Edward Said: Speaking Truth to Power

Arup Kumar Sen

Edward Said delivered prestigious Reith Lectures in the BBC in 1993 with the broad title Representations of an Intellectual. The sub-title of his Fifth Lecture was Speaking Truth to Power. This lecture should be the manifesto of our time. The following excerpts from the Lecture represent the expected moral position of an intellectual in our troubled times:

Uncompromising freedom of opinion and expression is the secular intellectual’s main bastion. To abandon its defence or to tolerate tamperings with any of its foundations are in effect to betray the intellectual’s calling…one of the main intellectual activities of our century has been the questioning, not to say undermining, of authority…I believe there is a special duty to address the constituted and authorised powers of one’s own society, which are accountable to its citizenry, particularly when those powers are exercised in a manifestly disproportionate and immoral war, or in deliberate programmes of discrimination, repression and collective cruelty…Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate…Speaking the truth to power is no Panglossian idealism: it is carefully weighing the alternatives, picking the right one, and then intelligently representing it where it can do the most good and cause the right change.

Oct 27, 2018

Arup Kumar Sen

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