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"...by their fruits ye shall know them."

Indeed.  As a society (and particularly in certain segments of our society) we seem to have forgotten the tried and true wisdom of Matthew 7:20.  Advocates insist that previous failures are not indicative of future performance, and that their pet theory or program get one more chance.

Let's take the single most glaring case of this: Communism.

Communism, as practiced in Russia, Cambodia, China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam during the 20th Century, has resulted in the deaths of more human beings than all other forms and theories of government combined.  The other child of the Progressives (via the Socialists), National Socialism, finishes a distant second by two orders of magnitude.

But more importantly, it comes out of the fact that, during this century, intellectualism failed, and everyone knows it. In places like Russia and Germany, the common people agreed to loosen their grip on traditional folkways, mores, and religion, and let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abbatoir. Those wordy intellectuals used to be merely tedious; now they seem kind of dangerous as well.

We Americans are the only ones who didn't get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and values systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals, and with anything like intellectualism, even to the point of not reading books any more, though we are literate.

Neil Stephenson
In the Beginning was the Command Line, p53

The proof that we have not learned this lesson is embedded in our education system.  The terms "Campus Communist" and "Marxist Professor" should be functional transliterations of "Campus Nazi" and "Fascist Professor."  The fruits of all these philosophies are known, and they are all pure poison to human life, freedom, and dignity.  To the extent that these words are not synonymous, when those same institutions of "education" insist that the fruits of "dead white men" (more than two centuries of unparalleled freedom and prosperity) should be discarded in order to give Communism "one more chance," we are refusing to learn the lessons of our last century of history.


This insanity must end.  The "modern intellectualism" (which linked article I now quote from for the remainder of this piece with commentary interspersed) must be held to account.

Part of the problem is that the American distrust of intellectualism is itself not the irrational thing that those sympathetic to intellectuals would like to think. Intellectuals killed by the millions in the 20th century, and it actually takes the sophisticated training of "education" to work yourself up into a state where you refuse to count that in the books.

Indeed it does. Based on those fruits, the ability to ignore history and the factual case in favor of a theory never borne out, indicates that the "education" provided is no such thing, what it is is "indoctrination."

Intellectuals routinely declared things that aren't true; catastrophically wrong predictions about the economy, catastrophically wrong pronouncements about foreign policy, and just generally numerous times where they've been wrong. Again, it takes a lot of training to ignore this fact. "Scientists" collectively were witnessed by the public flipflopping at a relatively high frequency on numerous topics; how many times did eggs go back and forth between being deadly and beneficial? Sure the media gets some blame here but the scientists played into it, each time confidently pronouncing that this time they had it for sure and it is imperative that everyone live the way they are saying (until tomorrow).

It's an impending Ice Age.  It's global warming.  No, wait, it's climate change...  What this really is is folks repeatedly talking out their asses, yet we're not supposed to notice that.


Scientists have failed to resist politicization across the board, and the standards of what constitutes science continues to shift from a living, vibrant, thoughtful understanding of the purposes and ways of science to a scelerotic hide-bound form-over-substance version of science where papers are too often written to either explicitly attract grants or to confirm someone's political beliefs... and regardless of whether this is 2% or 80% of the papers written today it's nearly 100% of the papers that people hear about.

Not to mention the growing trend of scientific and other papers to lead with "Executive Summaries" or other summations which are not supported by, or which are factually disproved by, the bodies of those publications.


I simplify for rhetorical effect; my point is not that this is a literal description of the current state of the world but that it is far more true than it should be. Any accounting of "anti-intellectualism" that fails to take this into account and lays all the blame on "Americans" is too incomplete to formulate an action plan that will have any chance of success. It's not a one-sided problem.

Actually, it is a rather one sided problem.  The "Anti-Intellectualism" is the entirely predictable response to a self selected elite who have failed to apply rigor to their own work and predictions.  The "non-intellectuals" have been observing the fruits of these self appointed "intellectuals" and they are not impressed.  Nor should they, or we, be.

