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Usual disclaimers: Read this at your own risk. If you trend left—or libertarian, for that matter—and you read this, and your head explodes, it’s on you; you have been warned. Note that you didn’t pay anything extra for it and you don’t have to read it. Admit, in advance, that if you whine about it you can only be whining because it’s here for others to read. And then go look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re quite as committed to free thought and inquiry as you thought you were.

Further note that, unlike some, I have no interest in doing your heavy thinking for you. This little piece isn’t dispositive, nor do I intend that it be. It is mostly a set of hints, clues, and directions of places to look. Taking the hints and running with them? Following the direction to some place in the conceptual universe? Reading the clues? That’s all on you. At most, this is a loose framework around which you may, perhaps, build something useful for yourself, once you start looking at and past the hints and clues.

Finally, remember the difference between a true believer and a true disbeliever. Rejecting someone else’s fantasy makes you the latter, not the former. And you should be proud of yourself if you are.

Intellectually Challenged, Part I

So, you wanted to know if I really think the world’s going to be as bad as I present it in the COUNTDOWN series? Short answer: Hell, no; I think it’s going to get much, much worse than that. I’m just showing the early stages, when fighting the descent into barbarism is still possible, and brave men and women are still trying. They may not win, and the odds, frankly, are stacked against them. At some point in time, even the bravest get tired of slamming their heads into brick walls. That, or they die.

Moreover, most of the dismal and depressing background in this series is already visible, in proto form, at least, in the world we live in, today. Give it a little time. Or you can just relax, because we probably don’t have that much time.

But why are we crumbling? Read on.

Anyone else could have told me this in advance, but I was blinded by theory. —Bertrand Russell

I’m often accused of being anti-intellectual, a charge to which I can only reply, “Guilty! And why are you saying that as if it were a bad thing?”

I make that reply, of course, largely for the outrage it causes.

Even so, we are where we are, and we’re going where we’re going, because of where we’ve been over the last couple of centuries. And where we are and we’ve been is in the age of the intellectual: Rousseau, Kant, Marx, Shelley, Sartre, and even Nussbaum, for example, on the one hand, and Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot, on the other. (“What? Hitler? Stalin? Mussolini? Intellectuals?” Oh, absolutely. The only real difference between the last six and the first is that the last were simply more effective at bringing their dreams to life, at remaking the world in their image, than the first six were or are.)

In any case, that outraged charge of anti-intellectualism seems to me to be a bit confused and misguided. You see, it springs from the notion that intellectuals are, and intellectualism is, inherently and always intelligent and that to be against either is to be pro-stupidity. Are intellectuals intelligent? Always? Reliably? Enough to bet your future and your children’s on? I’d suggest not.

One example: Jean Paul Sartre once—in 1935, I think it was—visited Nazi Germany. Upon his return he pronounced that he could see no difference between Nazi Germany and Republican France. Sartre also famously said, “We were never so free as under the German occupation.” Now, while I’m not a strong Francophile, it seems to me that there were a few nontrivial differences there to be seen between Nazi Germany and Republican France, as well as between France under its own rule and under Nazi rule, by anyone with eyes to see and a brain to process the information. How bright did one have to be to see them? And yet Sartre—an intellectual darling of the twentieth century—could not see them. This was intelligence?

Nonsense. While there are intelligent intellectuals, surely, this kind of intellectualism is the opposite of intelligent. It is profoundly unintelligent, as any mode of thought must be considered unintelligent that reasons only within the brainpan, that rejects objective truth for things the thinker desperately wants to believe are true.

Rather than burden the reader with more examples, let me suggest a couple of lines of inquiry you can take for yourself. Go think hard upon Marx’s insistence on there being a progressive income tax, and match that against what control over the means of production actually means. See how intelligent you find that disconnect. Similarly, turn to Rousseau’s A Discourse on Inequality, and ask yourself how probable it was that the first to declare ownership over property merely bluffed his neighbors, as opposed to credibly threatening them.

