The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class

The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class

Alvin W. Gouldner was an American sociologist and professor who was one of the first to critique objective knowledge. For this reason, he is sometimes associated with Post-modernism.

The goal of his book is to delineate how a New Class is emerging and striving to assert itself in the public sphere. This class is distinct from the previous bourgeoisie class, as its ideology is rooted in socialism. It is a class with clear political interests and objectives, and it asserts itself based on notions of "science" and "professionalism."

Essentially, the New Class seeks to establish itself as the only entity capable of addressing the increasing complexity of the world and its problems. This group comprises intellectuals and the intelligentsia.

“In all countries that have in the 20th century become part of the emerging world socio-economic order, a New Class composed of intellectuals and technical intelligentsia – not the same – enter into contention with the groups already in control of the society’s economy, whether these are businessmen or party leaders.”

Party Affiliation

The New Class employs a 'vanguard party' (which we might now call 'progressive') to establish connections with the peasantry, thereby gaining popular support and political bargaining power. While the New Class remains invisible in the political arena, it significantly influences all revolutionary politics.

Members of the New Class are united for the distaste of Republican Party and by their preference for the Democrats.

Their ultimate objective is to govern society, which they aim to achieve by establishing either a welfare state or a socialist state. Their political recommendation centers on the institutionalization of a wage system and the pursuit of distributive justice. They aspire to egalitarianism concerning the privileges of the old class.

Additionally, they share a commitment to the social 'totality.' Their privileged education and social roles often entail an obligation to the collective welfare as a whole, akin to the concept of noblesse oblige.

Through credible education and pursuit of 'social' goals, the New Class seeks to address one of the fundamental challenges of political authority: the reunification of both power and goodness.


The goal of ruling a society is self-claimed in the name of “Professionalism.” This is for Gouldner their real and genuine ideology. Professionalism is a tacit claim by the New Class to technical and moral superiority over the old (moneyed) class, implying that the latter lack technical credentials and are guided by motives of commercial venality. Instead, Professionalism provides credibility, legitimate and virtuous authority.

They hold that productivity depends primarily on science and technology and that the society’s problems are solvable on a technological basis, and with the use of educationally acquired technical competence.

However, there are notable issues with this ideology:

  1. It de-politicizes the public
  2. It advocates that problems cannot be popularly understood, the idea of “complexity” everywhere;
  3. It delegitimizes all other social classes than the New Class.

Not only the New Class promises to deal with and solve complexity, but it is also complex on the inside. Gouldner suggests that we can distinguish 2 Elites within the New Class:

  • The Intelligentsia whose intellectual interests are fundamentally “technical.” They typically seek control by rewarding persons for conformity to their expectations, by providing more material incentives and, also, by educational indoctrination.
  • The intellectuals whose interests are primarily critical, emancipatory, hermeneutic and often political. They often contribute to revolutionary leadership, because “That’s what comes of the love of books.”

The New Class and the State

he reason for the emergence of the New Class, according to Gouldner, is state intervention. The New Class is, in fact, the result of:

  1. The state expanding its bureaucracy;
  2. The state expanding the school system, thereby increasing the number of trained members of the New Class.

The logical consequence of this expansion is:

  1. Overproduction of the New Class.
“We have now entered a period in which there may be more educated manpower than demand for it; more unemployment among the New Class; increased pressure on them to accept jobs they do not want; and, consequently, increased job dissatisfaction among those working.”

In contrast, under capitalism, this class could not expand to such an extent as it was limited by property. Power, credibility, and authority were derived from private property, which restrained their ascent.

Additionally, in a capitalist society, they would "experience a status disparity, a gap between their significant possession of culture and their correspondingly lower levels of income, power, and wealth."

With socialism, these limits are eliminated. Through the collectivization of the means of production by the state, the power of the old moneyed class is dismantled. The only constraint they face is imposed by the Party, which requires ideological alignment (i.e., being 'red').

Free Speech?

The central mode of influence characteristic of the New Class is communication – writing and talking.

However, their idea of free discussion is a very peculiar one. They oppose censorship BUT as a cultural bourgeoise with vested interests, it may wish to limit discussion to members of its own elite. Which means, free speech is okay just among us, just among the members of the New Class.

My Take Today

I think Gouldner's description of the narrative the New Class uses to affirm itslef, captures something that we've already started experiencing. Apparently, we live in a world of constant "crises," "emergencies," and increasingly "complexity." Today's problems necessitate international summits we are told that only experts and special commissions can deal with.

Gouldner points out that intellectuals are not more moral than other people, in fact, they are exercising their will to power because they want to take control of the state.

And post-modernism can be read as an elaborate power play by intellectuals. They create a very caustic discourse which delegitimizes everyone’s claims towards authority, towards certainty, towards reality and towards knowledge. And then, in this ironic void that is left, well, somebody has to take up the slack, somebody has to be willing to make the possibility of moral and political judgements in a new key and intellectuals will take up this mission.

In other words, post-modernism is a power play by intellectuals where they serve to delegitimize the characteristic discourse of the other alternative ruling elites and their mass democratic base in order that they can take control of the state. And the way in which they usually disguise this is really Nietzschean: they say "we’re not trying to take control of the state because our will to power, but because we are the only ones who see what’s good for the public."