If you want to fix anti-intellectualism, you first need to fix intellectualism and return it to its roots of dispassionate exploration, commitment to truth over all else and bending processes to find truth rather than bending truth to fit (politicized) processes, and return to great, foundational humility that even the press could not overplay into hubris. And they need to drop their blinders whereby they excuse away the damage that intellectuals have done while ignoring these ancient precepts and only crediting themselves their successes, because it cuts themselves off from the very object lessons that could help them return to this time-tested approach to science, which they still flatter themselves that they follow. If you fail to fix the intellectuals first, then all your effort to fix "Americans" is going to fail; you'll bend your efforts towards getting them to look at intellectuals seriously, but they'll end up coming to the same conclusions they already have about the value of intellectuals and you'll have wasted your shot.
What value?  The term "Intellectual" is in grave, and well deserved danger, of emulating "Awful."

Inspired by and expanded upon from Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds

Update:  See also Victor Davis Hansen's  Kingdom of Lies

Update 2:  See Ed Driscol's
In the Land of the Rococo Intellectuals, particularly his link to Tom Wolfe's essay In the Land of the Rococo Marxists, in relevant part:

After the First World War, American writers and scholars had the chance to go to Europe in large numbers for the first time. They got an eyeful of the Intellectual up close. That sneer, that high-minded aloofness from the mob, those long immaculate alabaster forefingers with which they pointed down at the rubble of a botched civilization-it was irresistible. The only problem was that when our neophyte intellectuals came back to the United States to strike the pose, there was no rubble to point at. Far from being a civilization in ruins, the United States had emerged from the war as the new star occupying the center of the world stage. Far from reeking of decadence, the United States had the glow of a young giant: brave, robust, innocent and unsophisticated.

But young scribblers roaring drunk (as Nietzsche had predicted) on skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt were in no mood to let such ... circumstances ... stand in the way. From the very outset the attempts of this country cousin, the American intellectual, to catch up with his urbane European model was touching, as only the strivings of a colonial subject can be. Throughout the twentieth century, the picture would never change (and today, a hundred years later, the sweaty little colonial still trots along at the heels of... sahib). In the 1920s the first job was to catch up with the European intellectuals' mockery of the "bourgeoisie," which had begun a full forty years earlier. H. L. Mencken, probably the most brilliant American essayist of the twentieth century, led the way by pie-ing the American version of same with his term: "the booboisie." In fiction the solution was to pull back the covers from this apple-cheeked, mom's-cooking country of ours and say, "There! Take a good look at what's underneath! Get a whiff of the rot just below the surface!"-the way Sinclair Lewis did it in Main Street and Babbitt, for which he became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and Sherwood Anderson did it in Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson's specialty was exposing the Middle American hypocrite, such as the rigidly proper, sexually twisted Peeping Tom midwestern preacher. He created a stock character and a stock plot that others have been laboriously cranking out ever since in books, TV, and movies, from Peyton Place to American Beauty.

Somehow, I believe we, as a nation, can do quite well without such self anointed "intellectuals."

Ah, there's even a nice rejoinder to one of our troll's assertions in re the socialist roots of fascism and the Nazi's in Wolfe's essay (which predates Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, for those keeping score):

"Fascism" was, in fact, a Marxist coinage. Marxists borrowed the name of Mussolini's Italian party, the Fascisti, and applied it to Hitler's Nazis, adroitly papering over the fact that the Nazis, like Marxism's standard-bearers, the Soviet Communists, were revolutionary socialists. In fact, "Nazi" was (most annoyingly) shorthand for the National Socialist German Workers' Party. European Marxists successfully put over the idea that Nazism was the brutal, decadent last gasp of "capitalism." Few of their colonial cousins in America became doctrinaire, catechism-drilled Marxists, but most were soon enveloped in a heavy Marxist mist. The Marxist fable of the "capitalists" and the "bourgeoisie" oppressing "the masses" - "the proletariat"-took hold even among intellectuals who were anti-Marxist. Prior to the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, the American Communist Party had great success mobilizing the colonials on behalf of "anti-fascist" causes such as the Loyalists' battle against the "fascist" Franco in the Spanish Civil War. "Anti-fascism" became a universal ray gun, good for zapping anybody, anywhere, from up here ... on the intellectuals' Everest of Indignation.

