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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





By intelligentsia is meant those individuals in a society who are specialists in knowledge. In any fairly advanced culture, they will come from among the academicians, the professionals, the artistic and aesthetic specialists, the journalists, creative writers, the philosophers, the specialists, in "symbol manipulation." They have been called the avante grade, cognoscenti, brain trusters, "eggheads," and the intellectual elite. Whatever the name applied, they represent the intellectual leadership of the society.

Whether this group is an observable entity or whether it is split up and attached to institutions is a moot question for the operator: he is concerned with those individuals in the power structure who have the qualities which are associate with the concept of "intelligentsia" no matter where they occur. He may find intelligentsia as direct wielders of power, he may find them in a subsidiary position or relegated to a non-power position.


XXIV-1. Criteria of various roles. According to some observers, the intelligentsia (or at least the important part of the group which may be so identified) are actually "socially unattached" and that they will in the long run - and in their own right - become the leaders of society through this very lack of connection with social classes. They bring evidence to show that the intelligentsia as a group does have a cosmopolitan characteristic; it does consider problems on a global basis; it is involved in various international movements. (There was even set up in 1919 a "Compagnons de L’Intelligence" with provisions for international memberships). The international characteristics of specialists in physical sciences and of their organizations also have long been noted. At the same time, it is difficult to accept wholly the theory of the "socially unattached intelligentisia" since there is much evidence which points in the opposite direction.

Against these theoretical constructions, one must place the observations of the diverse roles of the intelligentsia in different times and societies. They have been in the vanguard of social revolutions, but they have also fostered reactionary nationalistic movements and have vigorously defended the status quo; they have obtained power through moral and spiritual suasion and have obtained it though participating in the use of force and violence; they have received the highest honors of a society and have served as a society’s scapegoat; they have provided the means of power yet have possessed none.

Some of the most interesting studies of elite groups in recent times have suggested strongly that members of the intelligentsia are more likely to be found in power at a time of stress or revolution and in the period immediately following. It has been shown that intellectuals were prominent among the early elite of both the communist and fascist, movements and that subsequently they were ousted or were relegated to minor positions. Studies of the Russian Politburo, for example, have clearly demonstrated the predominance of intellectuals in the earlier years of the U.S.S.R. and their replacement by men of administrative or violence skills in later years. These and other studies suggest a pattern of participation of the intelligentsia in the power structure (1) as critics and attackers of the status quo; (2) as leaders of a revolution destroying the status quo; (3) as legalized ruler in the early stages of a new regime; (4) and finally as potential threats to the regime, being eliminated or relegated to subservient roles.

Another pattern which has long been observed is the movement of the intelligentsia into the elite to provide the ruling clique with support. Thus the elite uses their imagination and intellectual acumen to preserve its own power, to legitimize it, to build a theoretical base for it, to create "myths" which would perpetuate it. This pattern suggests that the intelligentsia are almost always an "out-group" as far as the top elite is concerned, being brought in now and then in accordance with the usefulness and cooperatives of individual intellectuals or groups of them.

Both generalities are too gross. They erect stereotypes, the one of the intelligentsia trifling with advanced theories, speculations and new ideas and challenging the status quo, the other of the intelligentsia pandering its knowledge to intelligentsia is a tempting target because it is so obviously attuned to symbols and dedicated to conveying them to others.

If the intellectual elite are direct participants in the power structure, locating them will present no special problems. The operator can expect that the general approach outlined in earlier chapters will locate the top influentials no matter what their base in the society. His problems arise, however, when the intelligentsia have a subsidiary, but still important, role. The suggestions which follow will relate primarily to that situation.

XXIV-2. Differentiation of intelligentsia by proximity of specialization to power. The varying activities which mark an individual as a member of the intelligentsia suggest that the operator can concentrate upon parts of this group with greater effect. Some specialization’s are "closer" to power than others. The painter or sculptor is less likely to be concerned with power than the political scientist or economist; the poet than the expert on public administration. In general, the intellectual whose activities involve the manipulation of symbols more related to power is more likely to be close to the elite. The ballet dancer or opera singer is less of a target than the journalist or critic.

