ⓘ Intellectual


ⓘ Intellectual

An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking and reading, research, and human self-reflection about society; they may propose solutions for its problems and gain authority as a public figure. Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or as a mediator, the intellectual participates in politics either to defend a concrete proposition or to denounce an injustice, usually by rejecting, producing or extending an ideology, or by defending a system of values.


1. Definition

The intellectual is a type of intelligent person who uses reason and critical thinking. Many everyday roles require the application of intelligence to skills that may have a psychomotor component - for example, in the fields of medicine or the arts - but these do not necessarily involve the practitioner in the "world of ideas." The intellectual scrutinizes cultural ideas and writings, often using abstract, philosophical, and esoteric aspects of human inquiry to evaluate the thinking of others.

The intellectual and the scholarly classes are often related: the intellectual may be a teacher involved in the production of scholarship and usually has an academic background, or may work in a profession or practice an art or a science. The intellectual person is one who applies critical thinking and reason in either a professional or a personal capacity, and so has authority in the public sphere of their society; the term intellectual identifies three types of person, one who is:

  • erudite, and develops abstract ideas and theories;
  • a professional who produces cultural capital, as in philosophy, literary criticism, sociology, law, medicine, science; and
  • an artist who writes, composes, paints and so on.

2. Historical definitions

In Latin language, at least starting from the Carolingian Empire, intellectuals could be called litterati, a term which is sometimes applied today.

Socially, intellectuals constitute the intelligentsia, a status class organised either by ideology, or by nationality. The contemporary intellectual class originated from the intelligentsiya of Tsarist Russia c. 1860s –1870s, the social stratum of those possessing intellectual formation, and who were Russian societys counterpart to the German Bildungsburgertum and to the French bourgeoisie eclairee, the enlightened middle classes of those realms.

In the late 19th century, amidst the Dreyfus affair 1894–1906, an identity crisis of anti-semitic nationalism for the French Third Republic 1870–1940, the reactionary anti–Dreyfusards used the terms intellectual and the intellectuals to deride the liberal Dreyfusards as political dilettantes from the realms of French culture, art, and science, who had become involved in politics, by publicly advocating for the exoneration and liberation of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French artillery captain falsely accused of betraying France to Germany.

In the 20th century, the term intellectual acquired positive connotations of social prestige, derived from possessing intellect and intelligence, especially when the intellectuals activities exerted positive consequences in the public sphere and so increased the intellectual understanding of the public, by means of moral responsibility, altruism, and solidarity, without resorting to the manipulations of demagoguery, paternalism and incivility condescension. Hence, for the educated person of a society, participating in the public sphere - the political affairs of the city-state - is a civic responsibility dating from the Græco–Latin Classical era:

I am a human; I reckon nothing human to be foreign to me. Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.

The determining factor for a Thinker to be considered a public intellectual is the degree to which he or she is implicated and engaged with the vital reality of the contemporary world; that is to say, participation in the public affairs of society. Consequently, being designated as a public intellectual is determined by the degree of influence of the designators motivations, opinions, and options of action, and by affinity with the given thinker; therefore:

The Intellectual is someone who meddles in what does not concern them. Lintellectuel est quelquun qui se mêle de ce qui ne le regarde pas.

Analogously, the application and the conceptual value of the terms intellectual and the intellectuals are socially negative when the practice of intellectuality is exclusively in service to the Establishment who wield power in a society, as such:

The Intellectuals are specialists in defamation, they are basically political commissars, they are the ideological administrators, the most threatened by dissidence.

Chomskys negative view of the Establishment Intellectual suggests the existence of another kind of intellectual one might call "the public intellectual" which is the following:

courageous and angry individual for whom no worldly power is too big and imposing to be criticised and pointedly taken to task. The real or true intellectual is therefore always an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society. He or she speaks to, as well as for, a public, necessarily in public, and is properly on the side of the dispossessed, the un-represented and the forgotten.


