Home » Book Project » Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 3

Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 3


Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 3

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Walter Lippmann


Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

Part 4: Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada

Part 5: Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis

Part 6: The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?

Intellectual history is written by intellectuals and educational history is written by educators; thus, it would be inevitable that the flaws and failures of each are buried beneath, while the advances and accomplishments are exaggerated or over-estimated. There is, however, a seemingly consistent dichotomy which has evolved and persisted throughout intellectual and educational history: on the one hand, you have the much larger element – both in terms of the general purpose of education and in the general activities and ideas of intellectuals – who support and strengthen institutionalized power structures; on the other hand – much more a break from the ‘traditional’ impetus and activities of education and intellectuals – you have the smaller element, the off-shoots and oddities, which empowers the masses against institutionalized power, and with the intellectuals who speak out, articulate, mobilize, and justify the empowering of the people against that of the dominant structures of society. Therein lies the dichotomy: one form of education is for social control and domination, the other is for social uplift and rejuvenation; one type of intellectual is a programmatic priest for the proselytization of power, the other is an energetic and empowering enemy of entrenched elites.

A Eulogy for Education: Situating the Social Sciences as Structures of Social Control

Whether public or private, the key issue at hand is that of the utility – or purpose – of higher education. Conventional wisdom inflates the classical liberal concept of higher education as a social good, one which may be funded by the state in order to promote the general well-being of society, as inherently cultural institutions designed to raise the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and philosophical standards of society. A more critical history of education tends to downplay the “social good” theory in place of a “social control” theory of education, and specifically, of the social sciences. In this conception, education was designed to produce professional ‘technicians’ who would – using the techniques of science, rationality, and reason – study social problems with a desire to find and recommend specific policies and programs to ameliorate those problems – to promote reforms to the social system – in order to maintain “order.” Order, in this case, is understood as maintaining the social hierarchy. We understand “social order” as the security of the “social hierarchy” precisely because ‘disorder’ is understood as the opposite of this: a threat to the prevailing social hierarchy and institutional structure of society. Order is maintained through manufacturing ideologies, implementing policies, and undertaking programs of social engineering all with a desire to establish ‘social control.’

For this to be undertaken, it was essential for the social sciences to be separated into distinct spheres: Sociology, Political Science, Economics, and Psychology, for example. This superficial separation established each discipline as one for “expertise” and “professionalism,” whereby those who were trained to understand and partake in politics would study political science, achieving degrees in their “specialty” which would make them socially acknowledged “experts” in their fields. Academic journals reinforce these divisions, focusing primarily on a particular and specific discipline, providing a forum for academics and intellectuals to discuss, debate, and disseminate ideas related to the study and understanding of that discipline and its related topics. The effect, however, is that each discipline remained isolated from other forms of knowledge and, more importantly, that knowledge remained isolated from the general public, whom it was supposed to inform and empower (in theory).

Logic, of course, will tell you that in the real world, politics, economics, sociology and psychology all interact and become intertwined, intersected and interdependent. To add to that, of course, we have other technological, scientific, spiritual, cultural, environmental and historic factors that all merge to create what we broadly call “society.” If our aim is, as it should be, to understand society – to identify its problems and work to resolve them – we therefore would logically need a broader understanding of the social world, which would necessarily require a far more comprehensive, expansive, and multi-disciplinary historical examination of our world and its interacting forms of knowledge. It can be argued, however, that this is too demanding upon the academic and thus, unreasonable and unlikely. Therefore, it is argued, producing “experts” in specific areas would allow for a simultaneous understanding of these various spheres of society, and to effect change in each sector independent of one another. This raises an important question: is an “expert” in Political Science capable of understanding the political world? If they do not take into account economic, social, cultural, scientific, technological and other historical facets of the social world which all interact with the political realm, how can they logically understand the political realm outside of those interactions? In short, the political world does not operate within a vacuum and outside of interactions with other social phenomena, so the claim that they are “professionals” on understanding the social world as a whole, let alone “experts” in the political world, is dubious at best.The fallacy of this concept to produce useful knowledge was eventually acknowledged and educational managers (such as the major foundations) began to support ‘inter-disciplinary’ research to promote at least a more comprehensive understanding than previously existed.

Despite this inherently elitist self-serving conception of social control, the focus – purpose and utility – of education (and specifically the social sciences) on the study and amelioration of social problems inevitably gave rise to ideas, actors, and movements which saw beyond the rigid confines of the educational and knowledge-production system itself, reaching beyond the disciplines and into a more historically-based understanding. These broader understandings typically emerged from historians and philosophers, who must – as stipulated by their very disciplinary focus – acknowledge a multiplicity of factors, spheres, ideas, actors and areas of relevance to any given time and place of human social reality. History, by its very nature, is interdisciplinary: the historian must always acknowledge economic, social, political, and other cultural phenomena in each circumstance being studied.

