It has been a central conceit of the progressive movement since the early 1900’s that simply getting enough smart people together will cure all our problems.
This is the approach of technocracy — rule by experts. We tried it. Wilson and his ilk “solved” the problem of world peace after WWI, Kennedy and his brain trust “solved” the Bay of Pigs crisis with Cuba, Reagan and his A-Team of savvy business people “broke down” the Soviet Union, George W. Bush and his close circle of neo-cons “prevailed” over evil in the Middle East.
All of them with their elite “Ivy leaguers” thought they were going to redraw the maps of the globe. All what they did was create a bigger mess than ever in every single corner of the globe…. We’re still cleaning up the mess in the Middle East caused by acts of hubris and years of “rookie” foreign policy. We now have practically every country in the world on our back resenting our actions after having lost all trust in us to say the least…. and this is just the beginning.
Other examples — ones that some would rather forgot — include the progressive eugenics movement, the attempt to purify the blood lines and improve the race via forced sterilization, birth control, etc…. Fortunately for us it never took off as much in the United States as it did in other countries.
It is high time to wake up and start realizing that very smart men, with PhD’s and holding distinguished chairs at elite universities does not mean that all intellectuals are wrong, but it does mean that mere academic pedigree is an insufficient credential for developing public policy.
The conservative position is that tradition embodies the collective intelligence — the best of what has been thought and done — over generations, and it deserves to be given its due weight, that human social systems are extremely complex and that unintended consequences often outweigh good intentions. This does not mean that we never change, but it does imply that we imperfectly understand how society actually works and that human nature is not infinitely malleable.
Conservatives are not opposed to intelligence, but they lack the naiveté needed to trust that intelligence alone solves real-world social/political problems. Ultimately we must relate to each others as persons, as real flesh and blood individuals, not as abstractions of the intellect. Where society has lost touch with this it has caused the greatest misery.
As Thomas Sowell’s book, “Intellectuals and Society” states:.
“If you have an elite that thinks the voters are stupid, then the voters end up just being their political plaything. Notice as well that the political effort to hide details from voters influences how the policy is implemented, which is going to have both intended and long-term unintended consequences. If voters try to make an intelligent argument, they are rebuffed and suppressed, because the elite think of themselves as the smartest people in the room, and they don’t want anyone contesting them”.
Precisely what’s happening today during the 2016 Presidential elections. Anyone outside the “elite Establishment” is a plain idiot who does not know what he/she is talking about. Anyone inside the “beltway” is someone we should closely listen to… How far from the truth.
Another issue I have with the intellectual elite is that they don’t engage in quality leadership. They think that just saying what the research says is correct is sufficient for leadership and governance. However, with a large diversity of population, you have to more directly engage in cultivating relationship and explaining policy. You never liked it when you parents just dictated policy versus explaining it. Voters are no different.
Leadership, particularly at large scales like government, isn’t about telling people what to do, it’s about bringing people with you. If you aren’t bringing people with you, you functionally aren’t leading.
Communication is a key part of politics in our age. And the relational and EQ piece of the overall leadership package is critical if you want to be a real representative of the people.
The intellectual elite are generally significantly smarter than average, but they also tend to (depending on how you look at it) either underestimate the difficulty of solving large complex problems, or overestimate their ability to reason through them.
Their egos write checks their intellects cannot cash.
My hope would be that political leaders one day develop the good judgement to know when to call on intellectual elites and when not to.
I would say we do want an intellectual elite contributing to society, but we would benefit a lot from more epistemological humility from many of them.
Share your thoughts….