What he was doing in this was holding a crucial middle ground. He understood better than anyone else that the public realm has to fight for its existence against two equally great dangers. One is the culture of self-enclosed, technocratic expertise, the hiving off of intellectual life into increasingly minute specializations and increasingly impenetrable professional dialects. The other is the insistence—so much in the ascendant now—that there is no expertise at all, that scholarship and rigor and evidence are the mere playthings of elitist eggheads. Bob’s great gift to civic life was the living demonstration in every issue of the Review that these impostors could be treated with equal—and magnificent—contempt. He held open the space for that great republican virtue: common curiosity. He made this fierce effort seem so natural that it is only in his absence that we realize how hard it is to do and how much it counts.
Fintan O’Toole. From a collection of essays on the late Bob Silvers of the NYRB.
O’Toole gets the central problem the academy is failing on. Not that the academy is ever sufficient.