2.1. Historical definitions "Man of letters"

The term "man of letters" derives from the French term belletrist or homme de lettres but is not synonymous with "an academic". A "man of letters" was a literate man, able to read and write, as opposed to an illiterate man in a time when literacy was rare and thus highly valued in the upper strata of society. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the term Belletrists came to be applied to the literati: the French participants in - sometimes referred to as "citizens" of - the Republic of Letters, which evolved into the salon, a social institution, usually run by a hostess, meant for the edification, education, and cultural refinement of the participants.


3. Historical background

In English, the term intellectual identifies a "literate thinker"; its earlier usage, as in the book title The Evolution of an Intellectual 1920, by John Middleton Murry, denotes literary activity, rather than the activities of the public intellectual.


3.1. Historical background Britain

In the late 19th century, when literacy was relatively common in European countries such as the United Kingdom, the "Man of Letters" litterateur denotation broadened to mean "specialized", a man who earned his living writing intellectually not creatively about literature: the essayist, the journalist, the critic, et al. In the 20th century, such an approach was gradually superseded by the academic method, and the term "Man of Letters" became disused, replaced by the generic term "intellectual", describing the intellectual person. In late 19th century, the term intellectual became common usage to denote the defenders of the falsely accused artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus.


3.2. Historical background Continental Europe

In early 19th century Britain, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term clerisy, the intellectual class responsible for upholding and maintaining the national culture, the secular equivalent of the Anglican clergy. Likewise, in Tsarist Russia, there arose the intelligentsia 1860s–70s, who were the status class of white-collar workers. The theologian Alister McGrath said that "the emergence of a socially alienated, theologically literate, antiestablishment lay intelligentsia is one of the more significant phenomena of the social history of Germany in the 1830s", and that "three or four theological graduates in ten might hope to find employment" in a church post. As such, politically radical thinkers already had participated in the French Revolution 1789–1799; Robert Darnton said that they were not societal outsiders, but "respectable, domesticated, and assimilated".

Thenceforth, an intellectual class in Europe was socially important, especially to self-styled intellectuals, whose participation in societys arts, politics, journalism, and education - of either nationalist, internationalist, or ethnic sentiment - constitute "vocation of the intellectual". Moreover, some intellectuals were anti-academic, despite universities the Academy being synonymous with intellectualism.

In France, the Dreyfus affair marked the full emergence of the "intellectual in public life", especially Emile Zola, Octave Mirbeau and Anatole France directly addressing the matter of French antisemitism to the public; thenceforward, "intellectual" became common, yet occasionally derogatory, usage; its French noun usage is attributed to Georges Clemenceau in 1898.


3.3. Historical background Germany

Jurgen Habermas Structural Transformation of Public Sphere 1963 made significant contribution to the notion of public intellectual by historically and conceptually delineating the idea of private and public.


3.4. Historical background In the East

The word intellectual is found in Indian scripture Mahabharata in the Bachelorette meeting Swayambara Sava of Draupadi. Immediately after Arjuna and Raja-Maharaja kings-emperors came to the meeting, Nipuna Buddhijibina perfect intellectuals appeared at the meeting. These people were then busy in argument about whether anyone can shoot the target or not.

In Imperial China in the period from 206 BC until AD 1912, the intellectuals were the Scholar-officials "Scholar-gentlemen", who were civil servants appointed by the Emperor of China to perform the tasks of daily governance. Such civil servants earned academic degrees by means of imperial examination, and also were skilled calligraphers, and knew Confucian philosophy. Historian Wing-Tsit Chan concludes that:

Generally speaking, the record of these scholar-gentlemen has been a worthy one. It was good enough to be praised and imitated in 18th century Europe. Nevertheless, it has given China a tremendous handicap in their transition from government by men to government by law, and personal considerations in Chinese government have been a curse.

