You might recall Jody Bottum's Weekly Standard piece of a few days ago, suggesting that the relative political weakness of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is balanced out by a paradigm for thinking through public policy questions that owes much to Catholicism and some current intellectual heavyweights trained in the tradition.
The Catholic philosopher (and FIRST THINGS board member) Russell Hittinger emailed me this morning, however, and he is considerably less impressed with the current state of Catholic intellectuals. “I suspect that the early 1960s was the high tide for Catholic influence in (on, through) the secular schools; this was the generation of Catholics who were hired at the best schools, who were near the top of their fields, and who were regarded as ‘Catholic,’” he writes. “I am very dubious that we compare favorably today. Remember, I am not speaking absolutely of objective merit; rather, objective merit combined with what you have picked out in terms of notoriety, influence, etc.”
Indeed, Russ suggests, the condition of Catholic academics is at a low point: “You are right about the function of Catholic ‘thought’ in the off-campus world in which you work. Catholics and fellow travelers abound. It could even look like a Catholic plot. In numbers proportionate to the industry, you can field an A- and B-team much more quickly and confidently. Unfortunately, academic institutions are an important part of the real world. You can’t reckon with ‘thought’ just on an off-campus basis. We are dealing with a multi-billion dollar temple at the center of our culture. If Catholics are not faring very well in the temple (or, as I suspect, faring less well than a generation ago), then this cannot be a minor theme in your story.”
He (Hittinger) then throws down the gauntlet and asks for evidence...go read the whole post and see what you think.