Thoughts on my statement: “Intellectualism is a dead end road” – aspects of intellectualism and its dilemma

Some time ago I said something interesting:

“Intellectualism is a dead end road”

This is a growing feeling in me.  Being brought up with the “intellectual ideal” it has caused great conflict in me.   If its a dead end road then where do I go now?  This is the dilemma I now face.


The “era of intellectualism” seems like it is over to me.  This is because of things like these:

  • There are too many points of view
  • There is no unity in culture and in authority
  • There is no belief for the intellectualism to stand on
  • With all the information out there everything is becoming a blur

I’d say that the “great era of intellectualism” was from the mid 1800’s to the late 1900’s.  There are a number of reasons for this.

  • Everything was new and exciting causing a great optimism which made it appealing
  • There was a unity in the authority because there was a unity in the culture . . . people tended to agree with the discoveries because it reflected Western European culture which they were a part of
  • Intellectualism had a use and had value
  • There was great communication which made it easy to “work together” and develop things

You could say that there were other great era’s previous in history, which there most certainly was, but I’m speaking of the most recent version.  In many ways, this last great era created what we call the modern world.


When I speak of “intellectualism” I mean “knowledge with an authority”.  There is a lot of knowledge but most of it has little or no real authority (see “knowledge” and “information” below).

To me, intellectualism is different than knowledge in that it has an almost “god-like” authority with it.  This, I believe, is because intellectualism is a product of Christianity.  There is a close association between the rise of Christianity and the rise of knowledge, primarily through the discovery of Greek and Roman classics, as well as other things from the Middle East, during the Crusades.  This newly discovered knowledge, coupled with the authority of a growing Christianity, gave great authority in the knowledge and basically created intellectualism.

So what we see is that intellectualism, at least as I use it here, is more than knowledge but it encompasses an attitude that surrounds this knowledge.  This point must be understood.  Much of this attitude that created intellectualism originates from things coming from the Crusade era include:

  • The growth of Christianity as a power
  • The sense of the authority of god and church
  • The growth of belief
  • A sense of a cause
  • The novelty of the new ideas
  • The glorification of achievements
  • The unification of Europe

These attitudes became the foundation of intellectualism.  They made “knowledge” more than knowledge but meaning much more.  They would give intellectualism a quality similar to Crusading knights, in many ways, as a great Divine cause in European history.  You could probably say that intellectualism went through four great phases through the centuries:

  1. The Middles Ages
  2. The Reformation era
  3. The Enlightment
  4. The modern era

Each era had its unique qualities and effects.

Many of the attitudes these era’s created continued and were still strong into the 1900’s.  Since the end of the cold war, in about 1990, these attitudes had largely fallen or disappeared.  In the fall of these attitudes is the fall of intellectualism.  Because of this, intellectualism has turned into “knowledge” and “information” . . .


When I speak of “knowledge” I mean “knowledge with some or minor authority”.  Nowadays, the “some or minor” authorities seem to be:

  • The authority caused by practical valueThat is to say, if it has some use or value it has an authority by virtue of that.  Science would fit in this form.
  • The authority caused by personal valueWhen something has a meaning and value to you then it has an authority.
  • The authority caused by social value.  When something has value to society, social trend, social ideals, etc. then it has an authority.
  • The authority caused by trend and mania.  Nowadays, there is a lot of trends and mania’s going around and anything that supports them has an authority with those who follow it.

None of these authorities have the great “god-like” authority of intellectualism and Christianity.  Despite this, they still have an authority and this is their value.  What this means, more or less, is that knowledge no longer has a “great” authority . . . it has a minor authority.  This means that knowledge isn’t as great or important as it used to be.  This is exactly what my observation has shown.


Nowadays, some knowledge is just information.  When I say “information” I mean “knowledge without authority”.  This means that it is just “stuff”:  facts, figures, statements, etc.  They often have no real value to anyone.  A lot of times they are stated and forgotten.

It seems, to me, that there are whole industries whose sole purpose is to create information that really don’t mean anything.  These include:

  • Some studies
  • Some research
  • Some books
  • Some forms of media
  • Some things associated with things like social media and the internet

This, it seems to me, is becoming far more extensive than what it seems.