In Joseon Korea 1392–1910, the intellectuals were the literati, who knew how to read and write, and had been designated, as the chungin the "middle people", in accordance with the Confucian system. Socially, they constituted the petite bourgeoisie, composed of scholar-bureaucrats who administered the dynastic rule of the Joseon dynasty.


4. Intelligentsia

Addressing their role as a social class, Jean-Paul Sartre said that intellectuals are the moral conscience of their age; that their moral and ethical responsibilities are to observe the socio-political moment, and to freely speak to their society, in accordance with their consciences. Like Sartre and Noam Chomsky, public intellectuals usually are polymaths, knowledgeable of the international order of the world, the political and economic organization of contemporary society, the institutions and laws that regulate the lives of the layman citizen, the educational systems, and the private networks of mass communication media that control the broadcasting of information to the public.

Whereas, intellectuals political scientists and sociologists, liberals, and democratic socialists usually hold, advocate, and support the principles of democracy, and the improvement of socio-political relations in domestic and international politics, the conservative public-intellectuals usually defend the social, economic, and political status quo as the realisation of the "perfect ideals" of Platonism, and present a static dominant ideology, in which utopias are unattainable and politically destabilizing of society.


4.1. Intelligentsia Marxist perspective

In Marxist philosophy, the social class function of the intellectuals the intelligentsia is to be the source of progressive ideas for the transformation of society; to provide advice and counsel to the political leaders; to interpret the countrys politics to the mass of the population urban workers and peasants; and to provide leaders from within their own ranks as required.

The Italian communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci 1891–1937 developed Karl Marxs conception of the intelligentsia to include political leadership in the public sphere. That because "all knowledge is existentially-based", the intellectuals, who create and preserve knowledge, are "spokesmen for different social groups, and articulate particular social interests". That intellectuals occur in each social class and throughout the right-wing, the centre and the left-wing of the political spectrum and that as a social class the "intellectuals view themselves as autonomous from the ruling class" of their society. These autonomous class propagated intellectual sickness that resulted into degradation of political ideologies wherein power mongers enunciated class conflict and political power grapple. That in the course of class struggle meant to achieve political power every social class requires a native intelligentsia who shape the ideology world view particular to the social class from which they originated. Therefore, the leadership of intellectuals is required for effecting and realizing social change:

A human mass does not "distinguish" itself, does not become independent, in its own right, without, in the widest sense, organising itself; and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is, without organisers and leaders, in other words, without conceptual and philosophical elaboration of ideas.

In the pamphlet What Is to Be Done? 1902, Vladimir Lenin 1870–1924 said that vanguard-party revolution required the participation of the intellectuals to explain the complexities of socialist ideology to the uneducated proletariat and the urban industrial workers in order to integrate them to the revolution because "the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness" and will settle for the limited, socio-economic gains so achieved. In Russia as in Continental Europe, socialist theory was the product of the "educated representatives of the propertied classes", of "revolutionary socialist intellectuals", such as were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

In the formal codification of Leninism, the Hungarian Marxist philosopher Gyorgy Lukacs 1885–1971 identified the intelligentsia as the privileged social class who provide revolutionary leadership. By means of intelligible and accessible interpretation, the intellectuals explain to the workers and peasants the "Who?", the "How?" and the "Why?" of the social, economic and political status quo - the ideological totality of society - and its practical, revolutionary application to the transformation of their society.


5. Public intellectual

The term public intellectual describes the intellectual participating in the public-affairs discourse of society, in addition to any academic career. Regardless of the academic field or the professional expertise, the public intellectual addresses and responds to the normative problems of society, and, as such, is expected to be an impartial critic who can "rise above the partial preoccupation of ones own profession - and engage with the global issues of truth, judgment, and taste of the time". In Representations of the Intellectual 1994, in summarizing a quote by Edward Saïd, Jennings and Kemp-Welch state that the "true intellectual is, therefore, always an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society".