As an example of these biases and disciplinary obscurities, let’s take a brief look at Political Science. In Political Science, when studying International Relations, you generally study two major theories of international politics: Liberalism, the idea that peace and prosperity between states grows as economic activity increases between them, and that of Realism/Mercantilism, whereby states are viewed as self-interested and the international arena as anarchic, and thus, nation states simply act to serve their own interests (and should). Both theories, of course, serve power. Unless studying the very specific focus of Global Political Economy (and specifically from a critical perspective), Political Science students are not exposed to or confronted with information or ideas which discuss the roles of financial and economic institutions and actors (banks, corporations, etc.) in determining foreign or public policy. Such perspectives are not studied, but simply assumed to be the product of “interested ideology” as opposed to “disinterested knowledge.” Critical theories are rarely acknowledged, let alone studied, and the general use of the word “ideology” is seen as negative, in that, it is not a legitimate focus for discussion or analysis. I personally know of a political science professor who taught a class on ‘Nationalism’ in which a student wrote an essay on ‘class.’ The professor informed the student that she couldn’t discuss “class” because it was “ideology,” and therefore, not disinterested knowledge. Of course, the fact that he was teaching a course on ‘nationalism,’ which itself, is an ideology, did not even come into consideration.

The difference in ideology then, is that the word is used to deride and dismiss theories and ideas which challenge, critique, or oppose power, hierarchy, and the status quo. Those ideas, theories, philosophies and perspectives which support power, hierarchy, and the status quo, are not presented as “ideology,” but as “disinterested knowledge,” as a fact, not in need of proof, but of an assumed nature. They are simply accepted, and are therefore, not ideology. This is also widely reflected in the differences of the academic journals, between those which are establishment and elitist, and those which are critical and allow for more dissent. An example is Foreign Affairs, the premier foreign policy journal, run by the Council on Foreign Relations, the most influential think tank in the United States. In this journal, the articles and essays, written by various “experts” and active, former, or prospective policy-makers and those who hold seats of power, contain largely little or no citations whatsoever. All the ‘facts’ and ideas stated within the articles do not need citations or references because they are ideas which support the status quo, and therefore, they simply reflect the ‘perceived’ realities of society. Now take a journal like Third World Quarterly, which tends to focus on the effects of foreign policy upon the ‘Third World’ nations of the Global South, often highly critical, allowing for major dissenting scholars to have an outlet for their research and ideas. These journal articles are typically and necessarily flooded with citations, sources and references. This is because ideas and facts which challenge the prevailing perception of social reality – the status quo – are treated far more critically and scrutinized to a significant degree.

Critical scholars put their entire reputation and career on the line in taking on controversial topics, and thus, they must provide extensive evidence and citations for all their assertions. Thus, a scholar who contends that – “the United States is an imperial nation which undermines democracy and the self-determination of people around the world” – must provide extensive, detailed, elaborate and concise references and citations. Even then, the scholar is likely to be either ignored or attacked with rhetoric proclaiming them to be “ideologically biased” or worse. On the other hand, a scholar who contends that the United States is a democratic peace-loving nation which benevolently seeks to spread democracy and freedom around the world requires no supporting evidence, citations, or references, simply because it serves power, supports the status quo, and regurgitates the ideas emerging from the institutions of power themselves (such as the State and media), and therefore, no major institutions will challenge the assertions nor subject them to scrutiny. For example, there are entire books written criticizing Noam Chomsky and subjecting his research and writing to extensive scrutiny, pointing out miniscule mistakes in his citations, presenting them as deliberate methods of manipulation. On the other hand, prominent scholars who refer to America as a “benevolent empire” or as the “protector of democracy” around the world are rarely challenged, let alone scrutinized. If scrutiny occurs, it is from the critical scholars, writing in more critically-inclined journals, and thus, their research tends to be disseminated only to each other and stays confined within that small social group. On the other hand, scholars who support power are invited on television, quoted in newspapers, work with think tanks in formulating policy, take part in international conferences, and are invited into the corridors of power in order to implement policy.

