Where is the intelligentsia?

The News, July 30, 2006
Where is the intelligentsia?
Prof Khwaja Masud


The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
— WB Yeats


One is keenly reminded about the above-mentioned verses of Yeats, when one confronts the tragic reality of the West Bank and Lebanon; and at the same time the debate that our TV channels are carrying on — debate full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The word ‘intelligentsia’ is Russian in origin. During the 19th century, members of the Russian intelligentsia thought of themselves as united by something more than a mere interest in ideas. They considered themselves as belonging to a dedicated order.

The Russian intelligentsia had accepted the doctrine that every man was called upon to perform a mission beyond mere selfish purpose of material existence. They had an education superior to their suppressed brothers. Therefore, they had a direct duty to help them towards enlightenment. They were convinced that this duty was uniquely binding on them. If they fulfilled it, as surely history intended them to, the future of their suppressed brethren would surely be glorious.

It was Herzen who said, “We are great doctrinaires. With fearless steps we march to the very limit and go beyond it; never out of step with the dialectic, only with the truth.”

Isaiah Berlin has rightly observed, “The phenomenon of intelligentsia, with its historical and literary consequences, is the largest single contribution to social change in the world”. Noam Chomsky, in his book, “American Power and the New Mandarins”, divides the intelligentsia into two categories: the Mandarins and the Resistants. The Mandarins are those members of intelligentsia who use knowledge to achieve personal power in collaboration with the establishment. They are elitist, manipulative, intriguing, contemptuous of principles, moral issues and human rights, opposed to every popular movement and people’s participation in decision-making.

The Resistants, on the other hand, are democratic, principled, dedicated to truth and social justice. They are engaged in creative search for new and better ways of doing things. They believe in the greatest good of the greatest number. Persecution does not hold them back, rather they draw strength from it. In the age of disorientation, normlessness, opportunism and hypocrisy, they uphold the banner of commitment and dedication. They are not afraid of standing up and be counted.

The Mandarins and the Resistants are to be found in every country. A dynamic, progressive society would be teeming with the Resistants. On the other hand, a decadent, moribund society abounds with the Mandarins. Unfortunately in our country, the Mandarins far outnumber the Resistants. That is why we are not moving ahead. That is why we are sinking ever deeper into the morass of corruption and hypocritical religiosity.

We look around and Yeat’s verses are writ large on every institution:

Things fall apart, the centre does not hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Against this background of disarray and wasteland of values, the intellectual is one who does not live off ideas. He lives for ideas and even dies for them.

The real intellectual dissects slogans and exposes the vested interests which lurk behind them. For instance, when someone says that sovereignty belongs to God, he is asserting only the obvious, but it is a subtle attempt to snatch sovereignty from the people. Medieval dogmas are constantly falling under the scrutiny of the intellectual who tears the mask of hypocrisy worn by medievalism.

During the 18th century, the Encyclopaedists prepared the ideological ground for the French Revolution (1789). They awakened the French people from the dogmatic slumber of the medieval ages. They broke the stranglehold of the priests on the hearts and minds of the people by popularising the ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity, rationalism, humanism and pluralism.

According to the great Italian revolutionary, Antonio Gramsci, before an oppressed class throws off the political hegemony of their oppressors, they must get rid of their ideological hegemony; which is possible only if they produce intellectuals who stand by them through thick and thin.

For Gramsci, the hegemony of a political class meant that the class has succeeded in persuading other classes of society to accept its own moral, political and cultural values. This hegemony is brought about by a slow but persistent modification of people’s consciousness. As Gramsci has so well put it, “Every relationship of hegemony is necessarily a pedagogic relationship. It is a long process of learning new values which correspond to the interests of the suppressed classes.”

The degree of success of such an educational process is shown by the extent to which a new consensus is formed. To create such a consensus among the oppressed classes will enable a new society to emerge. It is essential that the intellectuals do not lose touch with the masses. History and politics cannot be made without passion, without the deep emotional bond between the intellectuals and the working masses.

What, then, is the role of intelligentsia in Pakistan? Basically, it is the same as that of the French Encyclopaedists during the 18th century and that of the Russian intelligentsia during the 19th century. It is to prepare the intellectual ground for the democratic revival and the cultural renaissance. They must usher in the scientific, technological and cultural revolution.

They must uphold enlightenment against obscurantism, rationalism against superstition, tolerance against fanaticism, innovation against orthodoxy, democracy against dictatorship and social justice against exploitation.

Pakistan is having a rendezvous with destiny. The members of the intelligentsia – writers, artists, teachers, journalists, scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers and priests – are called upon by history to play their role as harbingers of a new social order or as the perpetuators of the status quo. Each one of them has to answer the question: which side of the barricade are you on?

The writer is a former principal of Gordon College, Rawalpindi. Email: khmasud22@yahoo.com

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