Alvin Gouldner on the New Class
& the Culture of Critical Discourse

Thesis Six: The New Class as a Speech Community

6.1 The culture of critical discourse (CCD) is an historically evolved set of rules, a grammar of discourse, which (1) is concerned to justify its assertions, but (2) whose mode of justification does not proceed by invoking authorities, and (3) prefers to elicit the voluntary consent of those addressed solely on the basis of arguments adduced. CCD is centered on a specific speech act: justification. It is a culture of discourse in which there is nothing that speakers will on principle permanently refuse to discuss or make problematic; indeed, they are even willing to talk about the value of talk itself and its possible inferiority to silence or to practice. This grammar is the deep structure of the common ideology shared by the New Class. The shared ideology of the intellectuals and intelligentsia is thus an ideology about discourse. Apart from and underlying the various technical languages (or sociolects) spoken by specialized professions, intellectuals and intelligentsia are commonly committed to a culture of critical discourse (CCD). CCD is the latent but mobilizable infrastructure of modern “technical” languages.

6.2 The culture of critical discourse is characterized by speech that is relatively more situation‑free, more context or field “independent.” This speech culture thus values expressly legislated meanings and devalues tacit, context‑limited meanings. Its ideal is: “one word, one meaning,” for everyone and forever.

The New Class's special speech  variant also stresses the importance of particular modes of justification, using especially explicit and articulate rules, rather than diffuse precedents or tacit features of the speech context. The culture of critical speech requires that the validity of claims be justified without reference to the speaker's societal position or authority. Here, good speech is speech that can make its own principles explicit and is oriented to conforming with them, rather than stressing context‑sensitivity and context‑variability. Good speech here thus has theoreticity.

Being pattern‑and‑principle‑oriented, CCD implies that that which is said may not be correct, and may be wrong. It recognizes that "What Is" may be mistaken or inadequate and is therefore open to alternatives. CCD is also relatively more reflexive, self‑monitoring, capable of more meta‑communication, that is, of talk about talk; it is able to make its own speech problematic, and to edit it with respect to its lexical and grammatical features, as well as making problematic the validity of its assertions. CCD thus requires considerable “expressive discipline,” not to speak of “instinctual renunciation.”

6.3 Most importantly, the culture of critical speech forbids reliance upon the speaker's person, authority, or status in society to justify his claims. As a result, CCD de‑authorizes all speech grounded in traditional societal authority, while it authorizes itself, the elaborated speech variant of the culture of critical discourse, as the standard of all “serious” speech. From now on, persons and their social positions must not be visible in their speech. Speech becomes impersonal. Speakers hide behind their speech. Speech seems to be disembodied, de‑contextualized and self‑grounded. (This is especially so for the speech of intellectuals and somewhat less so for technical intelligentsia who may not invoke CCD except when their paradigms break down.) The New Class becomes the guild masters of an invisible pedagogy.

6.4 The culture of critical discourse is the common ideology shared by the New Class, although technical intelligentsia sometimes keep it in latency. The skills and the social conditions required to reproduce it are among the common interests of the New Class. Correspondingly, it is in the common interest of the New Class to prevent or oppose all censorship of its speech variety and to install it as the standard of good speech. The New Class thus has both a common ideology in CCD and common interests in its cultural capital.

6.5 Query: Is the New Class actually “unified” by its common rules of discourse? Are not intellectuals perpetual malcontents, eternally outside of any class? Are not technical intelligentsia (because they operate within “paradigms”) necessarily conservative? Let us take the last question first.

Technical intelligentsia center their work on the detailed development of the paradigm dominant in their technical specialty. Where that specialty is mature, there may only be one paradigm, but often there are more. Where there are several, the technical intelligentsia face this alternative: either they abandon discussion with one another, alleging a total “incommensurability of paradigms,” or they must reactivate the latent common culture of critical discourse underlying their technical language. Any problem with a paradigm, is characteristically resolved then by recourse to CCD. People must give reasons; they cannot rely upon their position in society or in their science to justify technical decisions. (In this way, they are substantially different from bureaucrats, even when pursuing “normal science.”) And even when operating within a single paradigm, an accumulation of anomalous findings requires them to revise or abandon the paradigm, which they are able to do only by reverting once again to the culture of critical discourse,

In short, CCD is a common bond between humanistic intellectuals and technical intelligentsia, as well as among different technical intelligentsia themselves. As a language, CCD unifies in much the same way as ordinary languages, say French or German. Just as French and German are boundary‑establishing, unifying elements, making it easier for members of the nation to communicate with one another, but making it harder for them to do so with people who do not speak their language, so, too, does CCD unify those who use it and establish distance between themselves and those who do not.

