Monday, September 19, 2005

More Intellectual Cads

Lots of good comments on that last post. I'll respond to some of them tomorrow, but for now I give you an article from the archives,which I thought I had republished on the blog, but I cannot seem to find it. Anyway, it is very similarly themed, and perhaps might draw other good comments that I can address tomorrow. But I should address one comment here and now. Incredible Dirigible makes the comment that I am smarter than Gidget; I do not endorse that comment, and feel that he has left me open to invidious comparisons from commenters with less scruples than himself.

“Most discussions of social justice … have a strong degree of smug piety about them. Actual behavior in critical moral situations is more revealing. Moral and ethical principles derived from idealized views of the self are likely to lead ultimately to cynicism about others” Kenneth Arrow

The quote above is accurate for a certain type of discussant in debates over social justice – the liberal intellectual. No group has more faith in its own ideas or more contempt for those that dismiss them than the smugly pious socialist dreamers who populate the liberal arts departments of universities throughout the world. Frank Knight, a 20th century economist, once wrote that the “disposition of an individual, under liberalism, to take upon himself” an ethical obligation to improve society “seems to be an exhibition of intellectual and moral conceit; it is unethical.”

One could forgive the liberal intellectual his utopian delusions and moral conceit if his “actual behavior in critical moral situations” was consistent with his self-professed love of humanity. But it would seem that the moral conceit Knight speaks of often leads to Arrow’s “cynicism about others”, and the result, too often, is that the intellectual treats those around him abhorrently.

Indeed, the personal lives of some of history’s most famous influential liberal intellectuals seems to bear out this connection. Paul Johnson, a British historian, examined the contradictions between the private lives and the public sermons of some of the most influential (and by influential, I mean upon the course of history, rather than only within intellectual circles) intellectuals of all time in his book Intellectuals, which consists of short biographies for Rousseau, Karl Marx, Jean Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and others.

Rousseau was the philosophical leader of the French revolution, who generally held the belief that man is, by his very nature, good, and that any evil that exists in the world exists because man has been corrupted by from his natural goodness by institutions. Rousseau had a rather high opinion of his own natural “goodness”, which does not include false modesty as a virtue, having written: ‘The person who can love me as I can love is still to be born’; ‘No one ever had more talent for loving’; ‘I would leave this life with apprehension if I knew a better man than me.’ But as a famous bishop once said, “If we would really know our hearts, let us impartially view our actions.” Rousseau’s actions? Five babies he fathered with the same women whom he never married were given up, at his coaxing, to a hospital that took in close to 3000 abandoned babies a year, two thirds of which generally died within a year. Any pangs of guilt for the most talented lover of all mankind? “I know full well no father is more tender than I would have been.” As for the mother of the children, Rousseau “never felt the least glimmering of love for her.” And his most famous work, Emile, was a book about the proper moral education of children. Imagine Bill Clinton writing a “how to” book for mentoring young women in their careers.

The all-encompassing love of humanity so clearly expressed by intellectuals often leads them to embrace socialism or communism as their political ideology. Marx, the man who devoted his writings, if never his own comfort, to ending the exploitation of workers by capitalists, never himself seriously attempted to get a job, relying upon Engels (who co-authored the Communist Manifesto with Marx) as his main source of income. As Johnson puts it, Marx “simultaneously exploited the generosity of a friend while advocating a political order that would abolish the “exploitation” of the working class.” His own life gave a clue to the disastrous consequences of the political system he advocated on the incentives to work for a people guaranteed a minimum income. As for his knowledge of the people he would save, the working class, “so far as we know, Marx never set foot in a mill, factory, mine, or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life.” As for his record as an employer, you’d think he would be attentive to not exploiting those in his charge, but Helen Demuth, a nursery-maid for the family, received only her keep, and never a penny in wages, from Marx. As Johnson puts it: “Like many self-centered intellectuals, he [Marx] tended to think that moral laws did not apply to himself.” Even those laws that he derived himself.

Both men were committed dearly to “social justice”, a commitment that Hayek describes as the “chief outlet for moral emotion, the distinguishing attribute of the good man, and the recognized sign of the possession of a moral conscience.” And the striving for social justice, always loosely defined as some unattainable socialist utopia, leads to “the destruction of the indispensable environment in which the traditional moral values alone can flourish, namely personal freedom.”
The necessity of the destruction of personal freedom in connection to attaining social justice was not lost on these intellectuals. Nor were they naïve about the means required for this destruction. History repeatedly shows that those who would deprive a people of freedoms they have traditionally enjoyed can do so only with violent coercion.

Though socialist intellectuals in the U.S. are often identified with the peace movement surrounding the Vietnam war, their motives for joining that movement should not be confused with pacifism. Their historical silence in the face of the atrocities committed by communist leaders exhibits their tolerance for violence in the service of “justice” (to this day, they agonize more over McCarthyism than over Stalin’s murders or those of the Vietcong after the U.S. withdrawal). Closer to home, many supported the inner city riots of the sixties, and donated money and resources to radical and violent revolutionary groups, such as the Black Panthers.
A moral inversion has taken place as a result of the influence of liberals over the last century.

Your commitment to social justice, as measured by your stance on public and political issues, is the only moral standard by which liberals will endorse the “judgement” of others. If you are aligned with them, you’ve demonstrated the “possession of a moral conscience,” and nothing else is expected from you in relation to your private life. Those who are not aligned with the commitment of the liberal to social justice more often than not judge a man by his actions in private life, which liberals have characterized as “intolerance” and “judgmentalism.”
The end result of that inversion is a people who sacrifice their freedoms in exchange for the right to be responsible to nothing other than their own selfish whims.

Bertrand Russell, a 20th century socialist, in responding to someone calling into question his advocacy for socialism and his seemingly contradictory zero charitable givings, said “I am a socialist, not a Christian.” May the two never be confused. It is precisely the environment that these liberal intellectuals would seek to create, where no man is held privately accountable for his irresponsibility, that creates the want for a socialist fix


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