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The intellectual stratum

The institutions of intellectual life

Intellectual traditions and social authority

The functions of intellectuals


Intellectuals are the aggregate of persons in any society who employ in their communication and expression, with relatively higher frequency than most other members of their society, symbols of general scope and abstract reference, concerning man, society, nature, and the cosmos. The high frequency of their use of such symbols may be a function of their own subjective propensity or of the obligations of an occupational role, the performance of which entails such use. These two major motivations of intellectual actions can exist in the same person, and they can be present in the same action. They can also exist relatively independently of each other. Intellectual propensities or interests vary in intensity among persons performing intellectual roles and are sometimes also found among those who practice nonintellectual occupations.

Intellectual interests arise from the need to perceive, experience, and express—in words, colors, shapes, or sounds—a general significance in particular, concrete events. They arise from the need to be in cognitive, moral, and appreciative contact with the most general or “essential” features of man, society, nature, and the cosmos. This need is deeply, indeed constitutively, rooted in human beings, albeit unequally distributed among individuals. It underlies the production (creation) and consumption (reception) of works of science, scholarship, philosophy, theology, literature, and art. However, the objectified products of scientific, scholarly, philosophical, theological, literary, and artistic actions are not solely the result of the spontaneous expression of these propensities. The expressive, cognitive, and moral propensities which seek coherent, objective form are aroused, nurtured, heightened, and focused by traditions (which are manifested in the models exemplified by great works and creative personalities) and by the explicit teaching and the culture of the social circles and institutions in which the various intellectual activities are practiced. These propensities are sustained, too, by the institutionalization of expectations of intellectual production, reproduction, and consumption.

Intellectual activities are institutionalized because many individuals who do not have strong or intense intellectual interests of their own need the results of such interests, either to satisfy the necessities of their own mental and physical constitution or because they believe intellectual products to be necessary for the effective functioning of institutions and of society as a whole. Even the most rudimentary and relatively undifferentiated societies have a place for the intellectual functions which are expressed in art and interpretative speculation, even if they do not provide many specialized roles in which these activities are carried on. More differentiated societies require and provide for more specialized intellectual roles which help to locate the individual, his group, and the society in the universe; to interpret, explain, and attempt to control the occurrence of evil; to legitimate authority and define its responsibilities; to interpret the society’s past experiences; to instruct the youth in the traditions and skills of the society; to facilitate and guide the aesthetic and religious experiences of various sectors of the society; and to offer assistance in the control of nature.

The propensities or needs which give rise to functional intellectual roles also impel intellectual creativity. They do so because they are operative in the consumption (reception) of intellectual products. Those who do not themselves have the powers or capacities to reach out directly and productively toward the general and abstract level of existence still need, if only intermittently, to be in contact with, and to participate in, the symbolic objectifications which are created or disclosed by the more creative; they also need the skills which are developed in conjunction with the development of the powers involved in productive or reproductive intellectual action. In other words, they are the consumers of intellectual products (e.g., laity, readers, audiences, patients, clients).

Intellectual objectifications are received or consumed not only because of a pressing need for contact with the “essential” but also because many of the tasks undertaken in certain societies call for the performance of certain functional roles which require intellectual skill and reward such performances. The more complex the structure and the larger the scale of the undertaking, the more likely it is to involve a component of intellectual action.

Large-scale engineering projects, irrigation schemes, military operations, and administrative and judicial organizations tend to utilize generalized knowledge. Even where the empirical element (i.e., the experience of the practitioner) dominates, the large scale of such operations evokes in those responsible for their execution a sense of need for some more general principles to govern their actions. These general principles are not merely theoretical legitimations of the undertaking but are integral to the executive actions through which the projects are realized. The techniques and skills in these executive actions rest on or involve the performance of intellectual actions.

Persons are recruited to intellectual or intellectual-executive roles not solely, or even primarily, because of their deep personal propensity to perform the intellectual actions entailed in such roles. Some of those who enter these roles do so above all because they offer the opportunity of experiencing the gratification of intellectual action as such; others do so more because they are encouraged by parents, teachers, and the prevailing opinion of their class and culture, as well as by the prospective rewards of money and prestige. Once it is perceived that there are intellectual actions capable of incorporation into them, the roles are created, and recruitment into them is economically, politically, and culturally facilitated and rewarded. In the present century the closer associations between scientific research and industrial and military technology, between scientific research and health, and between scientific research and agricultural technology have come about because research workers, politicians, military men, farmers, and civil servants came to believe that the tasks set by “interests” (anticipations of advantage) and aspirations confronted by existing and prospective situations could be dealt with by persons trained in science and technology. The same is true of the utilization of statistics and economic and sociological analysis, in private and public economic life. The custodians of the established order and the authoritative institutions through which their needs are satisfied provide the resources which permit technological-intellectual roles to be established, set tasks for the incumbents of the roles, present opportunities, and offer incentives for the performance of intellectual work. These intellectual-executive roles are not, however, wholly the creation of the “powers”—that is, those who have executive authority and financial resources. The very notion that such roles are possible arises from the perception of the existence of intellectual actions by those who hope to benefit by them and from the desires of the performers of these actions to bring their intellectual production to fruition in the actions of those who have no intellectual interests.

The intellectual stratum

Every society has its intellectuals. Primitive societies—despite their undifferentiatedness, which is a function of poverty, of the thinness of their intellectual traditions, and of the feebleness of their technology—also have their intellectuals or at least their protointellectuals. Frontier societies too, despite the special criteria by which their members are recruited, also produce intellectuals. In the great European and Oriental empires of antiquity and the Middle Ages the magnitude of the tasks undertaken by their political elites, the precipitation of “revelations” in their written literature, and the surplus wealth resulting from their large size and relatively advanced technologies required, and provided for, substantial numbers of intellectuals.

Still, prior to modern societies, poverty, the empirical character of technology, the restricted role and aspirations of government, and the rudimentariness of educational institutions kept the intellectual stratum relatively small and internally relatively undifferentiated. The intellectual class acquired a pervasive importance first in modern Western societies and then in societies outside the West when they began to assimilate Western beliefs and to establish institutions resembling those of the West.

The tasks set by the aspirations and demands of those sections of modern society which care to influence the exercise of authority generate an elaborate system of differentiated and professionalized intellectual roles. The numerous conflicts of activated demands, the vastly increased “legal initiative” of the population, and the wider and deeper ramifications of the concerns of the state require trained lawyers and judges. The modern idea of the responsibilities of the state generates a civil service which requires persons who have studied law, economics, statistics, and administration or whose intellectual powers have been cultivated by exercise in intellectual activities not directly connected with administration, such as mathematics, classics, or literature. Religious institutions now, as in the past, require clergymen and theologians; even though they now make up a significantly smaller proportion of the intellectual stratum than they did before the development of modern societies, they still form a large bloc among the intellectuals. The extension of political interest and activity—from a small group of wealthy and traditionally ascendant families, first to the wider reaches of the property-owning classes and then to the citizenry at large—as well as the greater efficacy of the state in modern society have magnified the amount and organization of political contention. Party politics, whether in democratic or in one-party states, require journalists, political analysts, and leader-writers.

The great increase in the scale of organization of the units of economic life and the emergence of an intimacy between technology and scientific research such as never existed before the last part of the nineteenth century have between them increased the demand for research workers, scientifically qualified technologists, statisticians, economists, and, increasingly, managers with technological and other intellectual disciplines. The industrialization of warfare has also increased the demand for scientific research workers and technologists; new conceptions and resources for military administration and policy have created a demand for intellectual practices such as strategic studies, intelligence analysis, and manpower studies, each of which has become a subprofession in its own right.

Humanitarianism and democracy have led to a new emphasis on the protection and improvement of health, which requires physicians, physiologists, biochemists, surgeons, public health specialists, and the like. The need to feed a larger and more urbanized population, with greater purchasing power and more differentiated tastes, has caused governments and individual agriculturalists to summon the assistance of geneticists, soil chemists, botanists, economists, agricultural-extension officials, statisticians, and other experts. The increasingly widespread demand for enlightenment throughout society—for a share of the cultural inheritance as well as for the improved status and economic rewards afforded by education—has created a corresponding demand for teachers, librarians, editors, and journalists.

None or few of these numerous intellectual–practical roles (engendered by practical needs and not by intellectual propensities) would have been possible, nor could they continue, without the simultaneous or prior exercise of purely intellectual propensities. Intellectual-practical needs could not have been met, nor for that matter could some of the needs have been conceived of as needs, without the accomplishments of men impelled primarily by their intellectual propensities. Furthermore, the provision of personnel for these intellectual-practical roles would be impossible without a system of institutions in which intellectual propensities are relatively free and dominant (that is, universities and institutions of advanced technological training and research) and without the recruitment of persons with predominantly intellectual propensities.

Some of these intellectual–practical roles have a high intellectual component. The superior judiciary, higher technological roles, the higher civil service, the editorial, and the analytical-journalistic roles, even when they are directly engaged in executive performance, require the mastery and practice of complex patterns of symbols of wide generality. Those at lower levels of authority and with narrower ranges of responsibility also require some measure of intellectual expertise. Thus, many of these roles can be entered, according to custom or formal requirement, only after passage through a course of disciplined or organized intellectual study. (In the case of the lower levels of these fields—for example, the ordinary lawyer, the general medical practitioner, the middle and lower ranks of civil servants, the ordinary engineer, the routine local-newspaper reporter—the intellectual training through which they must pass often contains considerable intellectual elements which do not enter into their practice.) Thus, the training of large numbers of persons for the wide variety of intellectual-practical roles generates a system of predominantly intellectual roles in teaching and research.

Alongside these intellectual roles, which are an integral part of the political, administrative, legal, and economic spheres of a complex modern society, there are other intellectual roles which constitute the cultural system and which are largely the product of intellectual propensities as such, shaped by intellectual traditions and the resources made available out of respect for their intrinsically intellectual character.

The institutions of intellectual life

Except in small societies and in societies which, although large, have a small stratum of intellectuals, the intellectuals seldom, if ever, possess an inclusive sense of identity. In contemporary large-scale societies the specialization of education and practice, the consequent tendencies toward segregation along professional lines, and the wide extension of secondary and higher education have made for vague external boundaries of the intellectual stratum. Even in small intellectual strata, differences in religious and political beliefs and in ethnic and class connections have caused rifts in the solidarity which might otherwise have prevailed in situations where a common participation in high culture offered a criterion for an inclusive self-identification.

Nonetheless, the intellectual stratum of any society possesses a structure; it is more than the statistical aggregate of all those who perform intellectual actions. Even though the intellectual stratum ordinarily does not have, in the present century, an entirely common culture, it increasingly tends to pass through a common institutional system: the academic or university system. The highly specialized and particularized intellectual-practical cultures nurtured outside the universities would not be what they are without the link between them and the more general and abstract culture of the university system. Within this source of the more specialized and segregated intellectual-practical professions, there is more of a common culture and more of a coherent and integral corporate structure than in the intellectual stratum as a whole. Thus, from the university system comes a certain measure of institutional interconnectedness of the whole intellectual stratum.

The structure of the intellectual system of any society is defined by four main factors: (1) the sources of financial support of the performers of intellectual actions; (2) the modes of administration of intellectual actions; (3) the patterns of demand for intellectual objects and intellectual-practical performances; and (4) the relationships between past and present intellectual accomplishments (i.e., the relationship of tradition and creativity in the various fields of intellectual action).

Sources of financial support

The forms of financial support of productive and reproductive intellectual actions are: (a) income gained from inherited wealth; (b) income gained from the practice of nonintellectual occupations; (c) patronage; (d) income from the sale of the products of the individual’s own intellectual actions; (e) income received as salary (or from other types of payment) for services performed, usually within corporate intellectual bodies; and (f) income for services performed in intellectual-practical (executive) occupations.

In most literate societies intellectual life is sustanined by combinations of several or all of these modes of support. In Europe prior to the eighteenth century, intellectual life was characteristically sustained by income from inherited wealth and from patronage and to a lesser extent by income derived from payment for intellectual services (e.g., teaching) and intellectual-practical services (e.g., administration). Support from the sale of intellectual products (books, plays, poems, paintings, sculpture, and music) appeared for the first time during the Italian Renaissance—and then only in connection with the sale of paintings and sculpture produced on commission. Prior to the development of inexpensive printing and the expansion of literacy, the free-lance intellectual who lived from the sale of his intellectual products was extremely rare and was confined to painting and sculpture. Prior to the growth of universities and organized research institutions, support from salary for intellectual work (research, writing, and teaching) was likewise rare; it was confined mainly to court intellectuals (historians, astronomers, and astrologers).

In advanced modern societies and in the modern sector of underdeveloped societies intellectuals are supported predominantly through employment in corporate intellectual bodies (universities and research institutions) and to a lesser extent through employment in intellectual-practical occupations in, for example, the civil service, military organizations, churches, newspapers, and research departments of industrial enterprises. Free-lance intellectuals living from the sale of their products, although much larger in number than in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, still constitute a relatively small proportion of the total intellectual stratum. (The proportion of free-lance intellectuals was probably greatest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before the great expansion of universities and corporately organized research.) In underdeveloped countries, where most of the population is still illiterate, the free-lance intellectual who lives from the sale of his intellectual products is a rarity.

The proportion of productive intellectuals who live or have lived on income derived from nonintellectual occupations (e.g., professional soldiers, merchants, bankers, clerks, laborers) has always been small, although certain very distinguished figures are to be included in this category (e.g., Thucydides, Ibn Khaldun, George Grote, Edward Hyde, H. C. Lea, Chateaubriand, and T. S. Eliot for part of his career).

Administration of intellectual actions

The trend toward the increasing envelopment of intellectual life within corporate intellectual institutions is in part a function of a change in the interests of an increasingly large proportion of the intellectual stratum—that is, a change from predominantly literary, philosophical, and theological concerns to scientific and scholarly interests. This trend is also a function of changes in techniques of scientific and scholarly research. As long as scholarship was confined to a relatively small number of books and manuscripts and as long as scientific research could be done with relatively simple and inexpensive instruments, these interests could be pursued independently and with the financial resources made available through inherited wealth or from income earned in other occupations. However, once scholarship began to require the use of very large libraries, well-ordered museums, widely dispersed manuscripts, and the “finds” of large archeological inquiries, and as the number of scholars who could not provide these from their earned and unearned income increased, the conduct of scholarly research required that much larger sums of money be found if research was to proceed on the scale that came to be thought desirable in the nineteenth century. Research in the biological, medical, and physical sciences underwent similar experiences. The demand for greater precision and reliability of observations imposed the need for more expensive equipment which could not be provided by a rentier or an amateur scientist from his private income. The greater numbers of persons seeking scientific education, as well as the newly created association of research and education, required larger laboratories with larger masses of equipment. There was no alternative to a denser, more encompassing organization of scientific activity.

These changes in the techniques of scholarship and science coincided with the growth of national wealth and a new development in the attitudes of governments toward university education and toward the scholarly and scientific studies pursued within them. Governments responded munificently to these changes, as did wealthy private persons and the foundations established by them (particularly in the United States). The combination of the increased number of students to be looked after, of buildings, books, and equipment to be procured and cared for, and of scientists and scholars (who were also teachers) to be paid made more organization and control inevitable.

Patterns of demand

As long as rulers were concerned only with their own glory and that of the state, intellectual performance could be left to those with intellectual propensities and the culture necessary to express them. The works of genius could only be the product of those with strong and intensive intellectual propensities. Patronage, court employment, official sinecures, and ecclesiastical livings could suffice for those whose inherited wealth was too meager to maintain them and who could not gain a livelihood through their activities as university teachers, painters and sculptors on commission, theatrical managers, soldiers, and diplomats. Genius and the glory which it brought were what counted—alongside of flattery—and numbers were not especially significant.

When, however, intellectual performance came to be associated with the strength of the state and its internal order and, later, with the physical and mental well-being of the large mass of the people, random and irregular patronage was not able to meet the new demand. The numbers of intellectuals demanded were too great, and the results of the predominant modes of recruitment, which depended on strong and intense intellectual propensity and the accidents of inheritance and patronage, were too uncertain. This vastly increased demand entailed an organized pattern of training and a certification of accomplishment. Intellectual accomplishment in reception and reproduction had to be standardized so that the users in the “practical” sphere—in commerce and industry, education, the civil service, and the judiciary—would be assured that their recruits were reliable.

However, in those spheres of intellectual life which did not obviously contribute to the strength and order of the state and the physical well-being of society and in which the product of intellectual activity was an artifact which could be judged by its consumer, intellectual propensity could still be relied upon. There was no need for certification; the product—a novel, a poem, a painting, or a statue—carried its own certification, in the response of its consumer or recipient, who was assisted increasingly by critics without official status. Self-recruitment could therefore dominate. The arts thus remained the sector of intellectual life in which a free-lance structure could persist. This is at least the way in which things have happened in countries which, in principle or in fact, permitted freedom of intellectual production.

Where the glory of the state required organized and costly parks and buildings, architectural education and practice and schools of painting and sculpture underwent the process of organization and control which the provision of personnel for the intellectual-practical skills (for the civil service, education, law, and so forth) had established. Painting and sculpture have not, however, been subject to the same degree of organization as architecture, partly because of the continuing private demand for paintings and sculptures. This has freed painters and sculptors from the degree of subjection to authority to which engineers and architects, as performers of intellectual-practical activities, have had to submit.

In some states, however, the arts have not been regarded primarily as sources of glory for rulers and of private satisfaction for individual citizens; rather, intellectual activity in the arts has been, and is, regarded as a factor in public order and in the strength and fame of the state. As a result, artistic activities have been subjected to processes of organization and control so that output can be guaranteed or certified. However, since in this sphere quantity is recognized to be less important than quality, more attention is paid to distribution than to production of works of art. Censorship through the control of access to a public audience is the mode of organization found appropriate when intellectual actions, including artistic action, are seen as factors in the maintenance of public order and the security of rulers. But even in countries which take this view, the free-lance principle of support is allowed to predominate within the limits set by censorship, since the belief still prevails that works of art are to a much greater extent the products of intellectual propensity than are the works accomplished in the intellectual-practical professions (the same is true of pure science).

Tradition and creativity

All intellectual actions, however great the genius of their performers, are shaped within a context of tradition. The relationships between intellectual actions and tradition vary in the degree of compellingness and immediacy. In the pattern of scientific work, it is the latest manifestation of the tradition which serves as the point of departure for any particular work of research. The remoter points in the stream of tradition are respected for having set the path for subsequent work, and particular figures are respected not only for their specific accomplishments but for the general tone or ethos which infused their work and which inspires subsequent research workers even at a distance of several centuries. But it is the latest point reached by the tradition which is decisive for the research scientist; it is the latest work which offers both authority and challenge. There is little choice of the tradition to which a research worker must submit; once his problem is chosen, the tradition which he confronts can no longer be chosen. It is there!

This is why scientific research must rest on such a disciplined mastery of what has been accomplished in “the literature.” This is the reason, too, why training and certification can be standardized. This relationship to tradition lends itself readily to class instruction, textbooks, and examinations.

In contrast, certain fields of intellectual activity, such as philosophy, literature, and painting, have no such inevitable subjection to the immediate past. They are freer to turn wholly against it—although very few do—and to choose more usefully or more selectively from the wide variety of traditions and models which have been effective in the course of the development of their respective subjects. Whereas a scientist who rejects much of a current tradition must confront it and respond to it, a writer or painter need not do so. Although most writers and painters do in fact use the currently received tradition as their platform, they need not do so, and they may do so as selectively as they wish. Their divergence from the current pattern is noted, but they will not be censured for it. At least there is no binding consensus that they should do justice to the tradition of the last moment. There is no necessary orthodoxy in literature and art such as there is in science. Thus, whereas it is not a defect in a scientist or scholar to be “academic”—indeed, it is the precondition of his originality—there is no comparable obligation on the part of a literary man or a painter to be academic.

