Integrity is enough

September 14, 2007

Colin Feltham's heartfelt plea for engagement by academics ("Why do academics fiddle as the world burns?" August 31) is, in the face of increasing bureaucratisation, justified.

But Feltham seems to have a limited conception of the intellectual as an individual necessarily "wide-spectrum and inspirational" in character making pronouncements on "hot social issues".

It is therefore not surprising he finds himself succumbing to despair at the British scene, as such "universal" intellectuals have always been thin on the ground, tending to arise in specific historical and cultural circumstances, and being dependent on the appearance of distinct personalities.

One way Feltham may be able to see off his despair is to think more in terms of intellectual action. That way it is possible to see that although much of what we do as professionals may seem to amount to little more than toeing the corporate line, there is always the potential for making connections with the world and with priorities beyond those by which we are bound.

True, we need heroes who are prepared to offer leadership and are willing to risk everything to "speak truth to power", but we need also to recognise that "heroism and overt risk-taking are not all 'being an intellectual' entails". Sometimes, acting as an intellectual requires simply the readiness to think and work with integrity.

Stephen Palmer
Leytonstone, London

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