Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Luftmenschens and 21st Century “Intellectuals”

In May of this year, Puya Gerami interviewed George Scialabba on the subject of intellectuals.  The interview was originally published in the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, and it can also be read at GeorgeScialabba.Net under the heading Generalists, Specialists, and Others: An Interview with George Scialabba.

In large part, the interview is a criticism of intellectualism in general, but also somewhat of a lament in response to the loss of generalist intellectuals, or luftmenschen intellectuals, and discussion for the reason(s) of the rise of specialist intellectuals, like David Brooks, for example.

The interview is a somewhat lengthy read, but I wanted to post this most interesting, and telling, portion of the interview which describes just how so-called intellectuals are working with the government, in various industries, and enabling the continued rise of state authority, at the expense of liberty and individual freedom.

As the US evolved from a yeoman republic in the mid-nineteenth century to a mass society, as industrial production in particular became the dominant form of economic relations, the new society needed a workforce that was trained up in new skills. So mass education was inaugurated. Now, one of the dangers of mass education, or education of any kind, is that it empowers the educated. It suggests potentially subversive questions about their relation to authority. From the point of view of the owners of society, inquiry of that sort had to be cut off at the knees, or at least, had to be carefully managed. And so new ideologies and techniques of social control, popular management, and the manufacture of consent were developed in the form of the advertising industry, the science of marketing, and public relations as a new aspect of politics and public management.

One of the tools of the manufacture of consent was expertise. Public relations involved finding engineers, scientists, and social scientists who could make the ruling class’s case persuasively. Formerly, all you needed to criticize American foreign policy and corporate policy effectively was a good ear for bullshit. Because government and business propagandists were basically amateurs, their critics could be amateurs. But the new techniques of social control called into being a whole new cohort of intellectuals - one might call them anti-public intellectuals: intellectuals in the service of power rather than in the service of the public. (bold by ed.)

Via Arts & Letters Daily.

Posted by John Venlet on 06/13 at 02:04 PM
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