The traditions which govern the life of the intellectual stratum may be divided into the substantive traditions of the special fields of intellectual activity, such as the traditions of psychology, physics, or literature, and their subordinate or technical traditions, such as those concerned with the study of vision, low-temperature physics, or the short story. These traditions contain the results of past accomplishments. The merit of any intellectual performance is assessed by the degree to which it has mastered the inherited tradition and gone beyond it. (The transcendence of tradition as an element in accomplishment is a modern conception; prior to the formation of the romantic conception of genius the merit of an intellectual work was considered to lie in the degree to which it approximated the model offered by tradition. This assessment was in fact an assessment of originality as well as of conformity. It was a creative conformity.)

Intellectual traditions and social authority

Training in intellectual work has two goals: the mastery of both the articulated and promulgated substance and the techniques offered by tradition, and the development of tacit expertise which is the assimilation of the unarticulated spirit of what the tradition offers so that one can transcend and transform traditions while still adhering to them.

Assessment of degree of success in the attainment of these two goals, which stand in such a paradoxical relationship within the larger paradox of tradition and creativity, is one major task of the institutional system of intellectual life, along with the tasks of recruiting, training, facilitating production, and communicating results. The assessment of persons and works is necessary for maintaining traditions of the highest achievement in a given field of intellectual work and for fostering innovation which is not arbitrary and which respects the substance of the tradition even when rejecting it. Among the chief institutions of assessment are examining bodies, appointments committees, the editorial staffs of periodicals, publishing houses, patronage (grants) and prize-awarding bodies, the reviewing sections of periodicals and newspapers, and the selection committees of museums.

In fields of intellectual action in which the insistence on the observance of the latest tradition as a precondition for its transcendence and transformation is great, the institutions of assessment are highly integrated, functioning as a single system, both nationally and internationally. The institutions of assessment themselves, especially at the peaks of the hierarchy, maintain a universally acknowledged standard. The decisions at the peak are acknowledged as valid by a practically world-wide consensus of those who have themselves passed successfully through the machinery of recruitment, training, and assessment. The mediocrities are relegated to the lesser institutions, and failures drop to the bottom or are forced to leave the field. Within each field in which everyone is nominally equal, there is in fact an aristocracy, which is largely an aristocracy of contemporaneous accomplishment but which is also, in small part at least, an aristocracy of particularistic institutional affiliation. (Persons at institutions which are acknowledged to be the richest in accomplishment are, simply by virtue of that fact, carried along and accorded some measure of precedence.) As a result of the operation of the institutions of assessment, certain works and the persons who have produced these works are promoted to the center of attention of those who work on the same or related subjects. Their accomplishments constitute and present the highest and most immediate form of the tradition which must be universally acknowledged and confronted.

The situation is somewhat different in those fields of intellectual action in which there is more self-recruitment, in which training is more a matter of self-discipline than of ordered institutional pressure, and in which the relevant traditions may be more freely chosen. In such fields there is a less far-reaching and less compelling consensus. Although each field has a dominant tradition, each also comprises divergent traditions which have their adherents within and across national boundaries. These diverse traditions have their own institutions of assessment (publishing houses, bookshops, magazines, museums, and galleries) and their own informal circles (friendships and acquaintanceships centered on salons, cafes, etc.), which nurture the particular tradition and make their assessments in its light. The traditions which are asserted in these acts of assessment are the vital substance of the life of the intellectual stratum. They comprise the standards and rules which guide the striving for accomplishment, and the substantive beliefs and symbols which constitute the heritage of valid accomplishment.

It should be emphasized that these traditions are not maintained simply by the authoritativeness of the institutions of assessment and of the body of accomplishment on behalf of which they act. The vitality of these traditions is sustained by the passionate propensity of the “natural” intellectual to be in contact with symbols of general scope. They are traditions which are, so to speak, given by the nature of intellectual work. They are the immanent traditions of intellectual performance, the accepted body of rules of procedure, standards of judgment, criteria for the selection of subject matters and problems, modes of presentation, canons for the assessment of excellence, and models of previous accomplishment and prospective emulation. Every field of intellectual performance, more than any other craft or profession possessing a long and acknowledged accumulation of accomplishments, has such a cultural tradition, which is always being added to and modified, although at varying rates. Without the tradition which is called scientific method in each particular field of science and scholarship and which is called technique in the fields of literary creation and the plastic and other arts, even the greatest and most creative geniuses could not be effective. Colleges and universities, scientific, scholarly, and artistic journals, museums, galleries—in short the whole system of intellectual institutions—function to select those who are qualified to work within these traditions and to train those who are selected in their appreciation, application, and development. Even the most creative and rapidly developing domains of intellectual performance could disregard these traditions only with very great loss.

Secondary traditions have prevailed for a very long time in the intellectual strata of most societies with a written corpus of intellectual works and with specialized intellectuals. These secondary traditions are in a sense marginal to actual intellectual work, but their relation to intense intellectual action is not wholly accidental. The vital substantive and technical traditions of intellectual work seem to entail a measure of tension between themselves and the laity. Although this tension is not constitutive of intellectual work, it seems to be a necessary by-product. The values inherent in these vital traditions are remote from the practical routines of daily life, from the pleasures of the ordinary man, and from the obligations, compromises, and corruptions of those who exercise commanding authority in church, state, economy, and army. Thus, the very intensity and concentration of commitment required by the vital traditions of intellectual life dispose intellectuals to feel some sense of a distance separating the intellectual from the routine and practical.

Intellectual action arose out of religious preoccupations. In the early history of the human race it tended in its concern with the ultimate, or at least with what lies beyond the immediate concrete experience, to operate with religious symbols. Intellectual action of the most intense kind continues to share with genuine religious experience the fascination with the sacred, or the ultimate ground of thought and experience, and the aspiration to enter into intimate contact with it. In secular intellectual work this concern involves the search for the truth, for the principles embedded in events and actions and for the establishment of a relationship between the empirical self and the “essential,” whether the relationship be cognitive, appreciative, or expressive. It is therefore no stretching of the term “religion” to say that science and philosophy, even though they are not religious in a conventional sense, are as concerned with the sacred as religion itself.

Thus, it may be said that a tradition of awesome respect and of serious striving for contact with the sacred underlies the vital intellectual traditions and the actions which carry them forward. This is perhaps the first, the most comprehensive, and the most important of all the traditions of the intellectuals. In the great religious cultures of Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism, prior to the emergence of a differentiated modern intellectual stratum, the care of the sacred through the mastery, interpretation, and exposition of sacred writings, as well as the cultivation of the appropriate mental states or qualities, were the prime interests of intellectuals. (In China a class of Confucian intellectuals in the civil service produced its own tradition, more civil and aesthetic than religious in the conventional sense.) In the West, too, in antiquity, a substantial number of the philosophical intellectuals bore this tradition of concern with the sacred, and on the higher reaches even those who cut themselves off from the tribal and territorial religions continued to be impelled by such considerations (e.g., Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Lucretius, Seneca). Although religious orientations attract a diminishing share of the creative capacities of the elite of the intellectual stratum in modern times, they still remain a major preoccupation of a substantial fraction of the educated classes and of the most creative minds.

With this striving for contact with the ultimately important comes the self-esteem which always accompanies the performance of important activities. Anyone who tries to understand the traditions of the central part of the intellectual stratum and their relations with the authorities who rule the other spheres of society at any given time must bear in mind the crucial significance of the self-regard which comes from preoccupation and contact with the most vital facts of human and cosmic existence, as well as the implied attitude of derogation toward those who act in more mundane or more routine capacities. Naturally this sentiment is not shared equally by all intellectuals. Not all are equally involved in these “vital facts” and therefore not all have the same sense of the dignity of their activities.

When intellectuals ceased to be primarily religious intellectuals or when they ceased to share the prevailing religious orthodoxy, the very act of separation, even where gradual and undeliberate, set up a tension between the intellectuals and the religious authority of their society. Moreover, where the religious authority had close ties with the civil authority, as was often the case, tension between the deviant intellectuals and the civil authorities was aggravated. Ecclesiastical authority became an object of the distrust of some of the most intense and creative intellectuals, and insofar as the civil authorities associated themselves with the religious powers, they too shared in that skepticism. This attitude has not by any means been universal, nor has the distrust always been aggressive. Confucian civil servants, disdainful of Taoism or Buddhism, did not become rebels against their sovereigns as long as they themselves were treated respectfully. In the West, where the separation of religious and other intellectual activities has become most pronounced, a more general feeling of distance from authority has been engendered and has become one of the strongest of the secondary traditions of the intellectuals. It happened first in the West and then, in the present century, in Africa and Asia among intellectuals who have come under the influence of Western traditions.

This attitude is not an integral part of intellectual work, except in political philosophy and the fields related to it, but it has nonetheless found very wide acceptance among those who do intellectual work. It is, moreover, the matrix from which a number of other important secondary traditions have grown. The tension between the intellectuals and the authorities stems from the intellectuals’ urge to locate and acknowledge an authority which is the bearer of the highest good, whether it be science, order, progress, or some other value, and to resist or condemn actual authority as a betrayer of the highest values. In other words, this tension comes from the vital tradition of the intellectual stratum which propels it toward the discovery and expression of what is “ultimately” true and thus “sacred.” Practically all of the more concrete traditions in the light and shadows of which intellectuals have lived embody this tension. These secondary traditions which, however diverse in their age and origin, have played a great part in forming the relations of the modern intellectuals to authority are: the tradition of scientism; the romantic tradition; the apocalyptic tradition; the populistic tradition; and the anti-intellectual tradition of order.

All of these traditions are in conflict with other traditions of deference toward ecclesiastical and temporal authorities and the expectation of a career in their service. Even in those modern cultures in which a tradition of acceptance of legitimate civil and ecclesiastic authorities by the intellectual stratum is strongest, as in modern Britain and modern Germany, it has by no means had the field to itself. More recently, antiauthoritarian secondary traditions have found a widespread and enthusiastic reception in Asia, where devotion to the prevailing religious values and service to temporal authority have always had a powerful hold.

Scientism. The tradition of scientism denies the validity of tradition as such. It insists on the testing of everything which is received and on its rejection if it does not correspond with the “facts of experience.” It is the tradition which demands the avoidance of every extraneous impediment to the precise perception of reality, regardless of whether that impediment comes from tradition, institutional authority, or internal passion or impulse. It is critical of the arbitrary and the irrational. In its emphasis on the indispensability of first-hand and direct experience, it sets itself in opposition to everything which comes between the mind of the knowing individual and “reality.” It is easy to see how social convention and the traditional authority associated with institutions would fall prey to the ravages of this powerfully persuasive tradition, which tends to corrode competing traditions.


The romantic tradition appears at first sight to be in irreconcilable opposition to the tradition of scientism. At certain points, such as the estimation of the value of impulse and passion, there is a real and unbridgeable antagonism. In many important respects, however, they share fundamental features. Romanticism starts with the appreciation of the spontaneous manifestations of the essence of concrete individuality. Hence, it values originality, that is, the novel, that which is produced by the genius of the individual (or the folk) in contrast with the stereotyped and tradition-bound actions of the philistine. Since ratiocination and detachment obstruct spontaneous expression, they are thought to be life-destroying. Institutions, which have rules and which prescribe the conduct of the indivdual members by conventions and commands, are likewise viewed as life-destroying. The bourgeois family, mercantile activity, the market—indeed, civil society in general, with its curb on enthusiasm and its sober acceptance of obligation —are repugnant to the romantic tradition; all are regarded as the enemies of spontaneity and genuineness, since they impose a role on the individual and do not permit him to be himself. They also kill what is really “living” in the folk, that is, the spontaneous and undeliberate. Civil society is thought to have no place for the intellectual, who thus becomes afflicted with a sense of his moral solitude within it: moral solitude is viewed as the “natural condition” of the spontaneous individuality in a society of philistines living a routine existence. The affinities of the romantic tradition to the revolutionary criticism of the established order and to the bohemian refusal to have more part in that order than is absolutely necessary are obvious. The romantic tradition is one of the most explosively antiauthoritarian, and even anticivil, powers of modern intellectual life.


The revolutionary tradition, which has found so many of its leading recipients and exponents in the intellectual stratum, has drawn much from scientism and romanticism, but essentially it rests on one, much older tradition, namely the apocalyptic, or millenarian, tradition. The belief that the evil world as we know it, so full of temptation and corruption, will come to an end one day and will be replaced by a purer and better world originates in the apocalyptic outlook of the prophets of the Old Testament. It is promulgated in the Christian idea of the kingdom of God, which the earlier Christians expected in their own time, and it persists into the present; the revolutionary tradition itself is hidden by the efforts of the church but recurrently appears on the surface of history in the teaching and action of heretical sects. The apocalyptic tradition received a powerful impetus from Manicheanism. In the Donatists, the Bogomils, the Albigensians and Waldensians, the Hussites and Lollards, the Anabaptists, and the Fifth Monarchy Men, this tradition has lived on. It has come down to our own times in a transmuted form. Although the apocalyptic outlook still exists in its religious form among numerous Christian, quasi-Christian, and non-Christian sects in Europe, America, Asia, and Africa, its intellectually most important recipients are the modern revolutionary movements, especially the Marxian movements. (Marxian writers of the early part of this century acknowledged the Anabaptists, the Fifth Monarchy Men, the Levellers, and the Diggers as their forerunners, and although the Bolsheviks have been less willing to admit Russian sectarianism as an antecedent, it is probable that the Russian sectarian image of the world and its cataclysmic future made it easier for the Marxian conception of society and its historical destiny to find acceptance in Russia.) The disposition to distinguish sharply between good and evil and to refuse to permit any admixture, the insistence that justice be done though the heavens fall, the obstinate refusal to compromise or to tolerate compromise—all the features of doctrinaire politics, or the politics of the ideal—which are common to many modern intellectuals, must be attributed in some measure at least to the revolutionary tradition.


Another tradition which has moved nearly all intellectuals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the populistic tradition. Populism, which is partly an offspring of the romantic tradition, is a belief in the creativity and the superior moral worth of the ordinary people, of the uneducated and unintellectual; it perceives virtue in their actual qualities or in their potentialities. In the simplicity and wisdom of the ways of the ordinary people, the populist tradition alleges that it has discerned virtues which are morally superior to those found in the educated and in the higher social classes. Even where, as in Marxism, the actual state of the lower classes is not esteemed, they are alleged to be fitted by destiny to become the salvationary nucleus of their whole society. Elements of the populistic disposition are manifested in romanticism, with its distrust of the rational and calculating elements in bourgeois society; in revolutionism, with its hatred of the upper classes as the agents of wicked authority; and in the apocalyptic attitude, which sees the last coming first and which alleges that official learning (religious and secular) has falsified the truths which the Last Judgment and the leap into freedom will validate. German historical and philological scholarship in the nineteenth century, imbued with the romantic hatred of the rational, the economic, and the analytic spirit, which it castigated as the source and product of the whole rationalistic trend of western European culture, discovered in the nameless masses, the folk, the fountain of linguistic and cultural creativity. French socialism went a step further, and Marxism elevated this essentially romantic outlook into a systematic, “scientific” theory.

In all countries peripheral to the most creative centers of Western culture at the height of its hegemony over the modern mind, intellectuals were both fascinated and rendered uneasy by the culture of western Europe. Not only in early nineteenth-century Germany, but in Russia of the 1850s, in the middlewestern United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in Brazil (in the doctrine of “Indianismo”), in the resentful and embittered aesthetic “left” and romantic “right” of the Weimar Republic, in India since the ascendancy of Gandhi, and in the emerging intellectual strata of the new countries of Africa, populistic tendencies have been massively at work.

In the newly sovereign countries of Asia and Africa the intellectuals have been educated either in foreign countries or in institutions within their own countries modeled after those at the center of the culture they have sought to emulate. In all these countries the intellectuals have developed anxiety about whether they have not allowed themselves to be corrupted by excessive permeation with the admired foreign culture. To identify themselves with “the people”—that is, to praise the culture of the ordinary man as richer, truer, wiser, and more relevant than the foreign culture in which they had themselves been educated—has been a way out of this distress. In most cases this development is a protest against the “official” culture, the culture of the higher civil servants and of the universities. As such, it has fused easily with the other traditions hostile to civil institutions and civil authority.


Closely connected with the traditions discussed above and yet apparently a negation of them is the anti-intellectual tradition of order. Here, order is understood as a perfect integration of society under a powerful authority, in accordance with which each individual has a prefixed status and role. Best known in the West in the form of French positivism (as in the work of Saint-Simon and Comte), the anti-intellectual tradition has its roots in antiquity and in the belief that excessive intellectual analysis and discussion can disrupt the foundations of social order. Evidence of an ambivalence in the traditional antiauthoritarianism of intellectuals is afforded by Plato’s attitude toward poets, the burning of the books by the repentant Confucian Li Ssu at the origin of the Ch’in dynasty, Hobbes’s analysis of the role of intellectuals in bringing about the English civil war, Taine’s interpretation of the significance of the philosophes in bringing on the French Revolution of 1789, and the ideas of Joseph de Maistre and of the French “right” since his time. It should be noted that this anti-intellectual tradition of order is also usually hostile to civil authority, which it regards as ineffectual wherever such authority permits some measure of intellectual freedom. It is not antagonistic toward all intellectuals but only toward those who are “critical” and whose criticism is an instigation to the disruption of “order.”

Since these secondary traditions are all hostile to civil authority, they are not supported by the type of institutional system which is directed to the meeting of those “needs” (for intellectual-practical services) which authority regards as legitimate. The continuance of these secondary traditions rests in part, therefore, on their attractiveness to persons of strongly intellectual propensities. They also depend on dissensual institutions; for example, political and religious sects often develop their own sets of intellectual institutions—schools, publishing houses, bookshops, periodicals, and circles. These secondary traditions depend, too, on a continuing self-renewal at the peripheries of such central cultural institutions as universities, research institutions, and the more civil political parties. They are maintained there by dissidents from the prevailing outlook among the elders, as well as by the more sensitive, less routinizable sectors of the oncoming generation. Student “movements” are important sources of recruits.

However, the life of these secondary traditions depends, above all, on the literature which the great figures of these traditions have created. Much of this literature forms part of the intellectual tradition which the more highly organized intellectual institutions cultivate as part of their task of training recruits for intellectual and intellectual-practical actions. However, since the secondary traditions themselves are not cultivated by the organized intellectual institutions, the transmission of these traditions and their institutions of assessment tends to be fragmentary and discontinuous. The intellectual institutional system of the secondary traditions resembles the institutional system which provides those intellectual products for which there is no institutionalized “demand.” This structural affinity is supported by the greater responsiveness to these secondary traditions among those who produce literary and artistic works. Bohemia is thus the common hearth of literary and artistic production and consumption and of the reception and cultivation of the secondary traditions.

Nonetheless, the intellectual stratum lives in society, even though professional necessities and tastes tend to segregate intellectuals in terms of places of work and centers of conviviality. Although the intellectual stratum in modern societies is mainly of middle-class origin and in earlier societies was largely of upper-class origin, it is not self-reproducing. Intellectuals grow up in families and in schools in which they come to share the wider and less intellectual culture of their society. Moreover, given the strong attraction which authority has for intellectuals, their awareness of an authority which rules their society gives them some sense of affinity with the rest of that society. Intellectuals are usually patriots, and the frequent “antipatriotism” of some sectors of the intellectual stratum is, in fact, merely an inverted manifestation of their patriotism. More than most of their fellow countrymen, they feel the falling away of their country from perfection.

