The main threat to Nepal’s political stability is likely to come from the failure of the educated elites to cope with internal social forces.
To borrow the words of Edward Said, the intellectual is he who possesses a faculty for “representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for a public in public.” Such a role has something special about it, a special responsibility to raise embarrassing questions and challenge orthodoxy and dogma. The intellectual cannot be easily co-opted or hired by governments or corporations. Hismissi on in life is to represent all those people who are routinely ignored orthose issues which tend to be swept under the carpet. Intellectuals are on their own and at their best when they attack corruption, and stand up for the weak.
According to the mid-century man of letters Julien Benda, intellectuals are a minuscule group of highly talented and morally equipped philosopher-kings who represent the conscience of mankind. Benda´s treatise, La Trahisondesclercs (the betrayal of the intellectuals) is a scathing attack on those who abandon their roles and compromise their principles. Benda mentions a few names and delineates characteristic features of those regarded by him as intellectuals — Socrates and Jesus, as well as more recent names like Spinoza, Voltaire and Ernest Renon. The image of the intellectual as conceived by Benda is an attractive and compelling one. The intellectual stands out as someone capable of speaking the truth to the powers-that-be without mincing words, an extremely articulate, courageous and angry individual for whom no worldly power, however big and imposing, is above reproach.
Benda was spiritually influenced by the Dreyfus affair, which had compelled intellectuals either to stand up against an act of anti-semitic military injustice and blind national fervour, or slavishly go along with the sheepish horde refusing to defend the unjustly treated Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus.
The intellectuals have, as a rule, to choose between a despondent sense of powerlessness at their being marginalised, and joining the ranks of institutions, corporations and governments as a member of a relatively smaller group of insiders who take important decisions on their own and without responsibility. There is another alternative open in the modem age, to act as the “hired” agents of an information industry, but that is also no solution to the intellectual´s basic problem, that is, to achieve a relationship with an audience like Tom Paine´s. “The means of effective communication” which is the intellectual´s true domain, is now being expropriated by the media.
As the American sociologist C. Wright Mills points out in his book Power, Politics and People: “The independent artists and intellectuals are among the few remaining personalities equipped to resist and to fight the stereotyping and consequent death of genuinely living things. Fresh perception now involves the capacity to continually unmask and to smash the stereotypes of vision and intellect with which modern communications (that is, modern system of representation) swamp us. These words of mass-art and mass-thought are increasingly geared to the demands of politics. That is why it is in politics that intellectual solidarity and effort must be centred. If the thinker does not relate him self to the truth in political struggle, he cannot responsibly cope with the whole of live experience,” (Emphasis mine.)
The above quotation deserves careful attention. Politics is omnipresent; one cannot escape into pure art and thought, or for that matter into the sphere of disinterested objectivity, or transcendental theory. Intellectuals have an uphill task of resisting some of the pernicious influences of the information and media industry by disputing and refuting the images, official narratives, justifications of use of power circulated by an increasingly omnipresent media. The intellectuals must be on their guard against being herded by the mass politics of representatives, which the information and media industry services. Sticking by the truth is no easy task.
The real intellectual must be prepared to stand above rather than go along with the crowd. However, ivory tower intellectualism coupled with wishful longing or bitter criticism is of little use. Modern insights together with actual involvement in ameliorating the conditions of national life are needed in young leaders who, despite their dissatisfaction with the present state of culture and politics, will be able to adapt it purposefully to new circumstances and avoid the risk of blind and reckless modernisation.
In recent years, the gap between the masses and the modernising intellectual and bureaucratic and political elites has grown more rapidly and become much wider than that which existed between the traditional or feudal elites and the masses.
In Nepal, the educated class or intelligentsia belongs to a tiny upper crust of the privileged section of society called the middle class (which is also not expanding as fast as it should have been), as distinct from the majority of the people who live in poverty and are subject to the strains of a subsistence level existence. But a large portion of the middle class is itself vulnerable to innumerable pressures because of its comparative poverty.
However, the degradations of poverty can and should be resisted with the help of a basic sense of integrity. Unfortunately for Nepal, the educated middle class on the whole has been found wanting in this respect. Meanwhile, the relative prosperity of some members of the more fortunate elites has created in the man utter indifference to the principles of social morality or the interests of the society as a whole.
The sorialties between the individual and family, the tribe or the clan are disappearing under the impact of time and social change, but the elites have not been able to forge new social ties in the shape of increased awareness of their responsibility towards the nation and society. Unable to withstand either the strains of poverty or that of prosperity,
they have developed a split mentality which is the worst enemy of national character. The elites have neglected traditional values without being able to adopt or adapt western values in actual practice.
I believe that the main threat to Nepal´s political stability is likely to come from the failure of the educated elites to cope with the internal social forces whose momentum and pressures are likely to
increase as popular discontent mounts.
Countries forced to meet the challenge of internal social forces cannot always count on outside help in withstanding this pressure. If the mass base of discontent— students, workers and peasants—should stir, their protest movements will seriously undermine stability in the country. Let us learn from the experiences of other countries far and near and act wisely while there is still time. Will the Nepali intelligentsia, which forms a substantial part of our governing and non-governing elites, rise to the occasion?