Wonk On The Wild Side

I managed to get home from work by eight-fifteen this evening, which, in the context of the past week, feels like playing hooky. The little grey cells, however, are in weary and mutinous disarray, so I will probably be leaning on the “Shameless Filler” category for another few days.

But I do want to direct you to an excellent essay that reader and commenter David Duff sent our way in a previous thread. It is from Kenneth Anderson’s “Law of War and Just War Theory” blog, a website that describes itself as follows:

Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at Washington College of Law, American University, Washington DC, and a research fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, blogs on topics related to international laws of war, international law, related human rights topics, international NGOs, and the theory of the just war. (Everything here is first draft and subject to changing my mind.)

In this post Mr. Anderson takes up the subject of the role of intellectual elites in government: a topic that has been on everyone’s mind lately, provoked in large part by the sudden and freakish ascent to international prominence of the flamboyantly uncultured, proudly ignorant, but curiously gifted Governor of Alaska.

Mr Anderson makes no secret of his own membership in the group whose desirability at the helm he calls into question; he is unabashedly a member of the intellectual elite himself. And he articulates many of the same concerns about meddlesome Progressive know-it-alls that I have mentioned in these pages, and that Jonah Goldberg limns so persuasively (and entertainingly) in his excellent book Liberal Fascism. His nutshell summary of his own moderate conservatism feels about right to me as well:

…I am a johnny-come-lately to conservatism, and am not sure exactly how much applies to me … social conservative, very far from it; national security conservative, yes, emphatically; libertarian conservative, yes, but not in that crazy Ayn Randian mad, mad way. I suppose that means I fit one classic, if otherwise empty, definition of a ‘neoconservative’ – someone who mostly favors Republicans, but only started doing so since the mid-1990s.

I wouldn’t say I “mostly favor Republicans”, but that is only because I have become such a pessimistic misanthrope that I don’t “mostly favor” anybody.

I am having too much trouble thinking clearly at the moment to say anything more about this article just now, but I do recommend it to you all, in the hope that it will stimulate further conversation. Our thanks to David Duff for sending it our way. You can read it here.

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  1. Peter Lupu says


    I gave that piece one quick and admittedly not very careful reading. I think it belongs to a common reaction these days of “who shall we blame for our failures” article. In this case the blame falls upon the class of “intellectual elite” (I do not know which class of persons this phrase picks out: “everyone who runs the government?”; “everyone who runs the government and disagrees with my views?”; “everyone who runs the government and has a higher degree, say PhD?”).

    Anyway, the problem we have is not with this or that class or with this or that view. The problem we have is that our society became extremely complicated in all its facets social, financial, legal, moral, etc., and therefore the problems to which such a society gives rise are very difficult and go deep all the way to its very foundations: namely, the constitutional structure. There is no way of solving these problems without solving these “fractured foundations”, and doing that requires either a very broad consensus which does not exist (and cannot exist in the current climate) or a genuine statesman that is elected, which is also virtually impossible due to the current election process.

    Whenever you see a group such as “the intellectual elites” or this or that blamed for problems that bear down on a country BEWARE! History shows that such blame is itself a symptom of the lack of understanding or willingness to understand what the real problems facing the country are. These blame-games are themselves part of the problem.

    Finally, blaming “intellectual elites”, whatever these creatures may be, is indirectly demeaning education, intellectual curiosity which is the engine of inquiry, and knowledge itself. It is as if one were to say: just give “Joe the Plumber” the reigns of power: he knows how to solve our problems. This country already did that sort of thing, for the last eight years: note the consequences!

    This is a complicated society: a complicated society has complicated problems. It is divided; fractured; disoriented; it is in the grip of social and moral divisions; it lacks a sense of unity of purpose and moral compass that can direct its financial, political, and religious leaders to promote anything other than what is in their selfish interest.

    Under these circumstances, when the problems appear the bear down and crush a society and no clear solutions are forthcoming some lead the way to blame some group or other. For what purpose? Are we to get rid of all these “evil intellectual elites” and then our problems will be solved like with a magic wand? History tells us where that road leads!

    No! Everyone is to be blamed or no should be! And if everyone is to be blamed then we better get our heads together, intellectual elites and all, and dig deep, find our foundations and make a concentrated effort to repair it. For it is the foundations of this country that need massive repair, not merely its infrastructure. The poor state of this country’s infrastructure is just an apt symbol to the poor state of its foundations.


    Posted November 14, 2008 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  2. Peter, I don’t have a lot of time just now but two quick points occur.

    First, I agree that the phrase ‘intellectual elite’ is too lose and ill-defined but perhaps we can use a similar approach which is summed up in the phrase ‘I can’t define pornography but I know it when I see it’. It must, I suggest, be a given that government of our very complicated society is stuffed to the brim with ‘intellectuals’, thus, they must share some of the responsibility if our country suffers reverses.

    Second, what is important to remember, I think, is that two intellectuals with equal brain-power and equal access to such facts as are known, are quite likely to come to two (or even, given their predeliction, three!!!) contradictory conclusions. This leave the likes of me and Joe the plumber, to say nothing of the poor sap in the White House or No. 10, no further forward.

    Posted November 14, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  3. Peter Lupu says


    My central point was that it is counterproductive to blame this or that group. In most cases such blame is simply traceable to disagreement about this or that. And the standard of “I can’t define pornography but I know it when I see it” is not good enough in this case (and it is not good enough for most vital purposes for which one might need to identify what is pornography either).
    Do you mean by ‘intellectuals’ experts? If so then do you propose that we should have people without suitable expertise to run things? I do not really know how to even interpret these claims.

    And if experts disagree that most likely means either that they have different ideologies or that the problems are so difficult and pervasive that there are no obvious solutions without a significant cost and risk. What else could it mean?


    Posted November 14, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Permalink