The functions of intellectuals

The most obvious function of intellectual action is the production of intellectual works which are added to the tradition or stock of intellectual works —the “high culture”—available to their society. Intellectuals also carry on, elaborate, and modify the tradition of beliefs about various sectors of the universe; they transmit to the next generations of intellectuals those fundamental dispositions, tastes, and modes of apprehending reality which cannot be readily articulated and codified and which cannot be transmitted except by prolonged and intimate interaction.

Creating and diffusing high culture

The creation and development of this high culture is the primary function of the intellectuals whose productiveness stems from an inner intellectual propensity. Their propensities are directed toward intellectual tasks set largely by intellectual traditions but also by the conditions of their society. Primary intellectual production has its own autonomy: it works on what is offered by its traditions, seeking to improve, refine, correct, and transform these traditions in the form of new works. Where creativity and originality are emphatically acknowledged and prized and where innovation is admitted and accepted, this function is perceived as a primary obligation of intellectuals. Even in traditional societies, in which individual creativity has not been seen as having positive value, the labor of powerful minds and irrepressible individualities on what has been received from the past has modified that heritage and has adapted it to meet new tasks and to overcome hitherto unmastered, or perhaps even unnoticed, obstacles. In this process of elaboration, divergent potentialities of the system of cultural values have been made explicit, and conflicting positions have been established. Each generation of intellectuals performs this elaborating function for its own and the next succeeding generations.

Only a very small proportion of the works produced in a society within a given generation represents significantly novel and valuable additions to the cultural stock. Many are reproductive of earlier innovations, and many are done at a low level of proficiency. (The hierarchies of individual intellectuals and of intellectual institutions correspond to hierarchies of originality and individuality of intellectual works.) Most of the productive intellectuals of any generation are also reproductive, although in unequal degrees. The most original of them therefore perform a twofold function in the creation and extension of high culture. First and most important, they create new and valuable works as such; second, they guide, by providing models for emulation, the large substratum of reproductive intellectuals, who in turn diffuse, in modified form, the patterns of procedure and belief of the most creative workers in their respective fields.

The relationship between the productive and the reproductive is not, however, simply a matter of diffusion. In some fields the reproductive stratum often tends to be more attached to past models of creative intellectual works than to the newly created ones. This is particularly true where there is a highly institutionalized system of transmission of intellectual traditions, as a result of which many persons with relatively feeble intellectual propensities of their own acquire a quite considerable obsolescent intellectual culture. Even where there is not an active attack on creative innovations, the sheer persistence of this attachment to past patterns restricts the speed of diffusion of the new beliefs. In other fields, where training is less organized and the institutions which do the training are less authoritative in their assessments and their control over promotion (as in literature), innovations are likely to find a speedier reproduction mong some intellectuals and a less enduring resistance among other intellectuals. In such fields, however, the dissensus between the devotees and the opponents of tradition is greater.

In fields of scientific research the unification of the intranational system leaves only the lower fringes of the reproductive stratum (e.g., school science) untouched by important innovations. In other fields that are less compellingly consensual in the assessment of accomplishments, more obdurate resistance and even aggressively dissensual counterattacks against creative innovations are almost endemic in the nature of the things in question.

Providing national and cross-national models

The primary intellectual function of the production of new additions to the high culture of a society is performed not only for other intellectuals of that society but for the intellectuals of other societies as well. Just as there is a roughly defined hierarchy of intellectuals for each category of intellectual action and to a lesser extent for much of the intellectual stratum as a whole, so there is a hierarchy, even more roughly delineated, among the intellectuals of different societies. When similar genres of intellectual action are performed in different societies, there is a tendency toward a universalization of standards of assessment of intellectual accomplishments. In the Middle Ages and in early modern times the Indian intellectuals performed this function for southeast Asia. The intellectuals of republican and imperial Rome looked up to, and learned from, Greek intellectuals. For a time Chinese intellectuals performed this function for Japan. In modern times the British intellectuals of Oxford, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics have provided the model for intellectuals of India and Africa. Nineteenth-century German academic intellectuals provided a world-wide model, just as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries French artistic and literary intellectuals have provided models of development for aesthetically sensitive intellectuals all over the civilized world. In the eighteenth century the intellectuals of the French Enlightenment inspired their confreres in Spain, Italy, Prussia, and Russia. Positions in the hierarchy shift. Centers lose their pre-eminence; new centers emerge either to share pre-eminence with the older centers or to displace them.

The function of providing a model for primary intellectual production within and among societies implies the attribution of universal validity to the criterion of superior quality of accomplishment. The pattern of action of a certain group of intellectuals comes to be regarded as exemplary, because it is thought to correspond more closely to certain ideal requirements of truth, beauty, or virtue. Such standards are never the objects of complete consensus, least of all in the fields of expressive intellectual action. But they are often accepted over very extensive areas of the world at any given time; this is the situation of scientific knowledge in the world today.

Developing common cultures

The hierarchies of creative intellectuals, of metropolitan and provincial intellectuals, have a parallel in the hierarchy of high and common cultures. The term “common culture” refers to the moral unity of a society. Since most societies are too large, in terms of territory and population, to be united through kinship connection and firsthand experience, the development of a common culture ordinarily depends on reproductive intellectual institutions such as schools, churches, and newspapers. Through these intellectual institutions ordinary persons become aware of each other’s existence as members of the same society. A sense of identity and of membership in a society is formed thereby, and content is given to the symbolism of the national society. Moreover, through these reproductive intellectual institutions children and adults enter into some degree of contact with the custodians and exponents of the beliefs espoused by the central institutional system. By means of preaching, teaching, and writing, reproductive intellectuals infuse into those sections of the population which are intellectual neither by propensity nor by role beliefs which they would otherwise lack. By the provision of such techniques as reading, writing, and calculation they enable the laity to enter into a wider universe. The creation of nations out of tribal, village, and regional cultures in early modern times in Europe and in contemporary Asia and Africa is the work of teachers, authors, agitators, and journalists, just as the formation of the American nation out of diverse ethnic groups is the achievement of teachers, clergymen, and journalists.

The establishment of relatively unitary societies in modern times has not been a product only of the transmission and reception of a minimal common culture; it has owed much to “practical” power-exercising actions. The legitimation of a reigning authority results, to some extent, from the effectiveness of the incumbent authority in maintaining order, in showing strength, and in dispensing a semblance of justice. But these practical activities, especially at the peaks of the hierarchies which performed them, have had intellectual components and have often been done by intellectuals, even by productive intellectuals (e.g., John Locke at the Board of Trade, Isaac Newton at the Mint). Thus, the apparently nonintellectual exercise of power has proceeded through institutions which were not infrequently manned by intellectuals. The legitimacy of authority is, moreover, a matter of beliefs; beliefs about authority, even in societies less educated than the advanced societies of the present day, are far from resting entirely on firsthand experience and observation of the efficacy of authority. Much of what is believed beyond firsthand experience is in the form of received traditions into which have entered and accumulated, alongside of other elements, the beliefs promulgated by productive intellectuals over extended periods in the past.

Influencing social change

By providing models and standards and through the presentation of symbols to be appreciated, productive and reproductive intellectuals elicit, guide, and form the expressive dispositions within a society. However, this is not to say that the expressive life of a society is under the exclusive dominion of its intellectuals. Indeed, the situation has never existed (and in fact could never exist) in which the expressive life of a society—its aesthetic tastes, its artistic creations, or the ultimately aesthetic grounds of its ethical judgments—fell entirely within the traditions espoused by the intellectuals of the society. Societies vary in the extent to which the expressive actions and orientations are consensual with what is taught and represented by the dominant “primary-productive” intellectuals. In modern societies there is certainly too much diversity in expressive intellectual practices and too much dissensus in beliefs about these practices among expressive intellectual producers for such a consensus of producers, reproducers, and recipients to exist. Nonetheless, despite these variations it is true that much of the expressive life of a society, even what is most vulgar and tasteless, echoes some of the expressive practices and beliefs of intellectuals.

Thus, the degree of intellectual consensus in a society can never be great, not only because of the dissensus among the primary producers but because of temporal stratification and other types of dissensus in the intellectual attachments of the reproductive intellectuals. The quite different social situations of the recipients of high culture, the extreme discrepancies in educational preparation and receptive capacity, class attachments and resentments, regional attachments and resistances, generational antagonisms, and the continuation of autonomous cultural traditions in the mass of the society all work against the possibility of a far-reaching intellectual consensus in society. Nevertheless, some consensus does exist, and some common cultures exist in countries which have been sovereign and have therefore had their own autonomous central institutional and cultural systems for a long time. In the creation of this common culture, an important part is played by the intellectual works of generation after generation of primary-productive intellectuals.

The process of elaborating and developing further the potentialities inherent in a system of beliefs entails some degree of rejecton of the inherited tradition. In all societies, even those in which the intellectual elite are notable for their conservatism, the diverse paths of creativity and the tradition of antitraditionality impel a partial rejection of the prevailing system of cultural values. The range of rejection of the inherited varies greatly; it can never be complete and all-embracing. Even where the rejecting intellectuals allege that they are “nihilistic” with respect to everything that is inherited, complete repudiation without physical self-annihilation is impossible. The act of rejection practically always is an act of observance and development of an alternative stream of tradition, sometimes one which has been buried for a long time. Without a genius and his works, acts of rejection among reproductive intellectuals cannot create a new tradition or revive a forgotten one. The power of recent and present creativity is too great to resist.

The inherent potentialities of any high intellectual tradition for divergent interpretations are potentialities of conflict within the intellectual stratum, both in the intellectual elite and at the lower levels of creativity and productivity. In the domains of scientific and scholarly research the modes of conflict, which in the course of time produce changes in the content and shape of consensus, are subjected to quite strict regulation. The criteria and the institutions of assessment of the contending alternatives are, on the whole, quite firmly established and clearly defined.

It is quite different in the fields of expressive intellectual action. In the middle ground, between scientific research and expressive activity, stands the mode of contention over contemporaneous, or contemporaneously relevant, social, political, and moral phenomena. Here criteria other than the intellectual enter. Attachments to particular patterns of distribution of wealth, income, or deference, to particular modes of organization of authority, and to particular incumbents or classes of incumbents of authoritative roles, play an important part in intellectual contention. These particular attachments are often generalized and subjected to intellectual discipline, but the particularistic elements remain. Through this fusion of particular attachments (and antagonisms) with intellectual traditions, some intellectuals are enabled to influence the movement of the social structure, changes in incumbents of authoritative roles, changes in allocations, etc.

Playing political roles

The affirmation or rejection of the legitimacy of authority is a major preoccupation of every form of intellectual life. It could not be otherwise, since intellectual life could not exist without the authority of tradition—an inherited corpus of works and standards for the production of works of high quality—or without creativity which challenges the authority of tradition. Authority, furthermore, engages the minds of intellectuals, especially those active in primary intellectual production. Involvement in primary intellectual production is a pursuit of the “essential,” the “ultimately right,” and the sacred, and political authority claims a similar involvement on behalf of its legitimacy. What is more, the political elite wants intellectuals. It needs their approbation and their services. However, it is less ready to share the highest authority with them and less eager to hear their criticism of how the nonintellectual ruler conducts himself in office. This is where the conflict centers. Despite the long-standing and recurrent mutual distrust between intellectuals (especially those who share the high and general intellectual culture) and politicians, numerous intellectuals, including some who have been among the greatest of primary producers, have affirmed, accepted, and served the ruling authorities.

Intellectuals attached to the high culture of their institutional systems have played a great historical role on the higher levels of state administration and the judiciary, especially in China, in British and independent India, in the Ottoman Empire, and in modern Europe. (In contrast, in private economic organizations the employment of intellectuals in administrative capacities has for a very long time been uncommon to the point of rarity; neither have intellectuals ever shown any inclination to become business enterprisers. It is only since the nineteenth century that business firms—first in Germany, then in America, and later in other industrialized countries—have taken to the large-scale employment of scientists in research departments and to a much smaller extent in executive capacities. However, the increased importance attributed to industrial research has changed the situation in industry quite markedly in the present century and especially since World War II.) Sovereigns have often considered a high standard of education, either humanistic or technical–legal, confirmed by diplomas and examinations, necessary for the satisfactory functioning of the state. Without the general acceptance of the appropriateness of appointing persons with high intellectual training and culture to administrative posts, the intellectual institutional system as we know it, in which the universities occupy a central place, would never have developed as it has.

Equal in antiquity to the role of the highly educated in state administration is the role of the intellectual as personal agent, counselor, tutor, or friend of the sovereign. Plato’s experience in Syracuse, Aristotle’s relations with Alexander in, Alcuin’s with Charlemagne, Clarendon’s with Charles I, Hobbes’s with Charles n prior to the Restoration, Milton’s with Cromwell, Lord Keynes with the Treasury during and after World War II, the “brain trust” under Franklin Roosevelt, and the circle around President Kennedy represent only a few of numerous instances throughout history in which intellectuals have been drawn into the entourage of rulers and have had their advice and aid sought and their approval valued. On the other hand, there have been many states and periods in which this has not been so. The court of Wilhelm II, for example, drew relatively little on the educated classes of the time; important events in Chinese history can be explained by the intellectuals’ reactions to the rulers’ refusals to draw them into the most intimate and influential circle of counselors. American history from the time of the Jacksonian revolution until the “New Liberalism” of Woodrow Wilson was characterized by the separation of intellectuals from the higher executive and the legislative branches of government.

Intellectuals as the heads of states and governments have been more characteristic of democratic than of monarchical regimes. Intellectuals have emerged occasionally in monarchies at the pinnacles of authority, through sheer accident or at least through no deliberate process of selection. Asoka, Marcus Aurelius, and Ikhnaton are a few such men. In the liberal-democratic party politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there have been numerous impressive instances of productive intellectuals who have been able, by their own efforts and a widespread appreciation for their gifts of civil politics, to play a notable role in the exercise of great political authority: e.g., Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Francois Guizot, Woodrow Wilson, Jawaharlal Nehru, Thomas Masaryk, Luigi Einaudi, Amintore Fanfani, Harold Wilson, and Ludwig Erhard. This has not been entirely accidental. For one thing, liberal and constitutional politics in great modern states and democratic and “progressive” nationalist movements in colonial territories have to a large extent been “intellectuals’ politics”—that is, politics vaguely impelled by ideals precipitated into programs.

Indeed, in modern times, first in the West and then, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, at the peripheries of Western civilization and in the Orient, the major political vocation of the intellectuals has lain in the enunciation and pursuit of the ideal. Modern liberal and constitutional politics have largely been the creation of intellectuals with bourgeois affinities and sympathies who live in societies dominated by military and land-owning aristocracies. This effort has been one major form of the pursuit of the ideal.

Another form of the pursuit of the ideal has been the promulgation and inspiration of ideological politics, that is, revolutionary politics working outside the boundaries of constitutional traditions. Prior to the origins of modern ideological politics, which came into the open with the Reformation, conspiracies, putsches, and the subversion of existing regimes, although they were common and often involved intellectuals, did not manifest any particular affinity between intellectuals and ideological revolutionism. In modern times, however, with the emergence of ideologically dominated political activities as a constitutive part of public life, such an affinity has emerged and is constantly being reinforced by the secondary traditions of the culture of the intellectuals. Its bearers are young persons not yet assimilated into intellectual-practical occupations, bohemian free-lance intellectuals, the educated in underdeveloped countries (the economic and administrative systems of which were not capable of absorbing them), and, occasionally, already well established persons with unusually sensitive moral consciences.

By no means have all intellectuals been equally attracted by ideological politics. Moderation and devotion to the rules of civil politics, quiet and apolitical concentration on specialized intellectual tasks, cynical antipolitical passivity, and faithful acceptance of, and service to, the existing order are all to be found in substantial proportions among modern intellectuals, just as among intellectuals in antiquity. Nonetheless, the function of modern intellectuals in supplying the doctrines and some of the leaders of revolutionary ideological movements is to be considered one of their most important accomplishments.

Edward Shils

[See alsoAcademic Freedom; Censorship; Creativity, article onSocial aspects; Fine arts; Ideology; Knowledge, sociology of; Literature; Organizations, article onOrganizational Intelligence; Professions; Religious Specialists; Science; Universities.]


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Mannheim, Karl (1935) 1940 Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction: Studies in Modern Social Structure. New York: Harcourt. → First published as Mensch und Gesellschaft im Zeitalter des Umbaus.

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Souvani, N. V.; and Dandekar, Kumudini (editors) 1961 Changing India: Essays in Honour of Professor D. G. Gadgil. New York: Taplinger. → See especially the article hy Edward Shils, “Metropolis and Province in the Intellectual Community.”

Weber, Max (1921) 1958 The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. Translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published as Hinduismus und Buddhismus, Volume 2 of Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie.

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Wilensky, Harold L. 1956 Intellectuals in Labor Unions: Organizational Pressures on Professional Roles. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Znaniecki, Florian 1940 The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.


views updated May 29 2018


An abundance of studies on the subject of intellectuals has focused on societal differences and disparate issues, and featured a wide array of eras, cultures, and practices. A comparison by Raymond Williams between the French tradition of the intellectual engaged in public issues and the more reserved role ascribed to his or her English counterpart attests to this difference among societies. It has become customary to associate intellectual activity with the ideas of modernity and universality that arose during the Enlightenment. However, the nature, configuration, and functions of that activity have evolved considerably since the eighteenth century, covering a range of subjects that are as diverse as the intelligentsia's areas of influence, forms of expression, and objects and goals. As the scholar and critic Edward Said (19352003) observed:

The proliferation of intellectuals has extended even into the very large number of fields in which intellectualspossibly following on [Antonio] Gramsci's pioneering suggestions in The Prison Notebooks, which almost for the first time saw intellectuals, and not social classes, as pivotal to the working of modern societyhave become the object of study. There are thousands of different histories and sociologies of intellectuals available, as well as endless accounts of intellectuals and nationalism, and power, and tradition, and revolution, and on and on. Each region of the world has produced its intellectuals and each of those formations is debated and argued over with fiery passion. There has been no major revolution in modern history without intellectuals; conversely, there has been no major counter-revolution without intellectuals. (p. 8)

Intelligentsia and Society

Although the intellectual world's diversity and multiplicity have been recognized, the question of the precise nature of intellectual activity continues to be debated. The early-twenty-first-century controversy over scientific research in France provides an excellent example with which to consider the question of the intelligentsia within the particular context of globalization. In this conflict, the parties involved are, on one side, researchers who have accused the French government of taking an anti-intellectual stance in making budget cuts and putting severe limits on scientific research, and, on the other, government policy makers who label such protestors as ideologues. And, in the debate that seems to have developed ever since the Dreyfus affairan event that is commonly associated with the coining of the word intellectual and that pitted artists, journalists, and other intellectuals against the two most powerful institutions in French society, the army and the governmentthe polarization of the Left (progressives and liberals) and the Right (conservatives and reactionaries) has taken shape in the public arena with new intellectual figures (here considered as actors) and focusing on intelligence (conceived of as a resource). Some intellectuals who are opposed to this polarization have denied an identification with the role of the intellectual and any relationship to government that that implies The principal promoter of this middle path, Alain Finkielkraut, justifies his position in refusing to be defined as an intellectual, saying that intellectuals in the early-twenty-first-century "only enter the public arena to accuse the guilty." He takes issue with the petition denouncing "the war on intellectualism" launched against the French government by the magazine Les Inrockuptibles.

