Why do intellectuals think

What is an intellectual? - Word origins and different connotations in France and Germany

The origin lies in the Latin word 'intellegere', which means to see, understand, recognize. 'Intellectus' is the higher cognitive faculty and with 'intelligentia' Cicero originally designates the cognitive faculty and the higher faculty of the soul1. The word 'intellectual' as we know and use it today was first used in connection with the Dreyfus affair in France:

In 1895 Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery captain, was accused of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. Since the prosecution finds no motive on the part of the alleged traitor and since it did not seem possible to publish the evidence without disclosing the espionage activities of France, forged documents are presented. But for most of the French population there is no doubt that Dreyfus is guilty. After the verdict has been passed, his family calls for an appeal. Your lawyer publishes the illegality committed during the trial, but to no avail. In the meantime it has been found out who the real culprit is, namely Major Esterhazy, who is then also charged. But the court acquitted him again. At this point, Émile Zola intervenes with his open letter “J’accuse” (“I accuse”). He criticizes the military and the government morally, but also because of procedural errors in the process, and calls for justice for the convicted Dreyfus. His commitment soon met with great approval. Over 2000 scientists, artists and freelancers, officially called "les intellectuels" for the first time, join him. Through this intervention, a discussion about abstract values ​​such as truth and justice is initiated, which ultimately results in Dreyfus being pardoned and released in 1899.

By intervening in things that actually do not concern them personally2, the intellectuals have on the one hand achieved justice for Dreyfus and on the other hand, that people began to reflect on values ​​that are important for society. The word 'intellectual' has had a positive connotation in France since then

In Germany it is very different with the conceptual history. Here the word had a very negative connotation during the Nazi era. It was synonymous with the opponents of Nazi ideology, i.e. for Jewish or other undesirable population groups. As Dietz Bering in his treatise “The Intellectuals. History of a swear word ”, the term“ intellectual ”in Germany, unlike in France, was by no means a compliment. Rather, it was, as the title suggests, a swear word, a designation that was to be equated with “sick” and “naysayers.” 4 It took a long time for the negative connotation of this word, as it is also with many other terms Fall was fought and could be pushed into the background.

The intellectual according to Sartre ...