intellectuals


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intellectuals

persons, typically well-educated, who engage their intellect in work which they believe to be of cultural importance. In English, ‘intellectual’ as a noun first appeared in the early 19th century, and early usage was often pejorative. Sociological interest largely centres on intellectuals as a distinct social group (see INTELLIGENTSIA). In addition, three episodes in French social thought are worth noting. First, the social scientist Henri de SAINT-SIMON introduced the military concept of a vanguard, or avant-garde, to social thought in the early 19th century, although his reference was not to intellectuals as such, but rather to scientists, whose positive knowledge would enable them alone to direct the development of France and other industrial societies. Second, in 1896, the politician Georges Clemenceau labelled the defenders of Dreyfus as ‘intellectuals’ (see DREYFUS AFFAIR), so beginning modern usage. The label was promptly adopted as a badge of honour by DURKHEIM and others. Third, the philosopher Julien Benda condemned intellectuals for their readiness to serve particular social and political interests and to betray their true calling – the disinterested pursuit of universal truth and justice – in his La Trahison des Clercs (1927).

Intellectuals, interests and truth also figure in the writings of Antonio GRAMSCI between the wars. Gramsci notes the partiality of (communities of) intellectuals – producers and disseminators of knowledge – and their role in the generation of both hegemony and resistance. In particular, he distinguishes ‘traditional intellectuals ’ who, however self-deludingly, uphold the autonomy of intellectuals,from ‘organic intellectuals, including technical specialists, who acknowledge a functional relation, however nuanced, to dominant or oppositional classes and groups within a given socioeconomic formation.

Finally, the term ‘public intellectual ’ is increasingly used in America, and now Britain, to refer to intellectuals in the PUBLIC SPHERE who set agendas, inform debate and influence opinion. Anthony GIDDENS’ articulation of a ‘THIRD WAY’ politics beyond left and right provides an example. See also MANNHEIM.

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