In contrast to Finkielkraut, Said insists on the rebellious role of the intellectual, as one who questions more than he or she sanctions"The intellectual as exile and marginal, as amateur, and as the author of a language that tries the truth to power." Said also noted that, in English, "the word 'intellectual' was [usually associated with] 'ivory tower' and 'sneer.'" The negative connotations of the term are underlined by Raymond Williams in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Until the middle of the twentieth century, unfavorable uses of intellectual, intellectualism, and intelligentsia were dominant in English, and, according to Said, "it is clear that such uses persist" (pp. xiv, x).

The contemporary controversy over the identity and goals of the intellectual, by way of the references and history that the controversy summons up, emphasizes questions about the nature and political economy of intelligence in its relationship to society and the public arena. Two questions in particular recur repeatedly in this debate. The first is whether or not intellectual work and activist intervention are compatible, and if the intellectual has a duty to declare a position for or against the important issues of the day. The second is whether or not the intellectual has the means and legitimacy to intervene in the public debate. The arguments triggered by the negative assessment by researchers and cultural figures of the politics of the French government are not new. On the contrary, they are part of a long tradition that has shaped the function, role, representation, and actions of intellectuals in contemporary society, in their variety, their clashing and changing trajectories, and the conflicts that they bring or incite.

The controversies involve political, cultural, and moral questions as much as they do issues relating to the influence of language, traditions, and historical conditions on intellectual intervention. More precisely, it is a question of determining whether, in taking positions, the intellectual must make clear his or her relative independence, or take a position aligned with a political party, church, or cultural group. Should the intellectual express support for a universalist tradition disdainful of all local cultural roots and all references to a particular place, belief, or community? If one accepts that every intellectual has a particular audience and belongs to a particular culture, what establishes him or her as an intellectual is the ability to think and act independently from them. The possibility of moving between sticking to what is familiar (staying within one's historical community) and being open-minded (embracing the universalist tradition), speaking out in public or retreating to the ivory tower, seems to have contributed to the identity of the intellectual and the utilization of intelligence in all human societies.

Of course, styles, grammars, and degrees of prolificness are not all similar as marks or emblems, even if the historical path of the West has become established as the metanarrative and the inescapable point of reference with respect to human universality. Despite this, whether in agreement with the Western model or dissenting from it, different practices have flourished since the opening of the world to European imperialism, addressing Western hegemony in light of particular aspects of dominated societies (colonial and postcolonial) or peripheral societies (China and Japan, for example), striving to create alternative visions. The emergence of these new voices, the diversification of intellectual horizons, whether colonial or postcolonial or embracing non-European nationalisms, and the cultural, ethnic, religious, and racial emphases that distinguish human societies, continue to give rise to an extraordinary metamorphosis in intellectual identity. As a result, the most basic intellectual foundations and the assumption of a fixed point around which everything revolved have been called into question. Whereas the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment seemed to have succeeded in dividing rational intelligence from feelings, personal life from public life, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen configurations of greater complexity, a diversity of intellectual vehicles, sources, and individuals and groups who declare themselves to be (or are regarded as) intellectuals.


Edward Said's Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures offers an excellent starting point for defining this type. Among the supporting materials on which Said relies are two well-known books, Quaderni del carcere (1947; Prison Notebooks ) by Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and La trahison des clercs (1927; The Treason of the Intellectuals ) by Julien Benda (18671956). These texts were written in different circumstances but with identical concerns, relating to the appearance of theories and practices that contradict or threaten the transcendent values of truth, justice, and humanity. After comparing Benda and Gramsciwho "clash fundamentally" over the issue of who qualifies as an intellectual (for Benda, it is a small group of clerks chosen in a draconian manner; for Gramsci, all individuals are intellectuals, even if not all perform such a function in society)Said proposes a simple definition of intellectual : "An individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, an attitude, philosophy, or opinion to, as well as for, a public" (p. 9). The intellectual's vocation is manifested in the consummate art of representation through words, writing, teaching, and participation in the media, including radio, television, and the press.

It is not disputed that the mission of the intellectual is to advance human knowledge and freedom. It is the differences in thoughts and beliefs that are important and often irreconcilable in determining who should be in command of this task, to what ends, and with what means. But who are these intellectuals whose nature is revealed by the role that they play or that society assigns them? Gramsci made a distinction between two types: on the one hand, the traditional intellectuals, priests, teachers, administrators, who ensure the cohesion of the hegemonic culture, while renewing, generation after generation, these traditional roles; and on the other hand, the "organic" intellectuals who, while a part of civil society, maintain a sometimes strained relationship with it. They are in the service of the social classes or enterprises that organize them and mobilize them to defend particular interests. They are, to borrow a phrase from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, engaged in society.

Benda was concerned with a category that he identified as a small group of erudite people, guardians of an irreproachable morality: a "conscience of humanity" responsible for1118 administering the empire of justice and truth that transcends the world in which they live. In Benda's vision, intellectuals have the responsibility of denouncing corruption, defending the weak, and defying oppressive authority. In this sense, they are agents of a mission that, if betrayed, has harmful effects on society. The values that they try to secure and preserve, because they apply to all peoples and nations, carry a seal of universality, for they are transcendent, transhistorical, transnational, and transcultural.

In the early twentieth century, Gramsci and Benda traced the spread of intellectualism and the identifying elements that marked the intellectual; the definitions in use at the beginning of the twenty-first century are variations based on their ideas, to which have been added a consideration of the emergence and consolidation of power, of wealth, and of the ascendance of new professions engaged in intellectual pursuits. In effect, in the early twenty-first century the term intellectual is applied to all activities connected with the production and circulation of knowledge as described by Gramsci; as noted by Said, "broad-casters, academic professionals, computer analysts, sports and media lawyers, management consultants, policy experts, government advisers, authors of specialized market reports, and indeed the whole field of modern mass journalism itself have vindicated Gramsci's vision" (p. 7). Located there is the creative tension present at the heart of the mission and the demands of the intellectual, caught between the rebellion against and constant questioning of the hegemonic culture and support for the latter in order to ensure "order and continuity in public life" (p. 27).

Régis Debray has provided an excellent history of the intellectuals in modern France. Debray's discussion is divided into three historical periods: Between 1880 and 1930, the figure of the intellectual was solidly attached to institutions, none more so than the university; as professionals devoted to teaching and research, intellectuals found in these institutions effective protection against the church and its power. Between 1930 and 1968, the university lost its privileged place in the intellectual firmament, at least in the representation of the intellectual figure; in that function it was superseded by publishing houses, in which intellectuals and publishers formed "a new spiritual family," as Debray aptly described the relationship, citing such "family" members as Sartre, André Gide, Simone de Beauvoir, the Gallimards, and André Malraux. After 1968 this spiritual family broke up; intellectual engagement in the political sphere and the public arena took a new turn and created new idioms. Mao Zedong's China replaced the USSR as the ne plus ultra of socialism. Discourses and practices took to the fields or factories before moving on to editorial offices or radio and television production, government ministries, literary or film work. Debray strongly criticized this transformation, which enlarged intellectuals' sphere of influence while at the same time endangering their authority, for their reliance on their peers gave way to a search for a captive audience: "By extending the reception area, the mass media have reduced the sources of intellectual legitimacy, with wider concentric circles that are less demanding and therefore more easily won over. The mass media have broken down the closure of the traditional intelligentsia, together with its evaluative norms and its scale of values" (pp. 71, 81).

Even though the history related by Debray applies to France, from his study one can draw the general conclusion that the power and legitimacy of intellectuals derive as much from the institutions with which they are affiliated and from the influence that they are able to exert as a result as they do to their individual authority. For example, describing the situation of intellectuals in the United States, Alvin Gouldner emphasizes the considerable increase in the areas of expertise that one could categorize as "intellectual" and the development of a culture of critical discourse for each of those categories. Beyond those identified by Said and Debray, he cites such late-twentieth-century additions as military strategist and international lawyer, which, like publisher and writer, utilize a specialized vocabulary that is shared only with peers of these disciplines. The French philosopher and social critic Michel Foucault (19261984), commenting on this enlargement of the intellectual sphere to include new kinds of practitioners, pondered the consequences of replacing the universalist intellectualthe kind that Benda and Gramsci had been concerned withby the specialist, whose expertise justified his or her intervention in other spheres, the public arena in particular.

Challenges to Traditional Discourse

The studies outlined above emphasized the transformations of the intellectual sphere, the diversification of its principal practitioners, and changes in vocabulary, kinds of expertise, and institutional configurations or means of representation. Challenging the universality of the West's historical path (as much through racial as sexual distinctions) opened a space in which to deploy other narrations and different forms of intellectual engagement. Feminist, civil rights, and colonialist and post-colonialist social movements that have arisen in opposition to Western conceptions of universality and modernity have striven to set precise goals for intellectuals. The questions that preoccupy thinkers, in Africa as in Asia, are whether or not there will be, on the one hand, changes to accepted bodies of knowledge and the traditional role of indigenous intellectuals, and, on the other hand, the nativization of modern Western procedures and forms of learning and intellectual intervention in societies where Western modes of reference have been imposed. For Africa and the black diaspora, there are two excellent texts: Frantz Fanon's Les damnés de la terre (1961; The Wretched of the Earth ) and Robin Kelley's Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. The latter succinctly captures the assault by newcomers on the universalist metanarrative:

Social movements generate new knowledge, new theories, new questions. The most radical ideas often grow out of a concrete intellectual engagement with the problems of aggrieved populations confronting systems of oppression. For example, the academic study of race has been inextricably intertwined with political struggles. Just as imperialism, colonialism, and post-Reconstruction redemption politics created the intellectual ground for Social Darwinism and other manifestations of scientific racism, the struggle against racism generated cultural relativist and social constructionist scholarship on race. The great work of W. E. B. Dubois, Franz Boas, Olivier Cox, and many others were invariably shaped by social movements as well as social crises such as the proliferation of lynching and the rise of fascism. Similarly, gender analysis was brought to us by the feminist movement, not only by the individual genius of the Grimke sisters or Anna Julia Cooper, Simone de Beauvoir, or Audre Lorde. Thinking gender and the possibility of transformation evolved largely in relationship to social struggle. (p. 9)

Kelley is interested in the connections between intellectual practices and social movements, whereas Fanon is concerned with the mission of the colonized intellectual in the context of the struggle for national independence and social revolution. He shows how the man or woman of culturethe intellectualin this context, using historical sources, strives to systematically counter the thesis of the barbarism of precolonial societies in order to re-create a community, his nation and state. Fanon shrewdly presents the different phases in the maturing of the nationalist intellectual, who begins by assimilating the colonial culture of his masters and ends with revolutionary combat, through which he or she is transformed into a guide of the people, producing a body of intellectual work that furthers revolutionary nationalist goals. Between these two poles, there is an intermediate phase of discovery of the selfa creative moment when the intellectual celebrates his or her people, history, and legends reinterpreted through the prism of an aesthetic and a worldview borrowed from the West. More sophisticated than the rigid orthodoxy of Fanon is the relatively soulful approach of Paul Robeson (18981976), which has given rise to a plan of liberation that takes into account emotion (exemplified by the West African poet Léopold Sédar Senghor) and poetic knowledge (as seen in the West Indian poet Aimé Césaire). Robeson transformed the idea of Western modernity by subverting the rationalist ideas of the Enlightenment in order to restore Negro spirituality to the portrait of European civilization. In an article from 1936, "Primitives," Robesonwho, according to Kelley, blamed the Enlightenment for the rise of fascismwrote that the Enlightenment's focus on rationality and intellect removed spirituality from European civilization and, in doing so, led to its ultimate failure. Robeson believed that to save Western civilization, spirituality and art needed to be restored to a central position in social life and that American Negroes, who knew Western culture yet retained the "core cultural values of their ancestral homeland," were uniquely qualified to do so.

Another noteworthy branch of later intellectual history is that of Chinese intellectuals who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, tried to respond to the challenges of Western modernity. At the forefront of this mission was a group who went under the name the May Fourth Movement. "In May Fourth discourse," observe Leo Ou-fan Lee and Merle Goldman in their introduction to An Intellectual History of Modern China, "The modern intellectual stands in privileged position vis-à-vis Chinese society and the Chinese peopleas the former's moral conscience and reformist advocate and the latter's voice. Despite the May Fourth's revolutionary nature, the intellectual elite position vis-à-vis society resonated with that of their literati ancestors. Like them, they saw themselves as the rejuvenators of Chinese culture, which they believed was the key to China's salvation" (p. 4). Thus, Lee and Goldman point out that the balancing act noted in the West and in nationalist and postcolonial traditions also occurred in China from the beginning of the twentieth century up to the changing ideologies of the Chinese Revolution under various figures, a role pioneered by intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution (19661976). The reforms of the 1980s and the opening up of China to certain forms of capitalist production seem to have had similar overall effects on intellectuals there as in the rest of the world, namely enlargement and diversification of the kinds of intellectual activity being practiced. According to Lee and Goldman, "Chinese intellectuals at the end of the twentieth century had turned themselves into scholars, technocrats, cultural producers, business people, and entertainers, but they were no longer social prophets, the agents of national salvation, or visionary leaders of change as they had been throughout most Chinese history and even into the Mao era until Mao brutally suppressed them" (p. 8).

Response to Orthodoxy

There are numerous examples throughout the world that show, in the diversity of intellectual approaches, appropriations, and rejections of Enlightenment rationality, acute tendencies toward fragmentation. Today, conflicts of unprecedented violence have resulted from intellectual, philosophical, and religious constructions stemming from narrow-minded orthodoxies. In setting off ethnic and religious subsets of the public sphere, customs and codes have been installed forbidding rebellion, questioning, and dissent. One could therefore take up the invitation to reflection and to critical dialogue offered by the Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush. In an interview with Farish Noor, Soroush commented on renewing and rebuilding intellectual engagement at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Although his particular concern is Muslim intellectuals, his message is of universal significance:

Modern Muslim intellectuals are, in a sense, a hybrid species. They emerged in the liminal space between modern ideas and traditional thought. We have seen the emergence of such figures in many Muslim countries that have experienced the effects of colonization and the introduction of a plural economic and educational system. They have their feet planted in their local traditions as well as the broader world of the modern age. As such, they are comfortable in both, handicapped by neither. The modern Muslim intellectual is one who is not daunted by the task of delving into his or her religious knowledge for critical answers and solutions to the present. Such intellectuals are better able to do so because they are not the product of a traditional educational system, which is narrow and rigid. They are not bound by traditional norms and rules of religious discursive activity, because they are not really part of that particular narrow tradition. Unlike the traditional ulama [learned men], who never go beyond the texts that they read, the modern intellectual will be able to read deeper into the text in a critical, imaginative manner.

See also Education ; University .


Benda, Julien. The Treason of the Intellectuals. Translated by Richard Aldington. New York: Norton, 1969.

Césaire, Aimé. "Poetry and Knowledge." In Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Caribbean, edited by Michael Richardson; translated by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson. London and New York: Verson, 1996.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Debray, Régis. Teachers, Writers, Celebrities: The Intellectuals of Modern France. Translated by David Macey. London: NLB, 1981.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Grove, 1965.

Gouldner, Alvin W. The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class: A Frame of Reference, Theses, Conjectures, Arguments, and an Historical Perspective on the Role of Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in the International Class Contest of the Modern Era. New York: Seabury, 1979.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International, 1972.

Halter, Marek. "Les Amis Intellectuels de Jean Pierre Raffarin." Le Monde Week End, 1415 March 2004, p. 1.

Kelley, Robin D. G. Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Boston: Beacon, 2002.

Maclean, Ian, Alan Montefiore, and Peter Winch, eds. The Political Responsibility of Intellectuals. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. See especially the essay by Ernest Gellner, "La trahison de la trahison des clercs."

Noor, Farish A., ed. "The Responsibilities of the Muslim Intellectual in the 21st Century: Interview with Abdolkarim Soroush." In his New Voices of Islam. Leiden, Netherlands: ISIM, 2002.

Ory, Pascal, and Jean-François Sirinelli. Les Intellectuels en France, de l'Affaire Dreyfus à nos jours. Paris: A. Colin, 1986.

Ou-fan Lee, Leo, and Merle Goldman, "Introduction: The Intellectual History of Modern China." In An Intellectual History of Modern China, edited by Merle Goldman and Leo Ou-fan Lee. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Said, Edward W. Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures. New York: Pantheon, 1994.

Schalk, David L. War and the Ivory Tower: Algeria and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Mamadou Diouf


views updated May 11 2018


INTELLECTUALS are persons who produce or intensively study intellectual works. Intellectual works are coherent complexes of symbolic configurations that deal with the serious or ultimately significant features of the cosmos, the earth, and human beings. An intellectual work is unified by logical connectedness and the substantive identity of its subject matter, and it is set forth in a conventional form.

Religious intellectual works are those that deal with transcendent powers and their verbal, physical, and inspirational manifestations. They deal with the relations of transcendent powers to texts that are regarded as sacred, and with the influence of transcendent powers in the genesis and working of the cosmos, in human life and destiny, and in the norms that guide human action.

Religious activities, both intellectual and practical (i.e., religious practices), have as their objective the engendering or maintaining of a state of belief that comprises a relationship to transcendent powers. Religious intellectual activities, embodying this particular state of mind or belief, aim at attaining and transmitting knowledge or understanding of transcendent powers and their manifestations. The attainment of a religious state of mind encompasses practices such as the performance of prescribed rituals, the incantation of sacred songs, the reiteration of sacred words, and the ingestion, handling, and bearing of sacred objects. Such practical religious activities are infused with symbolic components and are hence intimately related to the intellectual religious activities that have constructed their underlying symbolic configurations. The intellectual elucidation of the meaning of practical religious activities and objects creates an intimate bond between the intellectual and practical spheres of religious activity.

Bodies of religious beliefs and practices differ, however, in the degree to which beliefs and practices have been elaborated and rationalized. Religions that are built around sacred texts are more susceptible to an elaborate variety of interpretations than are those that have no sacred texts. These elaborate interpretations are possible only on the basis of prolonged and intensive study by religious intellectuals who study the religious intellectual works that are central to the complex of beliefs espoused by the religious community and who produce works of their own.

"Primordial" and "World" Religions

Not all religious communities, that is, communities with common religious beliefs and practices, cultivate or depend upon intellectuals. The majority of these religions without intellectuals are primordial religions, that is, the religions of societies that define themselves by locality and lineage and in which no written texts contain their fundamental ideas. Such religions have beliefs and ritual practices, but they do not have doctrines. Their religious beliefs remain centered on local, occasional, and functional deities. Their rituals often have been codified, as was the case with Roman religion, and they sometimes have developed priesthoods as distinct professional strata; but, having no sacred books, they generally have no religious intellectuals to construct doctrines that could become integrally connected with their ritual observances. The larger, differentiated, and literate societies that continue to adhere to their primordial religions have produced intellectuals, including religious intellectuals, but the latter have had no ecclesiastical role. In these societies, such as those of ancient Greece and Rome, the construction of theological-philosophical theories has been left to laymen whose theories remained outside the realm of religious practice and in-fluence.

Both in theory and in fact, however, the line dividing primordial religions from "world" or "universal" religions, that is, doctrinal religions that have acquired their doctrines through the work of religious intellectuals, cannot be precisely delineated. A primordial religion could in principle acquire an intellectual constituent. Its mythological pantheon could be rationalized and its rituals given a more pronouncedly transcendent reference; its magical procedures could be given a more explicit symbolic interpretation. World religions contain much that has been taken from the primordial religions that were indigenous to the territories from which they emerged or into which they entered. Yet no primordial religions that were indigenous to the territories from which they emerged or into which they entered can be turned into world religions without sacred or canonical texts and without intellectuals to construct doctrine from these texts.


