Letter: Unfair cultural caricatures of Leavis the 'Luddite'

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The Independent Online
Sir: Frederic Raphael ('When the English don went nuclear', 24 March) may not like the criticisms F. R. Leavis made of C. P. Snow, but he ought at least to give an accurate account of them. His caricature of Leavis, as a bilious chair-craving academic incapable of having a thought which D. H. Lawrence had not already had, is as distorted as it is irrelevant, and need not be laboriously rebutted. More seriously misleading is his statement - echoing Snow's jibe at 'Luddites' - that Leavis regarded it as the responsibility of a humane education to 'resist, if not prevent, the very technological revolution that Snow advocated'.

It is clear from the totality of his writings (which did not come to an abrupt end in the Fifties) that Leavis was not an enemy of scientific research: how could he be, lacking the necessary training from which alone an informed critique could issue? What he was contending for was a recognition that science, like every other branch of intellectual activity, is an inquiry by the human mind, not some impersonal entity external to it and absolved from its procedures or responsibilities.

There are objects and methods of thought proper to every discipline, but underlying them all is our common humanity, whose drives and dreams transcend reductive explanation. Leavis fought for an education, in his own discipline of literary criticism, that would enable its beneficiaries to address, with intelligent independence, the human dimensions of any 'technological revolution' there might be.

Mr Raphael concedes, late in his article, that Leavis and Snow 'were arguing from different premises'; hence the bulk of his commentary is beside the point, and his talk of winning and losing futile. It is hard to see why he should think it necessary to resuscitate the controversy at this date, and one hopes that his piece is not representative of the spirit you hope to foster in your National Science Week forum.

Yours faithfully,

PAUL DEAN

Portsmouth

24 March

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