A lot of things is nothing but information that appears to be important and have authority.  In fact, it seems that more and more things are slipping into information.  In other words, I see a degradation in knowledge . . . its becoming more and more worthless.


The fall of intellectualism shows a number of things:

  • A fall in Christianity
  • A fall in Western European/American culture
  • A fall in belief
  • A fall in unity
  • A fall in culture
  • A fall in authority

These show the effect of these things:

  • Modernization
  • Globalization
  • Overpopulation

These are all traits of the later 20th century and 21st century.  In other words, it is a reaction to the conditions of the times.


As a person who was brought up with intellectualism, and its attitudes, its fall creates a dilemma as it has undermined a whole belief structure.  I was brought up that intellectualism is the “great answer” which shows the Christian influence, that its more than knowledge.  But now that intellectualism has been degraded to knowledge it has undermined its whole value.  This means that learning, thinking, thoughts, etc. have no real great value anymore.  This is what my observation has shown.

I think this is a dilemma many people face, though they may not be aware of it.  Many people brought up with this ideal find that something is missing but “hang on” by playing along with things.  They go to school, get a job, learn stuff, and think they are neat for doing it.  But its really an empty quest.

As a reaction to this, I have found that much of my thought and motive is now based in the authority of personal value.  In other words, what is important is what has value to me.  This is now what I seek.  That’s what has authority with me.


What all this shows is that the whole issue of intellectualism was never about what intellectualism created, such as science, but the question of authority This brings up questions about the importance of authority.  Looking at it now one can see that authority is what everything is about.  Previously, we were all “wound up” with the fruits of intellectualism, completely disregarding the importance of authority which is what it was all about to begin with.

It seems, to me, that there are a number of aspects to this authority:

  • The importance of authority in intellectualism is closely related to what I call “tribalism”.  Intellectualism reflects a “tribe” which is a unified group of people that see themselves as distinct and unique in the world.  The “intellectual tribe” seems to of originated in the Church.  As I said above, intellectualism was a product of the growth of Christianity and the new discoveries of knowledge, such as the Greek and Roman classics.  This began to take place in the early middle ages.  Much of this knowledge began and grew in the Universities.  In fact, one could say that the Universities created intellectualism.  In this way, the Universities created the “intellectual tribe”.  As a result, the intellectual became a specific group in the society, a separate “class”, a “tribe”.
  • This sense of a “tribe” became, it seems to me, more prevalent in the Germanic countries reflecting, most likely, the more Germanic tribal mentality.  This would mean that intellectualism is a product of Germanic culture and their sense of a tribe.
  • We must keep in mind that many intellectuals of the Universities were theologians, or were studying theology and, accordingly, are closely associated with the Catholic Church. As a result, intellectuals were associated with the authority of the Church and, accordingly, the “authority of God”.

In many ways, the authority was a manifestation of social and historical conditions.  Of course, these conditions are now gone.

But what it shows a number of important things about the significance of authority in intellectualism:

  • The sense of belonging
  • The sense of unity
  • The justification of God

In a way, these were the “power behind intellectualism”.  Many of these qualities were carried over into the more recent qualities of intellectualism, such as science, though in a modified way.  With the loss of these things intellectualism has become nothing but facts, figures, opinions, and such and nothing more.


The problem of intellectualism shows a problem with interpretation nowadays.  Basically, there is no longer a unifying culture to interpret things in a unified way.  A different point of view causes a different interpretation.  Nowadays, there’s a million different points of view causing a million different interpretations.  With intellectualism it was more unified with a more unified authority.  It shows that interpretation is really about unity than truth . . . a “unity in truth”.  What matters is that everyone interprets things the same way.  In many ways, this is what strengthens societies and makes them endure, not truth.  Nowadays, there is no unity causing a weakening of societies.  To me, that is what I am seeing in the world today.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Education and learning, Historical stuff, Modern life and society, Philosophy, Science and technology, Twenty first century and post cold war society and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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