Top Public Intellectuals of 1905

by Chris Bertram on October 17, 2005

The FP/Prospect poll on top public intellectuals “has been published”: . Not much there that is worthy of comment. Nearly everyone on the list has made a contribution which is either totally ephemeral, or which will simply be absorbed into the body of human knowledge without leaving much trace of its originator. Ideas from Sen, Habermas or Chomsky will survive in some form, but nobody will read _them_ in 100 years. And the rest will be utterly forgotten — or so I predict. Anyway, without further ado, I invite comment on who were the top public intellectuals of 1905. You can comment on either (a) who would actually have topped such a silly poll in 1905 or (b) with hindsight, who turned out to be the top public intellectuals.

Just to get us started — and to cross reference “John’s post”: earlier — “Trotsky”: has to be a strong contender under both (a) and (b): Chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet, a major contributor to subsequent events, and still very very readable (My Life, 1905). Over to you …

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Davos Newbies » Blog Archive » Thinking back 100 years
10.17.05 at 3:32 pm



Terry Stickel 10.17.05 at 9:01 am

Teddy Roosevelt


Richard Bellamy 10.17.05 at 9:05 am



sfguy 10.17.05 at 9:05 am

Albert Einstein under (b). The three 1905 papers each changed physics.


Brendan 10.17.05 at 9:09 am

I think the person who might have topped the poll would have been Henri Bergson. Almost forgotten today, people forget just how popular Bergson was at the time. Society ladies queued to sit in his lectures, numerous intellectuals made the pilgrimage etc. etc. Seriously.


Sam Heldman 10.17.05 at 9:11 am

Wm. James.


chris y 10.17.05 at 9:19 am

Roosevelt would rightly feature on both lists, but William Jennings Bryan would probably be there on a 1905 poll as well, and deservedly absent from the retrospective.

Trotsky might be on both, too, but Kautsky would certainly be higher up a 1905 poll.

Ernst Haeckel for list a. only, and, if the poll was tiresomely Anglocentric, a whole bunch of deservedly forgotten Fabians.


Richard Bellamy 10.17.05 at 9:20 am

Off the top of my head — (heavily influenced by the cast of “Ragtime”)

1. William Jennings Bryan
2. Bertand Russell
3. Eugene Debs
4. Booker T. Washington
5. Pope Pius X
6. Emma Goldman
7. Sigmund Freud
8. John Pierpont Morgan
9. Henry Ford
10. W.E.B. DuBois

Jung is probably too young. Russell might be too.


Matt 10.17.05 at 9:23 am

Many good picks above- Wm James, Bergson, Bryan, etc. I’d vote for Kropotkin as someone who could/should have been on a 1905 list. He’s read rarely now, I think, though I happend to read a fair amount of him a while ago, mostly for fun, and found it both more enjoyable and interesting than I would have thought. Some of it seems worth considering still, though I’m not at all sympathetic to anarchism. His life story is also extraordinary.
-Chris: do you think people will read Rushdie’s or Eco’s novels 100 years from now? I’ve not read either, but I’d guess that at least some of them might be read, at least by those who are in to reading old novels.


Robin 10.17.05 at 9:23 am

I don’t know how much the three papers of the miracle year contributed to Einstein’s standing as a public intellectual save in that it made him famous for being a genius.

How about John Dewey under (b), though he didn’t get going publically until the 1910s (?) under (b)? Or Karl Kautsky under (a) and Eduard Bernstein under (b)?


catherine liu 10.17.05 at 9:39 am

Charles Sanders Peirce !!!
Sigmund Freud
John Dewey
Max Weber !!!
very quickly, but this lis-makingt is completely Anglo-centric!!!

And Camille Paglia on the F/P Prospect Poll? Give me a break.

Some things should not be decided by referendum


Adam Kotsko 10.17.05 at 9:54 am



Martin James 10.17.05 at 9:55 am

How about the Fabian of your choice?

Bernard Shaw
H.G. Wells
Havelock Ellis

Or a Scientist?


Or a novelist?

H. James
Frank Baum

Or a social darwinist

William Graham Sumner


Mr Ripley 10.17.05 at 9:56 am

Georg Simmel. William Booth. Annie Besant. Shaw.