Serving power obviously allows for a scholar to rise through the social hierarchy with relative ease. For those scholars who challenge power and the status quo, while entry into positions of power and influence are generally denied, there is still a necessity for toleration among the powerful. The major foundations (Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, etc.) often fund critical scholars and journals, not out of a desire to promote or support their ideas, but in order to keep critical scholars  “professionalized,” to keep them as institutionalized academics. If there were no forums, journals, conferences or venues for the discussion, dissemination and debate of critical scholars and ideas, they would have to turn to other avenues for the dissemination of ideas and knowledge, which generally leads to the public sphere, of community involvement, activism, or populist politics. With foundations providing funding for critical scholars, journals, and conferences, the academics remain dependent upon the institutional structure of academia, and their ideas do not reach the wider public, and thus, their critiques are ineffective and do not promote change or understanding within the general population. Thus, such a program of financing provides a “release valve” for intellectual dissent, to keep critical or radical scholars institutionalized and prevent them from becoming mobilized and activist-oriented.

Still, in spite of all the deleterious factors for the pursuit of genuine knowledge with the purpose of empowerment through (instead of power over); the fact that the focus was on ‘social problems’ led inevitably to the generation of activist-oriented intellectuals, for those who could transcend the confines of narrow structures of knowledge. It is not to say that when these intellectuals surfaced, so too did the social movements, but rather that as social movements emerged, progressed, and developed, activist-oriented intellectuals took note, and began providing a philosophical and intellectual basis for the movement to exist and move forward. In short, it was a confluence of different circumstances both within the academic institutions and in the wider society – national and global – which led to the origins of these intellectual leaders, critics, activists, and philosophers. These are the individuals that the Trilateral Commission referred to in its report on the “Crisis of Democracy” as “value-oriented intellectuals.”

Dissident Value-Oriented Intellectuals versus Technocratic Policy-Oriented Intellectuals

In the early 20th century, as the concepts and ideas of “public opinion” and “mass democracy” emerged, the dominant political and social theorists of the era took to a debate on redefining democracy. It was an era of social unrest, radical political ideologies and activists, labour unrest and rebellion, extreme poverty, war, and middle-class insecurity (sound familiar?). Central to this discussion on redefining democracy were the books and ideas of Walter Lippmann. With the concept of the “scientific management” of society by social scientists standing firm in the background, society’s problems were viewed as “technical problems” (as in, not structural or institutional) intended to be resolved through rational professionals and experts. Just as with Frederick Taylor’s conception of “scientific management” of the factory, the application of this concept to society would require, in Lippmann’s words, “systematic intelligence and information control,” which would become “the normal accompaniment of action.” With such control, Lippmann asserted, “persuasion… become[s] a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government,” and the “manufacture of consent improve[s] enormously in technique, because it is now based on analysis rather than rule of thumb.”[1] Thus, for elites to maintain social control in the tumultuous new age of the 20th century, they must “manufacture consent” of the people to support the existing power structures.

In 1922, Lippmann wrote his profoundly influential book, Public Opinion, in which he expressed his thoughts on the inability of citizens – or the public – to guide democracy or society for themselves. The “intellectuality of mankind,” Lippmann argued, was exaggerated and false. Instead, he defined the public as “an amalgam of stereotypes, prejudices and inferences, a creature of habits and associations, moved by impulses of fear and greed and imitation, exalted by tags and labels.”[2] Lippmann suggested that for the effective “manufacture of consent,” what was needed were “intelligence bureaus” or “observatories,” employing the social scientific techniques of “disinterested” information to be provided to journalists, governments, and businesses regarding the complex issues of modern society.[3] These essentially came to be known and widely employed as think tanks, the most famous of which is the Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921 and to which Lippmann later belonged as a member.

In 1925, Lippmann wrote another immensely important work entitled, The Phantom Public, in which he expanded upon his conceptions of the public and democracy. In his concept of democratic society, Lippmann wrote that, “A false ideal of democracy can lead only to disillusionment and to meddlesome tyranny,” and to prevent this from taking place, “the public must be put in its place… so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.”[4] Defining the public as a “bewildered herd,” Lippmann went on to conceive of ‘public opinion’ not as “the voice of God, nor the voice of society, but the voice of the interested spectators of action.” Thus, “the opinions of the spectators must be essentially different from those of the actors.” This new conception of society, managed by actors and not the “bewildered herd” of “spectators” would be constructed so as to subject the managers of society, wrote Lippmann, “to the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.”[5] In case there was any confusion, the “bewildered herd” of “spectators” made up of “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” is the public, is we, the people.

Lippmann was not an idle intellectual whose ideas are anachronisms of history, he was perhaps the most influential political theorist of his day, advising presidents while still in his 20s, Woodrow Wilson invited him to organize his war-time propaganda ministry, the Committee on Public Information (which was actually Lippmann’s idea to create), and his ideas held enormous resonance and received immense support from elite institutions and individuals. The influence of Lippmann’s ideas can be seen in the political machinery of the party system, the media, academia, think tanks, the construction of the consumer society, the activities of philanthropic foundations and a variety of other avenues and activities.

