intellectuals

In modern societies intellectuals do not form a clearly defined group. Traditionally, the intellectual's role has been that of the thinker and truth-seeker. In simple societies they might be priests or shamans . In Europe, from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, they were the creators of high culture, the philosophers, and the scientific innovators of their times. Brilliant groups of intellectuals like those who joined Diderot in the production of the great French Encyclopaedia (1751-75)-d'Alembert, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and others-literally changed history by introducing new ideas and new knowledge into their tradition-bound societies.
Intellectual life flourished under two conditions: the relative independence of intellectuals themselves, and the unique position they held in societies that were largely illiterate. Democracy , mass literacy, and bureaucratization have all tended to undermine the role of the independent intellectual. In fact, intellectuals have become increasingly unpopular. Richard Hofstadter, in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1962), explored the mistrust of intellectual talents in a practical, materialistic society. More recent critics like Paul Johnson (Intellectuals, 1988) and Steve Kimball (Tenured Radicals, 1988) dismiss intellectuals as unrealistic and even dangerous dreamers.
The heirs to the intellectual tradition work mainly in large institutions-usually universities-which are not hospitable to new or challenging ideas. Academics are by necessity careerists first and intellectuals second. Russell Jacoby's book The Last Intellectuals (1987) portrays the decline of independent intellectuals in the twentieth century, and their absorption into the bureaucratic, salaried world of government institutions.
Others have suggested a whole new role for intellectuals in post-industrial society . Daniel Bell in The Coming of Post Industrial Society (1964) and Alvin Gouldner in The New Class and the Future of Intellectuals (1981) have argued that the ‘knowledge society’ of the future will give intellectuals a central and honoured status.
Intellectual life continues to flourish on the margins of society, in the play of ideas in serious journals and books, films, videos, and computer networks. The true intellectual is not so much performing a role as expressing a particular personality, and those qualities will find an outlet under any social conditions. As Albert Camus put it, ‘An intellectual is a person whose mind watches itself.’

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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