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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The "intelligentsia"

The word "hip" (analyzed in the previous post) reminds me of another word which has fallen out of fashion in the past few years, but which you heard a lot a decade ago: intelligentsia. This was a word which the East Coast media elite used to describe people who were, uh, just like them: liberals who had gone to prestigious universities where they majored in soft subjects and were brainwashed into being politically correct.

Strangely, the word was never used to refer to physicists, or engineers, or mathematicians, or experts in any number of other arcane fields which actually required a high IQ. Rather, it denoted a certain set of precious sensibilities.

Ironically, the self-anointed "intelligentsia" found the concept of intelligence itself absolutely abhorrent: anybody who actually thought that IQ was anything other than a "social construct" couldn't possibly be a member of the "intelligentsia." Yet this didn't keep them from using the term. (There didn't seem to be any members of the intelligentsia aware of this irony.)

Those of us not members of the intelligentsia were, by implication, members of the "dumbsia." (In previous generations a slightly different kind of snob would refer to these people as "the great unwashed.") The intelligentsia obviously felt that these unenlightened masses should have been kneeling at their feet, absorbing their proper way of thinking.

Thankfully that word has fallen out of favor, since its preening nature was obvious to everyone but the intelligentsia, who finally cottoned onto its implications.


Anonymous said...

This term was, and still is, largely used in the Russian language. It might have originated from Russian.
There it is used to refer to the highly educated class of people which includes physicists and engineers, scientists in general, as well as doctors and college professors in various fields. Intelligentsia was specifically targeted by Stalin's repressions since they were viewed as a threat to the communist regime. It does not seem to have as negative of a connotation there as it does here.

John Craig said...

Anonymous -- Thank you for your comment. Interesting. Over there they were targeted by the leftists, here the leftists, or at least liberals, have coopted the term for themselves.

Anonymous said...

During the early period of the communist party intelligentsia was considered "leftist". They were mostly the descendants of the gentry that communists tried so hard to eradicate.

John Craig said...

Thank you. Hmm. Then I guess they were using "leftist" to mean the opposite that we do. Also, regarding your first comment (I'm assuming you're the same "anonymous"), I don't think the media here originally intended for the word "intelligentsia" to have negative connotations; my guess is that it was more just a self-indulgence.