Dan Nexon 10.17.05 at 9:58 am

H.G. Wells would also clearly fit the “public intellectual” who is still relevant, although not so much as Pierce, Freud, or Dewey. Would Weber have made the list in 1905? Probably not. His reputation derived from works that started to appear in 1904, and many scholars argue his enduring status was a consequence of being appropriated by Americans after his death.

I suspect people will read Habermas in 100 years. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing I leave to others to decide.


Richard Bellamy 10.17.05 at 10:11 am

Additions (not included in first ten posts above) after ten minutes of thought:

11. Mark Twain
12. Henry Rogers
13. Arthur Balfour
14. G.B. Shaw
15. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
16. Louis Brandeis
17. Henrik Ibsen
18. Paul Lawrence Dunbar
19. Florence Nightingale
20. Leo Tolstoy


Jacob T. Levy 10.17.05 at 10:19 am

I’d bet on Habermas being read in 100 years, too– and would give even money on Sen.

Hm. It seems to me that there was a major generation just passed by 1905. An 1895 list might have included Henry George, Edward Bellamy, Herbert Spencer, Emile Zola, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Woodrow Wilson. By 1905, I think all but Holmes and Wilson were dead, and Wilson was no longer “making contributions to his discipline,” as the poll puts it. Only Holmes would probably still warrant inclusion ten years later.

For 1905, I’d add Thorstein Veblen. I agree that Weber belongs based on dates of publication but not based on time of actual influence; Protestant Ethic was newly out in 05, I think, and it took more than a year just to read the damn thing…

In an American context Twain/ Clemens would certainly have been a contender, and maybe moreso in 05 than in 95 because of his writings on the Spanish-American war.


Ben M 10.17.05 at 10:20 am

Under b), Frederick Jackson Turner. Susan B. Anthony. Booker T. Washington. George Bernard Shaw.

Under a), Chautauqua lecturer Russell H. Conwell, and presumably a large number of similar speakers, would have been high up in the public consciousness. Prohibitionist Carrie Nation. Robert Stalwell Ball, sort of the Carl Sagan of the day. John Philip Sousa. Percival Lowell.


Jon 10.17.05 at 10:28 am

George Bernard Shaw, definitely, though it was a few years before the peak of his renown. H. G. Wells without a doubt.

Nobody’s mentioned Conan Doyle. Or Roger Casement. Kipling, surely.

But I’d agree with jacob that 1905 is somewhat between generations. Freud and Einstein, for instance, were certainly not yet “public” intellectuals. Modernism had yet to arrive, but the era of the “eminent Victorians” was definitely gone.

Oh, but one should include Virginia’s father, Leslie Stephen. And Q: Sir Arther Quiller Couch.


Jon 10.17.05 at 10:33 am

And as for the question of Eco or Rushdie’s literary durability: I bet both Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses will still be read in 100 years, at least as a means to understand the 20th Century and how it became the 21st; Eco, not.


abb1 10.17.05 at 10:34 am

Yes, Kropotkin definitely.


djw 10.17.05 at 10:39 am

Karl Kraus, Veblen, Weber, Kipling, Twain, Shaw, Yeats, Debussy, Russell, Tolstoi


Z 10.17.05 at 10:40 am

or which will simply be absorbed into the body of human knowledge without leaving much trace of its originator. Ideas from Sen, Habermas or Chomsky will survive in some form, but nobody will read them in 100 years.

Allow me to disagree. Hard to say of course, but Saussure is still widely read (among linguists) so I think it plausible that Chomsky’s linguistics works will be read in 2105. But maybe you meant read as in widely read. In that case, I wonder if any intellectual is still widely read 150 year after his birth.



Jon 10.17.05 at 10:41 am

Oh, and back to 1905…

23. Thomas Hardy.
24. Jules Verne.
25. Thomas Edison.
26. Ruben Dario.


R Byrne 10.17.05 at 10:51 am

Alas, my attempts to build a write-in campaign for Scott McLemee apparently fell short. There’s always 2025!!!!


ingrid 10.17.05 at 10:58 am

If the IDEAS of Habermas, Sen, Chomsky, or Mr/s So-and-so will survive (in some form), but people in 2105 will not read their original writings and perhaps even not know their names , then why would that be a problem or why would that disqualify them as leading public intellectuals from this decade ?

