Saturday, November 13, 2010

Intellectually Bankrupt

"Artistic value is achieved collectively by each man subordinating himself to the standards of the majority."
--Ellsworth Toohey (The Fountainhead)

In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, an individualistic architect struggles to succeed in an industry dominated by operators who value collusion and adherence to the status quo. The architect's problem is exacerbated by a newpaper columnist who crusades against independent thinking and tilts public opinion against him.

The columnist plays the role of the 'intellectual.' The intellectual has long been viewed as an important character in theories of socialist movements (Schumpeter, 1942; Hayek, 1944). It has been observed that phases in which socialism becomes a determining influence on politics are always preceded by periods in which socialist ideals pervaded the thinking of intellectuals (Hayek, 1949).

What qualifies intellectuals for their positions is not necessarily creative thinking or expertise. In fact those qualities are probably detrimental to the position. Instead, intellectuals are able to talk and write about a wide range of subjects, and they possess positions or habits that enable access to new ideas sooner than the audiences that intellectuals address (Hayek, 1949).

The scope of professions that contributes to the intellectual class is broad. It includes those who are masters of technique for conveying ideas, but who are often rank amateurs in the substance of what they convey. Journalists, teachers, ministers, publicists, commentators, fiction writers, cartoonists, and artists fall into this group, as do many professionals who become carriers of new ideas outside of their own fields. For those people who have not the time or motivation to self-educate, intellectuals serve as gatekeepers to events and ideas. In this sense, intellectuals are highly influential in shaping popular opinion.

While organizations that employ them may claim to be 'intellectually honest' or 'unbiased,' intellectuals are likely to follow their own convictions whenever they have discretion. As such, they will correspondingly slant work that passes through their hands.

Various reasons have been offered as to why intellectuals are biased toward socialism (Hayek, 1944, 1949; Schumpeter, 1942), including:

a) People who obtain high levels of education but who feel underemployed may blame 'capitalism' for their lack of success. When avenues are available to do so, these underemployed intellectuals are likely to disparage capitalism in favor of socialistic alternatives.

b) Intellectuals tend to have little experience in private industry. Absent operating responsibilities in productive enterprise, they lack deep smarts about market behavior.

c) Intellectuals are often attracted to utopian visions offered by socialists. Promises of income equality and social justice drive many intellectuals toward socialistic agendas.

While their role in advancing socialist agendas has escalated over the past century, intellectuals can only exert influence when people do not think for themselves. If individuals decide not to outsource their brains, then demand for intellectual drivel declines.

Independent thought is the intellectual's nightmare.


Hayek, F.A. 1944. The road to serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Hayek, F.A. 1949. The intellectuals and socialism. University of Chicago Law Review, Spring 1949: 417-433.

Schumpeter, J.A. 1942. Capitalism, socialism, and democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one's government is not necessarily to secure freedom.
~Friedrich August von Hayek