And Mr. Wolfe even provides a most fitting parthian shot:

It's a simple business, at bottom. All the intellectual wants, in his heart of hearts, is to hold on to what was magically given to him one shining moment a century ago. He asks for nothing more than to remain aloof, removed, as Revel once put it, from the mob, the philistines . . . "the middle class."


Given what our intellectuals have wrought, they've made the mob and the philistines look good in comparison, a noteworthy, though not praiseworthy, accomplishment.

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Comments (20)

"...we are refusing to lear... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"...we are refusing to learn the lessons of our last century of history."

Not refusing actually. It appears that the "intellectuals" REWROTE history to their liking. This way they get to pontificate that 'we'll get it right this time'.

The problem is the "intelle... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

The problem is the "intellectuals" are, in the words of the Blogfather, "credentialed, as opposed to educated."

Leftist academia has appropriated the designation for itself as part of its process to stamp out the scientific method and all serious academic inquiry in favor of their preferred multicultural neo-Marxist narrative.

Jim @ 2,More than ... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves Author Profile Page:

Jim @ 2,

More than a little truth to that. Have a full read of the Wolfe essay linked both there and here (now) as well.

While I can understand the ... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

While I can understand the fact that you disagree with particular "intellectuals" because of political, social, and/or economic ideas they put forth, I do not understand this overarching argument against "intellectuals" as a whole--as if they are all just one big group. What do you think Victor Davis Hanson is, if not an intellectual? The guy does have a PhD from Stanford, you know.

Also, since you link to (and respect) Glenn Reynolds, I encourage you to read through some of the reader responses, especially those who express some doubts about "conservative anti-intellectualism." Good to think about, at least.

Overall, your argument here has some serious logical gaps. Are you really against people who brought us germ theory, modern medicine, transportation, and communication? Really? Remember, "intellectuals" of the 20th century include a diverse cast of characters, from Ludwig von Mises, Karl Polanyi and John Maynard Keynes all the way to Ayn Rand, Samuel Huntington and Edward Said. Some pretty different ideas in there, all of them from "intellectuals."

If you are going to attempt to assess the impacts of intellectuals throughout the entire 20th century (which is a pretty massive task), then you would have to actually address all of the costs and benefits, instead of cherry picking certain negative histories and pretending that tells the whole story. As the article you quoted says: "It's not a one-sided problem." But, of course, you decided to side-step that particular issue.

Intellectuals played many--often contradictory--roles throughout the 20th century, and attempting to make some blanket statement about their value is near impossible. While the National Socialists co-opted science to craft their particular brand of scientific racism, other scientists (such as anthropologists Franz Boas and Ashley Montagu) used science to combat racism. So the specifics matter.

Lastly, despite Stephenson's claim that we have somehow moved away from our intellectual foundations here in the US, I think it's pretty important to remember that the Founding Fathers were anything but anti-intellectual. Those men were extremely well read, thoughtful, and obviously open to some pretty radical thinking.

In the end, I'm not arguing that intellectuals are the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I am not arguing that people should just blindly obey the proclamations that "educated" folks put forth. That's the last thing I am arguing. What I am saying, however, is that blinding aligning yourself against intellectuals isn't any better. As usual, a little balance, critical thinking, and common sense goes a long way. Gotta know when to say when, whether you happen to align yourself with the left or the right.

ryan,Go back and a... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

ryan,

Go back and actually read what I wrote and what I linked and get back to me.

Rodney,I read what... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Rodney,

I read what you wrote, and I read your links (VDH, Instapundit, etc). So what, exactly, do you want me to "get back to you" about?