It might be noted that the intellectual who is specially interested in power as his own area of specialization (as are many historians, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, and other academicians) may be excellent sources of information for the operator. These persons may or may not actually possess power themselves, but as students of power they will be very well informed about it.

Another factor which may make a particular specialization more important is the nature of policies and project of the top influientials. They may be absorbed in a project which will bring certain members of the intelligentisia into the top echelon; Such persons would assume a higher priority as targets. In many societies, communists have moved from theoretical pursuits to participation in power decisions because of present concern of top influentials with economic matters. Priestly advisers are much rarer nowadays than in early modern times though their part is played in a way by the ideologue-propagandist.

XXIV-3. Proximity of organizations of the intelligentsia to power. Members of the intelligentsia are ordinarily members of many organizations ranging from groups of fellow specialists to political action associations of very diverse specialists and broad cultural associations. If such organizations are, in fact, elite groups, they will have already been observed. On the other hand, as organizations of lesser power rank, they may become important to the operator from time to time. An example of such an organization was the "Keep Left" group of laborites in Britain (along with a similar group in France) who did much to spread neutralist sentiments among U.S.. allies in 1951. Describing this situation, a propaganda specialist said: "...the early manifestations of neutralist sentiment were dismissed as the work of the ‘intellectual fringe’ in these countries, and hence of small political import. This erroneous judgment was based on ignorance of the communications network. The ‘Keep Left’ group of M.P.’s for example, included the editors of three small-circulation but extremely influential British weeklies. The Combat group of French writers radiated out into the mass circulation Parisian and provincial press, e.g. Fiqaro and Franc-Tireur.

The incident points up the potential importance of intellectual fringe groups to the operator. Here, by their control of elite publications, they had an influence beyond that expected. (For additional information on elite publications fringe group also is demonstrated in this incident.

Organizations which have an intellectual or semi intellectual base, also serve as means of influencing other organizations which may have much more power. The National Union of Journalists provided a base for working British journalists to stimulate demand for an investigation of the press and eventually to win parliamentary approval of the proposal.

Mention of this organization suggests a point of caution concerning organizations of intellectuals. In some fields, they may also have many characteristics of labor unions. In fact, many of the newer organizations of intelligent (particularly of writers, actors, and other such groups) prefer all of the functions of unions as well as serving as organization of the intellectual elite.

A final point regarding organization of intellectuals is that no large interest or community group or mass basis forms "naturally" beneath them, as is the case, for example, with labor leaders or the military. The organizations themselves are often volatile, anarchically organized, with an individual Librium veto on any matter of personal concern.

XXIV-4. Direct participation in government. The role of the intelligentsia in Russia, Italy and Germany has already been remarked upon. Similar studies of other nations should provide information on the degree of direct government participation by intellectuals. Dossier material will often carry on its face the fact that the person is an intellectual as well as something else. Information on the writing of influentials is a useful index, the presence or absence, bulk or quality of them providing clues as to whether the individual is an intellectual or not Examination of memberships of parliaments by job classifications is another device. Studies of the French and German parliaments through the years have demonstrated the importance of professors and other intellectuals in these legislative groups as compared to their importance in the U.S. Congress, where, however, the influence of academia is not negligible.

