Academic Intellectual in Politics

Trustworthiness and Credibility of Public Office

Greece Finance Minister #ProfesorVaroufakis, a political economist, economics professor, and author of several academic texts in economics and game theory, in a TV interview, warns leaders of the European Union of “inevitable contagion” if Greece leaves the eurozone. This economic prediction, regardless of evidence, was immediately taken as feasible, made the headlines of several reputable newspapers, and attracted the attention of EU leaders including the European Central Bank Manager who even recorded Varoufakis’ TV interview. What if a non-academic politician made a similar statement? Are media and public reception the same?


One advantage of having a strong academic background is intellectual credibility; a reputation gained from scholarly achievements and contributes to the credibility of a public official. Politics according to literature consist of relationships and interactions between people and government. However, the legitimacy of political statements is highly dependent on public official’s academic integrity and intellectual credibility. Minister Varoufakis’ political statement, therefore, is readily taken as legitimate as it was delivered by a university economics professor, academic text author or person with unquestionable academic integrity and intellectual credibility.

Another advantage is the fact moral credibility is often gained when people trust your academic intellect and inspired by your professional recommendations. Results of several communication management types of research suggest that trust and credibility often determine the legitimacy of public statement that either not directly or immediately verifiable. For this reason, politicians without academic, intellectual, and moral credibility are often faced with problems legitimizing their decisions and policies. The public according to research is not only interested in finding a confusing mix of controversial or contradictory information but credibility and trustworthiness of the person making the statement.

Academic and Politics are Entirely Different Worlds

Academic intellectuals are normally operating under conditions of openness and free discussion, freedom to research, and pride themselves as sources of objective knowledge and worthy of public trust. For this reason, most academics usually do not agree on corporate-funded technology research that often requests them to maintain confidentiality and alter basic academic practices. These practices are some of the reasons why authors like Posner want academic intellectuals to stay out of politics.

The first disadvantage of the electing academic intellectual in public office is the fact that social and political affairs are best left to experts. Second, since academic intellectuals are hired, paid, tenured, and closely controlled by professional norms, they are unlikely to become romanticized or emulated social models. Third, since a good politician possesses organizational and sociability traits, political will and patriotic heart, caring and an expert in public affairs, and a person of conscience, an objective, and norm-controlled academic intellectual are unlikely to become one.

In reality, most academics are not the type of people who enjoy socializing, caring, exercising political will, and resolving issues with the conscience. In case an academic decided to enter politics and got elected, he or she is more likely to become a “judge” politician, a public servant who makes political decisions and policies based on academic objectivity and professional norms rather than conscience and political will.



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