Intellectuals, Ideology & the State
What role do intellectuals play in society? Are they apparatchiks, yes men and women or do they challenge the half-truths, mendacities and fabrications of the rich and powerful? Noam Chomsky explored these themes in his famous essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” published in The New York Review of Books during the height of U.S. aggression in Indochina. Chomsky unambiguously declared, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.” He called them the “new mandarins” who are subservient to the ruling class and use their privileged position to advance their careers. They provide the cover for the crimes of state, articulating the underpinning and embedded ideology. For their services, they are well rewarded with endowed chairs at the best universities, frequent media appearances and fat book contracts. In this program, Eqbal Ahmad examines the work of intellectuals such as Chomsky, Antonio Gramsci, Edward Said, I.F. Stone, Rabindranath Tagore and others and the relationship of knowledge to power.
Recorded at MIT.
Eqbal Ahmad was Professor Emeritus of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He had an extraordinary life. He was born in Irki, Bihar to an Indian Muslim landowning family. His father was murdered because he was parceling out land to peasants. Upon the partition of India in 1947 he went to Pakistan. He came to the U.S. to attend Princeton. He was in Algeria during the revolt against French rule. For many years he was managing editor of Race and Class. His articles and essays appeared in The Nation and other journals throughout the world. He wrote a weekly column for Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English newspaper. He was one of the most original and influential anti-imperialist thinkers of his era. He was a leading figure in the anti-Vietnam War movement. He was a remarkable and persuasive orator. As a teacher, he was mentor and inspiration to many. He was a close ally of Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Edward Said called him “an intellectual unintimidated by power or authority.” Confronting Empire and Terrorism Theirs & Ours are the two books he did with David Barsamian. Eqbal Ahmad died in Islamabad on May 11, 1999.