Nevertheless, I agree that such polls are silly, and as the commentator on the FP/prospect website suggests, can easily be manipulated in this high-speed internet age.


Chris Bertram 10.17.05 at 11:04 am

I wonder if any intellectual is still widely read 150 year after his birth.

I guess we could start with Plato and work our way forward on that one!


jimbo 10.17.05 at 11:04 am

It’s a bit before the peak of his influence, but I would nominate G.K. Chesterton to the 1905 list…


Martin James 10.17.05 at 11:11 am

To take the silliness one higher.

To heck with being read, whose work will be made into movies 50 or 100 years later. The 1905 Nobel went to Sienkiewicz. Quo Vadis and With Fire and Sword both pass the movie test in my mind.

So do Shaw, Wells, Tolstoy, Hardy, and Baum.

Which of today’s writers will get the screen revival 100 years from now? I think quite a few actually, so I guess if you want longevity of influence literature is the way to go.


Wolfgang 10.17.05 at 11:14 am

Freud already got a lot of attention in 1905.


aretino 10.17.05 at 12:08 pm

Norman Angell, surely.


aretino 10.17.05 at 12:11 pm

A clarification: Norman Angell for a.

Vilfredo Pareto for b and probably a.

Emile Durkheim for b.


jayinbmore 10.17.05 at 12:12 pm

I’m going to disagree about what was said about Chomsky as well. His 1950’s work will remain relevent for as long as there are programming languages which need to be parsed.


duane 10.17.05 at 12:17 pm

Dr Sun Yat Sen, for a non-anglo-centric list?


aretino 10.17.05 at 12:18 pm

Thomas Mann for b; probably too early for a.


aretino 10.17.05 at 12:39 pm

This is habit forming.

Jane Addams for a.
Lincoln Steffens for a.
Otto Wagner for a and b.

A few years too early for Herbert Croly for a.


joe o 10.17.05 at 12:47 pm

Chomsky has about twice the votes of the second place finisher.


DT 10.17.05 at 12:51 pm

A couple of nominnes:

Alfred Russel Wallace–forgotten co-discoverer of evolution. Not sure how influential he was with his later work, but I’d have to think he had some influence.

J.J. Thomson–one of the pre-eminent physicists of the period. Mentor to Ernest Rutherford (whose major influence was in the following generation.)

Andre Gide–not sure if he’d attained his later eminence by 1905, so he might miss the cutoff time as well.

Ernst Mach and Lord Kelvin were also both eminent scientists in 1905. Not sure how active they still were.


bob mcmanus 10.17.05 at 1:00 pm

Do we not consider painters, composers, architects public intellectuals? I see none listed. Is the language they work in not universal or enduring?


Robin 10.17.05 at 1:01 pm

Chomsky’s impact on evolutionary psychology, or rather the result of the Chomskyan research program that the mind has innate content, will last for a very long time. But I doubt that contribution is what those who voted for Chomsky are basing their votes on.


aretino 10.17.05 at 1:03 pm

Otto Wagner is an architect.

Debussy was also mentioned above.


aretino 10.17.05 at 1:06 pm

My last post depends on what the meaning of is, is, of course.


Dustin 10.17.05 at 1:14 pm

Franz Boas (founder of American Anthropology and evelopr of cultural relativism)
Frank Lloyd Wright (architect of some kind…)
Albert Einstein (seconiding the nomination)
Mother Jones (who, at 75, was just getting started…)
Abraham Cahan (author and editor of the Yiddish daily “The Forward”, top-selling Socialist paper in the US)
Chaim Zhitlovsky (Yiddishist and developer of the concept of cultural nationalism, main rival to Zionism before WWII)
Theodore Herzl (Zionist advocate)
Thomas Edison
Marie Curie
Gustav Mahler


lago 10.17.05 at 1:50 pm

Lester F. Ward


minnesotaj 10.17.05 at 2:03 pm

Some good ones in here… my guess for “Top 20” of 1905 would be (in no particular order:

