Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Smart People Tend to Be Liberals and Socialists

It is true; I freely admit it. Go to any university and poll the faculty; it will be overwhelmingly liberal, (which is why William F. Buckley Jr. famously remarked that he would rather be governed by the first 500 names in the Boston phone directory than by the faculty of Harvard). Examine the intellectual class in general and you will find that most people are liberals who tend toward socialism or outright socialists. No wonder J. S. Mill called conservatives "the stupid party."

F. A. Hayek, in that fascinating book of his old age entitled, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, also admits this fact even in the process of dismantling socialism as mistaken in fact, illogical and manifestly wrong. He writes:

"One's initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialists diminishes when one realizes that, of course, intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence, and to suppose that we must owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilization offers to deliberate design rather than to following traditional rules, and likewise to suppose that we can, by exercising our reason, eliminate any remaining undesired features by still more intelligent reflection, and still more appropriate design and 'rational coordination' of our undertakings. This leads one to be favourably disposed to the central economic planning and control that lie at the heart of socialism. Of course intellectuals will demand explanations for everything they are expected to do, and will be reluctant to accept practices just because they happen to govern the communities into which they have been born; and this will lead them into conflict with, or at least to a low opinion of, those who quietly accept prevailing rules of conduct. Moreover, they also understandably will want to align themselves with science and reason, and with the extraordinary progress made by the physical sciences during the past several centuries, and since they have been taught that constructivism and scientism are what science and the use of reason are all about, they find it hard to believe that there can exist any useful knowledge that did not originate in deliberate experimentation, or to accept the validity of any tradition apart from their own tradition of reason. Thus a distinguished historian has written in this vein: 'Tradition is almost by definition reprehensible, something to be mocked and deplored.'"

Hayek here is making two closely related points. The first is a point about the temptation smart people face to over-estimate the uses of reason. Elsewhere, Hayek quotes Hume to the effect that our reason does not and cannot control our instincts and appetites. So the first point has to do with a Pelagian view of the self as unfallen and perfectly able to control one's own actions and desires by reason. The second point is one about the sociology of knowledge and how constructivism and scientism, which have no logical connection to real empirical science, are nevertheless absorbed by people by osmosis from those who deceptively use science to peddle their pet philosophies. One thinks of Col. 2:8 here.

Hayek then goes on to point out the dangers in this way of thinking.

"These reactions are all understandable, but they have consequences. The consquences are particularly dangerous - to reason as well as to morality - when preference not so much for the real products of reason as for this conventional tradition of reason leads intellectuals to ignore the theoretical limits of reason, to disregard a world of historical and scientific information, to remain ignorant of the biological sciences and the sciences of man such as economics, and to misrepresent the origin and functions of our moral rules.

Like other traditions, the tradition of reason is learnt, not innate. It too lies between instinct and reason; and the question of the real reasonableness and truth of this tradition of proclaimed reason and truth must now also scrupulously be examined." (pp. 53-4, italics original)

The moral of this story is that intelligence does not equal wisdom. To be smart is good, so long as one does not make an idol out of autonomous rationality and bow down before it. Conservatism is (in Russell Kirk's words) "reason operating within tradition" and socialism is reason operating autonomously while holding tradition in contempt. Revelation, of course, is passed on to us by tradition (including the Scriptures and commentary on them).

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