Childish drivel, and/or wil... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Childish drivel, and/or willfully obtuse into the bargain.

Rodney's point (if I might speak for him) was directed to those who would coercively remake the world to conform to their half-baked economic and philosophical musings.

In this context, "intellectuals" does not refer to everyone who ever read a book, but rather to, e.g., the subjects of Paul Johnson's book of the same name.

Sheesh.

ryan,You wrote (in... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

ryan,

You wrote (in part):

While I can understand the fact that you disagree with particular "intellectuals" because of political, social, and/or economic ideas they put forth, I do not understand this overarching argument against "intellectuals" as a whole--as if they are all just one big group. What do you think Victor Davis Hanson is, if not an intellectual? The guy does have a PhD from Stanford, you know.

Whereas I wrote:

The "Anti-Intellectualism" is the entirely predictable response to a self selected elite who have failed to apply rigor to their own work and predictions. The "non-intellectuals" have been observing the fruits of these self appointed "intellectuals" and they are not impressed. Nor should they, or we, be.

Note "self selected elite." As regards VDH, I have never seen him claim the mantle of "intellectual" and I further suspect that if you asked him, he'd decline the "honor" of the title. I think, per his Private Papers web page, he'd claim the mantles of Historian, Professor, Lecturer, Columnist, and Author. The word "intellectual" appears nowhere in his biography page.

As I also wrote earlier:

The term "Intellectual" is in grave, and well deserved danger, of emulating "Awful."

In that those who claim the mantle discredit the very idea.

As for your proffered list of "intellectuals," which of them actually claimed to be "intellectuals"?

I await your answers in the firm expectation of either silence or hand waving.

Jay Guevara @ 7Ayu... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

Jay Guevara @ 7

Ayup.

Heh,And as Wolfe w... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

Heh,

And as Wolfe wrote towards the end of his essay (linked above):

It's a simple business, at bottom. All the intellectual wants, in his heart of hearts, is to hold on to what was magically given to him one shining moment a century ago. He asks for nothing more than to remain aloof, removed, as Revel once put it, from the mob, the philistines . . . "the middle class."

I'll stand with "the middle class." myself.

Rodney,I figured y... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Rodney,

I figured you were going to try to take this route and pretend that you were simply sticking to a restricted definition of the term "intellectual". And that argument would actually hold some water if you were not conflating "intellectuals" and "scientists" throughout your post. From your quotes of Stephenson to the original essay you pull from and finally the Tom Wolfe passage, the use of the term "intellectual" is a bit all over the place and generalized. But nice try at attempting to refocus your argument after the fact.

As regards VDH, I have never seen him claim the mantle of "intellectual" and I further suspect that if you asked him, he'd decline the "honor" of the title.

Ah, I see. Now you're going to play semantic games. Plenty of people on the conservative side of the spectrum refer to VDH as an "intellectual," and by that they mean academic, scholar, etc. Pretending that VDH, who has a PhD from Stanford, is somehow magically different from the academic or intellectual "elite" is wonderfully hilarious. His ideas and philosophies may differ from others, but he came from the same "elite" system of education. Unless you somehow think Stanford isn't an elite school.

As for your proffered list of "intellectuals," which of them actually claimed to be "intellectuals"?

More semantic games. But, since you asked, here's a few links toward the case that these folks are often identified as "intellectuals" (note: I only included the 'conservative' academics, since I doubt you will dispute the idea of putting the more 'liberal' scholars into this camp):

Ayn Rand wrote something called "For the New Intellectual".

Conservatives for Palin call Victor Davis Hanson their "favorite intellectual".

On the intellectual legacy of Samuel Huntington.

If you want more, there's more. While it would certainly be interesting to find out what term each specific individual preferred (intellectual, academic, scholar, etc), I think it's pretty clear that all of these folks are often identified as intellectuals.

Now, if you actually meant to make a more specific argument based upon what T. Wolfe was saying, then you need edit your post to make things a bit more clear. As it stands, you're all over the place.

