The Intellectual – the secular cleric

Prof. Bogdanov, could you briefly describe the term “intellectual”?
I have no brief definition. Being an intellectual means taking up a role which has many forms and does not remain constant in time. In one of my essays I strive to differentiate between left-wing and right-wing intellectuals. Besides that, there is an intermediate role of intellectuals which is neither left nor right. Thus, a simple definition cannot be given. In practice, everyone chooses one or another characteristic to define what an intellectual is. For example in his article in the newspaper “Culture” (35/2001), Evgeni Daynov proposes that an intellectual is basically a person who comprehends more effectively than non-intellectuals. But this effectiveness cannot be invariable. Everyone who is capable of comprehending effectively fails at a certain moment. This happen even in the case of an intellectual.

Do you find that there is a difference between the intellectuals and the intelligentsia?
I believe there is a difference. Intelligentsia is a term which is widely endorsed in Russian culture in the ХІХ – ХХ centuries. The intelligentsia is a social class of people, whereas the intellectual is normally a solitary figure. We often refer to the intelligentsia as intellectuals. Every field of human activity fosters a social class of intelligent people, carrier of a certain kind of knowledge, who strive for certain higher social goals. By contrast, the intellectual is always half-way extraneous to society in order to be able, as Evgeni Daynov puts it, to become an effective explicator.  In order to give a good explanation, you need not be vested with a particular role in society. In a way it is better if you were divested of social status. It is fascinating in Evgeni Daynov’s person – he insists on being divested. The provocative elements in his article are, in a way, reaching for the perspective of the “divested” person.

Does this mean that he ‘intellectualises’?
Evgeni Daynov is a typical intellectual. He wants to build a construction which is valid in the long-term. He wants to taka the position of effective rationalisation for himself and those who are ready to endorse it. That of course is an ideal and like every ideal it is hard to reach. Since a system of principles is being developed, that is a sure sign for the typical form of an intellectual undertaking through a text. Intelligent action is usually based on a sole principle, whereas the intellectuals seek a structure of principles. This is a hastily drawn definition, nothing more. Therefore, the intellectual element in Evgeny Daynov’s article is that it upholds a position which is based on several principles. The non-intellectual feature is situated in the beginning of the article where he states that resentment based on one principle prompted him to build this intellectual construction. This principle manifests itself in the rapid construction of a group of enemies. That is a non-intellectual position. Of course, this is also a civic position. When we discuss the shortcomings of a certain human environment, we always use generalisations.  Such generalisations are present in the table on the side of the article. Here, however, Evgeni Daynov, has entered “the army of the political scientists”, among whom one supposes that there are some distinctions. But he clearly differs from the regular political analysts, especially with his insistence on not belonging to any group.

So, in order to be intellectuals we should always create as a foundation a system of principles?
I do not attach a value sense to this statement. I do not claim that it is wrong for a person to base his/her contention on a single principle, that the system of principles Daynov has constructed is positive and that frame in which he places the article is negative because it is rooted in a single principle. That is only natural in a text. In general, we cannot remain within the scope of the textual. In a text we can make a complex analysis. In our conduct, however, we should identify the evil in some way. That is how Evgeni Daynov has acted. Before analysing, he has identified the evil. This identification is an expression of his civic action. The design for action is one thing, and the design for analysis – another. In this sense, the tragical incident in the United States (this dreadful assault, which will certainly give a new direction to the affairs in the 21st century) can be analysed through different paradigms. It is beneficial to apply several paradigms simultaneously. However, when we act as citizens we should not and, in fact, we cannot follow the intellectualist approach and employ a number of paradigms. We need to choose the position of the good or the evil. The trouble is when we fill in our texts with the simple structure of our actions. Texts do not necessarily need to be transparent or embracing one paradigm. Explanations need to have problematical elements which incite those who communicate with them to enter into other rationalisations. The contemporary truth is a constant rearrangement of that which has already been said. At a certain point, however, a man should stop talking and proceed to the straightforward position of a citizen, of an intellectual who believes in a particular principle and is ready to fight for it. Undoubtedly, this transition from the textual to the non-textual, from the written to the act is challenging to manage. All of us, writers, act as citizens and in the same time we strive to be effective explicators. In a way these two approaches are in natural contradiction.