An intellectual usually is associated with an ideology or with a philosophy, e.g. the Third Way centrism of Anthony Giddens in the Labour Government of Tony Blair. The Czech intellectual Vaclav Havel said that politics and intellectuals can be linked, but that moral responsibility for the intellectuals ideas, even when advocated by a politician, remains with the intellectual. Therefore, it is best to avoid utopian intellectuals who offer universal insights to resolve the problems of political economy with public policies that might harm and that have harmed civil society; that intellectuals be mindful of the social and cultural ties created with their words, insights and ideas; and should be heard as social critics of politics and power.


5.1. Public intellectual Social background

The American academic Peter H. Smith describes the intellectuals of Latin America as people from an identifiable social class, who have been conditioned by that common experience and thus are inclined to share a set of common assumptions values and ethics; that ninety-four per cent of intellectuals come either from the middle class or from the upper class and that only six per cent come from the working class. In The Intellectual 2005, philosopher Steven Fuller said that because cultural capital confers power and social status as a status group they must be autonomous in order to be credible as intellectuals:

It is relatively easy to demonstrate autonomy, if you come from a wealthy or values that they uphold. Public intellectuals usually arise from the educated elite of a society; although the North American usage of the term "intellectual" includes the university academics. The difference between "intellectual" and "academic" is participation in the realm of public affairs.


5.2. Public intellectual Public policy role

In the matters of public policy, the public intellectual connects scholarly research to the practical matters of solving societal problems. The British sociologist Michael Burawoy, an exponent of public sociology, said that professional sociology has failed, by giving insufficient attention to resolving social problems, and that a dialogue between the academic and the layman would bridge the gap. An example is how Chilean intellectuals worked to reestablish democracy within the right-wing, neoliberal governments of the Military dictatorship of Chile 1973–90, the Pinochet regime allowed professional opportunities for some liberal and left-wing social scientists to work as politicians and as consultants in effort to realize the theoretical economics of the Chicago Boys, but their access to power was contingent upon political pragmatism, abandoning the political neutrality of the academic intellectual.

In The Sociological Imagination 1959, C. Wright Mills said that academics had become ill-equipped for participating in public discourse, and that journalists usually are "more politically alert and knowledgeable than sociologists, economists, and especially. political scientists". That, because the universities of the U.S. are bureaucratic, private businesses, they "do not teach critical reasoning to the student", who then does not "how to gauge what is going on in the general struggle for power in modern society". Likewise, Richard Rorty criticized the participation of intellectuals in public discourse as an example of the "civic irresponsibility of intellect, especially academic intellect".

The American legal scholar Richard Posner said that the participation of academic public intellectuals in the public life of society is characterized by logically untidy and politically biased statements of the kind that would be unacceptable to academia. That there are few ideologically and politically independent public intellectuals, and disapproves that public intellectuals limit themselves to practical matters of public policy, and not with values or public philosophy, or public ethics, or public theology, not with matters of moral and spiritual outrage.


6. Criticism

In "An Interview with Milton Friedman" 1974, the American economist Milton Friedman said that businessmen and the intellectuals are enemies of capitalism. The intellectuals because most believed in socialism while the businessman expected economic privileges:

The two, chief enemies of the free society or free enterprise are intellectuals, on the one hand, and businessmen, on the other, for opposite reasons. Every intellectual believes in freedom for himself, but hes opposed to freedom for others. a favoured instance of The Intellectual as National Icon" in the early history of the post-Communist Czech Republic.

In his book Intellectuals and Society 2010, the economist Thomas Sowell said that lacking disincentives in professional life, the intellectual producer of knowledge, not material goods tends to speak outside his or her area of expertise and expects social and professional benefits from the halo effect, derived from possessing professional expertise. That in relation to other professions, the public intellectual is socially detached from the negative and unintended consequences of public policy derived from his or her ideas. As such, the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell 1872–1970 advised the British government against national rearmament in the years before World War I 1914–1918 while the German Empire prepared for war. Yet, the post-war intellectual reputation of Russell remained almost immaculate and his opinions respected by the general public because of the halo effect.