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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 2. March 27, 1958


"There are no hard and fast sociological criteria to help us define membership of the intelligentsia in the same way as we do with regard to the other socio-economic classes," Doctor Charlesworth began.

"What, I think, we require before we award—or impose—the title of intellectual on anyone, is not merely that he engages in 'higher thought', but that he has a certain social attitude, a certain attitude towards the society of which he is a member."

Arthur Koestler, in his "The Yogi and the Commissar", has defined the intelligentsia as that which "first appears as that part of a nation which by its' social situation is driven to independent thought, that is, to a type of group behaviour which debunks the existing hierarchy of values (from which it is excluded) and at the same time tries to replace it with new values of its own. This constructive tendency of the intelligentsia is its second basic feature. The iconoclasts always had a prophetic streak, and all debunkers have a bashfully hidden pedagogic vein."

Doctor Charlesworth thought that this definition was too narrow, pointing out that the intellectual is not necessarily an iconoclast or a debunker. "We must, then, broaden Koestler's definition and say rather that the distinguishing feature of the intellectual is that he is one who attempts to stand apart from the society or the culture of which he is a member in order to examine and judge the basic values which it takes for granted in a wider perspective."

What was essential to the intellectual's attitude was his dissociation from his immediate social environment, refusing to take it for granted and realising that it was merely one precarious contingent actualisation among an infinite number of possibilities. It was here that the social value of the intelligentsia primarily consisted, "for this critical self-conscious attitude is an indispensable counterweight against the tendencies of societies to become 'closed' societies, . . . . and to insulate themselves from the risk of communication with other cultures."

However, . . . the intellectual not only stood in judgement on society, but he also attempted to transform his society and adopt a missionary attitude toward' it.

Dr M. J. Charlesworth, M.A. (Melbourne). Ph.D. (Louvain), Lecturer in Philosophy. University, of Auckland. Studied at the Institut Superieur de Philosophy on a post-graduate scholarship after graduating from the University of Melbourne, 1949. Especially interested in Aristotle and the medievals.

Elaborating on this notion of a basic duality—the awareness of the intelligentsia that they were a class apart, and the consequent missionary attitude towards the non-intelligentsia—Doctor Charles-worth maintained that it created a kind of tension which was very difficult to maintain. "No doubt, at first the missionary attitude of the intellectual towards his fellows is a purely disinterested one—he has seen a vision of a higher and better world and he wants to share that vision with others. However when he finds that this vision, luminously clear and convincing to himself, is rejected, he is tempted to judge his fellows as being either fools or knaves and either to retire to sulk in an ivory tower or, if he has the chance, to coerce the others 'for their own good.'"

Thus the inevitable tendency of an intelligentsia which has no real hope of influencing society was to emphasise its status as a class' apart and to end in a kind of irresponsible Utopianism, or as Koestler put it, a kind of collective neurosis. At the other extreme too favourable social conditions saw the intelligentsia forget its critical and dissenting function and laspe into the [unclear: verst] forms of fanaticism and totalitarianism. Dr. Charlesworth quoted the Russian revolution, the only social revolution brought about by an intelligentsia, in support of this general statement.

". . . At the risk of appearing to be entirely paradoxical", he continued, "I would claim that it is only the Christian who can, practically speaking, maintain this precarious balance between debunker and missionary without it degenerating into esotericism on the one hand or into fanaticism on the other. In the light of the historical record of Christianity this may seem to be hard to justify . . ."