The world religions have been primarily doctrinal religions in which articles are defined and ritual observances prescribed; belief and observance are required of members. Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam are unqualifiedly such religions. Confucianism has no primordial qualifications: It is open to all who can study the classical texts. In Hinduism, one is in principle a Hindu by being born into a Hindu caste, but it is also a religion centered around sacred writings and the rituals prescribed in the sacred writings. In this respect, Judaism is also in a marginal position. It is certainly a religion of doctrines insofar as it has a tradition contained in a sacred text and elaborated by commentary, but it is also a primordial religion: A Jew is one who is born of Jewish parents. Nevertheless, both of these world religions, despite this primordial element, have allowed prominent places to religious intellectuals.

Although the world religions, once established, recruit their members from among the offspring of their existing members, in order for transmission and expansion to occur, there must be a doctrine that is susceptible to simplification and exposition. Even if the founder of the religion is, in Max Weber's terms, an "exemplary" rather than an "ethical" prophet, this exemplification has to be transformed into expoundable and teachable doctrine as a condition of its expansion. The doctrine is precipitated into intellectual works; the construction of this doctrine is the accomplishment of religious intellectuals.

Primordial religions have expanded territorially with the movement of their adherents, but they have not expanded to become the religions of entire societies to which they were not indigenous. Having no doctrines, they could not become world religions.

The combination of the written works, commentary, and systematic speculations of religious intellectuals has given to the world religions an influence in world history that the fragmentary, unwritten, and inchoate beliefs of the devotees of primordial religions could not achieve. The self-confidence of the propagators of the world religions within and outside the societies of their origin has rested, in part, on the collective consciousness of participation in a system of beliefs that answers urgent ultimate questions. It was difficult for the devotees of doctrineless religions to stand up against the forceful proclamations and denunciations of a world religion that possessed an elaborated and rationalized doctrine. To the charismatic force of the prophetic founder and his sacred text was added the derivative charismatic force of an elaborated doctrine that expanded the concentrated and intense charisma of the founder. Local primordial religions fell before the expansion of the world religions pushing outward from their centers of origin.

In contrast, world religions have been resistant to one another's expansion. The Chinese, for example, were fortified by the intellectually elaborated outlooks of Confucianism and Buddhism against the intellectual argument of Christian missionaries. The expansion of world religions has been made primarily at the expense of primordial religions that have had no significant intellectual rationalization to resist attacks from an intellectually elaborated world religion. As world religions have expanded, the primordial religions, as visible collective entities, have been all but obliterated. They have survived within this expansion only through their unacknowledged assimilation. Their traditions were powerful enough to survive in fragmentary form, but they were not sufficiently rationalized to be able to survive as recognizable wholes.

Tradition and Originality

An affirmative attitude toward a particular tradition is inherent in the activities of religious intellectuals, because they claim to carry forward sets of beliefs that rest on the revelations of a founder, or a divinely engendered sacred text, or both. Religious intellectuals are committed to a tradition that continues, with some attenuation, the sacrality of the founding moment or period in the past. All subsequent truths must be demonstrably continuous with that sacred past event or sequence of events.

Originality in the world religions is admitted only for the founder of the religion or for the sacred scriptures in which the founder serves as the voice of a transcendent power. This conception of the originating sacredness of a body of scriptures does not acknowledge any subsequent originality by the religious intellectuals who take upon themselves the responsibility for expounding and interpreting them.

Propheticcharismatic, founding, and renewingoriginality is acknowledged in most world religions. Interpretative rationalizing originality is not acknowledged as originality. Yet originality does occur within the traditions of Buddhism and in the work of Jewish rabbis, Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians, Islamic theologians and Hindu philosophers. It is not, however, regarded as originality. It is treated either as clarification of unchanging doctrine or it is rejected as heretical. In addition to rationalizing interpretative originality, there is in the world religions the originality of the mystic who, while affirming his acceptance of the most fundamental objects of the religion, breaks out of the constraints of rationalized theological doctrine and routine ritual.

Religious intellectuals are not less creative or less original than secular intellectuals who produce works of science, literature, and art that are appreciated for their creativity or originality. Because the meaning of a sacred text is not self-evident, interpretation is necessary. Interpretation is intended to discern the "true," or preexistent, meaning of a sacred text. The successful discovery of this "true" meaning is perceived to be not an addition to existing knowledge but a reassertion and confirmation of an already existent truth. Nevertheless, a considerable degree of originality within the tradition might in fact be attained.

When intellectuals elaborate doctrines that are based on inherently problematic sacred texts, divergent and hence conflicting doctrinal currents of belief appear. Such conflicts have occurred in every world religion and have led to intense disputes until one current has become prevalent over the others and has been established as the orthodox position. There is, however, an important difference between a prevailing doctrine that is orthodox solely through a substantial intellectual consensus and a prevailing doctrine that is promulgated as orthodox by an authoritative institution. An authoritatively promulgated doctrine is a dogma. Where there is dogma, heterodoxies are proscribed, and their intellectual proponents are suppressed.

The authorities that the religious intellectuals must confront are the authority of the sacred writings and the doctrines formed from them, the authority of the religious intellectual community, and that of ecclesiastical institutions. In principle, the authority of the sacred writings is inviolable. In fact, however, the authority of these writings is the authority of the prevailing doctrinal tradition and of those who espouse it within the institution. Critical interpretation of sacred texts is thus perpetually a potential threat to the effective "official" authority of the religious institution.

Within more complex societies, even those of very restricted literacy, there have been some self-taught laypersons different in their occupation and status from the majority of religious intellectuals in their society. They may be called lay or amateur religious intellectuals. Sometimes they have been merchants or craftsmen, sometimes scribes, officials, or soldiers. These laymen have studied the texts zealously and sometimes arrived at conclusions different from the prevailing doctrines. They have also resented the pretensions of the officially acknowledged and self-assertive priestly, academic, or monastic religious intellectuals. Their dissenting interpretations of sacred writings have occasionally broken into passionate public dissent from the prevailing doctrines and from the priestly and academic representation of those doctrines. These autodidactic intellectuals, sometimes reinforced by renegades from the more established stratum of religious intellectuals, have often furiously denounced the main body of the priesthood as departing fundamentally from the "true" meaning of the sacred texts. The priests, and especially the higher level of the priestly hierarchy, have been accused of excessive subservience to the ruling house and to the powerful landowning families.

Heterodox or dissenting doctrines have occasionally been the work of intellectuals within the priesthood itself. Such interpretations at first lived an "underground" life. Some of them were cultivated in seclusion by dissenting, autodidactic religious intellectuals. The latter have often been subtle, learned, and ingenious.

Among the greatest of these intellectuals who were critical of the priestly or orthodox interpretation have been those prophets who were founders of new religions, that is, religions that declared themselves to be distinct from the hitherto prevailing body of religious belief and its proponents. The Buddha, Jesus, and Muammad were such prophets. They were the beneficiaries of new revelations or illuminations.

Jesus said he was divinely chosen to fulfill the mission of earlier prophets. The Buddha was a profoundly original prophet, but he too was a continuator of Hinduism. Muammad claimed to be not only the recipient of a new revelation but to have realized more truly the religion of Abraham and Jesus. In contrast, Confucian scholars in China claimed no authority from revelation, and they did not bring forth prophets from their ranks.

There have also been prophets who have claimed to realize the true intentions of long-accepted doctrines against those who had falsified them. The Hebrew prophetic intellectuals did not claim at any time to found a new religion. They demanded the restoration of the religion of the Jews to its prior condition of purity. Martin Luther, John Wyclif, and the monastic reformers of Christian religious orders must be placed in the same category as the prophetic intellectuals who thought that their religious community had departed from its original meaning and had succumbed to the ways of the earthly world.

Religious intellectual traditions alter as they pass from region to region and from generation to generation. The world religionsHinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamhave experienced numerous doctrinal vicissitudes and variations. They have survived largely because their doctrines have been received and retransmitted with modifications and increments by religious intellectuals. Without the constant reaffirmation and modifications of doctrinal traditions by religious intellectuals, there could be no religious communities with more or less uniform practices and beliefs over extended periods and large geographical areas.

Secular and Religious Intellectual Activities

In no large societies have religious intellectual activities been the only intellectual activities. Yet except in ancient Greece and Rome, most intellectual activities in the societies of the ancient world were carried on by religious intellectuals. In the modern age, the increased volume of intellectual works, the increased differentiation of objects of intellectual activity, and the increased specialization of intellectuals in dealing with aspects of the world (which is now thought to be relatively independent of transcendent powers) have been associated with a great increase in the proportion of secular intellectuals and a recession of the jurisdiction of religious intellectuals.

In territories where autonomous intellectual traditionsboth religious and secularwere well developed, religious intellectuals often assimilated intellectual traditions that lay outside their own religious tradition. This occurred, for example, in Christianity and later in Islam when they became established in the territory of Hellenistic civilizations. Christian intellectuals found affinities between their own Christian beliefs and Platonic, and later Aristotelian, philosophy. Islamic intellectuals quickly absorbed the Hellenistic philosophical and scientific knowledge that had been cultivated in Syria and other parts of the Middle East under the Seleucids and the Romans. By the end of the European Middle Ages, Christian religious intellectuals drew knowledge directly from ancient secular Western sources. By the seventeenth century, both the quantity and the intellectual authoritativeness of secular intellectual works gained the ascendancy. Religious intellectuals absorbed some of this secular knowledge and attempted to render it compatible with Christian belief.

The humanistic intellectuals of the Renaissance, taking up the traditions of the secular cultures of Greece and Rome, continued to be Christians, but their attention moved toward the study of earthly things. After the Reformation this differentiation and multiplication of secular intellectuals continued. Religious intellectuals also declined more and more in status in comparison with secular intellectuals.

Religious intellectuals now constitute a small minority of the intellectuals of European and American societies. Many of them have made very far-reaching concessions to the substantive and technical standards of secular intellectuals. They have accepted the findings of the research of physical and biological scientists and the approaches and analyses of secular historians and social scientists.

In modern times, religious intellectuals have confined their intellectual activities to religious objects in a restricted sense: theological studies, textual and historical analysis of sacred writings and their commentaries, the archaeology of sacred sites, church history and the history of religious doctrines, and closely related topics. But even within some of these restricted spheres of religious study, a secular criterion of validity has prevailed. Secular modes of study in the analysis of religious phenomena have become predominant, and in certain fields, such as church history, the history of doctrines, and the sociological and anthropological study of religion, the techniques of research and the interpretations of secular intellectuals have come to predominate.

For centuries, religious intellectuals were an integral part of the political life of their respective societies. The earthly centers of power could not claim the legitimacy of their ascendancy without its attestation by religious intellectuals. It was thought that social order could be assured only if the earthly center was properly aligned with the transcendent center. The earthly centers called upon religious intellectuals for administrative services. The education of young persons and children was entrusted to religious intellectuals. There was, by and large, a relationship of mutual support between religious intellectuals, princes, and great landowners. In the bourgeois age, religious intellectuals became more critical of the new plutocratic elite and of the bourgeois order of society. In Western European countries and North America religious intellectuals increasingly joined with secular intellectuals in oppositional political activities.

In the once-colonial territories, now sovereign states, "traditionalistic," revivalistic religious intellectuals have become more active. In these countries, during the period of foreign rule, traditional religious intellectuals had been mainly passive toward the foreign rulers. Indigenous rulers enjoyed the same submission of intellectuals in Asian societies that remained independent. Such passivity among traditional religious intellectuals is no longer so common. In Iran, for example, they have succeeded in establishing a theocracy. In a few other Islamic countries, they have been influential enough to compel secular military and civilian rulers to designate their states as "Islamic" and to install "Islamic constitutions." Christian religious intellectuals in the formerly colonial societies have not been so active politically; in their religious intellectual activities, they have sought to overcome their "alien" situation by reinterpreting Christianity to render it compatible with indigenous cultural traditions.

In Western countries in the twentieth century religious intellectuals narrowed their intellectual activities in accordance with the prevailing tendencies toward specialization and professionalization. At the same time, they acquired many of the scientific, cultural, moral, and political traditions of the secular intellectuals. In many respects, religious intellectuals in Western countries have become very much like secular intellectuals.


Arnold, Thomas W. The Caliphate. 2d ed. Oxford, 1965.

Baron, Salo W. The Jewish Community: Its History and Structure to the American Revolution. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1942.

Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, Mass., 1985.

Eliot, Charles. Hinduism and Buddhism. 3 vols. 3d ed. London, 1957.

Gibb, H. A. R., with Harold Bowen. Islamic Society and the West, vol. 1, Islamic Society in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford, 1950.

Goldziher, Ignácz. Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung (1920). Leiden, 1952.

Harnack, Adolf von. The Constitution and Law of the Church in the First Two Centuries. London, 1910.

Hooke, S. H. Prophets and Priests. London, 1938.

James, E. O. The Nature and Function of Priesthood. London, 1955.

Le Bras, Gabriel. Institutions ecclésiastiques de la chrétienté médiévale. Paris, 1959.

Marrou, Henri Irénée. A History of Education in Antiquity. New York, 1956.

Moore, George Foot. Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, the Age of the Tannaim. 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 19271930.

Nilsson, Martin P. Geschichte der griechischen Religion. 2 vols. 3d ed. Munich, 19671974.

Ryan, John. Irish Monasticism: Origins and Early Development. Dublin, 1931.

Schacht, Joseph. The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford, 1950.

New Sources

Belief in God and Intellectual Honesty. Ruurd Vuldhuis, Andy F. Sanders and Heine J. Siebrand, editors. Assen, Netherlands, 1990.

Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy in Late Antiquity: Essays in Tribute to George Christopher Stead, 9th April 1993. Lionel R. Wickham and Caroline P. Bammel, editors. Leiden, Netherlands, 1993.

Enlightenment and Religion: Rational Dissent in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Knud Haakonssen, editor. New York, 1996.

Exchange of Ideas: Religion, Scholarship and Art in Anglo-Dutch Relations in the Seventeenth Century. Simon Groenveld and Michael Wintle, editors. Zutphen, Netherlands, 1994.

Meeting of Minds: Intellectual and Religious Interaction in East Asian Traditions of Thought: Essays in Honor of Wing-tsit Chan and William Theodore de Bary. Irene Bloom and Joshua A. Fogel, editors. New York, 1996.

Religion and Twentieth-century American Intellectual Life. Michael J. Lacey, editor. New York, 1996.

Religion, Learning, and Science in the Abbasid Period. M.J.L. Young, J.D. Latham, and R.B. Serjeant, editors. Cambridge, 1989.

Taylor, Clarence. Black Religious Intellectuals: The Fight for Equality from Jim Crow to the Twenty-First Century. New York, 2002.

Edward Shils (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 23 2018


The intelligentsia were a social stratum consisting of people professionally engaged in intellectual work and in the development and spread of culture.

The term intelligentsia was introduced into the Russian language by the minor writer Boborykin in the 1860s and it soon became widely used. According to Martin Malia, the word intelligentsia has had two primary overlapping uses: either all people who think independently, whom the Russian literary critic Dmitry Pisarev called "critically thinking realists," or the more narrow meaning, "the intellectuals of the opposition, whether revolutionary or not." However, the second definition, which is often found in historical literature, is too narrow and unjustifiably excludes important thinkers, philosophers, writers, public figures, and political rulers. For example, the famous Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev called Tsar Alexander I "a Russian intelligent on the throne." Thus one may consider as intelligentsia well-educated and critical-thinking people of all political spectrums of society, not just radicals and liberals.

the intelligentsia in the russian empire

Historians have different opinions about the time of the appearance of the Russian intelligentsia as a historical phenomenon. Some of them consider people who were opposed to the Russian political regime since the end of the eighteenth century as intelligentsia. According to this chronology the first representatives of Russian intelligentsia were writers Alexander Radischev and Nikolai Novikov, who protested against serfdom and the existing regime, as well as the first Russian revolutionaries, the Decembrists. They were either separated individuals or small groups of people without significant influence on Russian society. Their ideas foreshadowed important future intellectual trends. Because of this, most historians considered them as a protointelligentsia.

In the 1830s1850s philosophical debates largely divided Russian intellectuals into Westernizers and Slavophiles, in line with their opinion about how Russian society should develop. Westernizers advocated a West European way for the development of Russia, while Slavophiles insisted on Russian historical uniqueness. Both these groups of Russian proto-intelligentsia had their distinguished representatives. The most famous Slavophiles were the writers Ivan and Konstantine Aksakov and the thinkers Ivan Kiryevsky and Alexsei Khomiyakov. The most distinguished Westernizers of this time were Peter Chaadayev and writer and radical publicist Alexander Herzen. Since there was strict censorship in Russia, Herzen established the Russian publishing house "Free Russian Press" in London in 1852, where he published the journal Kolokol (The Bell).

The most radical faction of Russian intellectuals began to adopt Western socialist ideas at this time. Among the famous radical intelligentsia were publicist Vissarion Belinsky, anarchist Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin, and the radical Mikhail Petrashevsky's circle, which discussed the necessity of the abolition of serfdom in Russia and reform of the Russian monarchy in a democratic, federal republic.

The circle of Russian intellectuals remained very small before the 1860s. Higher education was available only to the noble elite of society; consequently most of the Russian proto-intelligentsia was from the gentry.

The majority of western historians agree that the Russian intelligentsia appeared as an actual social stratum in the 1860s. There were several reasons for its appearance, among them the period of Great Reforms in Russia under Tsar Alexander II with the liquidation of serfdom, liberalization of society, and awakening of public opinion. Also, the development of capitalism in Russia and the beginning of industrialization demanded more educated people. At this time the technical intelligentsia appeared in Russia, while education became more widespread among the population.

In the 1860s there appeared a current among Russian intelligentsia called "nihilism" (from the Latin nihil meaning reject). Some historians believe that nihilism was a reaction of part of Russian society to the failure of the government in the Crimean War. The term nihilism was popularized by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons in 1862, where he described the conflict between two generations. Historian Philip Pomper wrote: the "Nihilist denied not only traditional roles of women but also the family, private property, religion, artin a word, all traditional aspects of culture and society." According to Pomper the doctrinal bases of Russian nihilism were materialism, utilitarianism, and scientism. The most famous writers and literary critics, who more or less shared nihilistic ideas, were Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Nikolai Dobrolubov, and Dmitry Pisarev.

Populism became the ideology of a large segment of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1870s1880s. This was a reaction to the nihilist's rationalistic elitism on one side, and the continuation of the ideas of the Slavophiles on the other. Populists had great sympathy for the suffering peasant masses and, like Slavophiles, they believed in the uniqueness of the Russian peasant commune and saw in it the germ of the future socialist society. They created the movement "Going to the people." The many admirers of this movement lived among peasants, attempting to educate them and spread their ideas about a future just society. Peasants usually looked suspiciously at these intelligent agitators from the cities and sometimes physically attacked them.

When "Going to the people" failed, Russian populists rejected this tactic and instead created several secret societies to struggle against the government. One of these groups of Russian radical intelligentsia, Zemlya i Volya, was established in Petersburg in 1876. In 1878 this organization split into two parts. Extreme members founded the new group Narodnaya Volya that chose political terror as their primary tactic. In 1881 members of Narodnaya Volya assassinated Tsar Alexander II. Moderate members of Zemlya i Volya founded Chernyi Peredel, which continued anti-government agitation. The most noted member of Chernyi Peredel was the future Marxist Georgy Plekhanov.

