Well, maybe not anymore.... Prospect Magazine's international poll of most important public intellectuals had some surprising results this year -- although it is nice to see that Umberto Eco and Noam Chomsky are still in there.
In any case, the most popular public intellectuals on earth are now largely people you've never heard of and write in languages you can't read.
Intellectuals: 'Intellectuals—the results' by | Prospect Magazine July 2008 issue 148
The followup story and analysis appear here.
One of my colleagues has worked out that the United States is currently in the same place, educationally speaking, it was for manufacturing in about 1982 -- top of the world and with no idea what kind of hard rain the next 10 years would bring.