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An intellectual is a person who is scientifically, artistically, philosophically, religiously, literary or journalistic, has acquired proven skills and takes a critical or affirmative position in public disputes . It is not necessarily tied to a specific political, ideological or moral position.

The meaning of the term intellectual changed in the course of historical development; there was never a generally accepted definition of the term. Karl Mannheim undertook important attempts at definition with the “free-floating intelligence” and, alternatively, Antonio Gramsci with the “organic intellectual” .

Concept history

The term intellectual was attributed to Georges Clemenceau by Maurice Barrès . In an article in 1898, Clemenceau identified the prominent supporters of Alfred Dreyfus , including Émile Zola , as a group, but in fact he was not the first to use the term, nor did he use the term excessively. It can even be assumed that the term was first used in this context by the nationalist opponents of the Dreyfus supporters. As a result, the term received a derogatory connotation and was used for people who are disloyal to their own nation.

Gramsci coined the term “organic intellectual” for people who represent and rearticulate the ideas of a particular class .

“On January 14 and 15, 1898, two lists were published [in France] in which scientists, high-ranking officials, but above all artists and writers protested against the violations of law committed in the Dreyfus case . By February 4, 1898, around 2,000 people came together (published in L'Aurore and Siècle on around 40 lists) who caused a stir not because of their number, but because of the quality of the signatures. On January 23, 1898, Clemenceau took up a term that had been used since the 1870s, which he finally published under 'La Protestation des intellectuels' on February 1, 1898 in the Le Journal newspaper. It complains about the negative social striving of that group to want to form an elite. "

In the time of National Socialism , the expression was also used as a derogatory battle term for representatives of the ideologically rejected “intellectualism” in order to discredit and / or denounce Jewish or politically undesirable people (see also Nazi propaganda ).

Embedding in societies

According to Sartre, the intellectual analyzes, questions and criticizes social processes in public debates and discourses in order to influence their development. The intellectual is not tied to a political or moral position. This often leads to conflicts with politicians, governments or those in power.

With regard to the governments of their respective countries, their attitudes range from open support for the reforms currently underway to open rejection. Intellectuals are both producers and critics of the ideology .

If their own ideas coincide with those of the ruling class, they can be very effective supporters for them; where there is a lack of agreement, they can be persecuted by the state and become dissidents . The successful dissidents are partly reintegrated into a state system where they are useful for it. For those in power, intellectuals are both inconvenient and effective means in the innovative development of society. The French philosopher Julien Benda (1867-1956) emphasized in 1927 in his famous essay The betrayal of the intellectuals , the inclination of many intellectuals to agents to be social interests and ideologies.

Intellectuals develop informal relationships with one another that go beyond the usual center of life of work and family. Intellectual power assistants in the civil service are often better informed than their official or political counterparts (and thus have their respect, even if they are viewed with suspicion because of their contacts with political opponents). Regardless of this, intellectual opponents are often better informed about social problems than the average population, even if the present state system has severely restricted the freedom of the press . This inner knowledge of state details also often makes them the target of intelligence services in other states .

The liveliness, speed, enthusiasm and gossip of capital and metropolitan intellectual circles often led to hostility towards their subculture . In Germany and Austria, after the First World War, this was also associated with anti-Jewish resentment.

Bernhard von Mutius (* 1949) (editor of the book Die Andere Intellektiven , 2004) expressed the thesis that a new type of intellectual is emerging who, as a knowledge worker (whether permanently employed or freelance) is entrusted with complex development projects in various organizational contexts - Projects that include scientific and technical innovation projects as well as social and cultural change and learning processes . He calls him the "constructive intellectual". Here it is expected to understand reality as a space of possibility - to be constructed and modified together with others - and to generate manageable suggestions from the analysis . In addition to the organizational connection as a consultancy group within larger institutions, there is also the spin-off as a formally independent think tank .

So-called "intelligence"

The intelligentsia (probably from Russian; see Intelligence ) is the collective term for social groups in a society in which intellectuals form groups. Partly this is associated with delimitations and privileges.

Individual groups or categorizations are:

Intellectuals in literature

Intellectuals are the main characters in many intellectual novels . Some notable examples:

The transition to the artist novel is fluid.