Several decades later, in the midst of another major social crisis in the 1960s, elite intellectuals again engaged in a discussion on the direction of society, social engineering, social control, and the role of “intellectuals” in society.

McGeorge Bundy, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (and later the Trilateral Commission), was the U.S. National Security Adviser, responsible for organizing foreign policy under Kennedy and Johnson (largely responsible for the Vietnam War), and in 1966, he went to become President of the Ford Foundation. In 1967, Bundy wrote an article for Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations which McGeorge’s brother William Bundy (a former CIA analyst and State Department staffer in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations) would be editor of from 1972-1984, after declining the offer from David Rockefeller to be the Council president. McGeorge wrote in his 1967 article that:

The end of 1966 finds the United States with more hard business before it than at any time since 1962. We are embattled in Viet Nam; we are in the middle of a true social revolution at home; and we have undiminished involvement with continents and countries that still refuse to match our simpler pictures of them.[6]

Bundy lamented the idea that, “American democracy has no enduring taste for imperialism,” because despite all of the “nation’s interests overseas, the boys always want to come home.” Bundy then went on to explain the benefits of questioning particular policies the United States pursues, but not to question the entire premise of America’s foreign policy in general (namely, that of imperialism). Instead, Bundy acknowledged that most of the dissent and argument on the Vietnam War was in terms of “tactics, not fundamentals,” though, he acknowledged, “[t]here are wild men in the wings,” referring to those intellectuals who question the basis and fundamentals of foreign policy itself.[7] Such “wild men in the wings” and “value-oriented intellectuals” present such a monumental threat to established elite interests. As the Trilateral Commission’s report noted in 1975:

At the present time, a significant challenge comes from the intellectuals and related groups who assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to “monopoly capitalism.” The development of an “adversary culture” among intellectuals has affected students, scholars, and the media. Intellectuals are, as [Political Economist Joseph] Schumpeter put it, “people who wield the power of the spoken and the written word, and one of the touches that distinguish them from other people who do the same is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs.” In some measure, the advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals.[8]

The Trilateral Commission report later expanded upon the concept of the role of the intellectual in society. It stated that in the cultural history of Western Europe, “intellectuals are romantic figures who naturally get a position of prominence through a sort of aristocratic exaltation.” However, in periods of “fast changes,” they often come to lead and join “the fight against the old aristocratic tradition.” This, the Trilateral Commission contended, represented an “internal upsetting of the traditional intellectual roles.” This was identified as a “crisis of identity” in which, “[i]t has become a battle between those persons who play the audience, even if it is a protest type, and those who contribute to the process of decision-making.” Claiming that protest-oriented intellectuals are among “the audience” reinforces Lippmann’s assertion some decades earlier that the public are mere “spectators,” not capable of nor desired to engage meaningfully in politics. For the Trilateral Commission, the rise of “value-oriented intellectuals” was the result of the “intellectualization” of the “post-industrial society” in which their particular fields (namely, the humanities) became less useful in “application” and “practical use,” and thus, society “tends to displace traditional value-oriented intellectual disciplines to the benefit of action-oriented ones, that is, those disciplines that can play a direct role in policy-making.”[9] This would of course include the authors of the Trilateral Commission report itself, namely Samuel Huntington, who went on to work on the National Security Council under Zbigniew Brzezinski (co-founder of the Trilateral Commission) in the Jimmy Carter administration.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte had long discussed the role of radical intellectuals in society and social movements. Following the major youth and student protests and movements of 1968, Sarte felt that the first duty of the radical intellectual is to “suppress himself as intellectual” and put his skills “directly at the service of the masses.” In a 1971 interview, Sarte was asked the question, “What should the radical intellectual do?” Sarte responded:

Today it is sheer bad faith, hence counterrevolutionary, for the intellectual to dwell in his own problems, instead of realizing that he is an intellectual because of the masses and through them; therefore, that he owes his knowledge to them and must be with them and in them: he must be dedicated to work for their problems, not his own.[10]

Thus, radical intellectuals should be creating revolutionary newspapers directed toward the masses, creating “a language that explains the necessary political realities in a way that everyone can understand.” Sarte was then asked, “Are you saying… that the responsibility of the intellectual is not intellectual?” He replied:

Yes, it is in action. It is to put his status at the service of the oppressed directly… the intellectual who does not put his body as well as his mind on the line against the system is fundamentally supporting the system and should be judged accordingly.[11]

As such, it is the responsibility of the radical intellectual to not lead, but follow and support the movements and struggles of the masses. For Sarte, the intellectual’s “privileged status is over.” Thus, “only activism will justify the intellectual.”[12] This is, in fact, a direct counter – or parallel – to the concept of the policy-oriented or technocratic intellectual, who directly partakes in the decision-making process. Just as the “technocratic intellectual” who partakes in the decisions of the institutions of power is “policy-oriented,” the radical intellectual directly partakes in the process of resistance (though not necessarily the decision-making process), and is also “action-oriented.”