This does not mean, of course, that there are no significant differences between those who speak German, or CCD; it does not mean that those who speak German, or CCD, might not be seriously divided or be hostile to one another in some ways. Still, despite those divisions, there is a special solidarity brought by the sharing of a language.

In speaking of the New Class as a “class,” the question commonly arises as to how unitary, cohesive, or solidary they are or can be, how homogeneous in their interests, culture, and policies, and whether these are or can be opposed to the old moneyed class. That members of the New Class can pursue a politics opposed to the old moneyed class seems obvious enough from their record, as discussed later in Thesis Ten on Revolutionary Intellectuals and, indeed, as indicated by their role as leading members of various terrorist groups, Clearly, there have also been important historical occasions when the New Class was widely united as, for example, during the anti‑fascist movement of the 1930s and, more recently, in their opposition to the United States’ war on Vietnam. What has been, can be. These cases of wide social solidarity among intellectuals and intelligentsia are deserving of closer historical study. The members of the New Class, whether intellectuals or intelligentsia, are also likely to have greater ease of social interaction with one another, precisely because of their similar education, culture, and language codes, thus facilitating development of coteries, social circles, professional ties and political projects among themselves. In addition to having friendly, informal, or intimate ties with one another, they are also more likely to reside and vacation in the same neighborhoods and ecological areas, as well as intermarrying frequently with one another.

The denial that the New Class can ever act in a solidary political way because of its internal differentiation, reminds one of similar claims once made about women’s or blacks’ capacity to form politically effective status groups. From some points of view, women should not be able to form coherent political movements because some are poor and others well off, some are Black and others white, some heterosexual and some homosexual, etc. Yet the women's movement grows and abides. Indeed, the working class itself has also been said to be too internally divided into different craft, industrial, and wage groups, sharply segmented by education, sex, race and age, and prey to nationalism and chauvinism; yet this has not aborted the rise of powerful working class political parties, trade unions, and movements. Indeed, the “capitalist class” itself has all manner of internal differences and, as Marx said, each capitalist destroys many others.

For the most part, classes themselves do not enter into active political struggle; the active participants in political struggle are usually organizations, parties, associations, vanguards. Classes are cache areas in which these organizations mobilize, recruit, and conscript support and in whose name they legitimate their struggle. Classes as such are never united in struggle against others. Moreover, there is no reason to suppose that the New Class, at least in “the West,” will “overthrow” capital in a manner modelled after, say, the Russian October Revolution. Here, the New Class’s rise will more nearly be like that of the bourgeoisie than like revolutions made in the name of the working class. That is, it will have hundreds of years of development, will consolidate itself through a Reformation, and have the time thoroughly to establish its own characteristic modes of production before they cap their rise with all the trappings of political authority.

Thesis Eight: Intelligentsia and Intellectuals

8.1 There are at least two elites within the New Class: (1) intelligentsia whose intellectual interests are fundamentally “technical” and (2) intellectuals whose interests are primarily critical, emancipatory, hermeneutic and hence often political. Both elites utilize an elaborated linguistic variant and both are committed to the CCD. Both therefore resist the old class, although doing so in different ways in different settings and to different degrees.

While intellectuals often contribute to revolutionary leadership, they also serve to accommodate the future to the past and to reproduce the past in the future. That's what comes of the love of books. While the technical intelligentsia often wish nothing more than to be allowed to enjoy their opiate obsessions with technical puzzles, it is their social mission to revolutionize technology continually and hence disrupt established social solidarities and cultural values by never contenting themselves with the status quo. Revolutionary intellectuals are the medium of an ancient morality; accommodative intelligentsia are the medium of a new amorality. Which is more revolutionary?

8.2 The sociology and the social psychology of the occupational life of intellectuals and technical intelligentsia differ considerably, as do their cognitive procedures. Thomas Kuhn's notion of “normal science” is a key to the cognitive life of technical intelligentsia and of their differences from intellectuals. A “normal science” is one whose members concentrate their efforts on solving the “puzzles” of “paradigms” on which normal science centers. Technical intelligentsia concentrate on operations within the paradigm(s) of their discipline, exploring its inner symbolic space, extending its principles to new fields, fine‑tuning it. Intellectuals, in contrast, are those whose fields of activity more commonly lack consensually validated paradigms, may have several competing paradigms, and they therefore do not take normal science with its single dominating paradigm as the usual case. Intellectuals often transgress the boundaries of the conventional division of labor in intellectual life; they do not reject scholarship, however, but only the normalization of scholarship.

