02 September, 2016

Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand edited by Laurence Simmons

the chattering classes…
the ivory tower…

Speaking Truth to Power opens up debate on the intellectual life of the 21st century New Zealand. The book begins with contemplative essays by Roger Horrocks, Andrew Sharp and Stephen Turner on the nature of New Zealand intellectualism, and is organised around interviews with leading contemporary intellectuals Brian Easton, Nicky Hager, Lloyd Geering and the late Michael King.

In the introduction, Laurence Simmons, the editor, notes very few contemporary New Zealanders, even university professors, feel comfortable, or want to accept, the label 'intellectual'.

Traditionally, Kiwis prefer to see themselves as practical and adaptable, the values which are likely to extend back to the country's pioneering background and settlement history, favouring pragmatic action over thought and imagination.

Roger Horrocks suggests despite certain parallels between anti-intellectualism in New Zealand and in some other English-speaking countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, where hostility towards intellectual pursuits has been similarly strong, the New Zealand case still remains unique due to the particular mixture of circumstances such as small population, isolation, ruralism, puritanism and egalitarianism.

Stephen Turner compares an ancient kynic, whom he regards a true intellectual, and the contemporary cynic, a false intellectual, insisting on the position of an outsider still being crucial for the modern intellectual.

Brian Easton sadly points towards lack of careful, rigorous thinking and little opportunity for public debate in the contemporary New Zealand:

"We are still a society which is very nervous of having proper debate, we are very nervous of intellectual excellence".

Title: Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand
Editor: Laurence Simmons

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand writing.

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