Should intellectuals of stature assume roles within political parties? Would they? And can political parties integrate them?
The problem is more urgent than it sounds. On the one hand, democracy needs everybody, especially the brightest minds. On the other, such intellectuals might have more enjoyable or profitable things to do than facing ideological opponents and the endless debates that sprung out of the arena just the night before.
The majority of intellectuals seem to be introverts. Working in politics can provide a creative outlet for them and a breath of fresh air for us. Citizens rarely hear thought-provoking debates these days.
So we might more or less agree that intellectuals should get involved. The real question is, can political parties position them properly across the chess board so that their strengths shine?
It seems this has been a bit of a challenge so far…
Intellectuals turned advisors or politicians have the two huge advantages any success-oriented organization seeks: they will always speak their independent minds without fear of displeasing anyone and will not care to be understood.
The first element brings fresh input into outdated structures and improves short and long-term methods. Although a bit impractical, the second element makes them who they are and why we value them, anyway. A ninth symphony, a penultimate painting, a cryptic piece of literature does not aim to inform. We are supposed to make the first move, approach it and try to understand it for our benefit.
Political parties in modern democracies focus on polls (what other people think) and show (trying to make contact even with the least informed citizen). And perhaps that’s a good thing. It is precisely why political parties should include intellectuals in and around leadership positions, at least as much as other professionals (artists, journalists, lawyers), to provide the balance any healthy democracy needs.
Political entities and their leadership may decide this is a good idea. Or they may not. But the one thing they (and we) do not need is to invite intellectuals on board and then instruct them what to say (and even more importantly, what not to say). Who needs this?