South African view on humanism (1966)

  • Date / 1966
  • Location / South Africa
  • Ratifying Body / Board of Directors
  • Status / Archived

To Mr. J. de Klerk,
Minister of Education, Arts and Science, South Africa.

With reference to the October 31 New York Times article, the correspondence between your secretary and Dr. Roy Fairfield and your view that a new Afrikaans University will attempt to “defeat humanism” or combat what your secretary calls “neo-humanism”:

We believe that you do the good name of humanism a disservice in linking it (and liberalism) to the forces of communism. All semantic hair-splitting to the contrary notwithstanding, we believe that you might better use the term “pseudo-humanism” to describe what you have in mind. Or better still, perhaps you should invent a more apt term to refer to what your secretary calls a “smear campaign” against your country. When your secretary used the term
“neo-humanism” to describe an illness afflicting the minds of thousands of quasi-intellectuals in the Western world today – journalists, writers, ministers of the church, lecturers, professors, politicians and the like, he certainly does no justice to the thinking of modern humanists. When you are quoted in the New York Times as linking “humanism and liberalism and communism as among the dangerous forces that are threatening the Afrikaner way of life”, don’t you ask for criticism? The New York Times is an extraordinarily influential newspaper among “journalists, writers, ministers of the church, lecturers, professors, politicians and the like” who can hardly be called “pseudo-intellectuals”. Nor are they “stooges of the hidden powers seeking to destroy proven Christian-Western values and our Western way of life”. (quoted from your secretary’s letter)

We do not agree with your apartheid policy; nor do we condone any “smear campaign” which any government or people perpetrate upon another. But these issues, raised by your secretary, are not relevant to the issues which we are discussing. We simply feel that the view of humanism as outlined in the Times and in your secretary’s letter is not an accurate one. Nor do we believe that a university worthy of the name can quarantine itself from any vital idea or philosophy.

We therefore suggest that you:

  1. Invent a more apt term to describe what you want to say so that the world press will not further misjudge South Africa;
  2. Sit down to talk at length with humanists of many nations (perhaps at the Paris conference next summer?) that you may come to appreciate the many nuances of their viewpoints:
  3. Construct a university in which the philosophy of humanism will not only get a fair hearing as a significant alternative presenting a “live option” to your students, but also that the Western tradition of academic freedom will also be promoted. Prof. Dr. J.P. van Praag


Letter from Board 1966

Suggested academic reference

'South African view on humanism (1966)', Humanists International, Board of Directors, 1966

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