What is the role of the public intellectual? Is it to disseminate knowledge and emotional discernment to that amorphous figure of the “general public” or does the public intellectual have a duty to fulfilling a more disruptive function in developing a critical, questioning attitude towards the world? Today, the “charismatic style” that is often attached to the public intellectual is itself commodified. Is this to be welcomed as a way of ensuring that intellectual labour is more widely circulated or is there a risk that the public intellectual will be co-opted to the status quo? In the twenty-first century, might the role of the public intellectual in questioning the commonsense of its time and encouraging resistance to what makes life unjust and ugly be more important than ever?