In 1967, famed linguist Noam Chomsky wrote an essay in which he voiced his political opposition to the Vietnam War, entitled, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” In the article, which provoked widespread discussion and debate, Chomsky wrote:

With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals, there are still other, equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom if expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.[13]

As Chomsky explained, “If it is the responsibility of the intellectual to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.”[14] This is, of course, in counter to the “technical experts” of social science, seeking to remedy “technical problems” of society in a “responsible” manner. In this sense, “responsibility” has a dual use: it is used by elites to denote those intellectuals who are “responsible” to the elite, and it is also used by dissenters to denote a “responsibility” to the truth and the people. Thus, the use of the word – whether one describes dissenters as “responsible” or “irresponsible” – tends to express more about those who use the term rather than those for whom they are applying the term.

This is, it must be acknowledged, not a new phenomenon. It is found throughout human history, though often called different things in different times and places. It can be found among the ancient philosophers and, indeed, the prophets of the Biblical era. As Noam Chomsky has elsewhere explained, “The history of intellectuals is written by intellectuals, so not surprisingly, they are portrayed as defenders of right and justice, upholding the highest values and confronting power and evil with admirable courage and integrity. The record reveals a rather different picture.” Chomsky further wrote:

A large part of the Bible is devoted to people who condemned the crimes of state and immoral practices. They are called “prophets,” a dubious translation of an obscure word. In contemporary terms, they were “dissident intellectuals.” There is no need to review how they were treated: miserably, the norm for dissidents.

There were also intellectuals who were greatly respected in the era of the prophets: the flatterers at the court. The Gospels warn of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them.”[15]

In his book, Sage, Priest, and Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel, Joseph Blenkinsopp explained the use of the term ‘prophet’ in both historical and contemporary context. In the contemporary context, it is generally associated with “prediction, emotional preaching, [and] social protest,” though the Hebrew term for it (nabi), has been so widely and differently used to describe various individuals, including its usage to describe many who functioned in “sanctuaries and royal courts,” in which case, they would be individuals who serve power. On the other hand, for those that challenged the power structures, Blenkinsopp argued that they were essentially “dissident intellectuals.”[16]

Again, this drew a distinction in ancient times with the word ‘prophet’ to that we hold today with the word ‘intellectual’: denoting both those who serve and challenge power. Blenkinsopp explained that the prophets who were “dissident intellectuals” in the Biblical era “collaborated at some level of conscious intent in the emergence of a coherent vision of a moral universe over against current assumptions cherished and propagated by the contemporary state apparatus, including its priestly and prophetic representatives.” In other words, they challenged the institutions of power which existed during that era. These dissident intellectuals – much like those of the modern era – “often play a socially destabilizing role in taking an independent, critical, or innovative line over against commonly accepted assumptions of a dominant ideology.” In fact, stipulated Blenkinsopp, “radical change rarely, if ever, comes about without the cooperation or intervention of an intellectual elite.”[17]

Blenkinsopp described an era in which these prophets emerged in protest “at the accumulation of wealth and the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the few at the expense of the many.” The prophet – or dissident intellectual – Amos had lashed “out at those who store of the (fruits of) violence and robbery,” and who “live at ease in houses, the walls and furniture of which are inlaid with ivory.” Amos and another dissident intellectual, Isaiah, had “nothing but scorn for the idle rich and depict.” Blenkinsopp wrote:

The concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few, in this instance the political and hierocratic establishment and its clientele, is always liable to generate protest, especially if it is accompanied by the impoverishment of the many. A few decades after Amos, Hesiod claimed divine inspiration in denouncing unjust rulers.[18]

Thus, whether Hesiod, Hosea, Micah, or Isaiah, “all four belonged to the very small minority of the population that was literate and educated, and it was from that socially privileged position that their protest was launched.” These dissidents, however, were of a very small minority. For literally hundreds of years, the ‘prophets’ (intellectuals) of the era were “almost exclusively supportive” of power, “and there is no breath of challenge to the political or social status quo.” It was “in Israel and, to a lesser extent, Greece [where] a tradition of dissent and social protest develop[ed].” How were these dissident intellectual ‘prophets’ of the era treated? The established powers attempted to silence Amos and Micah, Hosea was ridiculed as “a fool,” and Isaiah was driven into “retirement” after an attempt to intervene in foreign policy matters.[19] So, while we claim them as prophets today, in their time they were treated as pariahs.

