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Who is an intellectual?

February 06, 2014 - 6:08:22 am
There is a famous French tale about a police chief who told General Charles de Gaulle that philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre had been arrested. De Gaulle said, “release him immediately because you are detaining France.” 

The late Arab intellectual Edward Said resorted to two contradictory definitions of intellectual in his book Representations of the Intellectual. The two definitions are considered the most famous in this regard in the 20th century. The first definition was presented by the Italian politician, journalist and philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who said that “all people are thinkers”, but not all people can do the job of the intellectual or the thinker in society. 

According to Gramsci, intellectuals are divided into two categories: First, traditional intellectuals, including priests, teachers and administrators, who do the same job of non-renewable thinking. Second, people who are directly linked to classes that use them in organising their interests and gaining more power and control.

The second definition of the intellectual was presented by French philosopher Julien Benda. He considers intellectuals “a small group of philosopher kings who own supreme abilities and talents and high morals”. They constitute “the class of scientists and educated people, who are very rare because of what they call for and their defence of truth and justice.”

Edward Said believed that the real intellectual did not represent anybody, but represented common universal principles that cannot be abandoned. Moreover, he represented the pulse of the masses and did not accept half-baked solutions or truncated truths. 

The intellectual is the person who faces power with the discourse of truth. He insists that his job is to force himself and his supporters to accept the truth. In addition, he is the “resistant” intellectual, as he resists with his thought and activity the dominance of the prevailing power in all its various forms: physical, social and political, which monopolise the superstructure of society and politics.   

French philosopher Edgar Morin says all arts have produced masterpieces, except politics, which has created monsters. What Morin said is the description closest to the state of culture and intellectuals in the Arab world. There is not one philosopher you can point to and say that he represents the Arab world, as is the case with France and Jean-Paul Sartre.

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