These New York writers constituted the first intelligentsia in American history – which is a shade different from a group of intellectuals. The figures near Emerson formed a community of intellectuals but not an intelligentsia – not, at least, as defined by Renato Poggioli: "an intellectual order from the lower ranks ... an intellectual order whose function was not so much cultural as political. Poggioli had in mind the Russian writers of the late nineteenth century, but one can find points of similarity with the New York writers. We too came mostly from "the lower ranks" (later composing rhapsodies about the immigrant parents from whom we insistently fled). We too wrote with polemical ferocity. We too stressed "critical thinking" and opposition to established power. We too flaunted claims to alienation.
A footnote about this "Russianness" of the New York milieu came from Lionel Abel in the forties. Invoking, or improvising, "the tradition of the Partisan," Abel wrote: "For good or ill, modern politics is a school of rudeness… The exquisite aristocratic tact which subtly specified the circumstances under which things could be called by their right names is today something we know about largely from books, not from anybody's public behavior."
Insurgent groups hoping to rouse anger against established authority will always be tempted to violate rules of decorum. Rudeness becomes a spear with which to break the skin of complacency. In its early years Parttsan Review was often rude, sometimes for no reason whatever, as if to demonstrate its sheer prickliness. But there were serious reasons, too. Rudeness was not only the weapon of cultural underdogs, but also a sign that intellectual Jews had become sufficiently self-assured to stop playing by gentile rules.Irving HoweA Margin of Hope