The Public Interest

Is technology a threat to liberal society?

Irving Kristol

Spring 2001

TO say that I know nothing about science would be the understatement of the century. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, but unhappily, I didn’t go to Brooklyn Poly. I went to City College instead. I don’t know why, just a family tradition. It is true, I did start out as a physics major, but after one year of studying physics, I discovered that physics was very hard. So I decided to be an intellectual instead. In those days, one could spend four years in City College becoming an intellectual. It was very pleasant, because you didn’t have to go to class. I suppose my function here today is to be a kind of kibitzer-intellectual. An intellectual has been defined as a man with a great many opinions on a great many subjects about which he knows precious little.  But he nevertheless fulfills a useful function—sometimes.  What I want to talk about today is the question of the place of science and technology in a liberal democracy in the decades ahead. I think that is not a matter about which one can be smug. I think we must anticipate some very serious problems involving the place of science and technology in our society. These are problems we are going to have to face up to, although they may not be problems we like to face.

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