Once upon a time in the West, leaders listened to scholars: they no longer do
Reading hundreds of articles and essays by Western scholars every year has turned me into either a well-informed citizen or an addict of inapplicable, unrealistic ideas. My meticulous examination and scrutiny of Western scholars’ thoughts has certainly sharpened my political thinking, but it has not necessarily been of any added value to my country, Egypt. The gap between the ideas produced by intellectuals and what politicians actually do is continually widening, leaving citizens around the world lost in translation.
Scholarship in the Western world, and especially in the US, is a large industry dominated by highly-qualified professionals, thousands of scholars who work to shape their fellow citizens’ thinking patterns and to influence decision-makers. The field is dominated by the creme de la creme of Western academe, and attending their debates is often an insightful and pleasant experience.
However, while scholars stimulate the minds of Western citizens, they seem to have lost the ability to influence their leaders. The world is split between knowledgeable people capable of producing functional ideas and ignorant people in authority who insist on applying their volatile ideas — with no meeting point between the two. Today, politics is completely under the control of powerful politicians whose credo is realism and who know how to change things physically on the ground. Meanwhile, sophisticated scholars are trying to produce relevant ideas that are quickly made irrelevant by decision-makers’ actions.
Internet connectivity has substantially boosted access to the work of scholars worldwide. People are no longer obliged to read only the work of local scholars. Regardless of where they live, they can easily read and follow the works of their favorite scholars and discard the ideas that their countries impose on their societies. What used to be called the “battle of ideas” (most pleasant events at which scholars clashed mentally to produce excellent, functional ideas, reviving people’s minds and better serving their nations) no longer exists, especially among international scholars.
As the influence of intellectuals on Western decision-makers wanes, the rest of the world pays the price of flawed policies based on trial and error.
Western scholarly institutions and publishers tend to support only their fellow Westerners’ work, ignoring ideas developed by non-Westerners. Not only do they publish Western works exclusively; more dangerously, their minds are shaped by the Western thinking pattern. The Western world does not see any logical arguments in most non-Western scholarly writing; it publishes only works that are in line with its way of thinking, declining to consider — and, obviously, to publish — scholarly perspectives that contradict this line of thought.
Nowadays, most powerful Western countries are thrusting aside the works of their scholars, replacing them with physical action that achieves their goals more easily and quickly. The ability of these countries to realize their objectives by imposing their decisions on others has diminished efforts by scholars to change the world with their ideas. Sadly, these nations are not held accountable for their actions; their trial-and-error policy has become a phenomenon that we must live by.
Until the time comes when citizens can no longer tolerate the accumulated mistakes of their leaders, powerful nations will continue to dominate the world and to hold sway over scholars. Scholarly thoughts, however, will not expire, banking instead on the emergence of new political leaders who will revisit these ideas and restore their relevance. We are left with a single option: To hope that some sensible people will be persuaded by scholars’ works and support their ideas — and that the world will eventually become a better place.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He can be reached on Twitter @MohammedNosseir