Leon Trotsky
William James
G.B. Shaw
H.G. Wells
Sidney & Beatrice Webb
Sigmund Freud
Bertrand Russell
Theodore Roosevelt
Maurice Maeterlinck
Leo Tolstoy
Theodor Herzl (died ’04, however)
Havelock Ellis
Henri Bergson
Mark Twain
Rudyard Kipling
Andre Gide
Karl Kraus
Hilaire Belloc/G.K. Chesterton (count as one)
Henri Poincare
Thorstein Veblen

Some trouble with lists like these.. some heavyweights had just died (Zola, ’02); others were slightly known (Valery early fame, but didn’t break silence until ’17); others more obscure but very influential (Alfred Mahon); and still others just coming on (Max Weber-first pub in ’04; Einstein in ’05).

Still, lot’s of fun — a good way to waste half hour on a Monday afternoon.


minnesotaj 10.17.05 at 2:04 pm

Also, and absolutely on the list–W.E.B. DuBois… I didn’t realize Souls of Black Folk was published as early as 1903. Not sure whom to boot, however–so I pick 21.


Ken C. 10.17.05 at 2:13 pm

“I don’t know how much the three papers of the miracle year contributed to Einstein’s standing as a public intellectual save in that it made him famous for being a genius.”

It gave him standing in the intellectual field called “physics”.

I’m not sure that treating music as an “intellectual” activity results in very good music.


aretino 10.17.05 at 2:21 pm

Louis Sullivan for a and b.


ben alpers 10.17.05 at 2:34 pm

If he had not died eight years earlier, Henry George would certainly make the the a) list. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who passed away in 1902, would also just fail to live long enough to make the list.

George Santayana might make the a) list.

In Germany, at least, Hermann Cohen would be on the a) list. Perhaps Edmund Husserl would be, too (though I think he cut significantly less of a public figure, at least in 1905, than Cohen did).

In the US, the a) list might include Walter Rauschenbusch.


aretino 10.17.05 at 2:38 pm

Maybe Karl Lueger for a.


aretino 10.17.05 at 2:39 pm

Maybe not Husserl, but probably Meinong for a.


aretino 10.17.05 at 2:49 pm

Good grief! G.E. Moore.


minnesotaj 10.17.05 at 2:58 pm

aretino… but was Moore’s Principia Ethica (1903) the darling of the Bloomsbury set as early as 1905? I suppose, with his role in Cambridge Apostles, I’d say he was more a private intellectual at that point, no?


David Weman 10.17.05 at 3:00 pm

William Graham Sumner obviously.
And Eduard Bernstein.
Maybe Rosa Luxemburg.


minnesotaj 10.17.05 at 3:00 pm

Also, if Moore–then surely G.H. Hardy (or even David Hilbert, whose 23 Problems was given in 1900)?


catherine liu 10.17.05 at 3:11 pm

You know what is really wrong with this whole thing? (I hate to ruin our fun).

The definition of “public” has changed quite a bit since 1905 and will I imagine by 2105. What would be interesting to me is to ask what intellectuals, unknown today will emerge as the important thinkers of our era in a hundred years? That would be the untimely, Nieztschean question.

And Dr. Sun Yat-sen is not an important thinker — he is an imporant figure in the history of the Chinese republic. If we wanted a Chinese intellectual, it should be Lu Xun, the great social critic/writer of Chinese modernity and modernism, but he didn’t start publishing until much later, so what can you do with this cut off date?


AJ 10.17.05 at 3:13 pm

This is one year off, but The Jungle, which aimed for the public’s heart and hit its stomach, was published in 1906. Upton Sinclair might not quite achieve public intellectual status, more public polemicist.

Emile Durkheim, classmate of Bergson, should make both lists. By 1905 he had written “The division of labor,” “The rules of sociological method,” “Suicide,” and founded l’annee sociologique. And his work certainly stands up today.

