PAGES

Saturday, January 14, 2017

PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS: LEADING LIGHTS OF THE SOCIETY OR WEATHERCOCKS?

[...] Leadership literature has an unverified story that explains the seamy side of leadership of mass movements. During the days of the French revolution, so goes the story, a newspaperman was having a tête-à-tête with a leader of the revolution in a Paris café. As they were sipping coffee and chatting, a wildly howling mob shouting slogans stomped by. The newspaperman wondered what the procession was about. On hearing this, the ‘leader’ shouted, ‘Oh my God, I am supposed to lead the procession’ and ran out. At times, when mass movements acquire a momentum of their own, ‘revolutionary’ leaders might have to follow the mobs while pretending they were leading. It is a fact of life of leading mass movements.

On the other hand, the intellectuals of a society are not weathercocks but its leading lights. They do not (and should not) sometimes follow pretending always to lead. They should possess the moral fibre and intellectual integrity to pursue ideals even if they are unpopular. The words ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ are interchangeable but are paired to amplify the meaning, in a figure of speech known as synonymia. The word ‘integrity’ is derived from the mathematical term ‘integer’, meaning a whole number, undivided or complete. When someone is said to be honest or has integrity, there can be no ‘partial honesty’ or ‘fractional integrity’. He either is honest or has integrity, or not. Lamentably many of our public intellectuals fail in this test. If a society cannot provide the protection needed for free expression of ideas, it is the public intellectuals who should hold themselves responsible for their failure to create the ambience for free flow of ideas. If the public intellectuals swing with political winds they cannot expect the society to conform to abstract ideals. The issue of freedom of expression may be cited as an example. Is it absolute or are there limits to it? If the public intellectuals champion absolute freedom on one occasion, but argue alibis for scuttling it on another for political reasons, their vacillation cannot advance the cause of freedom of expression. It keeps the society splintered by competitive populism. [...] 

Excerpted from ‘INTRODUCTION’: ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ & OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINDICA. p. 20-21. 

See the post dated December 10, 2016 below to view the book's CONTENTS.