So whether in Biblical Israel, nearly 800 years before the arrival of Christ, or in the 1975 Trilateral Commission report, “dissident intellectuals” are to be feared and reviled by established powers, and it is clear that these powers will always attempt and actively take measures to minimize, ostracize, repress or eliminate such forms of dissent.

Thus, we have come to see the corporatization of our universities and the marginalization of dissident intellectuals in the neoliberal era. As Bronwyn Davies et. al. wrote in the European Journal of Education, few radical intellectuals of the 1960s and 70s “imagined how dangerous their work with students might seem to be to those in government or to the global leaders of big business and industry.” This was, of course, addressed by the Trilateral Commission, which above all represents the interests of the financial, corporate, political, and intellectual elite. This elite felt that “they must establish a new order to make the world more predictable, and they saw those radical intellectuals – both academics and journalists – as contributing to the dangerous disorder.”[20]

The Trilateral Commission was founded by two individuals: one a representative of high finance (David Rockefeller, Chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank), and the other a representative of the intellectual elite (Zbigniew Brzezinski, professor of political science, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, foreign policy official). Brzezinski wrote a book in 1970, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, in which he laid out the problems of the technological and electronic era (hence, “tehcnetronic”) and elaborated on strategies to resolve them: politically, economically, and socially, including the formation of a “community of developed nations” to jointly work together in managing the world for their own benefit. Rockefeller, who was also a top official at the Council on Foreign Relations and also attended meetings of the Bilderberg group with Brzezinski (another exclusively elitist international think tank linking Western Europe and North America), took note of the book and its arguments, and recruited Brzezinski to help put together this “community,” and in 1973, the Trilateral Commission was formed. Brzezinski, in terms of intellectual influence, is perhaps as close to a Walter Lippmann for the globalized era as one could get. For decades, he has been a major foreign policy official with significant influence, sitting on the boards of major elite think tanks that produce policy plans which are implemented in the government, acting in an advisory capacity to almost every president since Jimmy Carter, and in terms of his still close relationship with the ruling financial oligarchy (namely, the Rockefellers).

In his book, Brzezinski discussed the need for “programmatic engineering” to manage and change American culture, of which he emphasized the roles played by education and the mass media over the alternative avenues of churches and traditional customs.[21] The manufacturing of culture, posited Brzezinski, was an American ‘obligation’:

Change in educational procedures and philosophy should also be accompanied by parallel changes in the broader national processes by which values are generated and disseminated. Given America’s role as a world disseminator of new values and techniques, this is both a national and a global obligation. Yet no other country has permitted its mass culture, taste, daily amusement, and, most important, the indirect education of its children to be almost exclusively the domain of private business and advertising, or permitted both standards of taste and the intellectual content of culture to be defined largely by a small group of entrepreneurs located in one metropolitan center.[22]

Brzezinski also discussed one of the more relevant and indeed, concerning facets of the Technological Revolution. Of course, writing of this as a ‘concern’ is in terms of Brzezinski writing from the perspective of an elite academic and strategic thinker, and thus, representing the elite class and their overall concerns. Namely, Brzezinski wrote on the prospects of a revolution against this process and the power structures involved, explaining that these groups are likely to emerge in both the developing world and industrialized world in opposition to the process of ‘modernization,’ which Brzezinski refers to as the advancement of the ‘Technetronic Revolution.’ In the Global South (the “Third World”), the revolutionary class is likely to emerge from the educated classes who are deprived of social opportunities fitting with their intellectual expectations. In the industrialized West, however, this “revolutionary intelligentsia” is most likely to emerge from the “middle-class intellectual equivalents” of the revolutionary class in the developing world. Thus, it would emerge among the educated middle-classes of the West, who are deprived of opportunities attuned to their education, thus creating a ‘crisis of expectations.’ Brzezinski wrote that the Technetronic Revolution had created a “social anachronism,” in which these groups may hold onto anti-industrial values and could possibly, even in the more modern countries, effectively block the modernization of their societies, “insisting that it be postponed until after an ideological revolution has taken place.” Brzezinski explained:

In this sense the technetronic revolution could partially become a self-limiting phenomenon: disseminated by mass communications, it creates its own antithesis through the impact of mass communications on some sectors of the intelligentsia.[23]

Brzezinski’s answer to these profound and potentially revolutionary circumstances was to employ more social engineering, more social control, more integration and coordination among global powers; essentially, to strengthen power structures at the expense of all others. Brzezinski wrote that there was a “mounting national recognition that the future can and must be planned; that unless there is a modicum of deliberate choice, change will result in chaos.”[24] He elaborated:

