Barzun, Jacques. The House of Intellect. New York: Harper, 1961.

 

Barzun, Jacques. The House of Intellect. New York: Harper, 1961.

Barzun, at his best, is being painfully truthful about the position of intellectuals. The truth can
hurt. Our values do not square with our aspirations for intellect. The intellect is not the result of
"mass education." The intellect is not characterized by "shared goals." The intellect is
demanding. It is trained authoritatively. It is not well known for its collegiality. It is not given to
conventional psychology. The intellect is demanding, effective, unsentimental, standoffish,
distant. Those who cater to the public mind cannot do so with intellect.

Consider one paradox that Barzun emphasizes: democracy is not intellect. One cannot mass
market intellect. One cannot expect an educational system to aim for the production of intellects.
The democratization of education has been the one sure way of subverting the production of
superiority. Democracy has it that the voice of the people is the voice of God. The intellectual
knows that this is not so. The intellectual, to be true to himself or herself, must more or less
consciously own up to the fact that he or she is something different from the panderers to the
public taste. The intellectual must endure being what he or she is.

Intellectuals are not "pseudoevents" whose reputations are maintained by television appearances
and public relations of various sorts. The scientist who is true to his work must not be the type of
gadfly who can amuse the public. Rather the position of the intellect is one that is at odds with
popularizations. The Big Name scientist today is one who can keep his name before the public.