The Future of the Intellectuals: Was Alvin Gouldner Right?

  • John McGowan


Why are there intellectuals and what are they good for? Alvin Gouldner’s 1979 work, The Future of the Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class, sets out to answer that question through a class-based functionalist analysis. Within a capitalist society, Gouldner finds, there are actually three classes, not the two that Marx identified. In addition to the capitalists who finance the means of production and the proletariat who do the labor of production, there is a “new class” that provides the technical expertise required by the complex operations of capitalist production. There are various ways to characterize this new class, and perhaps the professional upper middle class is the one most current in our time. Gouldner prefers the term “intellectuals,” even as he acknowledges the power of the professions and the psychological importance of professional identification among those he calls intellectuals. Whatever we call this new class, he insists they are on the rise because they are indispensable to the workings of capitalism. Without the contribution of research scientists, of more practically oriented technicians and engineers, of managerial experts, and of communication specialists, the capitalist can neither make his productive enterprises maximally efficient nor survive in a dynamic environment in which innovations that provide a competitive edge are always required. The capitalist is dependent on the intellectuals and deeply resents that dependence.


Social Order Critical Discourse Political Ideology Capitalist Society Social Democracy 
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© John McGowan 2016

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  • John McGowan

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