Marxism and other socialist movements became popular in Russia in the 1890s with the development of industry and the rise in the number of industrial workers. The first Marxist and socialist groups in Russia were composed almost entirely of intellectuals. The writings of Karl Marx and the other ideologists of socialism were too complicated for comprehension by barely literate workers. The Russian radical intelligentsia took on the mission of spreading these socialist ideas among the proletariat. Their motivation was similar to their radical predecessors of the 1860s: the search for social justice and dreams about equality for all members of society. But unlike in earlier times, these political groups transformed into large political parties with well-formed programs of political struggle against the government. Among these political parties were the Russian Social-Democratic Party that split in 1903 into the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, various anarchist groups, etc. These political parties used a variety of methods to struggle against the government: from political agitation and propaganda to terror, organization of political strikes, and attempts to overthrow the government. Members of these parties were from disparate sections of society, but Russian radical intelligentsia led all of these groups.

These political movements had support in their struggle with the existing regime from the movements of national minorities in the Russian empire. The best representatives of the Ukrainian and Polish intelligentsia were persecuted by the tsarist regime for expression of their national feelings and calling for the independence of their nations. Thus the celebrated Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko was sent by order of Tsar Nicolas I to a ten-year term in a labor battalion in Siberia "under the strictest supervision" and was forbidden to write and sketch. Use of the Ukrainian language was forbidden several times in the Russian empire. Russian governments severely suppressed Polish uprisings and sent thousands of people who participated in them to exile in Siberia.

Jews were the most oppressed group in the Russian empire. Their restriction to the Pale of Settlement, the "percentage norm" (i.e., limitation on numbers admitted) in Russian universities and gymnasiums for Jewish students, and the policy of state anti-Semitism made the life of the Jewish intelligentsia miserable in the empire. Revolutionary and nationalist moods were widely spread among the Jewish intelligentsia. Thus Jews comprised a percentage of revolutionaries far higher than the proportion of Jews in the Russian population.

Conservatives in the Russian intelligentsia always opposed Russian radicals and revolutionaries. Russian conservatives did not create their political parties until the beginning of the twentieth century. They usually supported the Russian monarchy and government, and expressed their ideas in philosophical and literary works, and in the Russian conservative press. Among them were famous thinkers (Konstantin Leontiev), writers (Feodor Dostoyevsky), and publicists (Mikhail Katkov, Vasily Shulgin). All of them warned Russian society about the danger of the socialists' ideas and the impending revolution. Their ideas were shared by a significant part of the Russian intelligentsia.

After the first Russian revolution in 1905 the volume of essays Vekhi (Landmarks, 1909) argued against the revolutionary inclinations of the Russian intelligentsia. Among the authors was a group of famous Russian religious philosophers and publicists (philosophers Nicolai Berdiaev, Sergei Bulgakov, publicist Peter Struve, and others). Some of the authors of this book were former socialists and Marxists who were greatly disillusioned after the first Russian revolution. Vekhi was one of the most famous books in Russia in the early 1900s, it was reprinted five times during its first year.

The Liberal movement appeared comparatively late among the Russian intelligentsia, on the eve of the First Russian Revolution of 1905. During the First Russian Revolution, Russian liberals created the Constitutional Democratic Party (Cadets), with the goal of transforming the absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. The ideas of liberalism were not widely spread among the Russian population; thus the Constitutional Democratic Party never had a large influence on political events in the country. The Constitutional Democratic Party was often called the party of Russian intelligentsia, because they dominated the party, although intelligentsia led most political parties and movements in Russia.

The Russian intelligentsia was responsible for what is arguably the greatest achievement of Russian culture: Russian literature. The majority of Russian writers, artists, scholars, and scientists lived a quiet everyday life and pursued their aesthetic, scholarly, and scientific tasks. The apolitical Russian intelligentsia believed that literature and art should have only aesthetic goals. These ideas were shared by many celebrated writers, poets, and artists of the Silver Age of the Russian culture (at the beginning of the twentieth century).

A large part of the intelligentsia greeted the February revolution as an attempt at the liberalization of the country. Many of them favored the provisional government. However, at the time of the October revolution only an insignificant minority of the Russian intelligentsia supported the Bolsheviks.

the intelligentsia in the soviet union

The Russian intelligentsia felt responsible for the future of the country, and some of them had the naïve illusion that they could persuade the Bolshevik leaders to stop terror. However, such attempts by the Russian writers Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Korolenko, who appealed personally to the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, were unsuccessful. Bolsheviks did not forgive the counter-revolutionary mood of the intelligentsia and soon began repression against it. One of the first victims was the famous poet of the Silver Age of Russian culture Nikolai Gumilev. In 1921 he was accused of conspiracy against the Soviet regime and was executed. Many of the intelligentsia emigrated from Russia after the October revolution. The elite of the Russian intelligentsia, including famous philosophers (among them was an author of Vekhi, Nicolai Berdiaev) and writers, were expelled from the country by the order of the Bolshevik leaders in the fall of 1922.

The Bolsheviks attempted to spread Marxist ideology among the entire population and to control the development of culture in the Soviet Union. They declared war on illiteracy. Thousands of new schools were opened in the Soviet Union, and education became obligatory. The children of peasants and workers received the right to enter technical schools and universities. In contrast members of formerly rich bourgeois families were deprived of many rights, and the Soviet universities were very reluctant to accept them. The educational system in the Soviet Union was under the absolute control of the Communist Party, and communist ideology was the core of the educational curriculum.

The majority of the new Soviet intelligentsia consisted of technically trained personnel who, according to Richard Pipes, had " mere nodding acquaintance with the liberal arts, once considered the essence of a higher education." Thus Pipes characterized these people as semi-intelligentsia or "white collar." However, people educated in this way were most devoted to the political system. They did not know any other ideology beside the Communist. The Soviet government exterminated all other sources of knowledge except the apolitical and pro-Soviet. Many authors and books, and all press except the Bolsheviks', were forbidden in the Soviet Union. All publications appeared only after approval under strict Soviet censorship. In literature, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP), with its dogmatic party approach controlled all works of Soviet writers. The communications of Soviet citizens with foreigners was severely restricted. Thus was created the Soviet intelligentsia, completely devoted to the communist regime.

Soviet propaganda even influenced the minds of some Russian emigrants. Among the Russian emigrant intelligentsia there appeared a movement called "left-wing Smenovekhism." Members of this movement criticized the authors of Vekhi for " their inability to accept the great Russian Revolution." The authors of the volume of essays Smena Vekh (Change Landmarks) proclaimed their pro-Soviet position.

During Josef Stalin's regime many thousands of intelligentsia became the innocent victims of political repression. Only a small percentage of them dared to resist the regime. Most of the repressed intelligentsia were loyal to the Soviet system. Among them were talented writers (Boris Pil'niak, Isaac Babel), poets (Osip Mandelshtam), scientists, and scholars. Others, such as the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, were pushed to commit suicide.

Nevertheless, the Communist government needed the creators of weapons and ideologies, as well as musicians and artists. Thus in the Soviet Union there always existed an intellectual elite that made distinguished achievements in many areas of scientific and scholarly life, and in art and culture. The other part of the Soviet intelligentsia actively collaborated with the state in the hope of promoting their careers, with the expectation of receiving some state privileges. Thus at the same time, when some Soviet writers, poets, artists, and musicians created masterpieces, others created works devoted to the Soviet political leaders. Huge portraits of Stalin and Lenin decorated every state office and their statues were erected in each city.

Some change in the political climate appeared after the secret speech of Nikita Khrushchev to the twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956) about the crimes of Stalin's regime. The time from this speech through the first part of the 1960s was called the period of cultural "Thaw." At that time political executions were stopped, and the intelligentsia felt freer to express their ideas and feelings. During this period many political prisoners were released, including many intellectuals. The Thaw brought a new approach to culture and art, which became more humane. During these years many masterpieces of Russian literature were published, many of them devoted to the recent past: Stalin's repression and World WarII. Among these works was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the poetry of Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, and Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. However, the treatment of Pasternak in the Soviet Union was appalling and hastened his death. Thus Khrushchev's cultural policy was contradictory: he united some cultural liberalization with the continuation of some repression. During the cultural Thaw the Communist Party did not release culture from ideological control, but only extended the limits on the creativity of the intelligentsia.

The period of Leonid Brezhnev's leadership (19641982) was a time of political and cultural stagnation. Stalin and his policies were somewhat rehabilitated, which led to increased repression against the intelligentsia. In 1965 two writers, Andrey Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, were arrested for publishing satirical works in the West. But the Soviet intelligentsia were not completely silent as in the past. Prominent intellectuals protested against the arrest of Sinyavsky and Daniel. The period of Thaw, with the humanization of the society and the rethinking of the recent historical past, changed the social atmosphere in the Soviet Union. Soviet intellectuals began the dissident and "human rights" movements. They avoided state censorship by samizdat (self-publishing) printings that gave freedom of self-expression to their authors. The Soviet regime did not surrender its ideological positions and continued the persecution of nonconformist intellectuals. In 1974 the famous writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was forcibly deported from the Soviet Union. In 1980 the hydrogen bomb physicist and progressive thinker Andrei Sakharov was sent to internal exile to Gorky. These people who participated in the dissident and Human rights movements were the forerunners of glasnost and the transformation of the communist regime into a democratic society.

Mikhail Gorbachev began his leadership in 1985 with an initiative for "democratization of social and economic life." He did not want to under-mine the communist regime, but intended to improve it and make it more effective. However, the liberalization of society and diminishing of the censorship opened the press and mass media for political discussions and public exposure of historical reality. In a short time this changed public opinion, social values, and the attitude of the majority of the society against the communist regime. After a long break the intelligentsia had revived their influence on public opinion. The former dissidents Andrey Sakharov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and hundreds of others returned from emigration, exile, and prisons to lead movements opposing the communists. All these processes, combined with the economic crisis, undermined the communist government. The Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991 with the intelligentsia playing an important role in the destruction of the Soviet empire.

The post-Soviet years, however, have not become years of the flourishing of arts and sciences in the former Soviet states. In most of the new countries the intelligentsia have received freedom of expression, but have lost almost all government financial support. The new post-Soviet states are unable to adequately finance scientific projects and development of culture and art. Many intellectuals have lost their jobs, and some emigrated from the former Soviet states to the West in the 1990s. The future of the intelligentsia in the post-Soviet countries depends entirely upon political and economic developments.

See also: aksakov, ivan sergeyevich; aksakov, konstantin sergeyevich; bakunin, mikhail alexandrovich; belinsky, vissarion grigorievich; bulgakov, sergei nikolayevich; dissident movement; herzen, alexander ivanovich; journalism; pisarev, dmitry ivanovich; solzhenitsyn, alexander isayevich.


Acton, Edward. (1997). "Revolutionaries and Dissidents: The Role of the Russian Intellectual in the Downfall of Tsarism and Communism." In Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushdie, edited by Jeremy Jennings and Anthony Kemp-Welch. London and New York: Routledge.

Fisher, George. (1969). Russian Liberalism from Gentry to Intelligentsia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hosking, Geoffrey. (2001). Russia and the Russians. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Kagarlitsky, Boris. (1994). The Thinking Reed: Intellectuals and the Soviet State, 1917 to the Present, tr. Brian Pierce. London, New York: Verso.

Pipes, Richard, ed.(1961). The Russian Intelligentsia. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pomper, Philip. (1970). The Russian Revolutionary Intelligentsia. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Inc.

Read, Christopher. (1990). Culture and Power in Revolutionary Russia: The Intelligentsia and the Transition from Tsarism to Communism. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: The Macmillan Press LTD.

Slapentokh, Vladimir. Soviet Intellectuals and Political Power: The Post-Stalin Era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Tompkins, Stuart Ramsay. (1957). The Russian Intelligentsia: Makers of the Revolutionary State. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Victoria Khiterer


views updated May 23 2018


note:Although the following article has not been revised for this edition of the Encyclopedia, the substantive coverage is currently appropriate. The editors have provided a list of recent works at the end of the article to facilitate research and exploration of the topic.

Modern societies face a growing dilemma posed by the fact that key institutions and their elites are increasingly dependent upon intellectuals, particularly those in universities, research institutes, and the cultural apparatus generally. Yet, the leaders in these same social units are among the major critics of the way in which the society operates, sometimes calling into question the legitimacy of the social order and its political structure. A ruling elite, even one that is conservative and anti-intellectual, cannot respond to such challenges by crushing the intellectuals, unless it is willing to incur the punitive costs which such suppression entails. As the Polish "revisionist" philosopher Leszek Kolakowski (1968, p. 179) wrote while still a member of the Communist party, "the spiritual domination of any ruling class over the people . . . depends on its bonds with the intelligentsia . . . ; for the less one is capable of ruling by intellectual means, the more one must resort to the instruments of force." Decades earlier, the classically liberal (laissez-faire) economist and sociologist Joseph Schumpeter (1962, p. 150) argued that under capitalism the dominant economic class must protect the intellectuals, "however strongly disapproving" they are of them, because they cannot suppress intellectual criticism without initiating a process of repression which will undermine their own freedom.

The word intellectual is fraught with ambiguities. The meanings attached to it are diverse (Lipset and Dobson 1972, pp. 137–140). In the loosest sense in which the word is used in common parlance today, intellectuals may be said to be all those who are considered proficient in and are actively engaged in the creation, distribution, and application of culture. Edward Shils (1968, p. 179) has suggested a comprehensive definition: "Intellectuals are the aggregate of persons in any society who employ in their communication and expression, with relative higher frequency than most other members of their society, symbols of general scope and abstract reference, concerning man, society, nature and the cosmos." For analytic purposes, however, it is desirable to distinguish between several types. It is particularly useful to emphasize the much smaller category of "creative intellectuals," whose principal focus is on innovation, the elaboration of knowledge, art, and symbolic formulations generally. Included in this group are scholars, scientists, philosophers, artists, authors, some editors, and some journalists, as distinguished from the more marginally intellectual groups who distribute culture, such as most teachers, clerics, journalists, engineers, free professionals, and performers in the arts, as well as those who apply knowledge in the course of their work, such as practicing physicians, lawyers, and engineers. To differentiate them from the intellectuals, they may be categorized as the intelligentsia.

The creative intellectuals are the most dynamic group within the broad stratum: Because they are innovative, they are at the forefront in the development of culture. The intelligentsia are dependent upon them for the ideational resources they use in their work. Much of the analytic literature dealing with intellectuals has emphasized their seemingly inherent tendency to criticize existing institutions from the vantage point of general conceptions of the desirable, ideal conceptions which are thought to be universally applicable. Thus, Joseph Schumpeter (1950, p. 147) stressed that "one of the touches that distinguish [intellectuals] . . . from other people . . . is the critical attitude." Raymond Aron (1962, p. 210) argued that "the tendency to criticize the established order is, so to speak, the occupational disease of the intellectuals." Richard Hofstadter (1963, p. 38) noted: "The modern idea of the intellectual as constituting a class, as a separate social force, even the term intellectual itself, is identified with the idea of political and moral protest." Lewis Coser (1970, p. viii) in defining the term stated: "Intellectuals are men who never seem satisfied with things as they are. . . . They question the truth of the moment in higher and wider truth."

These concerns are iterated by the fact that "intelligentsia" and "intellectuals," the two words most commonly used to describe those in occupations requiring trained or imaginative intelligence, were used first in the context of describing those engaged in oppositional activities. "Intelligentsia," first began to be used widely in Russia in the 1860s, referring to the opposition to the system by the educated strata. It was generally defined as "a 'class' held together by the bond of 'consciousness,' 'critical thought,' or 'moral passion'." (Malia 1961 p. 5) "Intellectual" as a noun first secured wide usage in France during the infamous Dreyfus case in 1898. A protest against Dreyfus's unjust imprisonment (after a biased court-martial), signed by a variety of writers and professors, was published as the "Manifesto of the Intellectuals." The anti-Dreyfusards then tried to satirize their opponents as the self-proclaimed "intellectuals" (Bodin 1962, pp. 6–9; Hofstadter 1963, pp. 38–39). The term was picked up in the United States in the context of characterizing opponents to World War I.

The American intellectual also has been seen as a source of unrest. Many have called attention to this phenomenon, seeing it as a continuing one in American history (May 1963; Hayek 1949, pp. 417–433). Richard Hofstadter (1965, pp. 111–112) described their stance of alienation as "historical and traditional," and pointed out that "even the genteel, established intellectuals of the mid-nineteenth century were in effect patrician rebels against the increasing industrialization and the philistinism of the country. So that it has been the tradition of American intellectuals of all kinds and stamps to find themselves at odds with American society: this, I think, to a degree that is unusual elsewhere." A century ago, Whitelaw Reid (1873, pp. 613–614), the editor of the New York Tribune, pointed to the role of the American "Scholar in Politics" as a foe of the "established," and a leader of the "radicals."

The reader should not get the impression that intellectual and student involvement in protest is confined to left-wing or progressive movements. This is not true, as witnessed, for example, by the intellectuals and students who constituted a core segment of activist support for the Fascist party of Mussolini, and of the National Socialist party of Hitler, before they took power, as well as among fascist and assorted anti-Semitic right-wing extreme groups in France and various countries in Eastern Europe up to World War II (Hamilton 1971; Röpke 1960, pp. 346–347). In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, intellectuals have been in the forefront of the struggles against Communist regimes, behavior that is perceived as left, i.e. opposition to statism, authoritarianism, and severe stratification.

In the United States, although scattered groups of right-wing intellectuals have emerged at times, the record seems to validate Richard Hofstadter's (1963, p. 39) generalization that for almost all of this century the political weight of American intellectuals has been on the progressive, liberal, and leftist side. Quantitative data derived from attitude surveys, the earliest dating back to before World War I, plus assorted other reports of the political orientations of the American professoriate, down to the present, strongly indicate that American intellectuals have consistently leaned in this direction (Lipset and Dobson 1972, pp. 211–289; Lipset 1991). This bias, to a considerable extent, reflects the absence or weakness of a legitimate national conservative tradition in America. National identity and national ideology are linked to a value system that emphasizes egalitarianism and populism, stemming from an elaboration of principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Thus, when American intellectuals point up the gap between the real and the ideal, whether the latter is represented by what was in a bygone Jeffersonian laissez-faire era (a utopia of equal yeoman farmers) or what it should be (a classless participatory future), they challenge the system for not fulfilling the ideals implicit in the American Creed.

Still, the argument is frequently made that inherent in the structural changes since World War II, which have been described as leading to a "postindustrial society," has been a growing interdependence between political authority and intellectualdom, which should have reduced the critical stance. Modern developed socioeconomic systems are highly dependent on superior research and development resources, which mean better support for universities, and research centers, and the much larger component of persons who have passed through the higher education system—thus creating a mass, high-culture market that pays for the institutions and products of the artistic community (Bell 1973). Governments are increasingly a major source of financing for intellectualdom, ranging from artists to scientists. Recognition and financial rewards from the polity conceivably should help to reduce the historic tensions and the intellectual's sense of being an outsider. A further trend pressing in this direction is the fact that the complexities involved in "running" an advanced industrial or postindustrial society forces laymen, both political and economic leaders, to seek advice in depth from, to defer to, the scholarly-scientific community (Dahl 1989, pp. 334–335; Gagnon 1987). Many, therefore, have seen these trends as fostering the role of the intellectual as participant, as leading to the "interpenetration" of scholarship and policy (Shils 1968; Brint 1991).

