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This review is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

Peter Burke INTELLECTUALS: A SKETCH FOR A GROUP PORTRAIT

One of the most obvious ways of approaching the topic of intellectuals and history is to discuss the place in history of intellectuals themselves. It is also a useful way of approaching the problem of definition, the outline of the portrait of the intellectual community. We don't have an essence but we do have a history. What we are depends on what we were - whether we follow tradition or attempt to break with tradition. More exactly since social identities are constructions, what we are depends on what we think we were.

In all these cases, 'we' refers to Europeans. I am going to confine myself to Europe, despite the interest of comparing and contrasting the European experience with that of such traditional groups as brahmins or mandarins, as well as with intellectuals in the Third World today.

The history of European intellectuals is well known. One might even say that it is too well known, because the conventional picture is deceptively clear. We need to defamiliarize ourselves with it. A common view of our place in time is that we are the intellectual descendants of the radical intelligentsia of the nineteenth century, who are the descendants of the philosophes of the Enlightenment, who are either a secular version of the Protestant clergy, or the descendants of the humanists of the Renaissance. As you see, difficulties are already beginning to arise. Although I do not have time to do much more than summarize this conventional ...


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