Dr Thomas Sowell just published Intellectuals and Society. You can buy it from several places for under $20. With Thomas Sowell you can build a library on his books alone and not come out shorthanded on things philosophical, political, economic and historical. Just the process by which he goes about dreaming up an idea for a book must be an adventure. A great mind. (About this book, I have more to say at another time.)
Because I most want to understand the most primal instincts, the demon seed, that drives the Left’s political soul, I first turn to Dr Sowell, and this book is a must read, considering we are now locked in a life and death struggle with intellectuals and academicians (they are not quite the same) who believe they know better how to manage our lives and order our society than we do ourselves.
There is nothing about the self-ordering of society that the intellectual likes. There is a reason for their belief. If we want to someday move “beyond politics” this is a thing we have to know if we are ever going to fix it.
Why Sowell’s book is important is that it is an unflattering look at intellectuals and academicians BUT written by an intellectual and academician!
It is this irony that I want to raise, since, when an intellectual can point to an entire class of people and describe how they’ve gone wrong, he is also pointing at himself as being one who has gone right. This infers a crossroads which every intellectual confronts, and a direction he/she then chooses. Why do some choose the one path, while others the other?
Jump back about 130 years. In Bulgaria, many of the great meeting halls have a large painting on the wall of a group of perhaps 20 young men meeting in a wood, at night. Now their names mean nothing to us here, Xhristo Botev, Vasil Levski, Stambolov, but every June 2, at noon, sirens go off, and people stop and lower their heads in silent observance for those young men. Botev (age 28) was shot on that day in 1876. Levski was hung. Most of those young men were martyred and in village after village you will find tributes to their sacrifice.
They were all intellectuals…and while the Communists tried to morph them into socialists after taking power in the 40’s, as the Cubans did Marti, and even though Marx was in vogue in western Europe at the time, he was not in vogue among these young men. What was in vogue was the freedom of their people, and while Karl Marx waxed eloquently (in the academic jibberish of the day…remember Daman Wayans’ character Oswald Bates, “In Living Color”?) about the plight of workers and the poor, trying to organize others to go out and organize them, these men wrote poems and essays about the beauty and dignity of the poor, and then went out and took up arms against their oppressors, in their behalf…for they were of them.
Step back another hundred years, and the Founders and founding of our country. Many (not all) of those people were also intellectuals. A few were not only intellectual turncoats, but class turncoats, coming from the aristocracy (i.e., Jefferson). But most of our founders, just like those young martyrs of the Balkans, were of the people.
Back to Thomas Sowell and intellectualism in American society, it seems clear that the seed that causes an intellectual to turn “right” is based on an entirely different vision of his fellow man, and himself vis a vis his fellow man, than the one who turns “left”. A easy way to describe this is by imagining a college professor driving down the highway in his Volvo, and up next to him/her pulls a Mercedes Benz SLR, with the top down. If the professor is politically conservative, as I am, and the driver is an adult (I.e., daddy didn’t buy it for him), he looks over and whispers “God bless America”. I’ve done that a thousand times. I love to see success in other people. But the average college professor will mutter through clenched teeth “It isn’t fair”…even though he’s driving a $35,000 car and has a sweet gig at Moo U teaching kids to frown with their minds.
There you have it. Trust me, this sentiment goes back to Marx and well beyond. This sentiment is a mixture of intellectualism, usually ratified by (and within) the academy, and a self-perception of class that quite frankly, simply isn’t shared by the rest of society. In Germany the medical doctor was so revered that to become “Herr Doktor” meant everything to one’s social standing. Even artists aspired to have that “Dr” appended to the front of their name. Still, in the peoples’ eyes they were always something less than a man who tended to the sick, a fact which today still explains why lawyers hate doctors in America. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
“America the ideal” was supposed to change all that. In fact, it did for the longest time. But in the 1870s American scholars began studying abroad, especially in Germany, and while not so much coming under the direct spell of Karl Marx, they did become aware of Marx’s philosophical underpinnings. Hegel is credited with inspiring many early American “progressives”, and while never outwardly Marxist, paralleled him enough that the term “socialist” rolled easily off the tongue. In fact it was John Dewey, a member of the Socialist Party who first decided the use of the word “socialist” was simply a brand the Americans would never accept. So he recommended different packaging. From the beginning it was always a matter of fooling the people in America, a thing you really didn’t have to do in Europe, as the people better understood (still do) their “place” in the bigger picture of things.
Around 1910, while Continental philosophies of the state (and statism) was slowly working its way into American academe, America had been marching forward, for over three generations to the tune of “the American doctrine of Liberty” as first espoused by the Founders, and finally ratified after that little issue, slavery, had been dealt with. For 40-50 years, from New York to the Kansas prairie, America marched forward with its eyes still gazed on the shoulders it stood on. We were still a nation of the people, for virtually no American did not have a dirt farmer, indentured servant, downstairs maid, mule-skinner, or at least one toothless illiterate in their family tree. So, for 50 years, every 4th of July, Americans, from Wall Street to Laramie gathered in public places, and held beer glasses on high, and yelled “Huzzah” for those wondrous grizzled oldsters of long ago who had set this magnificent table for them…and in Shakespeare’s words, their names were “freshly remember-ed”.
But that same period saw some major changes in both the American landscape and the American demographic. Industrialization made an awful lot of people rich…beyond imagination…and as with any new thing, it took awhile for society to catch up with its implications. What kind of rich? Well, in the 1970s I knew a fellow who had an uncanny knack for buying a Cadillac then spending another $10,000 on it turning it back into a Chevrolet that only a mudlark in east LA could appreciate. That kind of rich, coarse and garish.
