May 12, 2011

FRANCE CELEBRATES ITS NAZIS, COMMUNISTS, AND ANTI-HUMANISTS OF ALL STRIPES...:

Why don't we love our intellectuals?: While France celebrates its intelligentsia, you have to go back to Orwell and Huxley to find British intellectuals at the heart of national public debate. Why did we stop caring about ideas? When did 'braininess' become a laughing matter? (John Naughton, 5/08/11, The Observer)

One of the distinctive aspects of British culture is that the word "intellectual" seems to be regarded as a term of abuse. WH Auden summed it up neatly when he wrote: "To the man-in-the-street, who, I'm sorry to say, / Is a keen observer of life,/ The word 'Intellectual' suggests right away/ A man who's untrue to his wife."

Auden wasn't alone in thinking that intellectuals suffer from ethical deficiencies. The journalist and historian Paul Johnson once devoted an entire book, Intellectuals: from Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (2000), to proving that some of the 20th century's most prominent thinkers were moral cretins. And in his book The Intellectuals and the Masses (Faber, 1992) the literary critic John Carey argued that most of our culture's esteemed thinkers over several centuries despised the masses and devoted much of their efforts to excluding the hoi-polloi from cultural life. Both Johnson and Carey were pushing at an open door. Britain is a country in which the word "intellectual" is often preceded by the sneering adjective "so-called", where smart people are put down because they are "too clever by half" and where a cerebral politician (David Willetts) was for years saddled with the soubriquet "Two Brains". It's a society in which creative engineers are labelled "boffins" and kids with a talent for mathematics or computer programming are "nerds". As far as the Brits are concerned, intellectuals begin at Calais and gravitate to Paris, where the fact that they are lionised in its cafes and salons is seen as proof that the French, despite their cheese- and wine-making skills, are fundamentally unsound.


...we English speakers hold them in contempt. And you think we have a problem?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 12, 2011 8:00 AM
  
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