the largest questions of contemporary civilization—of democracy and individualism, capitalism and socialism, freedom and tradition, justice and power, nations and revolutions, political aspiration and legal restraint. They confront the living world around them and seek to correct its errors, lessen its confusions, and improve its prospects.
Independence: Their thinking is original, fearless, and sometimes highly contrarian. They respect their intellectual inheritance and prevailing opinions—and show their respect through serious engagement, deep criticism, and bold synthesis. They are not easily pigeonholed into conventional political categories—more often they have challenged those categories and created productive new styles of thinking.
Durability: Their work has endured through decades of tumultuous social and political change, and the best of it seems likely to endure into the future. Many ideas that at first seem brilliant, ambitious, and original soon grow stale and fall by the wayside. Others live on because they continue to illuminate new issues and new problems. Ideas that survive the test of time have a strong claim to having uncovered important truths that merit our earnest attention.
Readers of the Contemporary Thinkers websites will discover much wisdom and stimulation. They may be surprised to see that ideas that were initially greeted with incomprehension or heated dispute have gone on to be widely accepted. They may find that arguments from fifty years ago or more are as useful to understanding today’s debates as the latest from social media and editorial pages. Most of all, they should be gratified to learn that our modern world—despite its many serious problems, and in part no doubt because of those problems—continues to produce thought and scholarship of enduring excellence, worthy of our inheritance from earlier eras.