Examining Michael Bakunin’s influential work “God and the State” is pertinent in light of its astute observations on the dominance of savants or scholars within the current organizational structure. These geniuses exercise monopolistic control over scientific endeavors and position themselves outside the realm of social life. In this regard, they assume the role of a distinct caste, comparable to the clergy, with scientific abstraction serving as their deity of worship. Tragically, the pursuit of such abstraction frequently exacts a toll on the living, breathing individuals who are the unfortunate victims of the scholars’ detachment from concrete knowledge. Thus, the savants transform into sanctioned and holy sacrificers, emblematic of the pervasive power imbalances in society.

This understanding illuminates a prevalent trend in the modern era, in which extensive biographies glorify and idolize revered authors, thereby expanding the paradigm of the academic priesthood. By isolating and elevating these authors above their temporal and societal contexts, we inadvertently foster an exaggerated reverence for them, thereby instilling awe in the biographer’s presumed knowledge.

Notably, such a mindset violates the cherished humanistic ideals of freedom of thought and independence of inquiry. Despite their claims of objectivity and political neutrality, scholars are frequently assimilated into the service of the state. This recurrent occurrence perpetuates the notion that their expertise can be utilized for political purposes without their consent.

In this context, a group of followers act as customers, seeking the specialized services offered by these scholars on the basis of the guarantees provided by their respective guilds. Due to their professional standing, people utilize and potentially acquire their services. However, this system places in a precarious position humanists with limited marketability. Those whose goods are considered “soft” and whose expertise is frequently marginalized have a limited audience consisting primarily of fellow humanists, students, government and business executives, and media workers. These people seek out humanists not only for their knowledge, but also to preserve “the humanities,” culture, or literature within society.

One cannot help but be astounded by the entrenched power dynamics in the realm of knowledge production and dissemination when reflecting on these observations. Due to their scientific monopoly and social isolation, savants assume the role of gatekeepers, determining what is worthy of veneration and respect. Therefore, biographers perpetuate this reverence by praising great authors, thereby reinforcing the preexisting hierarchy within intellectual pursuits.

As a visual artist, it is impossible to ignore this system’s implications for the art world. Are we also observing the emergence of an artistic priesthood in which certain artists are consecrated, isolated from their temporal and societal contexts, and elevated to a nearly divine status? Does the excessive veneration of artistic geniuses obscure the collective creative forces that shape art movements and cultural production?

As we traverse the complex terrain of art criticism and appreciation, it is essential that we carefully consider these questions. The power dynamics and social structures that shape our conception of artistic greatness must be scrutinized closely. By acknowledging the potential pitfalls of elevating individuals beyond their temporal and societal contexts, we can foster a more nuanced and inclusive discourse that embraces the multifaceted nature of artistic expression and the various influences that contribute to its manifestation.

The inherent dangers of intellectual elitism are effectively highlighted by Bakunin’s analogy of savants as a separate caste comparable to the clergy. By monopolizing scientific expertise and isolating themselves from the complexities of society, the savants establish a hierarchical structure that grants them control and authority over the dissemination of knowledge. Often perpetuated by educational institutions and institutionalized systems of knowledge production, this form of intellectual dominance functions as a potent mechanism of power.

The tension between expertise and autonomy lies at the core of this issue. As self-proclaimed experts, savants claim exclusive authority over scientific knowledge, which can be viewed as their revered deity. However, their expertise frequently comes at the expense of the living, reducing them to mere subjects of abstract concepts and emotionless analysis, thereby ignoring the intricate complexities and subtleties of actual experiences.

Moreover, the contemporary obsession with writing lengthy biographies of renowned authors provides a crucial window into the inner workings of this intellectual priesthood. By isolating and elevating these authors above their temporal and societal contexts, we run the risk of fostering an exaggerated reverence for them while ignoring the interaction between cultural, historical, and social forces that shaped their works. The biographers assume the role of truth-tellers and interpreters of genius, with their ostensible expertise serving to legitimize the elevation of particular figures.

These observations inspire philosophical investigations into the nature of objectivity and the illusion of detachment. Despite their claims of objectivity, humanists and academics remain susceptible to the influences of power structures, patronage, and ideological biases. Even as they assert their independence of inquiry, they frequently become entangled in systems that restrict their freedom of judgment and the scope of their investigations.

In this context, the followers of these specialists are clients seeking solace in the knowledge provided by their respective guilds. This dependence on experts for knowledge and validation creates a hierarchical relationship in which seekers relinquish their autonomy and critical faculties. Therefore, humanists whose expertise is deemed “soft” or marginalized have difficulty finding a larger audience than a niche group of like-minded people. This eloquently illustrates the commodification of knowledge, in which the popularity and marketability of intellectual pursuits become determining factors in determining their influence and reach.

Furthermore, we must acknowledge that knowledge is inherently political. By understanding the intricate connection between power, ideology, and intellectual pursuits, we can be more vigilant in identifying the biases and motivations that shape the production and reception of knowledge. This serves as a potent reminder that objectivity is a nebulous ideal and that embracing diverse perspectives and engaging in critical analysis are essential for developing a more comprehensive understanding of the world.

The insightful analysis of Bakunin compels us to question the underlying power dynamics and social structures within the domain of knowledge. As artists, it is our responsibility to examine these dynamics critically, to promote inclusivity, and to challenge the concept of intellectual elitism. By doing so, we can cultivate a more robust and democratic intellectual landscape that embraces diverse voices and promotes a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world.

Randall Collins, “The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change” (United States)
Thomas S. Kuhn, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (United States)
Karin Knorr Cetina and Michael Mulkay, “The Politics of Knowledge” (Germany/United Kingdom)
Michel Foucault, “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” (France)
Tom Nichols, “Death of Expertise: Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters” (United States)
Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, “The Power of Myth” (United States)
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent: Political Economy of Mass Media” (United States)
Donna Haraway, “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature” (United States)
Guy Debord, “The Society of the Spectacle” (France)
Marshall McLuhan, “The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man” (Canada)