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“People sometimes call me a ‘public intellectual,’” Scott McLemee once wrote, “which is probably a euphemism — a polite way around the fact that I have no degrees, no institutionally recognizable field of specialization and, indeed, no credentials of any kind.”

Scott McLemee CreditJoe Ciardiello

But what this old-school independent critic, who discovered punk rock, poststructuralist theory and Marxist politics as a teenager in Wills Point, Tex., does have is hundreds of bylines everywhere from major newspapers to “tiny left-wing publications, none of them ever read by anybody.” This week, McLemee — who writes the weekly Intellectual Affairs column for the Web site Insidehighered.com — reviews Eric Alterman’s “Why We’re Liberals.”

So, is he a liberal? “Maybe in Richard Rorty’s sense of being someone who believes that cruelty is the worst thing possible,” McLemee said in an e-mail message. “But otherwise, no. I’m a socialist of some not very doctrinaire kind — my outlook being a stew of influences from people like C. L. R. James, C. Wright Mills, Irving Howe and Ellen Willis.” He also mentions Phyllis Jacobson and her husband, Julius, now deceased, of the old Independent Socialist League of the 1940s and ’50s. “Ten years ago, I would go out to Brooklyn and listen with awe as Julie talked about meeting up with the French Trotskyists in Paris when he was there as a G.I. in 1944. Talk about the greatest generation!”

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