How about Ferdinand Tonnies as a longshot? He wrote an outrageous large number of things, although most never made it to the Anglo world until much later…

I’ll also throw out Sir James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough and disseminator of quasi-anthropological studies of folklore and myth. He’s definitely an a) and not a b).


otto 10.17.05 at 3:37 pm

JA Hobson re. Imperialism a Study, 1902
Otto Hintze

Both still worth a read.


blah 10.17.05 at 3:44 pm

Others not mentioned:

Jack London
George Herbert Mead
Alfred North Whitehead
Joseph Conrad
Anatole France


aretino 10.17.05 at 4:10 pm

52 seems like a fair cop


ed_finnerty 10.17.05 at 4:45 pm

max planck


will uspal 10.17.05 at 5:00 pm

Perhaps some of the British Hegelians, e.g. F.H. Bradley?


Geoff R 10.17.05 at 5:37 pm

Benjamin Kidd and Leonard Hobhouse.


Robin 10.17.05 at 6:34 pm

David Weman, if only Rosa Luxemburg


Neil 10.17.05 at 7:20 pm

A meta-comment. Chris wrote:

nobody will read them in 100 years

But having this as an implicit requirement biases the sample, both with regard to 1905 and to 2005. Einstein is read today (if he is) for sociological reasons, not scientific ones. It is the fate of workers in the sciences, and in other areas of enquiry that follow the scientific model (including much of philosophy) to be absorbed into the body of knowledge. There is no necessary relationship between the brilliance and importance of the work and its survival in its own right .


Tom T. 10.17.05 at 7:47 pm

Sherlock Holmes.

(yes, he was real, dammit)


Backword Dave 10.17.05 at 8:14 pm

I think I’m drunk. But 1905, given what we know now? It looks like this:
1. Albert Einstein
2. Albert Einstein
3. Albert Einstein
4. Albert Einstein
5. Albert Einstein
6. Albert Einstein
7. Albert Einstein
8. Albert Einstein
9. Albert Einstein
10. Albert Einstein
BTW, it was four papers. The Fourth, chronologically (assuming there is such a thing as time, of course), was titled “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” and contained a memorable equation: E=mc^2

Who are these other people? Thanks to Richard Feynman (who patented the nuclear submarine, the nuclear airplane, the nuclear rocket, and the nuclear reactor, and sold the lot to the US Government for a dollar — he was an employee at the time) we have had deterrence, and a supply of not-very-clean energy. Feynman channelled (I was going to say “only channelled” but he had his own supply of genius) Einstein. One man made the modern world. And he made it from a Patent Office in Bern. He wouldn’t have won any awards at the time. Albert Abraham Michelson was a famous doubter, and won the Nobel in 1907. And, IIRC, continued doubting until his death.

Though reading some of the other choices, both Twain and Shaw seem fine to me.

Since I’m doing the “who ought to have been” poll: Only Jon mentioned Conan Doyle. Ibsen, obviously. And William James. And Conrad. And Ford Madox Ford. And Henry James. Hold on, this is supposed to be a blog for smart people. I thought you all had enhanced cerabellums (-a, whatever). And you forgot “The Master”? You say you read books, and you don’t read the finest prose (says he, nipping past that playwright with the beard) writer ever? What, exactly, do you mean by this read in 100 years stuff?


Wolfgang 10.17.05 at 9:16 pm

> 49. Maybe Karl Lueger for a.

Very interesting. It thought about him too. He had a positive side and showed how a modern city can be organized.

And of course he had a very negative side, using (and implicitly showing Hitler et al. how to use) anti-semitism in politics.

He was certainly very influential for the first 50 years of the 20th century.


Jonathan Edelstein 10.17.05 at 10:20 pm

Saad Zaghloul for the non-anglocentric list.


fyreflye 10.17.05 at 10:49 pm

If we’re actually considering composers and artists, of those working in 1905 Picasso and Schoenberg were right on the brink of becoming the most influential figures in their fields for the remainder of the 20th Century.


larry 10.18.05 at 12:25 am

D. H. Lawrence was close to being published in 1905. If you are going to exclude the recently dead, you should at least get to include the ready to blossom.

