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February 20, 1978

The Max Weber professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, Alvin Gouldner, author of The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology (1970), delivered two lectures on the power of the intellectual elite. A guest of the multidisciplinary program on Science, Society and Technology (STS), Gouldner questioned the possibility of an objective social science, urging instead accommodation of the subjective nature of sociology and of knowledge in general.

Professor Gouldner, wrote Bill Hebner ’78 in The Miscellany News, “began the [first] evening’s lecture by introducing himself as a ‘Marxist Outlaw,’ and proceeded to accuse Marx and Engels of being unable to account for their role, the role of the elite, in revolution.” Gouldner’s lectures, Hebner continued, dealt “with the nature of the power phenomena involved in the emergence of what he terms ‘the new class,’ consisting of both technical intelligensia and intellectuals…. Professor Gouldner addressed himself to the nature of the terror that followed the October Bolshevik Revolution that took over 13 million lives. Other social theorists and philosophers…explain the terror as an attempt by the Soviet Elite to preserve the Marxist historical truth. Gouldner suggests that…the terror represented simply an attempt by the elite to shore up their own position of power.”

“Gouildner’s analysis did no solely rest in the Soviet sphere,” Hebner explained. In modern times, “the power of the knowledgable elite is found in the third world in the military and technical projects, in the capitalist societies in the form of democratic liberalism and technical and professional expertise…. The basic paradigm is that the educated possess what he termed ‘cultural capital,’ or knowledge of ‘the good’ for the whole; and it is in the conviction of bearing truths for all that the intellectual and professionals feel legitimated in imposing their values on others. Knowledge is power; the battle over nuclear energy ranges between those who know on the left and those who know on the right. Those who are not privy to knowledge are left, usually, without power.”

Professor Gouldner’s The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology (1976) was followed, in 1979, by The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class.

The Years