See also


  • Franco Basaglia et al: pacification crimes. About the servitude of the intellectual. European Publishing House, Frankfurt am Main 1980, ISBN 3-434-00427-0 .
  • Julien Benda : La trahison des clercs. 1927. (German: The betrayal of the intellectuals. Unabridged edition. Fischer TB, Frankfurt 1988, ISBN 3-596-26637-8 )
  • Dietz Bering : The intellectuals. History of a swear word. Berlin / Vienna 1982.
  • Dietz Bering: The Epoch of the Intellectuals 1898-2001. Birth - concept - tomb. Berlin University Press, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-940432-91-9 .
  • Hauke ​​Brunkhorst : The intellectual in the land of the mandarine. Frankfurt am Main 1987.
  • Hauke ​​Brunkhorst: The disenchanted intellectual. About the new arbitrariness of thinking. Frankfurt am Main 1990.
  • Christophe Charle: thought leader of modernity. The intellectuals in the 19th century. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-596-60151-7 .
  • Noam Chomsky : The Responsibility of Intellectuals. In: The New York Review of Books. February 1967.
  • Ralf Dahrendorf : Dedicated observers. Intellectuals in their time. Passagen, Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-85165-726-8 .
  • Franz-Josef Deiters : On the scene of the "people". Strategies of self-ascription of intellectual identity from Herder to Büchner and beyond. (= Litterae. 138). Rombach Verlag, Freiburg i. Br./ Berlin / Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-7930-9444-8 .
  • Jacques Derrida : The intellectuals. Attempted definition by themselves. In: Jacques Derrida: Machines paper. Vienna 2006, p. 211 ff.
  • Wolfgang Eßbach : The Young Hegelians. Sociology of a group of intellectuals. Munich 1988.
  • Richard Faber, Christine Holste (ed.): Circles - groups - frets. On the sociology of modern intellectual association. Wuerzburg 2000.
  • Martha Zapata Galindo: The Price of Power, Intellectuals and Democratization Processes in Mexico 1968–2000. edition tranvia, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-925867-96-1 .
  • Theodor Geiger : Tasks and position of the intelligence in society. Stuttgart 1949.
  • Jacques Le Goff : The Intellectuals in the Middle Ages. 4th edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2001.
  • Wilhelm Hofmeister (Ed.): The disenchantment of the critical spirit. Intellectuals and Politics in Latin America. Transcript, Bielefeld 2004.
  • Dai Jinhua: The Imagination of Intellectuals and the Role of the Mass Media. In: Asian Exchange. Vol. 18, no. 2 + vol. 19, no. 1, 2002/2003, pp. 152-161.
  • Jacques Julliard (ed.): Dictionnaire des intellectuels français: les personnes, les lieux, les moments. New edition. Ed. du Seuil, Paris 2009, ISBN 978-2-02-099205-3 .
  • Joseph Jurt: France's committed intellectuals. From Zola to Bourdieu. Wallstein, Göttingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-8353-1048-3 .
  • Ariane Huml and Monika Rappenecker: Jewish intellectuals in the 20th century. Literature and cultural history studies. Königshausen & Neumann publishing house, Würzburg 2003, ISBN 3-8260-2310-2 .
  • M. Rainer Lepsius : Criticism as a Profession. On the sociology of the intellectuals. In: interests, ideas and institutions. Opladen 1990, ISBN 3-531-11879-X .
  • Alfred von Martin : The intellectuals as a social factor. In: Alfred von Martin: Man and Society Today. Frankfurt am Main 1965.
  • Wolfgang J. Mommsen (Hrsg.): Culture and war: the role of intellectuals, artists and writers in the First World War. Oldenbourg, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-486-56085-9 .
  • Bernhard von Mutius (ed.): The other intelligence. How we will think tomorrow. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-94085-5 .
  • Ingeborg Nordmann: Nineteenth picture: The intellectual. In: Julius H. Schoeps , Joachim Schlör (eds.): Images of hostility towards Jews. Anti-Semitism - Prejudices and Myths. Augsburg 1999, ISBN 3-8289-0734-2 , pp. 252-259.
  • Jean Paul Sartre , Philippe Gavi, Pierre Victor: The intellectual as a revolutionary. Disputes. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1976.
  • Jean Paul Sartre: Plea for the intellectuals. Interviews, articles, speeches 1950–1973. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-499-12738-5 .
  • Helmut Schelsky: The work is done by the others. Class struggle and priestly rule of the intellectuals. Opladen 1975.
  • Thomas Sowell : Intellectuals and Society. Basic Books, 2010, ISBN 978-0-465-01948-9 .
  • Hans Speier : The intellectuals and modern society. Vienna / Graz 2007 (edited and introduced by Robert Jackall).
  • Martin Strickmann: L'Allemagne nouvelle contre l'Allemagne éternelle: The French intellectuals and the Franco-German understanding 1944–1950. Discourses, initiatives, biographies. Frankfurt am Main / New York 2004, ISBN 3-631-52195-2 .
  • Alan Maynard Wald: The New York intellectuals. The rise and decline of the anti-Stalinist left from the 1930s to the 1980s. 2nd Edition. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill / London 1987.
  • Michel Winock: The Century of the Intellectuals. Uvk, Konstanz 2003, ISBN 3-89669-948-2 .
Intellectuals in literature
  • Victor Brombert : Intellectual Hero: Studies in the French Novel 1880-1955 . JB Lippincott, 1964.

Web links

Wiktionary: intellectual  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. This definition is given a certain plausibility in intellectual research , compare Stephan Moebius : Intellektuellensoziologie: Sketch of a methodology. In: Social.History Online . H. 2 (2010), pp. 37–63, here p. 42 (PDF; 173 kB).
  2. Hans Manfred Bock: The intellectual as a social figure. Recent comparative research on their forms, functions and changes . In: Archives for Social History 51, 2011 . S. 591 ff .
  3. See Dietz Bering: “Intellektueller”: swear word - discourse term - tomb? In: intellectuals; From politics and contemporary history. 40/2010, pp. 5-12.
  4. Vincent Duclert, p. 54 ff.