George Scialabba is retiring from Harvard

by Henry Farrell on September 10, 2015

George Scialabba is one of the great writers and intellectuals of our time. He’s also a member of the CT community, both as a commenter, and as the subject of a seminar that we ran a few years ago on his wonderful collection of essays, What Are Intellectuals Good For? He’s also someone whom I consider (although we’ve only met in person two or three times) to be a good friend. In a properly constituted America, he would be a Living National Treasure. His greatness as a critic and essayist is a result not only of intelligence and prose style but of willingness to try to get inside the heads of the people he is writing about, so as to understand what they were trying to do on their own terms, before reaching judgment. People may reasonably have different opinions about which of George’s essays is the best. My personal favorite is this devastating piece on Isaiah Berlin.

George is retiring from Harvard, where he has worked for many years scheduling events for the Center for Government and International Studies, while writing in his spare time. There are many people at Harvard whose work and thought I admire enormously, but with no disrespect to them, I think that George has been the single best public intellectual working there over the last few decades (I’ve sometimes wondered whether Harvard’s senior administrators know who he is, or have any idea what a gem they have had in him). The good news (as Scott notes in his appreciation at Inside Higher Ed is that this should give him more time to write. The Baffler is throwing a party for him this evening; I’d love to be there. In lieu of that, this post. Congratulations, George. And more importantly, thank you very, very much.



steven johnson 09.10.15 at 2:07 pm

Reading the essay on Berlin, it seemed to me that Scialabba endorsed Berlin’s interpretation of Vico. I haven’t been fortunate enough to find a cheap enough copy of Berlin’s Three Critics of the Enlightenment (or other source for the essay,) but reading The New Science makes one wonder why Berlin’s interpretation isn’t highly controversial?


William Berry 09.10.15 at 2:34 pm

It is OK for GS to retire, so long as he continues to be (IMO) the most perspicacious commenter here at CT.

Best of luck to GS, and yes, write lots more stuff– just not about GBS and the Bard! :-)


JanieM 09.10.15 at 3:03 pm

Coincidentally, I’m doing my once-a-month week in Cambridge this week, working and staying about five minutes from Harvard Square. Strolling out for dinner the other night I saw a sign announcing the party, and promptly went online to try to get a ticket.

Sold out (or waitlisted, which I assume is a hopeless cause). So I’ll say it here instead:

Congratulations, Geo! I hope you enjoy your newfound “spare” time.

And please feel free to write as much as you want about GBS. ;-)


Corey Robin 09.10.15 at 4:36 pm

What Henry said. Mazel tov, George!


Plume 09.10.15 at 4:55 pm

Congrats, GS!!

You are one of my all time favorite contemporary writers, and reading your What are Intellectuals Good For? was foundational for me.

Thank you for your contribution to intellectual life in America.


Russell Arben Fox 09.10.15 at 7:45 pm

George Scialabba writes about contemporary liberal culture like no one else. Incisive, thoughtful, brilliant: they all apply. Here’s to many good years to come, George!


Bruce B. 09.10.15 at 11:00 pm

I join the appreciative masses, and add my often entertained thanks for your comments here, George. You’ve done a lot to open my mental horizons, and I’m very grateful.


John Quiggin 09.11.15 at 12:28 am

My best wishes, also. We’ve had some great discussions.


tony lynch 09.11.15 at 5:30 am

You know, it seems to me that Berlin’s words are still useful, though today neoloberalism and neoconservatism are the right targets.


ZM 09.11.15 at 11:02 am

Congratulations geo. I think Crooked Timber should always celebrate George Scialabba on September 10th now on. You should guest post on the day :-)


ZM 09.11.15 at 11:03 am

should be – Crooked Timber should always celebrate George Scialabba Day on September 10th from now on


js. 09.11.15 at 3:12 pm

Thanks for the link to the piece on Berlin—it is excellent, and I don’t think I’d read it before. And cheers to geo!


William Timberman 09.11.15 at 5:06 pm

ZM @ 10 has the right idea. When we are given such gifts, we should celebrate them. Congratulations, geo, and best wishes for the future.


The Temporary Name 09.11.15 at 6:59 pm

Many thanks to George Scialabba.


LFC 09.11.15 at 9:03 pm

Echoing the above comments.


geo 09.11.15 at 10:50 pm

Dear Sir:

Your post of 10 September has recently been brought to my attention. I wish to take exception in the strongest possible terms to its recklessly extravagant praise of Mr. What’s-his-name and its shocking (albeit implicit) disparagement of such distinguished Harvard public intellectuals as Niall Ferguson, Harvey Mansfield, and Lawrence Summers.


Faithfully yours,

A bemused and disgruntled Reader.


engels 09.11.15 at 10:55 pm

Best wishes, and hope we see more of you around here


jonnybutter 09.12.15 at 12:50 am



Terence 09.15.15 at 2:45 am

Thank you George!


Barry Freed 09.15.15 at 3:23 am

Congratulations, Geo!


Z 09.15.15 at 8:02 am

So how was the party? And where is the Festschrift?


mattski 09.16.15 at 1:56 am

geo, congratulations!

How serendipitous that I happened to stick my nose back into CT in time to see this post. And I 2nd Z’s query. How was the party??

Hope you are well.


geo 09.16.15 at 2:52 am

Z and Mattski: The party was nice, I suppose, for Scialabba admirers (of whom, I confess, I’m not one). The Cambridge City Council passed a resolution (which I’m certain none of the councilors actually read before voting on) declaring September 10 George Scialabba Day. Some very smart people (Chomsky, Ehrenreich, McKibben, Deresiewicz, McLemee, Tom Frank, Rick Perlstein et al), who probably should have known better, said some ridiculously nice things about me in person and on video. (All this for a few book reviews?) But just when the audience was no doubt getting good and tired of hearing me praised to the skies, the Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band took the stage and blew the roof off Cambridge’s venerable Brattle Theater. A videotape of the party will be posted on the Baffler’s website soon. I advise skipping to a half hour before the end, where the music starts.


LFC 09.16.15 at 3:57 am

Re the party: sounds like a great time was had by all. (And I hope at least a couple of the profs who work in that gov and int’l affairs bldg (in the basement of which geo’s office was located) bestirred themselves to show up.)


Ben 09.16.15 at 11:12 am

Nthing all of it: the congratulations, well-wishes, thank-you-for-the-mind-expansions, and Festschrift requests

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