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Is the Intellectual Obsolete?
The Freely Speculating Mind in America

- Abstract

An acquaintance of mine who knows the Soviet Union well is fond of declaring that in the mid-20th century the intellectual has become an anachronism. In the world of advanced industrial society, he argues, the freely speculating mind has lost its function. While I am not inclined to agree unreservedly with my pessimistic friend—whose cast of thought, I must add, leans toward paradox and exaggeration—I am no more willing to reject his argument out of hand. It deserves serious consideration, I believe, particularly in our own country, where the present discontents of intellectuals strongly suggest the possibility that their expectations no longer conform with reality.

In the Communist world the intellectuals’ dependence on state and party scarcely needs to be argued. These writers and thinkers themselves are constantly revealing the facts of the matter by taking advantage of periods of relaxation like the present to voice their long repressed complaints. Theoretically, organized Marxism has always favored the intellectual estate; and the leaders of contemporary Communism have followed in the established tradition by combating the normal anti-intellectualism of workingmen and arguing for the ideological solidarity of “workers of brain and hand.” Yet the phrase itself betrays the true intention. The brain-workers are to share in the construction of socialist society: like the men on the assembly line, they are to make their proper contribution to the new and better world. In brief—to use a phrase that has a familiar American ring—their efforts find official favor only if they are “constructive.”

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