These developments, however, have not led to the decline in the critical role of the intellectual in the United States, although patterns elsewhere appear somewhat different (Lerner, Nagai, and Rothman 1990, p. 26). A number of analyses of different American scholarly disciplines have emphasized the significant presence of political radicals among them and their greater alienation from the powers than in Western European societies (Lipset 1991). In seeking to explain this trans-Atlantic difference, a Swedish scholar, Ron Eyerman (1990) notes that unlike the situation in America, Swedish (and I would add European) intellectuals are not an "alienated stratum" opposed to the state "because the avant-garde tradition was absorbed through a reformism [that] put intellectual labor to use in service of society," that is, largely through the labor and socialist movements. While the overwhelming majority of American intellectuals view themselves as outsiders, and have had little experience in directly influencing power that could moderate their sense of alienation, many European intellectuals have worked in a somewhat more integrated context. And most are, it should be noted, still on the left politically, though less radical relative to their national spectrums than their American counterparts.

The dilemma remains for intellectuals everywhere of how to obtain the resources necessary to pursue creative activity without "selling out," without tailoring creative and intellectual work to the demands of employer, patron, or consumer. In modern times in the West, the emphasis on originality, on innovation, and on following the logic of development in various creative fields—be they painting, music, literature, physics, or sociology—has been responsible for a recurrent conflict between intellectuals and those who pay for their works or exert control through the state, churches, businesses, the market, or other institutions. Intellectuals have often felt themselves to be dependent on philistines while wanting to do whatever they liked according to the norms of their field.

Much of the discussion has focused on the tensions created for unattached intellectuals. It has been asserted "that free-lance intellectuals are more receptive to political extremism than are other types of intellectuals . . . [since] the freelance intellectual . . . has been dependent on an anonymous and unpredictable market. . . . Rewards are much less certain to be forthcoming for the freelance intellectual, the form of reward less predictable, and the permanence of the recognition more tenuous. . . . [They] tend to be more dependent on their audience, over which they have relatively little control, and to feel greater social distance from it (Kornhauser 1959, pp. 186–187)."

To understand the continued anti-establishment emphasis of intellectuals, even when well rewarded, it is important to recognize the relationship of this emphasis to their concern for creativity or innovation. The capacity for criticism, for rejection of the status quo, is not simply a matter of preference by some intellectuals. Rather, it is built into the very nature of their occupational role. The distinction between integrative and innovative roles implies that those intelligentsia involved in the former, like teachers, engineers, and exponents of mass culture, use ideas—scholarly findings—to carry out their jobs; those in the latter activities, like scholars, poets, and scientists, are concerned with the creation of new knowledge, new ideas, new art. To a considerable extent, in such endeavors, one is much more rewarded for being original than for being correct —an important fact, a crucial aspect of the role insofar as we consider that such intellectuals tend to be socially critical.

(see also: Postindustrial Society)


Allen, Norm R., Jr. 1996 "Religion and the New African American Intellectuals." Nature, Society, and Thought 9:159–187.

Aron, Raymond 1962 The Opium of the Intellectuals. New York: Norton.

Beaud, Paul, and Francesco Panese 1995 "From One Galaxy to Another: The Trajectories of French Intellectuals." Media Culture and Society 17:385–412.

Bell, Daniel 1973 The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Basic Books.

Bodin, Louis 1962 Les Intellectuels. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Brint, Stephen 1991 "The Powers of the Intellectuals." In William Julius Wilson, ed., Sociology and the PublicAgenda. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Coser, Lewis 1970 Men of Ideas. New York: The Free Press.

Dahl, Robert A. 1989 Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Drake, W. Avon 1997 "Black Intellectuals and the Politics of Race: The Affirmative Action Debate." Research in Race and Ethnic Relations 10:147–168.

Eyerman, Ron 1990 "Intellectuals and the State: A Framework for Analysis; with special reference for the United States and Sweden." Unpublished paper, Department of Sociology, University of Lund, Sweden.

Gagnon, Alain (ed.) 1987 Intellectuals in Liberal Democracies: Political Influence and Social Involvement. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Hamilton, Alastair 1971 The Appeal of Fascism: A Study ofIntellectuals and Fascism, 1919–1945. London: Anthony Blond.

Hofstadter, Richard 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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Hollander, Paul 1998 Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

"Intellectuals and Social Change in Central and Eastern Europe." 1992 Partisan Review 59:525–751.

Karabel, Jerome 1996 "Towards a Theory of Intellectuals and Politics." Theory and Society 25:205–233.

Kellner, Douglas 1997 "Intellectuals, the New Public Spheres, and Techno-Politics." New Political Science 169–188.

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Kolakowski, Leszek 1968 Marxism and Beyond. London: Pall Mall Press.

Kornhauser, William 1959 The Politics of Mass Society. New York: Free Press.

Lepenies, Wolf 1994 "The Future of Intellectuals." Partisan Review 61:111–119.

Lerner, Robert, Althea K. Nagai, and Stanley Rothman 1990 "Elite Dissensus and Its Origins," Journal ofPolitical and Military Sociology 18 (Summer): 25–39.

Lipset, Seymour Martin 1991 "No Third Way: A Comparative Perspective on the Left." In Daniel Chirot, ed., The End of Leninism and the Decline of the Left. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

——, and Richard Dobson 1972 "The Intellectual as Critic and Rebel: With Special Reference to the United States and the Soviet Union." Daedalus 101 (Summer 1971):137–198.

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Schumpeter, Joseph 1950 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Shils, Edward 1968 "Intellectuals." In David L. Sills, ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 7. New York: Macmillan and Free Press.

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Torpey, John C. 1995 Intellectuals, Socialism, and Dissent:The East German Opposition and Its Legacy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Weijers, Ido 1997 "Educating the Modern Intellectuals." International Journal of Contemporary Sociology 34:81–91.

Seymour Martin Lipset


views updated May 11 2018


The concept of the intelligentsia was nurtured, challenged, and revitalized in Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Used to describe a group of politically engaged intellectuals, the term spread from its east European origins and enjoyed a strong grip on the imagination and social science in much of the world for the next hundred years. Definitions of the intelligentsia, the imputed characteristics of its members, and the consequences of their actions inspired controversies from the start. The category has no fixed meaning in part because its founding assumption—that intellectuals have superior insight into the goals and means of politics—gives rise to conflicts, both about the claim itself and about the content of these goals and means. Nonetheless, intellectuals' own quarrels over who is in and who is out of the intelligentsia, as well as over its merits or demerits, have kept the concept alive as a proposition, if not a coherent social formation, for well more than a century.

The word intelligentsia was used in Polish political literature in the 1840s, although R. V. Ivanov-Razumnik, the author of an influential two-volume work, The History of Russian Social Thought (1906), claimed that the term had first been used in the 1860s by a minor Russian novelist. The rich medium of creativity and political disappointment of early-twentieth-century Russia produced compelling self-definitions and controversies around the concept. Ivanov-Razumnik's study, subtitled "Individualism and Philistinism in Russian Literature and Life of the Nineteenth Century," gave the Russian intelligentsia a definition and a history, linked to each other. Hisargument was that intelligenty (intellectuals) were "irreconcilably hostile" to the petty materialism of philistine life. The intelligentsia was an "ethically anti-Philistine, sociologically non-estate, non-class historically continuous group, characterized by the creation of new forms and ideals and putting these into practice in a tendency toward physical and mental, social and individual liberation of the personality" (Ivanov-Razumnik, vol. 1, p. 12). Values, creativity, activism, and membership in a group with a history—but not class or social estate—were postulated as core elements of an intelligentsia tradition.

What values? Not coincidentally, the word translated above as "Philistinism"—meshchantsvo—is related to merchants and small-scale marketing in Russian. Ivanov-Razumnik, and other Russian creators of the intelligentsia's mythology, regarded capitalism, commerce, and materialism as inimical to freedom, creativity, and social well-being. The association of the intelligentsia with an anticapitalist stance was one consequence of the group's self-definition at a time of rapid and, for some intellectuals, disturbing expansion of industrial production, commercial agriculture, and wage labor in Russia.

Anticapitalism was not the only, or even the necessary, condition of membership in the intelligentsia, however. Russian writers of different political and cultural perspectives—liberals, such as Pavel N. Milyukov, and Marxists, including Yuli Martov and Georgy Plekhanov—brought varieties of opposition to Russia's autocratic state in under the intelligentsia umbrella. For many commentators, the intelligentsia tradition began in the eighteenth century, when Alexander Radishchev and Nikolai Novikov published and were punished for their criticisms of Russian government and society. The genealogy continued through the middle of the nineteenth century, highlighted by the nobles associated with the failed Decembrist coup (1825), debates between Slavophiles and Westernizers, the literary commentaries of Vissarion Belinsky, the pessimistic reflections of Peter Chaadayev, and the eclectic writings of Alexander Herzen. The second half of the century added to the list critical publicists such as Nikolai Dobrolyubov and Nikolai Chernyshevsky, social theorists such as Peter Lavrov and Nikolai Mikhailovsky, and activists in the name of various causes—Mikhail Bakunin's anarchism, Plekhanov's Marxism. Writers and sometimes their literary creations were made part of this trajectory. Bazarov, the protagonist of Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons (1862), was a controversial "nihilist" hero for the 1860s and later. What held this chain of many metals together were three qualities: opposition to the state, the claim to speak for the welfare of the polity, and persecution. The intelligentsia ideal—expressed by historical personalities or literary creations—was personal sacrifice for the cause of the general good, expressed in words or actions directed against the state.

In the early twentieth century, three developments heightened controversies over who was in and who was out of the intelligentsia and simultaneously promoted the retrospective reconstruction of this "historically continuous group." One challenge was the growth of an educated society and the expansion of the liberal professions. The concerns of Russia's artists and journalists encompassed a wide array of interests, including fascinations that strayed far from the realist and positivist hegemonies of the previous century. A second challenge was the attraction of Russian intellectuals to neo-idealist and religious ideas, which eroded the earlier appeal of positivism and Marxism. A third challenge was fragmentation and contention within the political movements that had taken shape in the 1890s. The Social Democrats split into factions only a few years after their founding congress; later, even prominent Bolshevik intellectuals were attracted to antimaterialist philosophies.

Vladimir Lenin's 1902 pamphlet "What Is to Be Done?" can be read against this background as one of several assertions of the intelligentsia's importance. In Lenin's formulation, intellectuals, "educated representatives of the propertied classes," were essential to the formation of class consciousness among workers and thus to the triumph of socialism. Another then-obscure veteran of the Marxist labor movement of the 1890s, Jan Wacław Machajski, formulated a more sinister view of the intelligentsia as a class of "intellectual workers" who through their monopoly on education would manipulate socialism in their own interest. Once in power in a socialist regime, Machajski predicted, the intelligentsia would constitute a new ruling class.

The failure of the Revolution of 1905 to bring socialism, liberalism, or even representative government to life in an uncompromised manner, as well as the extensive liberalization of rules on the press, only abetted controversies over the intelligentsia. Was the intelligentsia a forceful and constructive element of Russian politics? This question roiled Russian society in 1909, when a group of prominent intellectuals, most of them ex-Marxist converts to neo-idealism, published Vekhi (Landmarks), a radical critique of the intelligentsia and a repudiation of its (presumed) traditions. The contributors to Vekhi, including the philosophers Nikolai Berdyayev, Sergei Bulgakov, and Semyon L. Frank, and the liberal nationalist Peter Struve, lambasted the intelligentsia for its narrow-minded positivism, its intolerant atheism, its fixation on revolutionary politics, and its disregard for moral principles, for law, and for personal responsibility. Bogdan Kistyakovsky castigated Plekhanov for his relativist slogan, "The success of the revolution is the highest law." Written in the bitter aftermath of 1905, during a rash of political assassinations, and in the face of the apparent incapacity of officials and elected representatives to work together in the Duma, the Vekhi group's harsh critique took the unusual step of placing a good share of the responsibility for Russia's troubles on the intelligentsia itself.

The intelligentsia—both radicals and reformists—struck back, with an outburst of publications that contradicted each other and simultaneously confirmed that, at least for its defenders, the intelligentsia was alive and kicking. But the Vekhi controversy clarified some aspects of intelligentsia myth-making. First, the myth was still powerful enough to inspire culture wars over the nature of the intelligentsia and its goals and principles, and second, it was a myth—not a socially definable reality, not an identifiable political program. Battles over what the intelligentsia was, combined with a relentless insistence that its values did matter, sustained the Russian intelligentsia as a cultural project into the years of war and revolution. But it was one cultural project among many, until the revolution of 1917 put the Russian intelligentsia on the world stage and up for reinterpretation once again.

From that time [the 1860s], the Russian intelligent sia becomes non-estate, non-class based, not only in its tasks, goals, ideals, but also in its composi tion, and, at the same time—of course a not accidental coincidence—the term intelligentsia itself appears in the present sense of the word. (R. V. Ivanov-Razumnik, 1906)

Over the course of the twentieth century, the intelligentsia continued to accumulate meanings, both positive and negative. Within the Soviet Union, the word was used at least three ways. One designation was simply "white-collar labor"; it employed Machajski's functionalist definition but not his critical stance to distinguish mental workers from physical ones. A second usage referred to the heroic tradition of the prerevolutionary past, now firmly fixed on a trajectory toward Bolshevik-led victory in 1917: who was in and who was out depended on officially defined linkages to the revolution. In yet another variant of the older term, some used it to describe dissident critics of the Soviet state.

Outside the Soviet Union, perspectives were similarly tied to politics. Reformers and revolutionaries attracted to the apparent victory of intellectuals and their progressive cause in Russia embraced the category for themselves, particularly the notion of political engagement. Others saw danger in intellectuals' applying their ideas to worldly politics: the French philosopher Julien Benda's The Treason of the Clerks (1927) was an early expression of a long line of cautionary critiques of intelligentsia activism and its outcomes. Two of the most influential social treatments of the intelligentsia were those of the German sociologist Karl Mannheim and the Italian politician Antonio Gramsci. Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia (1929) described intellectuals as floating "free" from their class position and as producers of a "scientific" politics. Gramsci split the intelligentsia into two camps: organic intellectuals who defended the interests of their own class and "traditional intellectuals" whose allegiance could be captured for the revolutionary cause.

By the 1950s, intellectuals who had direct experience of communist rule managed to reintroduce critical interpretations of the intelligentsia. The Yugoslav political leader and writer Milovan Djilas argued that the intelligentsia in Eastern Europe had become the managerial elite—the "new class"—of communism. Djilas, like Leon Trotsky (The Revolution Betrayed, 1937) and the Hungarian sociologists George Konrád and Ivan Szelenyi (The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, 1979), brought back to life Machajski's prerevolutionary warnings. Debates over the consequences of communist rule and intellectuals' responsibility for them continued after the collapse of the Soviet regimes in 1989 and 1991. In this post-Soviet context, theoretical interest in the "public sphere" or "civil society" eclipsed attention to the intelligentsia, perhaps only temporarily if one considers the circumstances of its origins.

See alsoAnarchism; Civil Society; Intellectuals; Radicalism.


Primary Sources

Ivanov-Razumnik, R. V. Istoriia russkoi obshchestvennoi mysli. 2 vols. 3rd ed. St. Petersburg, 1911.

Miliukov, Pavel N. Outlines of Russian Culture. 3 vols. Edited by Michael Karpovich. Translated by Valentine Ughet and Eleanor Davis. Philadelphia, 1942. Reprint, New York, 1960. Abridged translation of Ocherki poistorii russkoi kul'tury, multiple editions, 1896–1918.

Secondary Sources

Berlin, Isaiah. Russian Thinkers. Edited by Henry Hardy and Aileen Kelly. New York, 1978.

Burbank, Jane. "Were the Russian Intelligenty Organic Intellectuals?" In Intellectuals and Public Life: Between Radicalism and Reform, edited by Leon Fink, Stephen T. Leonard, and Donald M. Reid, 97–120. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996.

Read, Christopher. Religion, Revolution, and the Russian Intelligentsia, 1900–1912: The "Vekhi" Debate and Its Intellectual Background. London, 1979.

Shatz, Marshall S. Jan Wacław Machajski: A Radical Critic of the Russian Intelligentsia and Socialism. Pittsburgh, Pa., 1989.

Walicki, Andrzej. A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism. Translated by Hilda Andrews-Rusiecka. Stanford, Calif., 1979.

Jane Burbank


views updated Jun 11 2018


The word intellectual used as a noun to describe a particular group of people has its origin in the early nineteenth century (around 1813), but as a description of how writers, philosophers, and scientists acted in the realm of politics it dates from the late nineteenth century in France. As Jürgen Habermas has argued, intellectuals were the representatives of an emergent public sphere. French philosophes in the salons, German philosophers in reading societies, and English writers in coffeehouses came together in a social space in order to participate, as independent critical thinkers, in the open and free discussion of issues of cultural and political interest. This rising group was the product of a new capitalist market economy that was progressively freeing the producers of ideas from the twin authorities of state and church. With the growth of the book trade and the expansion of the popular press, themselves the product of a growth of the reading public, writers and their like were able to establish a previously unknown level of autonomy.

From the seventeenth century onward a variety of different terms (including les savants, les érudits, les gens de lettres, as well as the hostile les pédants) were coined to describe this new group of people brought to the fore by a combination of technological revolution and the emergence of modern state power. As the locations in which knowledge was exchanged became increasingly diverse, the activity of producing knowledge became increasingly specialized, producing in its turn the newly defined vocation of the author. Perhaps no figure better represented this novel form than Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, 1694–1778). Voltaire, the philosophe, committed himself to the battle for ideas and did so in opposition to those prepared to abuse power, be it secular or religious. He established the cause to which the intellectual was to be committed (the fight against injustice) as well as the methods that were to be used (argument, scorn, publicity) and did so in the belief that the philosophe had an over-riding obligation to speak the truth, whatever the personal consequences. Moreover, it came to be believed that men such as Voltaire had the power to change the course of history and to bring governments to their knees. It was for this reason that many were later to conclude that the philosophes had caused the French Revolution. Although this is an exaggeration, it is possible to trace a line of descent that runs from Voltaire in the eighteenth century to Victor Hugo (1802–1885) and Émile Zola (1840–1902) in the nineteenth century and Albert Camus (1913–1960) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) in the twentieth century. Each adopted the pose of what was later to be portrayed as that of the universal, committed intellectual.

Nevertheless, the role played by intellectuals and the extent of their autonomy varied considerably from country to country. In part this depended upon the formal liberties accorded by the state to forms of cultural expression. It reflected the extent to which intellectuals controlled their own publishing houses and magazines. Religion too played a part, with societies dominated by the Protestant, Catholic, or Muslim religions displaying markedly different levels of toleration toward the free expression of ideas. The relative prominence of one or more cultural centers within a society also had an impact, as did the importance and size of the university sector and the level of linguistic uniformity across a society.

If in Spain and Italy, for example, intellectuals have occupied a position similar to that of their French counterparts, there have been other countries (most notably Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries) where they have been relatively invisible. In England, by contrast, intellectuals have predominantly been absorbed into the ruling elite and have largely endorsed the dominant values of society. In America, intellectuals have struggled to be heard against a backdrop of anti-intellectualism and popular culture but even so there were those who managed to carve out a bohemian existence (most notably in New York). One characteristic however seems to be true in all cases: women were largely excluded from the category of intellectual.

