The role of the intellectual

For now, here is Edward Said in 1994:

“Certainly in writing and speaking, one’s aim is not to show everyone how right one is but rather to try to induce a change in moral climate whereby aggression is seen as such, the unjust punishment of peoples or individuals is either prevented ro given up, the recognition of rights and democratic freedoms is established as a norm for everyone, not invidiously for a select few. […]

“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream […].


“To my mind the Western university, certainly in America, still can offer the intellectual a quasi-utopian space in which reflection and research can go on, albeit under new constraints and pressures.

“Therefore, the problem for the intellectual is to try to deal with the impingement of modern professionalization as I have been discussing them, not by pretending that they are not here, or denying their influence, but by representing a different set of values and prerogatives. These I shall collect under the name of amateurism, literally, an activity that is fueled by care and affection rather than by profit and selfish, narrow specialization.

“The intellectual today ought to be an amateur, someone who considers that to be a thinking and concerned member of a society one is entitled to raise moral issues at the heart of even the most technical and professionalized activity as it involves one’s country, its power, its mode of interacting with its citizens as well as with other societies.”

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