Activists versus Intellectuals, a curious turn



Ah, praxis we called it, and it was all the rage. Yes, neomarxist argumentation claiming that we should put ideas into action in the contemporary world to help foster the REVOLUTION. ALL HAIL THE FUCKING REVOLUTION.  Unfortunately and predictably, praxis works best for ideologues who have access to resources. Then, they can put their ideas into action using resources garnered at low cost from the state or other sources of collective capital! And so we have influential ideologues seeking to demonstrate the truth of their faith. In the end, what do they want? Ban adoptions for single women? Prohibit birth control? Ban single sex cohabitation? Forbid cohabitation? And, we’ll enforce this by, what, stoning fornicators? Nah, you’ll probably just seek to deny them and their children health care, or social security, or unemployment benefits. Let those sluts and their bastards starve in the streets, eh? Jesus wants it that way, probably, I guess.

Intellectuals matter. They spur and support movements which have real consequences for people’s lives. Shit like the Holocaust happens because ideologues justify them, and those ideologues were intellectual elites. I absolutely love Stephen Walt.  He’s one of the calm voices who assures that while everything is fucked, it’ll be sortof ok in the end. But, of course, everything is still fucked. Walt was moved into a life of scholarship by a lecture by Gordon Craig on the importance of intellectuals  for the formation of political movements which might have confronted nascent fascism in Europe in the early 20th Century:  “The German left was contemptuous of the liberal aspirations of the Weimar Constitution and other bourgeois features of Weimar society, while right-wing “thinkers” like Ernst Junger glorified violence and disparaged the application of reason to political issues. So-called “liberal” intellectuals saw politics as a grubby business unworthy of their refined sensibilities, and so many just disengaged from politics entirely. This left the field to rabble-rousers and extremists of various sorts and helped prepare the ground for Nazism….The lesson I took from Craig’s lecture was that when intellectuals abandon liberal principles, disengage from politics, and generally abdicate their role as “truth-tellers” for society at large, it is easy for demagogues to play upon human fears and lead a society over the brink to disaster.  So I decided to forego a legal career and get a Ph.D. instead, hoping in some way to contribute to more reasonable discourse about issues of war, peace, and politics.”

Yeah. I didn’t get into my job that way. I assumed that all intellectuals were reasonable and caring and liberal and driven by a desire to help the world.  Boy, was I deluded or what?!!! Yet, Walt’s point gives me motivation. I can help resist letting sociology fall to the right wing ideologues.  They’re out there in front of some mosque or abortion clinic or immigrant assistance center right now…..


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