The idea of the public intellectual actually began and has continued to find its center in a pretty specific geographical location: it’s called France. And the intellectuals’ ranks have actually been filled mainly by members of one specific group: they’re called Jews. As Robert Zaretsky relates today in Tablet Magazine, intellectuals were essentially invented during the Dreyfus Affair and have continually understood their relation to their vocations in terms of their Jewishness and their relation to the Republic (including during its Vichy interlude), including whatever anti-Semitism exists or that they found. But the generation of French(-Jewish) intellectuals associated with the Baby Boom (“the contents of Lévy’s shampoo were far richer than the contents of his writing,” Zaretsky quips of BHL) have been thrown for a loop by the arguable dissipation of anti-Semitism from French public life as well as the rise of the largest Muslim community in Europe.

Mind Games
Earlier: So, You’re a ‘French Intellectual,’ Eh?