Intellectuals against the people and their freedoms

At a recent educational meeting I attended, someone asked the question: Why doesn’t everyone believe what we (most of the people attending) believe: that private property and free exchange — capitalism, in other words — are superior to government intervention and control over the economy?

It’s question that I’ve asked at conferences I’ve attended. The most hopeful answer is ignorance. While that may seem a harsh word to use, ignorance is simply a “state of being uninformed.” That can be cured by education. This is the reason for this website. This is the reason why I and others testify in favor of free markets and against government intervention. It is the reason why John Todd gives out hundreds of copies of I, Pencil, purchased at his own expense.

But there is another explanation, and one that is less hopeful. There is an intellectual class in our society that benefits mightily from government. This class also believes that their cause is moral, that they are anointed, as Thomas Sowell explains in The vision of the anointed: self-congratulation as a basis for social policy: “What all these highly disparate crusades have in common is their moral exaltation of the anointed above others, who are to have their very different views nullified and superseded by the views of the anointed, imposed via the power of government.”

Murray N. Rothbard explains further the role of the intellectual class in the first chapter of For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, titled “The Libertarian Heritage: The American Revolution and Classical Liberalism.” Since most intellectuals favor government over a market economy and work towards that end, what do the intellectuals get? “In exchange for spreading this message to the public, the new breed of intellectuals was rewarded with jobs and prestige as apologists for the New Order and as planners and regulators of the newly cartelized economy and society.”

Planners and regulators. We have plenty of these at all levels of government, and these are prime examples of the intellectual class.

As Rothbard explains, these intellectuals have cleverly altered the very meaning of words to suit their needs:

One of the ways that the new statist intellectuals did their work was to change the meaning of old labels, and therefore to manipulate in the minds of the public the emotional connotations attached to such labels. For example, the laissez-faire libertarians had long been known as “liberals,” and the purest and most militant of them as “radicals”; they had also been known as “progressives” because they were the ones in tune with industrial progress, the spread of liberty, and the rise in living standards of consumers. The new breed of statist academics and intellectuals appropriated to themselves the words “liberal” and “progressive,” and successfully managed to tar their laissez- faire opponents with the charge of being old-fashioned, “Neanderthal,” and “reactionary.” Even the name “conservative” was pinned on the classical liberals. And, as we have seen, the new statists were able to appropriate the concept of “reason” as well.

We see this at work in Wichita, where those who advocate for capitalism and free markets instead of government intervention are called CAVE people, an acronym for Citizens Against Virtually Everything. Or, in the case of Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Wichita Eagle editorial writer Rhonda Holman, “naysayers.”

The sad realization is that as government has extended its reach into so many areas of our lives, to advocate for liberty instead of government intervention is to oppose many things that people have accepted as commonplace or inevitable.

Rothbard further explains the role of intellectuals in promoting what they see as the goodness of expansive government:

Throughout the ages, the emperor has had a series of pseudo-clothes provided for him by the nation’s intellectual caste. In past centuries, the intellectuals informed the public that the State or its rulers were divine, or at least clothed in divine authority, and therefore what might look to the naive and untutored eye as despotism, mass murder, and theft on a grand scale was only the divine working its benign and mysterious ways in the body politic. In recent decades, as the divine sanction has worn a bit threadbare, the emperor’s “court intellectuals” have spun ever more sophisticated apologia: informing the public that what the government does is for the “common good” and the “public welfare,” that the process of taxation-and-spending works through the mysterious process of the “multiplier” to keep the economy on an even keel, and that, in any case, a wide variety of governmental “services” could not possibly be performed by citizens acting voluntarily on the market or in society. All of this the libertarian denies: he sees the various apologia as fraudulent means of obtaining public support for the State’s rule, and he insists that whatever services the government actually performs could be supplied far more efficiently and far more morally by private and cooperative enterprise.

The libertarian therefore considers one of his prime educational tasks is to spread the demystification and desanctification of the State among its hapless subjects. His task is to demonstrate repeatedly and in depth that not only the emperor but even the “democratic” State has no clothes; that all governments subsist by exploitive rule over the public; and that such rule is the reverse of objective necessity. He strives to show that the very existence of taxation and the State necessarily sets up a class division between the exploiting rulers and the exploited ruled. He seeks to show that the task of the court intellectuals who have always supported the State has ever been to weave mystification in order to induce the public to accept State rule, and that these intellectuals obtain, in return, a share in the power and pelf extracted by the rulers from their deluded subjects.

