A intellectual is a person who, because of her social position, has a form of Autorité and commits herself in the public sphere defending of the Valeur S. According to the historians Pascal Ory and Jean-François Sirinelli, an intellectual is “a man of cultural, creative or mediator, put in situation of man of the policy, producer or consuming ideology”.
Birth of the intellectual
The “intellectual” term is of recent appearance. It is directly related to the Affaire Dreyfus in France: the word was adopted, in bad share, by Maurice Barrès and Ferdinand Brunetière, which, in their writings anti-supporters of Dreyfus, intended to denounce the engagement of writers like Emile Zola, Octave Mirbeau or Anatole France in favor of Dreyfus, and on a ground - military businesses and the espionage - which was foreign for them. The initial pejorative connotation (the intellectual like thinker taken refuge in the abstraction, loser of sight reality and covering subjects which he does not know well) then very largely disappeared, with the profit of an positive image of men, belonging certainly to intellectual professions, but before very anxious to defend of the right causes, was this at their risks and dangers.
The intellectual is not necessarily a philosopher or a writer, and its definition does not have anything sociological. It is a question of any person who, because of her social position, has a form of authority and makes it profitable to persuade, of proposing, of discussing, of allowing the critical spirit of émanciper social representations. If this definition is followed, the intellectual is not a recent “institution”: as of the ancient Greece of the rhéteurs like Gorgias or Protagoras falls under this passion step of the spirit.
But, since the Business Dreyfus, the “intellectual” word is used more precisely to designate somebody who commits himself in the public sphere defending of the values. In the continuity of Voltaire defendant Fixed, it is Emile Zola and Octave Mirbeau engaging for the captain Dreyfus, it is Jean-Paul Sartre and Pierre Vidal-Naquet denouncing torture in Algeria, it is Michel Foucault battling for the rights of the prisoners and Pierre Bourdieu for those of the unemployed, or Noam Chomsky when it stigmatizes the foreign politics with the United States.
The social role of the intellectual
Several designs of the role of the intellectual in the company can be evoked.
Raymond Aron, in the Opium of the intellectuals (1955), raises this question of the role of the scientist in the city, and concerning the great debates of the moment. For Aron, the intellectual is a “creator of ideas” and must be a “committed spectator”.
To this design that of the supporter of Dreyfus Julien Benda is opposed. In a test entitled the Treason of the clerks (1927), it deplored the fact that the intellectuals, since the war, ceased playing their part of guards of the values " cléricales" universal, those of the supporters of Dreyfus (the Truth, the Justice and the Reason), and forsake them with the profit of political realism, with all that this expression comprises of concessions, of compromise, even of compromisings. The reference to the “clerks” (that the tonsure distinguished from laic) underlines this function quasi-nun which it assigns with the intellectuals. The attitude of the clerk is that of the critical conscience (rather than of engagement strictly speaking ).
Jean-Paul Sartre, finally, will define the intellectual as “somebody who interferes himself what does not look at it”. It is that with which, according to the formula of Diderot borrowed from Terence, nothing of what human east is not foreign, which becomes aware of its individual responsibility in a given situation, and which, refusing to be accessory, by its silence, of the injustices or the atrocities which are perpetrated, in France even or elsewhere in the world (let us think of the role of Sartre in the Court Bertrand Russell set up to judge the war crimes in Vietnam), uses its notoriety to be made hear on questions which strictly do not raise of its field of competence, but where the influence that it exert and prestige, national or international, from which it profits can appear effective. The intellectual, for Sartre, “is inevitably engaged” for the cause of justice, and thus in rupture with all the institutions considered to be oppressive. That obviously opposes it to Raymond Aron, his former “young friend” of the Teacher training school, by the way of which he will write, in May 1968: “It is the current system which it should be removed That supposes that it is not considered any more, like Aron, that to only think behind its office - and to think the same thing since thirty years - the exercise of the intelligence represents. It is necessary, now that whole France saw de Gaulle very naked, that the students can look at Raymond Aron very naked. His clothing will not be returned to him that if it accepts the dispute”.
For Sartre, the intellectual can thus be only “of left”, on the condition of hearing this term in the direction of an ethical desire of justice, and not in a purely political direction and partidaire.
In 1895, Mirbeau defined the mission of the intellectual thus: “Today the action must take refuge in the book. It is in the book alone that, released from the unhealthy contingencies and multiples which destroy it and choke it, it can find the ground clean with the germination of the ideas that it sows. The ideas remain and pullulate: sown, they germinate; germinated, they flower. And humanity comes to gather them, these flowers, to make of them the sheaves of joy of its future stamping. ” For Albert Camus, sixty years later, the writer “cannot put himself at the service those which make the history: he is with the service of those which undergo it”: “Our only justification, if it is one, is of speaking, as far as our means, for those which cannot do it. ” But, he adds, one would not have therefore “awaiting from him done everything solutions and beautiful morals. The truth is mysterious, reducing, always to conquer. Freedom is dangerous, hard to live as much as exciting. ”
Towards the death of the intellectual?
Serge Halimi, taking again a famous expression of Paul Nizan, qualified “new watchdogs” of the system, in opposition to dissenting” and “resistant” intellectuals the “the intellectuals of the end of the century.
In continuity of Michel Foucault, and according to the definition that this one gave some, Pierre Bourdieu was a “specific intellectual” and he intended to put his competences of sociologist at the service of his engagement. On the other hand, of the hellenists like Jean-Pierre Vernant, old resistant, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet did not claim to have particular competences in their interventions on the public stage, that it is against torture in Algeria or for the rights of the Palestinian people, and were located more in the line of Albert Camus and the intellectuals supporters of Dreyfus like Emile Zola and Octave Mirbeau, who left the principle of ethics.
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