Technological developments make it certain that modern society will require more and more planning. Deliberate management of the American future will become widespread, with the planner eventually displacing the lawyer as the key social legislator and manipulator… How to combine social planning with personal freedom is already emerging as the key dilemma of technetronic America, replacing the industrial age’s preoccupation with balancing social needs against requirements of free enterprise.[25]

In the same line of arguing in favour of more coordination, planning, and “technical” expertise, Brzezinski also posited an image of where this could eventually lead:

Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific know-how. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control…  Persisting social crisis, the emergence of a charismatic personality, and the exploitation of mass media to obtain public confidence would be the steppingstones in the piecemeal transformation of the United States into a highly controlled society.[26]

Thus, we come to understand the ideologies, intent, and actions of two divergent social actors: the technocratic and policy-oriented intellectual and the dissident action-oriented intellectual. One supports power, one supports people. Our educational system is still to a significant degree composed of and designed to produce (like industrial factories for intellectual products) those intellectuals who support power, who engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. Dissident intellectuals, while they exist, remain confined. They engage in research and write in academic journals which reach only other dissident intellectuals. This is the case not only in the West, but across a great deal of the world. There are, of course, exceptions, but they are few and far between. The knowledge and ideas and dissident intellectuals must be designed not for the purpose of internal discussion and debate among other dissidents within the institutions of academia, but to reach the masses, to empower the people, and to join – actively and actually – with the people as they mobilize for change. In order to do this, new forums, conferences, media, and other sources and organizations should attract the “value-oriented intellectuals” away from Ivory towers of intellectual isolation and into the people-oriented pathways of political action. The language must be made less academic and more accessible, the activities must be more directly engaged with people than distant and distracted.

The rigors of academic life make this a great challenge, not only for students but for professors as well. Professors are expected to publish consistently in journals and other publications, and so when they are not teaching or instructing, they are researching and writing, independently and isolated. There is very little time or opportunity for direct engagement, or for writing for other publications and avenues which could allow their research to reach a wider audience. This keeps intellectuals disciplined and distracted, and ultimately, gives little relevance to their research in terms of actually affecting any meaningful changes in society. However, here we come to understanding the inherent dichotomy of a crisis, in this case, the “Crisis of Education.” As the crisis of education leads to increased costs, increased debts, decreased enrollment, decreased opportunities, increased social unrest, increased student resistance, and ultimately, a decrease in the amount of teachers and professors (this is already taking place), there also opens an avenue through which much of the disciplinary mechanisms which held dissident intellectuals back will be eroded. With nothing left to lose (in terms of job security, financial stability, social prestige and opportunity), dissident intellectuals will be far more inclined toward participation in activism and social movements. Avenues for their participation should be opened up and extended as this crisis continues and deepens.

A simply example of such an opportunity to attract dissident intellectuals would be a type of international conference, media, and educational institute. It could begin with a conference, drawing dissidents from around the world – from Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Spain, the U.K., Canada, Australia, United States, Iceland, Ireland, Chile, Taiwan, etc. – to hold a discussion and debate on the origins, evolution, development and potential for the growing social and activist movements, whether in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, anti-austerity protests, student strikes, and others. The conference could be televised for free online, so people all over the world could view and engage. A major aim and result of the conference could be to establish an educational institution, which brings together such intellectuals from around the world with more consistency, which organizes a network of globally connected but locally-oriented decentralized schools, designed specifically for a broad, multi-disciplinary and globally-relevant education for social change. They could hold classes in which students and teachers engage as equals, bringing in local activists, alternative media, even filming the actual classes and discussions to post online, even provide a live feed. The aim would be to provide education for the purpose of empowering people to activism and social change. They could establish their own media outlets, providing research and discussion of activities by students and professors, and become engaged in actively planning and helping organize social movements, protests, and other activities.

The point would be to provide a forum where education has an empowering social purpose, where it integrates itself with other elements of society and does not remain isolated and insulated. For example, if one such discussion were to take place in a local decentralized school on the topic of food sustainability, agriculture, GMOs, and the politics of food, the result could be a decision to establish a network of organic farmers who would be willing to produce cheap food for poor areas, establish a space where there could be a cheap organic food market, or cheap (or free) meals made with the food, but dispensing it to poor people in poor areas of major cities, who would otherwise not have the means of good food for decent prices. It’s a very simple program, but the effects can be profound. Not only could it begin to integrate farmers and agriculturalists with such an emerging movement, but it could integrate the poor more closely with such a movement. The poor are, after all, the largest constituency in the world, and the one in the most need of help and empowerment. For the poor, the ideological and power struggles between the middle and upper classes are largely irrelevant, because neither benefit nor empower them. If there is to be a true and genuine revolutionary change in global society, acting without the ideas and support of the poor is a sure way to guarantee failure for genuine change. To get the support of the poor, the poor must be supported; they must be given a stake in the future, empowered to act and participate in change, and the starting point for this is to address the immediate necessities of poor people everywhere: food, clothing, shelter.

