(I)ntellectuals are free from one of the most rigorous constraints facing other occupations: external standards. An engineer will ultimately be judged on whether the structures he designs hold up, a businessman on whether he makes money, and so on. By contrast, the ultimate test of an intellectual’s ideas is whether other intellectuals “find those ideas interesting, original, persuasive, elegant, or ingenious. There is no external test.” If the intellectuals are like-minded, as they often are, then the validity of an idea depends on what those intellectuals already believe. This means that an intellectual’s ideas are tested only by internal criteria and “become sealed off from feedback from the external world of reality.”It's not that those on the Right hate "intellectuals," it's that we hate that so many are so often wrong yet never seem to be penalized for the results of their failures. Instead, they are rewarded.
An intellectual’s reputation, then, depends not on whether his ideas are verifiable but on the plaudits of his fellow intellectuals. That the Corvair was as safe as any other car on the road has not cut into Ralph Nader’s speaking fees, nor has the failure of hundreds of millions of people to starve to death diminished Paul Ehrlich’s access to grant money. They only have to maintain the esteem of the intelligentsia to keep the gravy train running.
Intellectuals, of course, have expertise — highly specialized knowledge of a particular subject. The problem, according to Sowell, is that they think their superior knowledge in one area means they have superior knowledge in most other areas. Yet knowledge is so vast and dispersed that it is doubtful that any one person has even 1 percent of the knowledge available. Even the brightest intellectuals cannot possibly know all the needs, wants, and preferences of millions of people. Unfortunately, they have considerable incentive to behave as if they do.
- David Hogberg, National Review Online - The Divine Right of Intellectuals
Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.
- Robert Anson Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
Out here in the hinterlands, we're well aware that you and your Ivy League buddies believe that you are the only actual educated people on the planet, but you ought to have learned somewhere along the way that belief in an idea does not turn that idea into reality. Asserting as much, to borrow a line from the late John Hughes, just makes you look like an ass.
What (David) Brooks, with his touching faith in "pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise" doesn't want to talk about, of course, is just how badly the Ivy League class has failed over the past couple of decades. All those rows of degrees from Harvard didn't keep a pack of Brooksian elites - mostly members of the Democratic Party - from running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac straight into the toilet, and taking the private economy with them. Hiring out of the Ivies also didn't save Lehman Brothers or AIG from doing remarkably stupid things with other people's money. And as for "professional expertise…" just what profession does the Obama cabinet posses expertise in, other than hardball politics?
This president and his government are not only largely inexperienced when it comes to the private sector or even practical knowledge of middle America, they tend to view both in outright contempt. Recall Obama's famous "bitter clingers" speech and autobiographical aversion to "the suburbs," or his wife's admonitions against "joining corporate America." One with an overweening faith in "pragmatic federal leaders" probably hasn't been paying much attention to Ivy-accredited politicians like alleged geniuses (and TARP/Fannie Mae culprits) Barney Frank or Chris Dodd.
- Will Collier, More Arugula From David Brooks
UPDATE: Thanks to the herculean efforts of reader John Hardin, the original JS-Kit/Echo comment thread for this post is available here.