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

New Zealand University Student Press Council — Congress Supplement — The Intelligentsia

New Zealand University Student Press Council

Congress Supplement

The Intelligentsia

"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 . . ."

Mood anti-Utopian

Doctor Charlesworth went on to claim that Christianity maintained this balance because it was opposed to the temptation of esotericism—illustrated by the efforts of the early Church to combat agnosticism on the one hand, and because it worked against the opposite temptation of fanaticism or Utopian totalitarianism on the other.

Turning to the present mood of the intelligentsia. Doctor Charlesworth considered it to be anti-Utopian in character This mood of disillusion was to some extent due to the war and its aftermath, but mainly to the revealed totalitarianism of Russian communism which, [unclear: nad] made Western intellectuals suspicious and even fearful of any kind of idealism or Utop-[unclear: anism]. "The intelligentsia at the moment has more or less abdicated from its traditional role and has turned to debunking itself in favour of what Popper calls the "social engineers." Its only function at the present time is that of watchdog of "human rights" and its activity consists in more or less sporadic protests against the atom bomb and against isolated cases of injustice, the Rosenberg case in the U.S.A. for instance."

In England removal by the Welfare State of the social and economic injustices which the intelligentsia previously attacked, together with the post-war 'recognition of the intelligentsia, had meant a decline in the importance of this group.

Turning to Australia and New Zealand, Dr. Charlesworth claimed that both countries had never had intelligentsia in the real sense. "For most of their short lives Australia and New Zealand have been pioneering societies concentrating all their energies upon immediate "practical tasks, and of course in such societies there is no real place for intellectuals. Again the egalitarian atmosphere of both societies means that any such class as the intelligentsia which challenges what Doctor Bill Pearson has called the 'almighty norm', is suspect. Even within the Labour parties of both countries intellectuals have never been important or influential, for in so far as the programme of the Labour parties has been socialist it has been of a quite pragmatic tin-doctrinaire kind. This pragmatic political attitude worked successfully while there were immediate social injustices and inequalities to be remedied, but now with the advent of the Welfare State, the Labour Parties find themselves without any kind of raison d'être, any long-range conception of society which could distinguish them fundamentally from the conservative parties.

An article in another part of this supplement complains that Congress was over-organized; the managers might take some comfort from the fact that it was over-organized efficiently. Congress Controller Tony Holman may justifiably take much of the credit for the programme having few hitches, and Congresses with involved programmes and few hitches inevitably mean that the work had been going on for some months.

The chairmanship followed this pattern of competence. Doctor Scott's arrival was, in the circumstances, sufficient evidence of his enthusiasm; amongst a group of characters, as the lecturers were, Harry Scott was well to the fore.

"The present situation of the intelligentsia in Australia and New Zealand, then, is rather depressing. There are in doubt strong and Jively literary and artistic cliques in both countries as well as the University intelligentsia. But none of these groups have any real social influence. So long as the same circumstances continue in Australia and New Zealand, the intelligentsia will continue to be superfluous. But, one may ask, how long are the present circumstances likely to last? Both Australia and New Zealand in the very near future, whether they like it or not have to come to terms with their Pacific and near-Eastern neighbours, that is to say, with societies or cultures radically different from their own and societies influenced by Chinese communism. That coming to terms—if indeed we are lucky enough to be able to come to terms—will require a great [unclear: derJ] of soul-searching on the part of Australian and New Zealand society and ideological considerations will no longer be a luxury hut a necessity. Perhaps then the intelligentsia will come into its own, that is, if it is strong enough to meet the challenge. The intelligentsia in Australia and New Zealand should be preparing for that time now," Dr. Charles-worth concluded.