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  • Writer's pictureNellooli Rajasekharan

Who needs intellectuals?

Updated: 2 days ago

Today, to be an intellectual is out of fashion.

Intelligence, reason, and logic are less valued today than feelings, intuition, and activities. While reflection and learning are considered necessary evils, philosophy and poetry are useless. Most publishers will not touch them.


Ancient civilisations held philosophers and intellectuals in high regard. Up to the early 20th century, they commanded respect and spearheaded massive changes in many fields. Voltaire, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger are a few who changed the world with their thoughts. Many scientists and political leaders were also intellectuals.


What did they do?

Using critical thinking, research, and analysis, they developed new insights or views to advance understanding and possibilities. Many developed solutions for social, political, philosophical, or scientific issues and were public intellectuals with strong personal values supporting the welfare of society. Most were committed to improving human life and the ecosystem that sustains us, and they upheld ethical principles in their work and interactions. They valued their independence of thought and were unafraid to challenge consensus or go against mainstream thoughts. Their points of view and proposals often catalysed deep discussions and debates. They forecasted and anticipated possibilities and problems. Leveraging existing knowledge, they sailed into uncharted waters.

Then what happened?

Many intellectuals turned supporters of oppressive regimes out of fear or for personal benefit. They lost two essential hallmarks of intellectuals; personal values and objectivity. By focusing on their narrow domains and interests, they lost the ability to move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. While knowledge is a zoom lens, wisdom is a wide-angle lens that looks at an object's relationship with the background, its placement, and its relative importance in its context. These changes created the perception that intellectuals are theoretical people disconnected from real issues and more active in social and political realms.


Authoritarian regimes manipulate and repress political dissent. Even a democracy may have fascist regimes that seek loyalty to power rather than to the truth. For them, the intelligentsia is just another tool to legitimise their points of view by couching them in convincing and colourful Trojan horses of philosophy, religion, political doctrines, or economics. Many regimes have succeeded in changing intellectuals to propagandists or blind followers by frightening them into silence or enticing them with honours and benefits.


So, now we believe they are less relevant to society and more valuable for their sponsors and paymasters.

So what if there are no intellectuals?

The short answer is that without them, criticism is halted, the search for truth abandoned, and new directions for social change minimised.  Dr. Vitaly Tepikin has described the characteristics of intelligentsia. Some of them can provoke rethinking among intellectuals.



  • Constantly explore and understand the world around them and are sensitive to the world's problems. They can foresee issues and consequences.

  • Attempt to promote positive societal change. They advocate justice, equality, and human rights.

  • Have abundant creative energy and go on without ennui or indifference despite opposition or attempts to discredit or silence them.

  • Fight for independence and the freedom of expression.

  • Are loyal to their convictions and are driven by conscience, even in the most challenging conditions.

  • Are open-minded, brave, and constructively critical to existing regimes and power structures.

  • Understand the hazy and complex reality, which could lead to fluctuations rather than fanatic faith in political beliefs, religious faith, economic models, and other organised forms of thoughts or action.

  • Reject inaction and that could lead them to activism.

  • Have a complex relationship with society, sometimes acting as a progressive force while at other times facing persecution or marginalisation for their ideas and activism. 


Without true intellectuals, people chasing intellectual pursuits without values and commitment will leave societies with more problems than solutions. The problems created at one level of thinking can only be solved at a higher level of thinking.



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