Saturday, May 20, 2023

useful, provided you did not notice them....

The concept of the intellectual (though not the word) is new to the English language.  In the past we were in the habit of distinguishing the educated from the uneducated person.  And during the nineteenth century there were many educated people among our leaders—for example Disraeli and Gladstone, who between them did much to create the new style of politics, in which parties bargain for votes by promising goods that do not belong to them.  But the concept of the intellectual—as a creature whose social role is shaped by his critical posture outside society—was foreign to English life.  Coleridge had marked out an important role for the 'clerisy'; but he saw this class as a conservative force, maintained by church, university, and the professions.  The Romantic poet, the 'man of feeling', and the hermit had all be extolled and ridiculed, with Jane Austen and Thomas Love Peacock effectively putting a lid on their pretensions.  Thereafter, thinking and feeling re-assumed their old functions in social life: they were useful, provided you did not notice them.  The very idea that someone should draw attention to his intellect and emotions, and regard them as a qualification for overthrowing the established civil order, was anathema to the ordinary English person.

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