As for current intellectuals, I nominate Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” and “Dark Age Ahead.”


larry 10.18.05 at 12:31 am

Oh, yah, and Herman Hesse, too.


larry 10.18.05 at 12:47 am

And John Muir.


John Quiggin 10.18.05 at 3:00 am

Responding to aretino, I’ll put Norman Angell up for (b), though it’s a bit premature (The Great Illusion was only published in 1909.

Angell was right and this is only now being recognised. If we don’t blow ourselves up in the meantime, he’ll be in the list for 2105.


Z 10.18.05 at 6:07 am

26 I guess we could start with Plato and work our way forward on that one!

But that’s typically what I meant, I don’t know about where you live Chris, but around me, Plato is “widely read” only among students in philosophy. Apart from them, I doubt you can find more than 1% of people who have read more than one work of him. Likewise, I am convinced that student in linguistics (and computer science) will read Chomsky in 2105.

I would say the only intellectual widely read in France long after his death is Voltaire, and even him is kept alive mostly by highschool literature classes.

Oh, and if I had to vote for 1905, I would vote for Poincarre on the basis of his influence in several different fields : he was a major reference in mathematics, physics and philosophy at the time.



Steve 10.18.05 at 6:31 am

Erskine Childers (“the riddle of the sands”) was extremely influential, although forgotten now.

Under category b, I’m surprised that Catherine Liu dismisses Sun Yatsen so easily. It’s a bit of a mess, but his theory of chinese nationalism was in many senses extremely influential, and he’s certainly not forgotten.

I’m ignorant on this, but surely if we’re after global influence there must be some Japanese intellectuals who were formulating nationalist theories that ended up very influential…


Grandma Lausch 10.18.05 at 6:46 am

With hindsight, Russia turned out too important for the 20th century to be represented just by Tolstoy, Kropotkin and Trotzky. How about Gregory Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism, and his pupil Lenin. Also, from the same stable, komissars’ own Germaine Greer – the proto-feminist Alexandra Kollontai


aretino 10.18.05 at 9:14 am


Angell was already a prominent journalist and opinion-maker by 1905 (under his original name, though). The fame of the Great Illusion didn’t come from the blue. My understanding is that it had such a big impact because he was already well known and credible. That’s why I put him up for a.

He isn’t talked about much today, which is why I didn’t put him up for b.


aretino 10.18.05 at 9:25 am

Philosophers and (especially) novelists have a much longer shelf life than journalists and scientists — particularly natural scientists. (Perhaps physicists have only a half-life.)

I could see Salman Rushdie still being read in 100 years. I could see that for Habermas and Eco (as a philosopher), too. Probably Chomsky as a linguist will have fallen into the situation of Smith as an economist — a hallowed but seldom-read intellectual ancestor.


roger 10.18.05 at 1:38 pm

I wonder where these judgments of seldom read come from — some sense of book sales? assignments in classes? Personal conversation?

What I imagine happens to a figure like Adam Smith – to take Aretino’s example — is that the reading constituency for him shifts. Where he might have been required reading for a political economist in 1850, he’s required reading for a historian, or a political scientist interested in conservatism, in 2005. And he has a larger lay audience as well — in fact, I would certainly lay money that more people have read a little Adam Smith than have read, say, a little Thomas Schelling or a little Robert J. Aumann.

Without locating shifts in the site of the reading, the phrase — “seldom read” – makes little sense. You could add up the sales figures of all the Prospect intellectuals, and I would bet that they don’t exceed the number of people who have read the Left Behind series. But is that quantitative fact intrinsically interesting?


S Brennan 10.18.05 at 5:27 pm

I might have missed it, but Wilber & Orville Wright certainly were original thinkers of the time. Please remember, their accomplishment came only after they rejected the accepted science of the time in regard to lifting foils. From their minds imagination, the world they left behind differed significantly from the world they inherited and thusly, they earned their right to be on the list of great thinkers of their time.


RETARDO 10.19.05 at 2:23 am

John Jay Chapman. Brooks Adams. Henry Adams.


Daverz 10.20.05 at 4:48 am

I think the braineater had gotten to Alfred Russell Wallace by 1905. A decade later, Conan Doyle would be writing serious books about faeries.

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