1. I take it for granted that this audience knows the slightly provocative (because mercilessly generalizing) but very powerful and important, now already 56 years old article “The Intellectuals and Socialism”. This audience certainly knows as well that it was written by F. von Hayek and that it was published in the very confused and very pro-socialist post-second world war era, when the overall belief in the benefits of social engineering and of economic planning and, at the same time, the disbelief in free markets were at their heights.
I suppose that many of us still remember Hayek’s definition of intellectuals (we would probably say public intellectuals nowadays) as “the professional second-hand dealers in ideas”, who are proud of not “possessing special knowledge of anything in particular”, who do not take “direct responsibility for practical affairs” and who need not “even be particularly intelligent” to perform their “mission”. Hayek argued that they are satisfied with being “intermediary in the spreading of ideas” of original thinkers to the common people, whom they consider not being their equals.
Hayek was – more than half a century ago, which means before the current prevalence of electronic media – aware of the enormous power of intellectuals to shape public opinion and warned us that “it is merely a question of time until the views held by the intellectuals become the governing force of politics”. This is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.
The question is what kind of ideas is favoured by the intellectuals. The question is whether the intellectuals are neutral in their choice of ideas with which they are ready to deal with. Hayek argued that they are not. They do not hold or try to spread all kinds of ideas. They have very clear and, in some respect, very understandable preferences for some of them. They prefer ideas, which give them jobs and income and which enhance their power and prestige.
They, therefore, look for ideas with specific characteristics. They look for ideas, which enhance the role of the state because the state is usually their main employer, sponsor or donator. That is not all. According to Hayek “the power of ideas grows in proportion to their generality, abstractness, and even vagueness”. Hence it is not surprising that the intellectuals are mostly interested in abstract, not directly implementable ideas. This is also the way of thinking, in which they have comparative advantage. They are not good at details. They do not have ambitions to solve a problem. They are not interested in dealing with the everyday’s affairs of common citizens. Hayek put it clearly: “the intellectual, by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or practical difficulties.” He is interested in visions and utopias and because “socialist thought owes its appeal largely to its visionary character” (and I would add lack of realism and utopian nature), the intellectual tends to become a socialist.
In a similar way, Raymond Aron, in his famous essay “The Opium of Intellectuals”, analyzed not only the well-known difference between the revolutionary and reformist way of thinking but also – and this is more relevant in this context – the difference between “prosaic” and “poetry”. Whereas “the prosaic model of thinking lacks the grandeur of utopia” (Roger Kimball), the socialist approach is – in the words of Aron – based “on the poetry of the unknown, of the future, of the absolute”. As I understand it, this is exactly the realm of intellectuals. Some of us want to immediately add that “the poetry of the absolute is an inhuman poetry”.
Read more: http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/2171
Funny, that ;)
I wouldn't have a problem with it if they weren't suckling on the public teat. That's the rub [no pun intended] :) Nothing wrong with preferring ideas that promote ones particular occupation if it's in the free-market/supply and demand private sector.
Addendum: perfectly human to prefer said ideas in public sector but, well....the problem with that is stated in the article :D
lol. There's always plenty of work in my chosen profession whether I prefer the ideas that promote it or not.