Different authors put forth different data for the appearance of intellectuals. When do you consider has this public figure developed?
Historically, intellectuals appear for the first time in the second half of the 18th century. This is the period when an effective secular culture which publicly needs such figures emerges in Europe. Nevertheless, there were intellectuals in many earlier periods, even though the word intellectual had not yet developed. There were intellectuals in ancient Athens and ancient Rome, during the 12th century in Europe and during the Renaissance. Every culture which actively engages a secular aspect of human existence gives rise to the role of intellectuals. The intellectual is – to put it simply – a secular cleric. That is his main problem. He needs to remind of the transcendent in secular conditions, to speak of “here” and “now” from a viewpoint beyond “here” and “now”.  That is to say, he needs to incorporate a perspective of the truth that our life will end at a certain moment, but this end is not problematic, since other people will remain. Consequently, something transcendent remains in the existence of each and every human being. The transition from the concrete human existence into a transcendent one within the confines of our human environment is, unfortunately, something which has always posed difficulties to the intellectuals. The role of the intellectual in the future will not be played by a particular type of people. No profession can guarantee that the person exercising it is an intellectual. There are many humanitarian professors who are not intellectuals. There are intellectuals who are not active academics. Naturally, there are more intellectuals working at universities than elsewhere, but the academic profession is not a guarantee in itself. With the expansion of culture, every person will be able to achieve the status of an intellectual. This means, moreover, that every human being would be mentally affected by the transcendent, by the non-existent, which is in us. Major events nowadays remind us of this “non-existence.” Facing such tragedy, the American world needs to reflect upon its intuition for life. No one un the USA can be personally blamed for causing this monstrous incident. But this is an occasion for thing about the’ beyondness’ which we face. Thus, the intellectual chain of thought inevitably leads us there.

And the Bulgarian intellectual? Is he born or is he still an embryo?
I can neither undertake to make such statements nor speak of the Bulgarian intellectual in the singular. I know people with admirable thinking at certain instances. The same holds true with respect to me. I have supreme moments during which I am an intellectual but at others I simply lapse into confusion. During recent years, I read more and more texts which are safe to be called intellectual. I do not recognise an intellectual by his/her usage of foreign words or concepts. There are intellectuals who misuse foreign words and others who have a magnificent command of them. Therefore, my criterion is not in the utilisation of the word “hermeneutics” or “semiotic,” but their correct usage. It is best if words are not used superficially. “Hermeneutics” is not the only word which can be used superficially, so can the word reason. One can talk of freedom superficially and consequently will not be an intellectual. Not the word itself, but the depth and accuracy of its usage matter.

It seems that in his article Evgeni Dynov thinks like the intellectual leader? Can the intellectual be a leader at all?
I am convinced that the intellectual can never be a good leader. I have a good example – Plato. At a certain point, after completing “The Republic,” he decides to bring to life his project of an ideal state. He visits Sicily three times in pursuit of that goal. Meanwhile, he is sold to slavery. Eventually, he does not succeed to become an active intellectual leader. His student, Aristotle, is another appropriate example. Is there a more distinguished intellectual in the history of human thought? Nevertheless, all his attempts to be a leader both in his relationship with King Alexander of Macedonia and with another ruler of Asia Minor are doomed to failure. His second student is crucified due to following Aristotle’s advice. In general, there are more examples of failed intellectuals than intellectuals who have successfully realised their intellectual projects.  Another classical author who was also an emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is a good example.  His great achievement is managing to separate the role of intellectual from that of the general and emperor. Thus, he shows in a tragical way through his life that these two roles can complement each other but can never merge. Most examples are of intellectuals who have failed as leaders. The failed besides also because the issue of the transcendental and the inexistent can not be easily put into practice in real life.

Consequently the intellectuals and the tomato growers have no points of contact?
They do not, and why should they? There should be intermediary zones between the intellectuals and the tomato growers. If there is a problem in Bulgaria (I am not sure I am explaining this well) it is the lack of intermediary zones. That means that Bulgarian intellectuals are estranged from the tomato growers. That gives Evgeni Daynov’s article true merit. Built in a Platonic manner, it can be understood by the tomato grower. The article is plain and clear which is of great value.  The big problem of Bulgarian society is the detachment not only of intellectuals, but also of intelligent people from the ordinary people. Daynov himself is able to write in that style because he spends a significant amount of time in the villages, sitting in the pub, interacting with people not as an intellectual or a political analyst would do but as an ordinary man. However, I am not certain that this way he can effectively bring about the welding together of what is separated and divided as “high and low!.” I am certain only of the fact that there is a chasm.  This chasm is not be filled in with middlemen who are foreign either to the intellectuals or to the ordinary people.

There are no mediators?
There are no mediators indeed. Perhaps that is the biggest problem.

And are there right –wing intellectuals?
Certainly. There are also those intellectuals who, like Evgeni Daynov, do not take only a left-wing or only a right-wing position. Those are the intellectual liberals. There are many different types of intellectuals. The western intellectual, unsurprisingly, is oriented toward the left.

