Studies 18 June, 2013

On the Intellectual and Revolution


Azmi Bishara

Azmi Bishara is the General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and a member of its Executive Board. A prominent researcher and writer, Bishara has published numerous books and academic papers in political thought, social theory, and philosophy, in addition to several literary works. He was Professor of Philosophy and History of Political Thought at Birzeit University, from 1986 to 1996. He also co-founded Muwatin, the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, and Mada al-Carmel, the Arab Center for Applied Social Research. Bishara was the principal founder of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), a Palestinian-Arab party inside the Green Line, which supports democratic values irrespective of religious, ethnic or national identity. For four consecutive session, from 1996-2007, he represented his party as an elected member of parliament. In 2007, Bishara was persecuted for his political positions at the hands of the Israeli authorities, and currently resides in Qatar. He is the recipient of the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002 and the Global Exchange Human Rights Award in 2003.

This essay is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive historical or sociological treatment of the subject of intellectuals and their role in revolution; rather, it is a conceptual contribution that aims to produce knowledge through critique and the differentiation of key terms-linguistically, conceptually, and historically. In so doing, Bishara examines terms such as "the intellectual," "the intelligentsia," "the organic intellectual," and, finally, "the public intellectual". For the latter, emphasis is placed on public intellectuals' ability to go beyond their specializations and engage directly with the public on issues concerning state and society.

This paper distinguishes between intellectuals and those who work in a field that mainly relies on their intellectual ability; between academics, whose sole focus is their field, and social actors who take an interest in several fields but are not specialized in a specific one. A conceptual distinction is then drawn between the intellectual and the rest of society. Through this endeavor, the author clarifies what he considers to be the main attribute of an intellectual-the ability to take stances based on epistemological grounds and value judgments at the same time.

Finally, the paper concludes that two types of intellectuals are scarce in the Arab revolutions: the "revolutionary intellectual," who maintains a critical distance not only from the regime, but also from the revolution, and the "conservative intellectual," who argues for the preservation of the regime due to the potential for change that exists within it, and the wisdom embedded in the state and its traditions. For Bishara, the role of the revolutionary intellectual does not end with the outbreak of a revolution, but, in fact, takes on greater complexity and significance once the need to propose post-revolutionary alternatives arises.

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