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Revolutionism & the Jews:3 - The Role of the Intellectual

- Abstract

IT IS notoriously difficult to frame a definition of “intellectuals” that will serve for all times and all issues, but let me suggest a working one: Intellectuals are people who make a living from ideas, and are in varying degrees directly influenced by ideas. Thus they live off ideas and they live for ideas. Politically, as we know, the intellectuals have in general been critical of established institutions and values, sometimes from the Right, much more often from the Left. Only very rarely have they been conservative in the sense of approving of established institutions and values.

Intellectuals possess most of the attributes of an interest group: they are concentrated in a limited number of occupations, they commonly share a certain orientation to society. Nevertheless, is there any point in talking about them as a distinctive group in relation to other groups in the United States? In talking about intergroup relations, we know we will have to talk about Jews, Catholics, Protestants; about whites and blacks and other deprived non-white or quasi-white groups; about skilled workers, the lower-middle class of white-collar workers and low-paid professionals, the upper-middle class of better-paid professionals and managers and proprietors; about the urban underclass and the suburbs. But why is it necessary to talk about intellectuals? Are they not encompassed in these other groups? In a measure of course they are. And yet there are a number of recent developments in American society that make it to my mind more and more relevant to speak of intellectuals as a distinct group affecting the future of group relations in America.

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