8.3 It would be tempting but far too simple to say, intellectuals produce the “lions” of the New Class, while the intelligentsia produce its “foxes.” Who is a lion and who a fox depends on whose way upward is being blocked. Where recruitment of college teachers is under the close control of the national ministry, as for example in Israel, members of the Israeli Communist Party and any who seem well disposed toward it have little chance of being hired. In parts of the Mid‑East, then, it is often the case that teachers and other intellectuals are relatively prudent politically, while doctors, engineers, and lawyers—being “independent”—may be more openly radical. Ché Guevara, it will be remembered, was a doctor, as is George Habash; Yasir Arafat was trained as an engineer.

Thesis Eleven: The Alienation of Intellectuals and Intelligentsia

11.3 Putting aside their idealistic gloss, how do we account for the alienation of intellectuals and intelligentsia? In terms of: (a) the culture of critical discourse (CCD), which does not focus on what intellectuals think about but on how they think; (b) the blockage of their opportunities for upward mobility; (c) the disparity between their income and power, on the one side, and their cultural capital and self‑regard, on the other; (d) their commitment to the social totality; (e) the contradictions of the technical, especially the blockage of their technical interests.

In important part, the culture of critical discourse constitutes the characterizing values of the New Class; the other considerations (b‑e) bear on the question of whether and how far the New Class will adhere to the CCD. To ignore the role of values in shaping a group’s behavior is vulgar materialism; to omit analysis of the conditions under which persons conform with or deviate from their values is vulgar idealism.

11.4 CCD is radicalizing partly because, as a relatively situation‑free speech variant, it experiences itself as distant from (and superior to) ordinary languages and conventional cultures. A relatively situation‑free discourse is conducive to a cosmopolitanism that distances persons from local cultures, so that they feel an alienation from all particularistic, history‑bound places and from ordinary, everyday life.

The grammar of critical discourse claims the right to sit in judgment over the actions and claims of any social class and all power elites. From the standpoint of the culture of critical discourse, all claims to truth, however different in social origin, are to be judged in the same way. Truth is democratized and all truth claims are now equal under the scrutiny of CCD. The claims and self‑understanding of even the most powerful group are to be judged no differently than the lowliest and most illiterate. Traditional authority is stripped of its ability to define social reality and, with this, to authorize its own legitimacy. The “credit” normally given to the claims of the rich and powerful now becomes a form of deviant, illicit behavior that needs to be hidden if not withdrawn.

11.5 Notice, then, that CCD treats the relationship between those who speak it, and others about whom they speak, as a relationship between judges and judged. It implies that the established social hierarchy is only a semblance and that the deeper, more important distinction is between those who speak and understand truly and those who do not. To participate in the culture of critical discourse, then, is to be emancipated at once from lowness in the conventional social hierarchy, and is thus a subversion of that hierarchy. To participate in the culture of critical discourse, then, is a political act.

11.6 Indeed, it is not only subversion of the present, but a “revolution‑in‑permanence” that is grounded in the culture of critical discourse. The essence of critical discourse is in its insistence on reflexivity. There is the obligation to examine what had hitherto been taken for granted, to transform “givens” into “problems,” resources into topics: to examine the life we lead, rather than just enjoy or suffer it. It is therefore not only the present but also the anti‑present, the critique of the present and the assumptions it uses, that the culture of critical discourse must also challenge. In other words: the culture of critical discourse must put its hands around its own throat, and see how long it can squeeze. CCD always moves on to auto‑critique, and to the critique of that auto‑critique. There is an unending regress in it, a potential revolution in permanence; it embodies that unceasing restlessness and “lawlessness” that the ancient Greeks first called anomos and that Hegel had called the “bad infinity.”

It is, therefore, fitting that Leon Trotsky, proponent of The Permanent Revolution, should have been uneasy about the revolution he himself had made and that he rejected “socialism in one country.” It was not just Trotsky's momentary politics and concrete policies that Stalinism rejected—indeed, it later took some of these over—but the entire culture of critical discourse on which these had been based.  Trotskyism represented the refusal of CCD and its critique to let things simmer down.

SOURCE: Gouldner, Alvin W. The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class: A Frame of Reference, Theses, Conjectures, Arguments, and an Historical Perspective on the Role of Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in the International Class Contest of the Modern Era. New York: Seabury Press, 1979. (Dark Side of the Dialectic; v. 2) Extract from Thesis Six (pp. 28-31); Thesis Eight (pp. 48-49); extract from Thesis Eleven (pp. 58-60).

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