That industrialization also saw wave after wave of foreigners arrive, mostly Roman Catholic from eastern and southern Europe on the east coast, which alarmed the Christian (Anglican) elites, who’d been carrying on a forty year “war” with the Irish papists already. So by 1900 or so, “what to do about the Catholics” had joined “what to do about the Negro” in the academy…but not as a religious issue so much as a social and cultural one, as in birth control and selective breeding.
The bottom line: You cannot separate progressivism, liberalism, statism, or non-Marxist (hah!) socialism (whatever you want to call it) from its original beginnings of modifying human society and denuding it of (what it perceived to be) its most onerous attributes, biologically, by eugenics (selective breeding), and strong social control and management. I am not from Virginia, but I am of the South, and I can tell you this is not unlike what old-timers here tell me was a common understanding among many whites about blacks in the 1920s-30s…breed the black out of them. Sounds a bit red-necky to be coming out of the University of Chicago, doesn’t it? Still, it was the same.
Progressives are racist to the core, which is why I said earlier Obama and Reid will never be friends…and someday they will part company, and begin to draw down on one another…if they can only take care of us first.
But while they work out their last-man-standing scenario, we have to remember that America was always about the least men standing.
This will not come as pleasant news to you, but the common template of the intellectual is as I just described above, the European view. It is narcissist and elitist. For every truly inquiring intellectual there are ten who bask only in the glow of their own reflection.
Sowell pointed out that many of our greatest intellectuals became “political” far afield from their intellectual specialty. Bertrand Russell knew nothing of disarmament, but he did know he was smart, and listened to. The same for George Bernard Shaw. Some people even said Jane Fonda could act.
This self-admiring trend is ancient, and so dominant that we have to conclude it is the template for intellectualism. Even Plato (or was it Aristotle) defined a perfect world as one ruled by a Philosopher-King, a guy who just sat around on his arse, listened to the bio-rhythms of nature, and decided things in the wisest of way. As that never was the case in history, even in Greece, intellectuals have seethed ceaselessly since, still waiting for their chance to finally be in charge. Socialism in one manifestation or another is it.
The template for the intellectual has always been to define himself by what he hates. This is their demon seed. In the Merovingian Dark Ages, it was kings who ate their peas with a butcher knife that they hated. As royals began to fade away, by the 19th Century Germany it was the capitalist, and really has been ever since, although the nature of capitalism was itself changed in America, as has the declining quality of intellectualism and the academy.
On closer inspection, what the intellectual hates is the “unfair” success of people they consider beneath them intellectually, and by the own self-imposed ideal of status, socially….which means there in that demon seed also some correlative (birth-) right to rule, in Plato’s and the best of all possible worlds. Or at least, be the boss.
On the other hand, there were always, from the beginning, those who took the other path, in far smaller numbers. People like Dr Sowell. Aquinas and Augustine both come to mind, both first- rate minds, and since there was no Constitution or America or doctrines on the dignity of Man laying around, they turned their lives and minds to God. But both bequeathed legacies and a lineage that run directly into the Constitution. In the arts, Vivaldi was a monk. Bach, Handel and Micheal Angelo, Christians. The same for Velasquez, whose art can still bring tears to anyone’s eyes. How much of their art was simply to pacify the Church, i can’t say. How many were true intellectuals? Look it up, make up your own mind. What we know about them all is their art does not reflect any hatred for their fellow man. Their vanities were, well, human and normal.
But when America was born it sent shock waves through the intellectual world, for it unleashed the greatest army of ne’er-do-well low-borns ever imagined, who in turn, first, found ways to prepare and keep food overnight, then put that food on every table in the land…without a single middle man in government getting to rake off a single penny in the process…take any credit. No author at university or the state house got to come out and take an encore for a railroad, an automobile, or airplane.
Intellectualism in America has fallen mightily. Oh, we still have our giants. But as Will Rogers once said, “When everything else fails, a fellow can declare himself an artist…and who’s to say he ain’t?” (I paraphrase.) I give you Bill Maher, the fair Jeneane Garofalo, Keith Olbermann, Sean Penn, and 40% of the liberal arts faculty at every college in America. Sowell says intellectuals are people of ideas, but today they have become people of feelings.
The four legs of Leftism are intellectual and academic in nature; the press (information), education (indoctrination and tapping out), economics (command planning), and legal (out-flanking the Constitution and the people’s access of justice). What binds all four legs is that notion of intellectual superiority, and the self-appointed notion of class. In Nancy Pelosi we see it as divine right to rule. In Barack Obama we see it as way to get even (At least that is my guess right now.)
What we feel on our shoulders now is the seat of that stool, the bureaucracy…and underpinning it, the unions that support them.
This is why I will continue to define this fight not only in terms of intellectual classes, but in economic classes, State vs Private Sector.
This is not intended to be a dry academic essay, but rather a notice as to how it manifests itself on the street where you live. Every indecency in state and local government you see can be filtered down to this one theme. Today as cities and states are struggling with budgets (Virginia is constitutionally required to balance the budget, the City of Richmond already devising ways to cut critical services) politicians simply haven’t the political will to even consider cutting entire programs or getting rid of say 20% of the bureaucracy…who also drive nice Volvo’s…thereby shifting those jobs back to a dynamic job-creating private sector. Give them that will.
Our bureaucracy-buster, RPH, believes that that political will can only come from the grass roots….a grass roots with a plan and specific demands. If not, what we will see will be more front-line state workers who generally deliver needed services, sacrificed once again, in part as punishment to the people who brought this on by refusing tax hikes that would have kept their bureaucracies intact.
Now you can see the direct link between the civil servant (today and in Marx’s 1940s) and the intellectual-academic class, and how best to impoverish a nation.