The Expert as Historical

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ociety rises to its challenges, abates its fears, and calms its nerves
with expertise. At moments of great stress it may also use experts
to transcribe its protests and inspire its revolutions. New knowledge
or new ways of putting the old, whether forbidden or pubhc, sacred
or secular, are the province of the expert, who "sees combinations
we do not see," and by his vocation, as we presently define it, helps
to translate them into action. He pronounces anathemas and justi
fications that serve us but are beyond our skill. Experts are revered
or reviled; but they have been indispensable in history.
The expert as policy counsellor has been available to societies
from earhest times, wearing among other transitory costumes those
of magician, tax collector, confessor, constitution-writer, strategist,
and economic planner. The form has changed with convenience,
values on the scale of knowledge, morale, and culture; but the
function has stayed rather constant. If not always enlisted as a guide
to salvation or the millenium, the expert has at least been the con
fidant of dark secrets or the pathfinder toward some ancillary truth.
This role seems httle abridged even in a "scientific age" when an
expert may be implored not to "take sides" but to remain the neu
tral judge of contingencies. The expert proposes, he does not dis
pose; but we must assume that his neutrality is a discretionary one.

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  • George A . Kelly

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