Ryan,Sorry I lost ... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

Ryan,

Sorry I lost you. I'll type slower next time.

Nice handwaving.

Rodney,"Sorry I lo... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Rodney,

"Sorry I lost you. I'll type slower next time."

So, that's all you can come up with? Interesting. Well, when you can actually respond and defend your position, let me know.

ryan aYou confuse ... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves:

ryan a

You confuse ability with motivation.

Rodney,Ah, I see. ... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Rodney,

Ah, I see. You *can* respond with a reasonable defense of your argument, you just don't want to. That's a pretty rich response.

Look, I responded to your reply and answered your questions. Either present your side, or don't. But please spare me the lame little games you're playing here.

Worst case scenario: you take an honest look at what you wrote and realize that your argument needs some work. Big deal. Either that, or you stand by what you wrote and back it up. But resorting to these little quips instead is really, really weak, IMO.

Again, this isn't personal. I am just disagreeing with you, which should be ok. I think your overall argument in this post is kind of all over the place. Mostly because you're pulling from numerous sources and pretending that cutting and pasting them all into one post somehow makes for a coherent, consistent, strong argument. It doesn't. But it's not the end of the world.

ryan a,Noted.... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves Author Profile Page:

ryan a,

Noted.

"If you are going to attemp... (Below threshold)
ErisGuy:

"If you are going to attempt to assess the impacts of intellectuals throughout the entire 20th century (which is a pretty massive task), then you would have to actually address all of the costs and benefits, instead of cherry picking certain negative histories and pretending that tells the whole story."

Dead wrong. No matter how many Volkswagons and autobahns Hitler built, he'll be judged by the evil that he did, and so will intellectuals. Shaw should be first and foremost remembered as Stalinist apologist and only secondarily as a playwright. No number of vaccines, computers, and nuclear power plants can make up for 200+ million dead in insane schemes which denied reality.

If--and it's too late now--Oppenheimer had denounced communism and turned in for execution the traitors he personally knew, then maybe your point would have merit. If the Webbs had issued a mea culpa and revised "The Soviet Union:A New Civilization!" to "The Soviet Union:We Deserved to Be Hanged 'Cause We Were Sooo Wrong." If Hobsbawm, oh, hell, what's the use. The list of Communist and Nazi apologizes is almost the same as every first and second-rate intellectual of the 20th century. All disgraced. All suffering in Hell, I hope.

ErisGuy,Thank you,... (Below threshold)

ErisGuy,

Thank you, but you waste your time. Your opponent either cannot read with comprehension, or refuses to acknowledge the explicit working definition I forwarded.

RG,"Your opponent ... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

RG,

"Your opponent either cannot read with comprehension, or refuses to acknowledge the explicit working definition I forwarded."

Feel free to point out your "explicit working definition," Rodney. If you think the phrase "self-selected elites" is somehow definitive, well, I beg to differ. And you still have not explained why people like VDH, Sam Huntington, Ayn Rand, and Ludwig von Mises are somehow not "intellectuals."

ErisGuy,"Dead wron... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

ErisGuy,

"Dead wrong. No matter how many Volkswagons and autobahns Hitler built, he'll be judged by the evil that he did, and so will intellectuals."

When I said that you need to take all of the costs and benefits of "intellectuals" into account, I certainly was NOT arguing that we need to add up the overall pluses and minuses of Nazi scientists. I did mean that any assessment of 20th century "intellectuals" on the whole has to include ALL INTELLECTUALS, not just a select few who you (or Rodney Graves) want to hand pick for political reasons. My main argument here is that an overall blanket assessment of intellectuals is near impossible, considering the fact that they played often contradictory roles throughout the century (some used science to support Fascism, some used it to fight Fascism, etc).

Let me ask you this: when you use the term "intellectuals" do you actually mean "leftists" or "liberals," or do you include all intellectuals? Do you somehow think that people like Victor Davis Hanson (PhD, Stanford) are not part of the academic/intellectual elite? If so, how do you make that determination?




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