If I could edit my essay on Christian intellectuals as I saw fit, I’d make it a lot longer, of course. But in light of the responses I’ve been getting for the past few days, I’d be especially eager to add something to this early section:
In the last years of the Weimar Republic, Karl Mannheim, an influential sociologist, argued that a new type of person had recently arisen in the Western world: the intellectual. These were people “whose special task is to provide an interpretation of the world,” to “play the part of watchmen in what otherwise would be a pitch-black night.” … [watchmen] not [in the sense of] Juvenal’s guardians (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?), or for that matter Alan Moore’s comic-book version, but interested observers whose first job was not to act but to interpret.
Here’s what I would now add:
Though Mannheim refers to this social type as the “intellectual,” making it quite clear that he is using this term in a technical sense rather than in its everyday meaning, I will not follow his example. The everyday sense of the word “intellectual” — basically, “really smart person” — is so deeply ingrained in the minds of readers that it would be impossible to convince them that by declining to identify certain figures as intellectuals you are not in any way demeaning those figures’ intelligence. You could point readers to Mannheim’s definition, explain it, put it in different words, provide context … nothing would work. Trust me on this one, it would be backing a sure loser. So instead of “intellectuals” I will henceforth refer to “interpreters.”