And so the alliance between state and intellectual is formed. The intellectuals are usually rewarded quite handsomely by the state for their subservience, writes Rothbard:

The alliance is based on a quid pro quo: on the one hand, the intellectuals spread among the masses the idea that the State and its rulers are wise, good, sometimes divine, and at the very least inevitable and better than any conceivable alternatives. In return for this panoply of ideology, the State incorporates the intellectuals as part of the ruling elite, granting them power, status, prestige, and material security. Furthermore, intellectuals are needed to staff the bureaucracy and to “plan” the economy and society.

The “material security,” measured in dollars, can be pretty good, as shown by these examples: The Wichita city manager is paid $185,000, the Sedgwick county manager is paid $175,095, and the superintendent of the Wichita school district is paid $224,910.

6 Comments

  • Anonymous -

    Hmmm. Sounds like right out of the Klu Klux Klan handbook. Among other groups, the KKK was against intellectuals as well. College educated people are progressive, liberal.

  • That’s an interesting stereotype you cast. And there’s nothing that equates “college graduate” with “intellectual.” Rothbard was a brilliant economist and university professor. But he would not consider himself an intellectual in this context.

  • Thanks for sharing this. It is quite a coincidence that I read something related today on Wired.com (a tech news website). I don’t usually go posting links to stories, but this one made me step back and think about the distinction of intellectuals vs. others. The author had some info on Marx that I hadn’t heard before.

    You are right that the context is everything, because in the context you show you can certainly be an educated “thinker”, yet not be and “intellectual”.

    http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/10/intellectual-vs-engineer/

  • Awwww…I know. Thinking is hard! Let’s just all listen to dolts like Sarah Palin and pretend everything is fine. Down with intellectuals!

  • Let’s take, for example, the smoking ban, starting at the beginning of the movement. (That would be when Johnson and Johnson got all the rights to Nicoderm, Nicorette, Nicotrol, Nicoderm CQ, and Commit Lozenges.)
    Since J&J could not legally lobby for legislation, but they had already been buying Legislators for years, with campaign donations, they enlisted their “philanthropic arm” the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who hold tens of millions of shares of Johnson and Johnson stock, to organize their lobbying campaign.
    Since RWJF professes that it exists to better our lives for us,
    and it is a non taxed foundation, the link to pharma became slightly blurred.
    So, to blur this even more, RWJF grant funded the Cancer Society and the Heart and Lung Associations to lobby for them. Hundreds of millions of dollars have streamed into these “charities” for lobbying purposes.
    We have all looked up to these groups and believed that they wanted to cure ailments and help the sick. Now they are handing out multi million dollar paychecks and retirements, they spend our donations on lobbying and fundraising, and a pittance on trying to cure anything.
    This is the new “intellectuals”. I call them grant spongers.
    There are one MILLION non taxed foundations in the USA as of today. Bill CLinton has one called the Clinton Global Initiative. Bill Gates has his. These non profit (sic) non taxed entities are sitting on trillions of untaxed dollars. The American Cancer Society is sitting on a $5 BILLION dollar interest earning savings account, and they paid their exec $2.7 million last year.
    They are sanctified by their proclamations of piety, and we keep donating.
    Pharma money is flowing in and out, around and through, these foundations. Not taxed and NOT used for charity.
    So, these “intellectuals” work together to protect their interests. They pick candidates for office and make sure they keep both sides of the aisle on every government level well greased.
    This “annointed class” of non taxed billionaires, and non charity foundations, are who run this government. The government is not ignorant. Those in the government who do not kowtow to these, are quickly gotten rid of!
    Obama was found, groomed and marketed, to do exactly what he is doing now, and that is destroy small businesses, for the good of the large, multi nationals chains, and take the fight out of freedom loving Americans, who have become weary of even voting, since all the candidates seem like bought off crooks.
    Mitt Romney or Obama is perfectly acceptable to the intellectual grant sponging, non tax paying billionaires and their foundations. Hence the vicious attacks on other candidates. Mitt is another “owned by pharma” puppet.
    I have nothing but respect for billionaires, millionaires, and poor working slobs. (Myself included) I don’t profess to working for anything but my own good. I respect that free market attitude, even in billionaires.
    But this new slobbered over “intellectual” set, who proclaim to want to run our lives and our businesses for us, for our own good, of course, and who pay no taxes, and who operate our media, can go to HELL, as far as I am concerned.
    Get them OUT of the FDA, the EPA, Senator’s offices, the White House, even out of our local Health Departments!
    I am not willing, for any amount of money, to have my life run by these sanctimonious thieves!
    I watched Bill Clinton telling an interviewer last night, that these foundations should not be taxed because of all the “good” they are doing.
    EXCUSE ME?
    So, the next time you run into someone trying to get laws passed for your own good, give em a poke in the eye for me! (And ask them which one of these “charities” or “foundations” gave them the money to be bothering people with.)

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