XXIV-5. Distribution of rewards. The economic standing of intellectuals relative to other groups such as businessmen or military men or farmers also will provide information on where intellectuals stand in the power structure. In the U.S. the pay of professors and journalists is indicative of their lack of power; in the Soviet Union the great disparity between pay of intellectuals and workers indicates that they have a higher power rank. The granting or the taking away of rewards also provides indices of the power of an intellectual. The career of the Soviet biologist Lysenko is an excellent example. From obscurity in 1936 he rose to the position of President of the Lenin Academy of Agronomy, a vice president of the Supreme Soviet, and along the way accumulated Stalin prizes and Orders of Lenin. He also obtained his own institute, and enough power to silence or banish his academic foes. His downfall, while not yet as completely documented, was signalled by authoritative criticism in such publications as Botanitshesskyi Journal and the Bulletin of the Soviet Academy of Science. This suggests that praise or condemnation of intellectuals as indicated in these publications should also be scrutinized in an effort to check the power position of the intellectual :

XXIV-6. Concern of the intelligentsia with pure, as opposed to "applied" science and art. Intellectuals have been arguing this matter in all nations for centuries. Today, there seems an increasing pressure of the top influentials upon the intelligentsia to make all of their top influentials upon the intelligentsia to make all of their activities useful to the state. The combination of technological and ideological demands of modern civilization have drawn the physical scientist, the social scientist, even the composer and sculptor, into government. In extreme form, as exemplified in Russia, every activity of the intelligentsia will be weighed as helping to achieve the goals of the elite. An intelligentsia who is concerned with useful application of its skills as against pure or scientific or artistic use of them can move into higher ranks of power. Thus physicists moved nearer power in the U.S. after the development of the atomic bomb, though they did not move into the top echelons. However, the tendency to apply the skills of the intelligentsia awakens in them a greater interest in and concern with power and may in the long run make them more important contenders for power than they have been in the past.

XXIV-7. Concern with nationalism as against concern with internationalism. The cosmopolitan character of the intelligentsia was referred to above, but cosmopolitan awareness may be the prelude to extreme nationalism and anti-cosmopolitanism. The cases of Gobineau, Nietzsche or Wagner are in point. Today, the awakening nationalism in many parts of the world which were recently governed by foreign powers is led and driven on by intellectuals. The intelligentsia became nationalistic leaders, working directly in politics or in such allied projects as the development of regional art, literature, architecture, etc. The intelligentsia are not necessarily in step with the general elite. Italian and German poets and professors annoyed greatly the conservative forces of their lands in the early nineteenth century with nationalistic appeals. In the twentieth century with intellectuals mostly have hailed internationalism to the dismay of the nationalist elites.

Since intellectuals have at the same time been identified with international revolution in the form of communism, or with international cooperation in the form of less violent organizations of specialists, the dominant activity of the intelligentsia in this regard, as compared to that of the general elite, will often help show whether they are near to power or far from it.

XXIV-8. Propaganda activities within the target area. The propaganda activities of the target area, directed at it is own population or at the rest of world, usually will involve some members of the intelligentsia. It has already been suggested that the greater importance of propaganda activity at a time of change in regime will bring intellectuals to the fore, and that they will decline in power when the change has been consolidated. Propaganda activities of the intelligentsia offer another kind of opportunity to the operator, i.e. to learn of the goals, problems and techniques of the elite. Analysis of propaganda may show not only the degree of participation of the intelligentsia, but much about the power structure and vulnerabilities of the target elite.

XXIV-9. Journalists as members of the intelligentsia. To a much greater extent than in the U.S.A., journalists abroad are members of the intelligentsia and as such play an important part in determining its characteristics and power role, Keys to the power position of the entire intelligentsia, and to that of journalists in particular, can often be provided by investigating the system of training and recruitment of journalists. Are they university educated and thus a more respectable part of the intelligentsia? Or are they trained "on the job" from relatively early ages, remaining outside the formal advanced education process? Is the training controlled by the government? Are there state examinations or licensing arrangements? Is journalism training such that it develops individualistic, personal journalism or does it develop impersonal institutional journalism? Are journalists most concerned with an objective presentation of the news? Or do they interpret freely? Is the prestige accorded to the medium or to the writer or editor?

Another key to assessing the role of journalists is the amount of upward mobility available to them. Do they move freely from one power role to another? Is journalistic activity essentially another facet of political activity? Are editors and officials of magazines and newspapers at the same time direct political leaders? In France, the combination role of politician-journalist is frequently found.

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