The difference between how ‘social control’-oriented institutions (such as foundations and NGOs) address poverty and how revolutionary and radical organizations would address poverty, is the intent and methods in dealing with these immediate concerns. NGOs and foundations seek to establish methods of providing food, clothing, shelter and general necessities so much as to address the symptoms of poverty, not the causes, and thus, to ultimately sustain the system that creates poverty by alleviating the worst conditions just enough to prevent rebellion or resistance. Revolutionary or radical organizations would seek to address the immediate concerns of the poor in order so that they may be empowered and able to begin finding ways to support themselves, to learn from them, and to provide access to forms of knowledge which have been denied to them. Thus, any programs of directly helping the poor would have to be accompanied with opportunities for education, knowledge, and outlets for action. The point is not to simply feed a poor individual, but to disseminate knowledge about why they are poor, how society creates and sustains the poor, the sources and solutions to poverty. Thus, it does not simply alleviate the symptoms, but empowers the individuals. Further, any radical movement must in turn be educated by the poor, for through their very existence, they are better able to understand the nature of the system that exists, because they have always been subjected to its most ugly and oppressive apparatus. While it may be easy for middle class intellectuals and students to promote a revolutionary cause based upon an ideology of how the state can and should function, poor people are able to give a better idea of how the state does function, has functioned, and thus, raise critical questions about the ideas, objectives, and actions of middle class and other radicals. The point would not be to be modern missionaries, providing food with “the Bible,” but to help – not out of pity but out of empathy and necessity – to empower, and, ultimately, to learn from and work with the poor. If any radical or revolutionary movement emerges which does not include a significant number of leaders from the poor population, and without significant support from the poor population, it is inherently anti-democratic and unworthy of pursuit.

This is, of course, just one example. The objective then, would be to find a way to bring dissident intellectuals out of the rigid confines of academia, and into the real world: to embolden, empower, and engage with the people, to participate in activism and social mobilization, and to work with a wide variety of other social groups and sectors in order to collectively participate in the construction of a new and far better world. It is time that this must be the acknowledged purpose of intellectuals, not the exception.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            Frank Webster and Kevin Robins, “Plan and Control: Towards a Cultural History of the Information Society,” Theory and Society (Vol. 18, 1989), pages 341-342.

[2]            Sidney Kaplan, “Social Engineers as Saviors: Effects of World War I on Some American Liberals,” Journal of the History of Ideas (Vol. 17, No. 3, June 1956), pages 366-367.

[3]            Sue Curry Jansen, “Phantom Conflict: Lippmann, Dewey, and the Fate of the Public in Modern Society,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (Vol. 6, No. 3, 2009), page 225.

[4]            Walter Lippmann, et. al., The Essential Lippmann: A Political Philosophy for Liberal Democracy (Harvard University Press, 1982), page 91.

[5]            Ibid, page 92.

[6]            McGeorge Bundy, “The End of Either/Or,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 45, No. 2, January 1967), page 189.

[7]            Ibid, pages 189-191.

[8]            Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy, (Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975), pages 6-7.

[9]            Ibid, page 31-32.

[10]            Ronald Aronson, “Sarte and the Radical Intellectuals Role,” Science & Society (Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 1975/1976), pages 436, 447.

[11]            Ibid, pages 447-448.

[12]            Ibid, page 448-449.

[13]            Noam Chomsky, “A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” The New York Review of Books, 23 February 1967:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1967/feb/23/a-special-supplement-the-responsibility-of-intelle/

[14]            Ibid.

[15]            Noam Chomsky, “Great Soul of Power,” Information Clearing House, 26 July 2006:

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article14221.htm

[16]            Joseph Blenkinsopp, Sage, Priest, Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), page 2.

[17]            Ibid, page 144.

[18]            Ibid, pages 153-154.

[19]            Ibid, page 154.

[20]            Bronwyn Davies, et. al., “The Rise and Fall of the Neo-liberal University,” European Journal of Education (Vol. 41, No. 2, 2006), page 311.

[21]            Zbigniew Brzezinski, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (Greenwood Press, Westport: 1970), page 265.

[22]            Ibid, page 269.

[23]            Ibid, page 278.

[24]            Ibid, page 256.

[25]            Ibid, page 260.

[26]            Ibid, pages 252-253.

About these ads

21 Comments

  1. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  2. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  3. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  4. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  5. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  6. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  7. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  8. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  9. [...] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals [...]

  10. […] Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,286 other followers

%d bloggers like this: