Skip to comments.Intellectuals and Society (Thomas Sowell)
Posted on 01/04/2010 7:17:12 PM PST by jazusamo
There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society. When intellectuals who generate ideas are surrounded by a wide range of others who disseminate those ideas whether as journalists, teachers, staffers to legislators or clerks to judges the influence of intellectuals on the way a society evolves can be huge. Trying for years to understand the nature of that influence eventually led me to write the book "Intellectuals and Society," which has just been published.
Intellectuals generate ideas and ideas matter, whether those ideas are right or wrong, and they matter far beyond the small segment of society who are intellectuals. Ideas affect the fate of whole nations and civilizations. Nowhere is that more true than in our own times, when some people make suicidal attacks to kill strangers who have done nothing to them, as on 9/11, because the attackers are consumed with a set of ideas a vision and driven by the emotions generated by those ideas and that vision.
Whether in war or peace, and whether in economics or religion, something as intangible as ideas can dominate the most concrete things in our lives. What Karl Marx called "the blaze of ideas" has set whole nations on fire and consumed whole generations.
Those whose careers are built on the creation and dissemination of ideas the intellectuals have played a role in many societies out of all proportion to their numbers. Whether that role has, on net balance, made those around them better off or worse off is one of the key questions of our times.
The quick answer is that intellectuals have done both. But certainly, for the 20th century, it is hard to escape the conclusion...
(Excerpt) Read more at jewishworldreview.com ...
Thanks for the ping jaz.
The Left insists they are the “Intellectuals”, and if that isn’t enough they toss in that they are “Progressives” as well.
It truly is amazing the havoc those self anointed “Intellectuals”, “Progressives” have caused, and will continue to cause upon those that thoughtlessly marvel at their wisdom.
I had always heard that “intellectual” meant someone that had been educated beyond their intelligence.
My main problem with so-called intellectuals is that quite often they are not particularly intelligent people; they are just people who learned other people’s ideas by rote, which is the same as saying that they have been indoctrinated by someone else’s thinking. Since the dominant orthodoxy in academia is left-wing, that translates to unthinking acceptance of left-wing ideology and the belief that ONLY left-wing thinking is intellectual and any opposing ideas are inherently anti-intellectual. So, you’ll find, quite often, fairly stupid “intellectuals” who are convinced of their own superiority and will have the attitude to match, yet probably couldn’t find their own butts with both hands. Even more alarming is that these “intellectuals” will be treated with deference by governmental idiots who make policy based on their word.
Fair enough. Sowell missed the boat on this one, first time ever in my recollection. He failed to supply a definition for the term.
To me, an "intellectual" in its derogatory sense is someone who parrots phrases without fully understanding the concepts behind them or the implications of the philosophical underpinnings of those concepts. Or, if they do in fact appreciate the implications, they are morally incapable of evaluating the degree of their goodness or evil. Or finally, they are morally capable, but are just evil.
In other words, they are either robots or degenerates with above-average linguistic abilities
The ideas that Karl Marx created in the 19th century dominated the course of events over wide portions of the world in the 20th century. Whole generations suffered, and millions were killed, as a result of those ideas. This was not Marx's intention...
No, it wasn't, and Sowell, as an ex-Marxist, is fully qualified to say so. Marx truly believed his was the true course to human actualization even if there were a number of corpses to step over in the process. It is debatable whether even he would be appalled by the mountain of corpses that would turn out to be. But he and his are not governed by results, they are governed by the beauty of the illusion that led to them. That is intellectual failure, the failure to judge the idea by the result, the continued insistence that a "true" understanding would come out otherwise, the preference for the vision and the contempt for the human misery that inconveniently obscures it.
The continuing sins of the intellectuals are such that one may easily forget their virtues. The Constitution was a work of remarkable intellect, for example, an absorption and application of a number of the most extant and revolutionary ideas of the Enlightenment. For every Chomsky there is a Feynman, for every Sartre, an Einstein, for every celebrity there is someone genuine striving against the tide. And there is a Sowell. God bless him.
Thank you for pointing that out! It's a reason I don't consider as an insult the charge that so-and-so is an "intellectual," and am disappointed when others think it is. I rate Sowell at the top of my list of today's finest conservative minds, and when I have an idea or an opinion that is out of place among my peers and then see my idea or opinion validated in something Sowell writes ... man, it makes me feel good and boosts my confidence in my own thought processes.
Conversely, if Sowell writes something that conflicts with an idea or opinion I've developed, then I rethink my take on that idea or opinion. Sowell is one smart dude. He is a truly smart intellectual, a rare thing.
Sowell is a former Marxist? I didn't know that, but for me that little tidbit offers a bit of insight into Sowell's fine thinking. A friend of mine is a former liberal and a former atheist; his faith in Christ is more than profoud. I love him very dearly in part because he is rare confidant for me -- he understands my love of God in a way that even my most beloved family members cannot. That love of God is directly connected to his complex and consistent grasp of conservative principles. This friend's path is what has led me to call Christianity "the thinking man's religion."
I mention him because like Sowell, he is one of those rare intellectuals who is also smart.
I've never met Sowell, but I have deep love for him -- because of his IDEAS, which indeed are very powerful things.
I am going to get that book...
Intellectuals are more like a song writer or a musician. All the same words and notes have been used before many times over, but they create a new song, a new thought or idea from them.
That is what they do, and sometimes they are right, and more often they are wrong.
Today, the media as always is the distributor of intellectual thinking although often not attributed. The media as we know is controlled largely by the left and it follows that the left's thinking is widely distributed in the West and other types of thinking in the east and middle east.
