Courtesy Reuters

The Scribblers and International Relations

The large-scale entrance of the United States Government into the field of international cultural relations is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating only from World War II. Much has been said in this brief period about the importance of cultural relations for the resolution of international conflicts and the achievement of American foreign-policy objectives. However, there has been relatively little discussion of cultural relations that has attempted to cut beneath the widely accepted conventions that it is good for people in different countries to know one another personally, and good for the United States if other nations realize that we do indeed have a culture. In particular, one special purpose of cultural relations, and one peculiar and troublesome set of problems which they present, have been given less attention than they merit. These have to do with the role of intellectuals in international affairs, and with some of the special characteristics of the relation between American intellectuals and intellectuals elsewhere.

It would hopelessly simplify the harsh complexity of most international conflicts, and it would ascribe more influence to intellectuals than they have, to say that international conflict has its source in the quarrels of intellectuals. Nevertheless, there is a kind of devious truth in this statement. The influence over international affairs of "the scribbling set," as the Duke of Wellington once called the intellectuals with less than complete affection, is greater than is commonly thought-greater, certainly, than one would suppose from the frequent complaints of intellectuals themselves that people in power are suspicious of them and averse to listening to them.

There are a number of ways in which this influence is exercized. One of the most obvious is the relation of intellectuals to the language of international conflict and accommodation. International affairs are peculiarly susceptible to galloping abstractions-"Communism," "Africa," "Imperialism," "the Free World." Nowhere else do massive stereotypes and personified ideas play a larger role; nowhere do they do more to rigidify disagreement, to give it a quality of necessity

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