The academic refugee is not of course invariably a victim of direct persecution because of his or her convictions; but it is clear from the records of the thirties that racial repression was inseparable from ideological repression ”“ as it is clear from experience today that in so many countries the life of academic institutions is deeply vulnerable to political pressure, so that scholars of the ‘wrong’ ethnic group or political allegiance cannot assume that they are safe in their work even if that work is not openly critical of government. The conviction that a healthy and workable society is one in which all groups and individuals have access to public discussion of the public good, and that this entails patience with the expression of diverse perspectives and aspirations, is not universally shared. There are places where it is openly denied and at least as many where it is affirmed in public rhetoric and denied in practice. It is denied by the kind of policies that prevailed in Germany and its satellites in the 1930’s, by the extraordinary abuses of psychiatric medicine to suppress dissent in the USSR in the sixties and seventies, by any regime in which populist pressure, religious or racial, sometimes both, drives government decisions about what can be safely said in public.
But in another sense, it is denied by the sheer facts of a context where the state is either powerless in restraining violence or complicit in it, so that murderous disruption goes unchecked, both urban disorder and communal strife. A substantial number of those who are now recipients of the assistance offered by CARA are less likely than at some past periods to be victims of openly ideological persecution ”“ though this is not unknown: there have been and still are places like Afghanistan under Taliban rule where anything resembling dissident opinion, even in imaginative literature, was prohibited. The most urgent presenting problems seem to be belonging to the wrong ethnic or territorial group (as in Nazi Germany years ago and in parts of Africa and Asia today) and, very significantly, defending the rule of law in such a way that a regime is challenged. The exposure of abuse within legal systems is ”“ as many here tonight know all too well ”“ a major area of mortal risk. Any intellectual in flight from such environments as these acts as a forcible reminder of what human society looks like when the life of the mind is seen as a luxury at best and a threat at worst.
So the refugee intellectual brings into our insular discussion the knowledge that justice is vulnerable and has to be defended against the silencing of discussion and the silencing of particular classes or racial groupings. It is not something that steadily emerges into light as reason advances through the course of history. And there are two interconnected issues that come into focus as a result of this recognition. One is about the need to sustain a culture in which genuine and strong disagreements over the shape of the ‘good’ society are given space to unfold and interact ”“ the need for a robust public intellectual life, supported by a university culture which is not simply harnessed to productivity and problem-solving.