Two specific examples might be examined in greater detail. It was in nineteenth-century Russia that the term intelligentsia came into common usage. Initially drawn almost exclusively from the nobility, its world was highly circumscribed, encompassing little more than the universities, aristocratic salons, and marginal reviews and periodicals. Alexander Herzen (1812–1870) spoke of an intelligentsia that enjoyed outer slavery and inner freedom. By midcentury the nature of the intelligentsia was changing as a consequence of a decline in aristocratic lifestyles and the growth of the modern professions. It was this new generation (the "sons" of Ivan Turgenev's [1818–1883] famous novel Fathers and Sons [1862]) who in the 1860s first started sporadic and mainly clandestine organizations designed to propagandize the vast masses of Russia's peasantry and to explain to them the nature of their exploitation. Idealizing the "people" and believing in their natural propensity toward socialism, this generation asserted the duty of intellectuals to bring about the extinction of the existing society. As Russia changed at the turn of the century, the next generation entered the world of revolutionary politics. Yet Vladimir Lenin's (1870–1924) Bolshevik Party was always suspicious of the intelligentsia and with the emergence of the Soviet regime set out to transform the intelligentsia into a salaried and integrated element of the state. In this it was largely successful.

It was however in the France of the Third Republic that the various factors favorable to the emergence of intellectuals as a distinct group produced the first full expression of what has come to be understood as the political intervention of intellectuals as autonomous actors. There the Republic had explicitly sought to produce a secular elite that could counterbalance the reactionary influence of the Catholic Church. In consequence, when the forces of reaction sought unjustly to imprison Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935) on false charges of treason, writers including Zola, Anatole France (1844–1924), and Marcel Proust (1871–1922) intervened in the name of truth and justice in order to secure his release. They did so explicitly as intellectuals, speaking in the name of an authority that derived solely from their literary, cultural, and scientific activities, and it was in the name of that authority that they were listened to.

From the outset the term intellectual was deployed by political opponents as a term of abuse, indicating a group of uprooted and classless individuals who spoke about things they did not understand and with doleful consequences. "I have never called myself an intellectual," proclaimed the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), "and no one has ever dared call me one in my presence. I think that an intellectual may be defined as a person who pretends to have more intellect than he has, and I hope that this does not apply to me." These criticisms were often tinged with overt anti-Semitism. Yet the intervention at the turn of the twentieth century in defense of Dreyfus established an ideal type of what an intellectual should be and it has been an image that has had considerable currency until the present day (most notably in the writings of Edward Said [1935–2003]).

Yet the role of intellectuals was never a subject of agreement, especially so in the years of their emergence. The sociologist Karl Mannheim (1893–1947) conjured up the image of the "freefloating" intellectual, of someone who was "unanchored" and "unattached" and who therefore could be said to act independently of the claims of false ideology and self-interest. Julien Benda (1867–1956) gave this vision its clearest and best-known expression in his text La Trahison des clercs (1927; Treason of the intellectuals). Faced with the rise of both fascism and communism, Benda produced a passionate portrayal of the intellectual, locked in the ivory tower of reflection, who remained above the day-to-day world of political realities and compromise. The primary function of the intellectual was to place the values of knowledge before the values of action.

Several questions arose in relation to this picture of the autonomous intellectual. Was it an accurate portrayal of the role of intellectuals? Was autonomy the desirable goal it is taken to be? The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) did not think so, preferring rather to praise the "organic" intellectual prepared to subordinate his or her efforts to the twin causes of the working class and the Communist Party. Paul Nizan (1905–1940) articulated the same theme in his blistering response to Benda's call for independence. To abstain from politics, Nizan countered, was to make a choice, and thus to side with the forces of capitalism and imperialism. After World War II this position attained almost the status of orthodoxy, receiving its clearest statement in the doctrine of commitment articulated by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986). Max Weber (1864–1920) provided the most compelling reply to these arguments in two essays published in 1919. Weber argued that the vocation of politics demands a particular form of responsibility that is not appropriate in the world of scholarship. As such the scholar should aspire to maintain as high a level of impartiality as possible and to accept "value freedom" as a desirable and attainable goal. Later Raymond Aron (1905–1983), condemning what he termed "the opium of the intellectuals," reworked Max Weber's distinction between an "ethic of principled conviction" and an "ethic of responsibility" in order to expose the blindness of intellectuals toward the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and to argue that intellectuals should adopt a more modest function.

See alsoIntelligentsia; Professions.


Aron, Raymond. The Opium of the Intellectuals. New Brunswick, N.J., 2001.

Carey, John. The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880–1939. London, 1992.

Collini, Stefan. Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–1930. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.

Fink, Leon, Stephen T. Leonard, and Donald M. Reid. Intellectuals and Public Life: Between Radicalism and Reform. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996.

Goldfarb, Jeffrey C. Civility and Subversion: The Intellectual in Democratic Society. Cambridge, U.K., 1998.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London, 1971.

Jacoby, Russell. The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe. New York, 1987.

Jennings, Jeremy, ed. Intellectuals in Twentieth-Century France: Mandarins and Samurais. London, 1993.

Jennings, Jeremy, and Anthony Kemp-Welch, eds. Intellectuals in Politics: From the Dreyfus Affair to Salman Rushdie. London, 1997.

Johnson, Paul. Intellectuals. London, 1988.

Maclean, Ian, Alan Montefiore, and Peter Winch. The Political Responsibility of Intellectuals. Cambridge, U.K., 1990.

Mannheim, Karl. Ideology and Utopia. 1936. London, 1960.

Michael, John. Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values. Durham, N.C., 2000.

Said, Edward. Representations of the Intellectual. London, 1994.

Small, Helen, ed. The Public Intellectual. Oxford, U.K., 2002.

Walzer, Michael. The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century. London, 1989.

Weber, Max. Political Writings. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1994.

Jeremy Jennings


views updated May 21 2018



Coined a century and a half ago in Russia, the term intelligentsia has known both a subjective and an objective meaning. Broadly speaking the word was originally conceived in terms of principle. It referred to a group characterized by a critical attitude toward social reality and an oppositional political stance. Later the term became defined as a matter of profession, encompassing those with a higher education. Intelligentsia as a concept thus bears some relation to the later and more familiar term intellectuals, but the two notions overlap only partially. The line of division between the subjective and the objective usage of the term runs approximately between the imperial and the Soviet period. As for the post-Soviet intelligentsia, it is still a phenomenon in search of self-definition.

Peter Boborykin, a Russian novelist of the 1860s, claimed authorship of the term intelligentsia, although there have been competing claims of earlier usage in Polish, German, and even in Russian. The word was immediately applied retroactively. Borrowing from Ivan Turgenev's novel Otsi i Deti (1862; Fathers and Children, sometimes incorrectly translated as Fathers and Sons), historians identified a first generation of intelligentsia "fathers," the "superfluous men" of the 1830s and 1840s, members of the gentry raised on German idealist philosophy and desirous of social reform but timorous and impotent in an era of harsh political reaction. The "fathers" have been counterposed to the "sons," meaning both men and women of the 1860s, who were more diverse in their social origins, positivists intellectually, drawn to the natural sciences, more radical politically than their elders, and frustrated by the inadequate reforms that followed Russia's defeat in the Crimean War (1856).

By the turn of the twentieth century, the generation of intelligentsia "grandchildren" was already shifting from a self-understanding founded on opposition to the autocratic tsarist regime toward one based on professional occupation in a rapidly modernizing country. This redefinition was related to the explosion in the number of putative or potential members of the intelligentsia. Whereas in the 1840s the whole Russian Empire contained no more than a few thousand students, by the time of its first reliable census in 1897 Russia counted nearly a million educated individuals. Historians have invoked this transformation, as well as the admittedly timid liberalization of Russian society after 1905, to explain the decline in the critical posture of the intelligentsia. A marker of this reorientation is the collection of essays entitled Vekhi (1909; Landmarks), a self-critical repudiation of the revolutionary tradition by some of Russia's leading formerly radical Marxist intellectuals, such as Nikolai Berdyayev and Peter Struve.

According to a dominant narrative of Russian history, the year 1917 represented a historic test for the classic intelligentsia, entrusted with the task of creating a progressive order in Russia. Its failure to do so in the few months between the fall of tsarism and the Bolshevik seizure of power discredited the entire intelligentsia tradition along with its politicians of the time, such as the liberal conservative Prince Lvov, first prime minister of the provisional government; the foreign minister, Pavel Milyukov, eminent liberal intellectual and member of the Constitutional Democratic Party; and the last pre-Bolshevik prime minister, the Socialist Revolutionary lawyer Alexander Kerensky. The outcome of events in 1917 opened a debate that still continues over the responsibility of the classic intelligentsia, with its aversion to state power and high-minded ineffectiveness, for Bolshevik success and for the ensuing Soviet regime.

Soviet Russia could also be considered a creation of the classic revolutionary intelligentsia. In spite of their workers' ideology and their appeal to the peasantry, early Bolshevik leaders have been depicted by their critics as simply successors to the most extreme or "nihilistic" earlier trends in the intelligentsia. Most Bolshevik leaders were indeed educated individuals thoroughly imbued with the intelligentsia ethos of uncompromising, principled opposition to the ancien régime and a utopian vision for the future. Vladimir Lenin himself, though scornful of intelligentsia fecklessness, valued professional skills, considering these to be the essential material basis of socialism. Many members of the prerevolutionary intelligentsia emigrated from Russia or withdrew from professional and political activity after 1917. Some, however, particularly those with technical competencies, entered Soviet service, willingly or reluctantly. By April 1919 almost five thousand doctors were serving in the Red Army. A year later the army included some fifty thousand former generals and other higher-level tsarist officers. This alliance between the old intelligentsia and the new state lasted until the end of the 1920s. Passage from the moderate NEP (New Economic Policy) to a policy of intensive industrialization and collectivization brought the prominent role of the old intelligentsia to an end. The 1928 show trial of fifty-three engineers and miners announced its imminent disappearance. By 1933 only 17 percent of the Soviet intelligentsia consisted of former bourgeois specialists. Their ranks had been depleted by further emigration, natural attrition, and purges. Above all, they had been flooded by the emergence of a new socialist intelligentsia.

From the very outset, the Soviet regime was determined to create its own intelligentsia. By 1919 it had opened rabfaks (rabochiye fakultety, or "workers faculties") at every institution of higher education. Here, workers and peasants with only basic schooling received an accelerated higher education. By 1933 half of the students in universities were of worker or peasant background, though this figure fell later. The proletarianization or, as some have called it, the plebianization of the intelligentsia had been successfully carried out.

Soviet ideology soon formulated a new conception of the intelligentsia: "a social stratum consisting of people professionally occupied with mental work.… Being a stratum and not a class the intelligentsia is incapable of playing an independent political role in social life" (Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopedia, 2nd ed., 1953, vol. 18, p. 270). Article 1 of the 1977 Soviet constitution proclaimed "a socialist state of the whole people, expressing the will and interests of the workers, peasants and intelligentsia. …" At this time the intelligentsia, in the Soviet sense, numbered more than thirty million individuals. Overall it was almost evenly divided between men and women; two-thirds of engineers, the numerically most important profession, were men whereas a similar proportion of doctors were women. Russians and Jews who numbered, respectively, 53 percent and 0.9 percent of the population accounted for 67 percent and 7.1 percent of scientific workers. Mathematicians and physicists enjoyed the highest professional prestige.

What became of the oppositional ethos of the classic intelligentsia? Stirrings in Russian culture after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and hopes raised by Nikita Khrushchev's destalinization between 1956 and 1964 gave rise to a dissident movement founded on liberal, Christian, or socialist values. Regardless of the attention and support afforded the movement in the West, dissidents represented an infinitesimally small group. Unlike their nineteenth-century predecessors, there is no evidence that they enjoyed sympathy throughout society. Dissidents, or inakomysliashchie (those who think otherwise), did however represent the tip of a much wider phenomenon, the shestidesyatniki, (the people of the [nineteen] sixties). This was the generation whose hopes had been raised under Khrushchev only to be frustrated for two decades during the era of Brezhnevite zastoi (stagnation). In a sense Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985, bore the aspirations of the shestidesyatniki. Though the Soviet intelligentsia never succumbed to Western-style "Gorbymania," it initially offered him its support. Disappointed with Gorbachev's halfhearted and unsuccessful measures, by 1991 the intelligentsia had transferred its allegiance to the new president of the soon-to-be independent Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin.

Disorientation best characterizes the situation of the post-Soviet intelligentsia, even though intelligentovedenie (the study of the intelligentsia) has become a thriving academic subfield with its own institute and innumerable publications. Russia's integration into the world economy guarantees the continued growth and importance of the educated population. Debate continues, however, over the role of the intelligentsia, its critical function, and its social mission. Critics argue that wholesale privatization has also meant the privatization of knowledge and therefore the disappearance of a classic intelligentsia. Alexander Solzhenitsyn emphasizes the abyss between the narod (people) and the intelligentsia, attributing it to betrayal by a self-infatuated, opportunistic, and impious intelligentsia that possesses only obrazovshchina (book knowledge) rather than moral values. Yabloko (Apple), the party of the post-Soviet liberal and westernized intelligentsia, has done so poorly that it does not count on the political map.

Through its management of public opinion, its manipulation of the media and of national values, the Vladimir Putin regime has succeeded in co-opting a good part of the independent-minded intelligentsia. Already discredited by its identification with Yeltsin's disastrous economic reforms and his political misbehavior, that part of the intelligentsia that might play a critical role has largely withdrawn to nonpolitical and often lucrative activities. In the atmosphere of early-twenty-first-century Russia, even kulturnost (the quality of being cultivated or well-mannered and educated), recognized by Soviet sociologists as an intelligentsia trait, has retreated into the background. Is this the end of the intelligentsia, in its classic subjective meaning, as a group founded on moral principle and a critical sense? The question is widely debated in early-twenty-first-century Russia, suggesting that something of the ethos of the original intelligentsia persists.

See alsoGorbachev, Mikhail; Khrushchev, Nikita; New Economic Policy (NEP); Putin, Vladimir; Soviet Union; Yeltsin, Boris.


Churchward, Lloyd G . The Soviet Intelligentsia: An Essay on the Social Structure and Roles of Soviet Intellectuals during the 1960s. London, 1973.

Markiewicz-Lagneau, Janina. "La fin de l'intelligentsia? Formation et différenciation de l'intelligentsia sovié-tique." Revue d'études comparative est/ouest 7, no. 4 (December 1976): 7–72.

Pipes, Richard, ed. The Russian Intelligentsia. New York, 1961.

Sinyavsky, Andrei. The Russian Intelligentsia. New York, 1997.

Andre Liebich


views updated Jun 11 2018


In a small room crowded with books a man hunches over a typewriter, the black and white camera perfectly capturing the curl of smoke from a nearby ashtray. In another, larger room, a man sits in an overstuffed club chair, pen in hand and pipe in mouth. In a private library, a man in a tweed jacket sits in a leather armchair, perusing a book and holding a cigar.

Dressed in black, the typist might be Jean Paul Sartre; in a jacket of less determinate color, he might be George Orwell. The pipe smoker is perhaps Albert Einstein; if fictional, Sherlock Holmes. And the gentleman with the cigar could be any number of vaunted thinkers, from H. L. Mencken to Thomas Edison, Mark Twain to Sigmund Freud. These men are both particular and generic: they are writers, scholars, thinkers, and above all, intellectuals.

The link between smoking and intellectualism undoubtedly owes something to the link between smoking and individualism. Even had tobacco not proved a reigning cash crop for centuries, it almost begged for antiauthoritarian status (and popularity) when use of the plant Elizabethans commonly called "divine" was contemporaneously excoriated in King James I's Counterblaste to Tobacco and deemed punishable by excommunication by Pope Urban VIII. As tobacco became increasingly accepted, individualism rested less in the choice to partake and more in the particularity implied by one's tobacco preferences. It is almost impossible to imagine Sherlock Holmes without his pipe or Jean Paul Sartre without Gitanes (a French brand of cigarette)—subtle but telling proofs of Mark Twain's assertion in "Concerning Tobacco" that "Each man's own preference is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept, the only one which can command him."

While factory workers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were presumed to smoke to pass the time, intellectuals commonly cited tobacco as productive of creativity or erudition. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, for example, referred to a particularly difficult case as a "three pipe problem." And though Sigmund Freud is perhaps best remembered for his unsubstantiated insistence that "a cigar is just a cigar," in Freud's case, it was also an oft-noted source of inspiration he deemed essential to his work. The inspiration sought in the bright leaves produced an intellectual smoking culture spanning broad ideological, philosophical, and disciplinary gaps, and stretching from the Mississippi River to the Left Bank.

Since most academies in the Western Hemisphere have effectively banned smoking in many common areas, and since intellectuals are not uniquely incapable of understanding risks associated with tobacco use, the culture of smoking among intellectuals has shifted dramatically in the final decades of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, tobacco has remained remarkably consistent in its presumptive humanizing of the intensely cerebral. While the so-called decadence of smoking once safely humanized the intellectual by asserting his or her baser sensuality, this function is now more readily identifiable in a tableau visible on campuses and at institutes across the globe: the huddled professor having a cigarette with a student who shares her distinctly corporeal and increasingly unpopular vice, both in open (if somewhat guilty) defiance of the Romantic poet Charles Lamb's prescient homage, "For thy sake, tobacco, I would do anything but die."

See Also Class; Literature; Psychology and Smoking Behavior.



Gately, Iain. Tobacco: The Story of How Tobacco Seduced the World. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Goodman, Jordan. Tobacco in History: The Cultures of Dependence. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Klein, Richard. Cigarettes Are Sublime. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.

Stern, Lesley. The Smoking Book. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999.

Walton, James. The Faber Book of Smoking. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.

individualism an independence of spirit; the belief that self-interest is (or should be) the goal of all human actions.


views updated May 11 2018

intelligentsia Nowadays this term is loosely applied to any educated stratum of society—normally including intellectuals and managers—which has an interest in ideas. Historically, the use of the term has been more restricted, and although its origins are contested they are usually sought in early nineteenth-century Russian and Polish usage. However, as a social category it differed in the two countries, for obvious historical reasons.

Formed from the déclassé elements of major estates in nineteenth-century Russia, the intelligentsia were at first marginally located, between Tsarist autocracy and the peasant masses. Their procedures of inclusion (see CLOSURE) nevertheless borrowed from gentry manners, and later added the imprimatur of educational qualifications, which were superseding military and other credentials. Both attributes tended to cut the stratum off from the bulk of society, towards which they none the less felt they had a mission of responsibility. In the Polish case, it was the maintenance of the national spirit, its intelligens or self-consciousness, during the century of partition where Polish nationhood survived with only a rump state to bolster it, that explains the emergence of this group.

In the absence of an indigenous bourgeoisie in Eastern Europe, and given the role of the state and foreign capital, there emerged complex intelligentsia ethos: of nationalism coupled with a Western orientation, anti-industrialism and emphasis upon cultural and humanistic values, criticism of the state, adherence to the gentry style of life, and criteria of good breeding demanded of the intelligentsia proper. These represented, in the words of one commentator, the ‘universal concomitant of the confrontation of a traditional society with a modern West’. After the advent of communism it was easy to see how, as some commentators have observed, the intelligentsia in its anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist ethos was compatible with Marxism. However, in the dominated countries of the Soviet bloc, that other feature of the intelligentsia—its sense of mission as a vehicle of national values—served to undermine the communist order.

It is a moot question whether, with the advent of market economies, capitalism will finally transform parts of the intelligentsia into its Western equivalent; namely, a loose category of intellectuals, rather than a solid social stratum. In the West, some critics have argued that the modern salariat or service class, if it tends to closure through self-recruitment and various forms of credentialism, could create a Western intelligentsia, distinguished—by its style of life, sense of status honour, and patterns of intermarriage—from the mass of post-industrial, late-capitalist society.

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