Sowell is simply making that case from what I read in the lead paragraph.
if Sowell writes something that conflicts with an idea or opinion I've developed, then I rethink my take on that idea or opinion. Sowell is one smart dude. He is a truly smart intellectual, a rare thing.Sowell is, of course, a top-rank intellectual himself.
So true.Sowell is a former Marxist?In fact, I'm going to brag a little, and say that there have been Freepers who have used my FR name and Thomas Sowell's in the same sentence - and that is my idea of high praise.
Yes. Sowell has written that when people ask what writings influenced him in his youth, he is diffident because he doesn't think highly of some of those writings today.I've never met Sowell, but I have deep love for him -- because of his IDEAS, which indeed are very powerful things.
I think that Sowell is an exemplar of America's "secular religion," in the sense that he believes in - and wants to believe in - the competence of the American adult. His default presumption is that people are worthy of respect, which is something that doesn't come naturally to intellectuals. I actually think I learned a little about that from participating in the 50th anniversary of my high school class. What struck me was how very normal and average - how naturally respectable - the people were, when I only knew them as messed up teens. Naturally they would be typical adults now - but in high school most of them did not show up to advantage. The ones that did, back then, turned out well. But, in our various ways, so did the rest of us.
So that reunion cured me of a bit of elitism I scarcely knew I harbored - but intellectuals have more temptation than I did to look down on people because they found it really easy to excel not only in high school but in college and even in graduate school. But it takes perspective for the intellectual to understand that scholarly pursuits depend on models of the problems they analyze - Sowell calls them "visions" - and those models are necessarily simplified, and therefore necessarily unrealistic. If you underestimate the oversimplifications in your model, you overestimate the validity of your results.
And for the intellectual, a typical part of that oversimplification is the underestimation of those they have known who didn't show up well in a classroom. And Sowell has pointed out that overestimation of the difference between the intellectual and the less intellectually gifted is an essential ingredient in "liberalism."
Brings to mind this book:
“But intellectuals are people whose end products are intangible ideas, and they are usually judged by whether those ideas sound good to other intellectuals or resonate with the public.”
” but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. “ (II Corinthians 10:12b)
Tom’s right again, using The Word of God as the standard.
>> I had always heard that intellectual meant someone that had been educated beyond their intelligence. <<
Well, sorry, but you heard wrong.
Here’s just one short list of intellectuals — in addition to Tom Sowell — of whom I hope you’ll approve:
1. Walter Williams
2. Victor Davis Hanson
3. Mark Steyn
4. Pope Benedict
5. Antonin Scalia
6. Milton Friedman
7. William F. Buckley, Jr.
8. Pope John Paul II
9. Whittaker Chambers
10. Friedrich von Hayek
11. Arthur Koestler
12. James Madison
13. Thomas Jefferson
15. Adam Smith
16. John Locke
17. St. Thomas Aquinas
18. St. Paul
Good post! Good way to put it.
Oh maaa-aan ... I know I've done that! Your phrasing is a good reminder to be on the watch for it.
So that reunion cured me of a bit of elitism I scarcely knew I harbored - but intellectuals have more temptation than I did to look down on people because they found it really easy to excel not only in high school but in college and even in graduate school.
This is where the thinking man's religion of Christianity comes in. The warning of oversimplification is well taken -- but that can also go the other way, that overcomplication is equally perilous. Jesus put it pretty simply: Treat others as you would have them treat you. It's very simple, and very complete. Bottom line: respect the dignity in human beings. A man can lose his money, his property, his family, his prowess, his intelligence, or he can never have had any of it in the first place, yet he is still a man. Take away that man's dignity, and that man has had all removed from him. I read that into the bible, and I interpret Jesus' words as instruction to respect every person's dignity.
While being an elitist is not the same as denying another's dignity, it smacks of it. The lowliest street bum liberal entitlement mentality leech even deserves to have his dignity respected.
That, unfortunately, is overly-optimistic. In an ideal world, that would be the case. In fact, it was the case regarding great thinkers of the past. I stand by my philosophical and moral evaluation stance. Logical abstraction that simultaneously maintains philosophical and moral cohesion is the definition and expression of a true intellectual.
However, there is nothing new under the sun, and today's rearranging of the Scrabble tiles (calling theft "taxation" or abortion "family planning" or Stalinists "Progressives", and lying to come up with justifications) does not equate to inventing a new word or alphabet. That is all today's "intellectuals" do.
And again, I don't disagree with Sowell, but this particular article had no impact on me because of the lack of a definition of the subject: Intellectual.
Part of the problem with Western society today is the assumption of shared, identical definitions of terms, philosophy, and morality. This is rapidly becomming a fatal communications failure. "Hope and Change", anyone?
That only happens in science, and it's rare when it actually happens, IMO
I also qualified my analogy by saying they are most often wrong.
Does it have to be logical? Perhaps, but only to the person who admires the thinking. Others can find the work totally illogical and dismiss it.
I suppose from their perspective, they try to develop something that the reader will find illuminating and they need readers so this guides them in a subtle way, which is why they are often wrong.
I prefer writing that goes outside what may be popular or even acceptable, so is that logical or morally cohesive? Is that old or repetitive?
I think that if the intellectual writer needs a paycheck, they may well write a bunch of well oiled tripe to fund their bank account, but the good ones always salt and pepper that repertoire with some good stuff and none of them are really alike. If they are, then they don't fit my definition.
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