Why “unsurprisingly”?
A normally developing Western society has a problem with its social values.  Rapid progress and development raise serious issues for those who cannot get in tune with the rhythm of the changes. This is particularly valid for the USA but is also applicable to Western Europe. Left-wing intellectuals in Western Europe influence the whole system of political thought and response.  These leads to the paradox that Western Europe is more economically inefficient than the USA. The blame lies with left-wing intellectuals. Somehow through their ideas they manage to slow the rate of development. Left intellectuals rightly protect those who cannot keep up with the pace of the time. What should be done in order to adapt to the pace? That is the real problem. Anyhow, there are different types of intellectuals. Personally, I am more attracted by the position of the liberal intellectual, who considers that he can in himself be a carrier of effective understanding. Whereas the left intellectual likes to socialise, make friends, organise in groups. In that respect he can hardly be differentiated from the intelligentsia.

Is the liberal intellectual the emblematic figure of the open society?
Of course, he is the agent of the open society. George Soros is such a type of liberal intellectual. He is an author of brilliant texts which stand out in their pure unpretentiousness. He also has two roles: one of the financier, who speculates at the international markets, and one of the liberal intellectual. These figures cannot coexist in complete harmony and that goes for every person. Therefore, if we want make an accurate statement about someone, we need to enquire about the different parts that he plays and tries to harmonise within himself.

Don’t the experts, the political analysts in our case, take the place of the intellectuals?
I do not think so. There are political analysts who are intellectuals, and there are those who are not. In general, being an intellectual is just a coefficient. This role does not provide anyone with identity. For example I may say for myself that I have a coefficient, called “intellectual.” However, I have other coefficients which have nothing in common with the coefficient “intellectual.” There are occasions in which an expert is indispensable. There are other cases where the expert action would fail and the intellectual would need to step forward in order to correct the failure. After the recovery, he becomes redundant. I put forth a number of complex suggestions, which might be approved of or might fail. In fact, the debate that is unfolding on the pages of “Culture” has also the following character: we are seeking to establish who the better executor is: the political expert or the intellectual. I believe that the best formula involves taking turns. This one, that one, the other one and then there should be other roles. Many roles are blended into social work. They also intertwine within us. Thus, for me the answer is in the ability to effectively switch through roles.  Still, one should be armed with patience and not feel indignation against a person who is changing his/her role. That is the case with Koprinka Chervenkova who criticises Evgeni Daynov for changing his role which, and exposes him as being wrong for that reason. On the contrary, switching through roles is effective. Roles should be changed where necessary. It is another issue whether you are doing it out of cunningness or for the sake of personal gain.

You are giving us hope that the role of the intellectual is not dying out...
Yes, I do not think that this is role that will become extinct. We live in an age where progress has still to be made, especially in Bulgaria, and we will need hero-intellectuals.  In future, comprehension will naturally become more readily available. Everyone who has graduated university will possess the coefficient “intellectual”. Anyhow, intellectuals who are able to lift an enormous intellectual weight will still be necessary. That is what Evgeni Daynov has done, but that heroic element in his article goes too far. The risk hides in becoming an intellectual-David against the mass of other intellectuals - Goliad   The last intellectual action always turns against its author. The consequent intellectual position is: “Yes, I believe in what I am saying, but I am probably wrong.” However, saying this negates the social effect of your statements.

Bourdieu states: “The intellectual proves himself in the battle with the specific laws of politics.” Is he an eternal oppositioner?
Good thesis! Politics always operates too instrumental with orientation to clear and close goals. Harmonisation of close and distant goals is what distinguishes the intellectual position. Therefore, I personally believe that Bourdieu is right.

Did the Bulgarian intellectual fail precisely in harmonising the divergent goals during the realisation of the transition?
I cannot say that. There are some intellectuals who have failed and some who have not. Besides, there are intellectuals who have failed in a particular instance, but succeeded in another. I do not believe that intellectuals have been useful to the politicians in many cases. Neither do I believe that politicians have found a way to make use of them to the degree that they could. Intellectuals themselves cannot communicate well with the authority, eve though they often strive to be close to it. Moreover, the Bulgarian transition is not over yet. It persists, twists and turns… That is normal – it concerns a large change which cannot take place during only a few years. Perhaps under different circumstances and combinations it could have taken less time. It is recommendable that the political authority is more open to intellectuals and hears them. Moreover, it needs to take account not of a single intellectual but of different ones because their opinions will vary.

As I understand, you consider yourself to be an intellectual?
Yes, I strive to be an intellectual for the most part of the day. However, I do not succeed every day. There are times when I am not, when I am a completely ineffective human being who cannot find an explanation even for the most obvious things.

In that case, how would you comment Paul Johnson’s call: “Beware of the intellectuals!”
The appeal is correct. The intellectual may be particularly harmful when someone has prepared to act according to a simple plan because the acts need to be performed following a simple scheme, but he listens to the elaborate words of an intellectual. This does not mean that elaborate opinions are harmful always and in every respect. Neither does it mean that you should not intellectualise.

Taken by Mitko Nedkov, ’Culture' 


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