Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Cancer of Intellectual Elitism

In the past few days, conservative "intellectual elites" Christopher Buckley and David Brooks, who entirely abandoned the Republican Party during the last election in favor of fellow "intellectual elite" Barack Obama, have begun expressing buyer's remorse over the decision. Peggy Noonan has yet to recant, but we can bet that it's only a matter of time until she begins to grace us all with some self-flagellating prose as well.

The overriding reason for the abandonment of these conservative "intellectual elites" turning on their party in support of the far-far left Barack Obama, was that they could not stand the populist reaction to Sarah Palin. Such was the case as well with many Libertarians who, almost by default, also view themselves as intellectual elites. I know this because I consider myself a Libertarian, and in doing so, consider myself as understanding things better than either Republicans or Democrats do. It takes a hell of an ego to take that stance and I will admit that I certainly have that, or I wouldn't venture into these writings with the belief that I have the chance to provide some direction. However, unlike many Libertarians, and unlike the conservative "intellectual elite" I was not foolish enough to believe that just because Sarah Palin was a populist candidate, she was inherently stupid or unqualified.

Quite to the contrary, and perhaps this is where my self-imposed grounding in Objectivism kicks in, I viewed Sarah Palin as perhaps the most qualified of any of the four candidates, recognizing her as a self-made woman, who had achieved her success by adopting a moral code, and living it out as strictly as possible. I saw her gaffes in interviews as being those of a general unpreparedness that was unlikely to have been her fault given the whirlwind environment in which she was brought into the game, coupled with a press that was unfairly eager to demolish her reputation as completely as possible. It seemed all the while to me that she was actually far more intelligent than the McCain campaign allowed her to be.

This is what Christopher Buckley, David Brooks and Peggy Noonan could not bring themselves to see. In their respective desires to believe that the President of the United States must inherently be one of the "intellectual elite," they jumped onto the Barack Obama tidal wave in what, ironically, reduced them to supporting the populist candidate in order to feel better about themselves.

But what exactly is the "intellectual elite?" Apparently, as we have just seen, one must have an Ivy League degree and write books and philosophize broadly without ever digging in and actually accomplishing anything.

But what of the rest of us?

I, for instance, shunned that path in life. I could have attended Harvard or Princeton or Georgetown for Law. I passed a practice bar exam in eighth grade that I took just to see if I could. I'm sure it upset my aunt who went on to fail it for the third time. But I could not see myself doing something as disingenuous as practicing law or going into politics. Instead I went into engineering, civil/architectural engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology to be exact. I'll receive a masters in construction management later this year. I've read quite a few books on a myriad of subjects, and, while they may not be leatherbound, my apartment does at times smell of rich mahogany. I could easily consider myself one of the "intellectual elite."

But I do not.

As the conservative "intellectual elite" in Brooks, Buckley and Noonan have shown, they are all-too willing to believe that other "intellectual elite" are too smart to do what conservatives consider the wrong things. Such was their rationalization in supporting Obama. He was too smart to actually act on his socialistic leanings. Now they are finding out what the rest of us saw plainly.

Neither are Libertarians exempt, being, as I previously mentioned, some of the most "intellectually elite." We see it now in the idea discussed at in several different articles at Positive Liberty and by Will Wilkinson and others of what they are calling "Liberaltarianism." I've read as much about it as I could find, in that it seems to be Libertarian intellectuals and Liberal intellectuals reaching out to each other to find some kind of common ground. Forgive me if this sounds like an attempt, a-la Brooks & Co., just to find a bigger group of intellectual friends to be comfortable with. Or, as RollingDoughnut puts it:
Okay, count me out anyway, because "liberaltarianism" is little more than progressives attempting to sell economic errors to libertarians because we allegedly agree on social issues.

The idea of either Conservatives or Libertarians reaching out to the Left on an intellectual level is not a bad idea. We need to do this at some level. We cannot expect them to just see the light one day. We need to educate them as to why we believe the things we do, particularly about free markets, liberty and mutual respect.

But we must also realize of ourselves that this idea of intellectual elitism is a cancer among us all. Our "intellectual elite" cannot continue to shun populist candidates simply because they are populist candidates, without first understanding whether or not that candidate might also be an intellectual in their own right. As Ace puts it in the case of Sarah Palin:
Actually, now that I think of it, is it possible that the so-called elites were partly turned off to Sarah Palin not merely because she was NQOCD (Not quite our class, dear), but because she vigorously attacked a man the so-called elites were warm to precisely because he was of part of the Harvard-Princeton axis about which the world turns?

It undermines Conservatism and it undermines Libertarianism for our more recognized intellectuals to jump ship simply to cozy up to other intellectuals. When you abandon your principles just to be part of the group, you've abandoned any semblance of intellectualism you may ever have had.


  1. Not particularly. I hate coming off as cocky or narcissistic, but I felt I had to write this post in the manner that I did to further convey the point.

    A desire to recognize and embrace intelligence should not override one's values.