The Spike or Victoria College Review October 1929
In political life, is there any tendency among intelligent people to be dissatisfied with the passive role of voters and to attempt, in all sorts of ways, to exert a direct influence on common affairs? In intellectual life, is there an increasing tendency to discuss world-wide problems—political, economic, social?
—H. G. Wells, "Democracy Under Revision."
The day for directive government by the man in the street or even by gentlemen amateurs, if it ever existed, has gone by. Government is not a matter of log-rolling or yet moral theology, but a technique based on a scientific knowledge of social facts, and it is more than a matter for regret—it is deplorable and may be disastrous—that the best brains we have are apathetic towards the social, political and economic problems of the day. It may be argued in defence of the intellectual that his voice is drowned by the applause for the platitudes of the demagogue and that the masses prefer to be directed by the mediocrity which wins at the ballot-box, rather than by the logic of the sociologist, but there is no gainsaying the fact that the men who claim the highest academic attainments are for the most part indifferent to the vital and momentous problems of the day. Here in New page 4 Zealand the University man has cut a sorry figure in public life, and for his inertia he is partly to blame for the grit in the cogs of the social machine.
The constructive work of civilisation is a rational work requiring a detached and scientific mind. It cannot be carried on amid the bellicose emotions and blaring sentiments of national or class organisations which endeavour to arrogate to their interests the title of the supreme good. In no period in history has there been a greater call for a rational ordering of existence. Some claim to-day that the capitalist system contains the germs of its own decay, that the wage-earner is in revolt against the intrepeneur, others see a solution for all our ills in a return to a status of laissez-faire; some, as Wells, points out, argue that the "ascendency of democracy has culminated: and like some wave that breaks upon a beach, its end follows close upon its culmination." The Soviet of Russia and the Fascisti of Italy have disciples who give themselves to these movements in a spirit essentially religious. Are there signs of a new government of our world?
There are monetary and trade tangles, the problems of world peace, and the advance of science and invention, which every day further complicate and make more delicate the social structure. It is certainly not an era for University men to stand and stare. There is a call for brains and a call for courage. Of England Galsworthy wrote recently:—
The questions that now concern most the vitality of our race. clearance of the slums, final disappearance of unemployment and the dole, and Empire settlement, are riggled at because no one will give sufficient rein to imagination to plan for the future in large.
There is more than a tendency to wait on public opinion instead of initiating it, and the lead should come from the University man. Surely it is the height of selfishness that he should enjoy the advantages of the educational system the State provides and not use the fruits of his studies in active citizenship. The failure of our Rhodes scholars to enter public life has nullified the intentions of the founder, and our professors who see plague spots in our society make little effort to lay them bare. It is a tragedy that the improvements in education have not yet been shown to be equal to the increased Complexity of modern problems.
Yet we believe that the means for controlling the economic and social forces of the present and the future exist, and that they exist in the association between scientific inquiry and the art of government. G. E. G. Catlin points out:—
In economics, it is just coming to be recognised that, if the currency of a country is to be rehabilitated, not politicians, but such a professional economist as Professor Kemmerer, of Princeton, who has already been called into consultation in Poland. Chile and China and elsewhere, must be brought in. It may be that the time will soon some when to dogmatise about education or social legislation without consulting the psychologists will seem temerity, if not eccentricity. Until knowledge has been sought and beaten out, we are workers without tools, soldiers without weapons.
The time is ripe for a greater devotion on the part of the University men to our society, our civilisation, our nation, and our State. The University should teach us more than an easier way of earning a living. "Workers of the world unite," says Marx. John Stuart Mill suggests a unity of intelligent minds.