In any case, when you get through those little exercises, you might come to agree with me that the case for granting a presumption of intelligence to go with the title of intellectual is, perhaps, something less than airtight.

Let’s be charitable, though. Anyone can be wrong, on occasion; it’s only human. But how about a studied unwillingness to learn?

I remember very vividly, a few months after the famous pacifist resolution at the Oxford Union, visiting Germany and having a talk with a prominent leader of the young Nazis. He was asking about this pacifist motion and I tried to explain it to him. There was an ugly gleam in his eye when he said, “The fact is that you English are soft.” Then I realized that the world enemies of peace might be the pacifists. —Robert Bernays, Liberal MP, House of Commons, 1934

Another part of intelligence is ability to learn, to include learning the things that are unpleasant. Contemplate the phenomenon of pacifism, clearly an intellectual doctrine, though, of course, there are strong pacifist streams in a number of religions, too, as well as religions— Jainism, say—that are entirely pacifistic.

I’m here to talk about intellectualism, though, not religions. I’ll leave them aside with the observation that, to the extent they’re unworldly, that they expect their judgment and reward in the hereafter, and scorn the material world of the day, they are, at least, internally consistent and have nothing of major principle that they really can learn. It’s already set in stone for them, graven articles of faith, and contrary temporal facts are irrelevant.

But what about the intellectual and secular pacifist?

Pacifism’s been around about as far back as we can see in history. Even so, it really got its start, in any big way, as a result of the Great War. You can understand—it’s not at all hard to understand—how pacifism got that big shot in the arm: Millions dead, millions more disabled and disfigured for life, entire landscapes ruined, cities blasted and crumbled, the Earth poisoned—in places it’s still poisoned—the economies essentially bankrupt, and over four years of waste almost beyond imagining, and all of that for a lousy cause and a poor resolution, with subsequent revelations that most of the wartime propaganda was lies, thus adding insult to injury.

I’m not a pacifist, not even a little bit, but, you know, I could almost see myself becoming a pacifist, if I’d been through that and had no contrary factors to weigh. Sadly, however, and I do mean sadly, there are now, and have been since at least 1939, contrary factors to weigh. We may doubt just how much the Oxford Pledge, that “In no circumstances will this house fight for its King and country,” really swayed Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. One suspects very little. It didn’t have to. It was not primarily a cause, but a symptom of the pacifism that swept the United Kingdom and France—to a degree the United States, too—following the Great War.

It was that pacifism that caused France to acquiesce in Nazi Germany’s reoccupation of the Rhineland. It was that that caused Britain and France to acquiesce in the Anschluss between Germany and Austria. Pacifism saw the Sudetenland occupied, and then the rest of Czechoslovakia gobbled up or severed away. One suspects that the cultivated unaggressive, nonbelligerent, nonviolent attitude was at least in good part responsible for the most welcome break Germany got, during and after the invasion of Poland, up until the invasion of Denmark and Norway, and their assault on the west, in 1940. Too, it was at least a factor in American isolationism.

Sixty million or so dead later, most of the world had learned. Yet the pacifist intellectual never did. Though Bertrand Russell bounced around quite a bit after the war, he ultimately ended up pretty much where he’d started, having apparently learned nothing he could accept from the events of 1939-1945. Perhaps . . . even probably, he never could have learned, because learning would have meant for him, and for the intellectual pacifist, generally, profound personal unhappiness at having to give up his fantasy. The pacifist still believes, despite the vast and compelling historic evidence to the contrary, that pacifism—though it can only be locally, hence dangerously, applied—is inherently and universally moral.

Of course, the Second World War was not the only refutation of pacifism out there. Contemplate the Moriori people who inhabited the Chatham Islands. Total pacifists by the command of their (dare I say it? I dare; I dare.) intellectual king; when eight- or nine-hundred Maori showed up in 1835, the Moriori were conquered, killed, enslaved and eaten. The few survivors were forbidden by their conquerors to have children together and thus was their existence as a people effectively extinguished.

In their defense, the Moriori really weren’t given a lot of time to learn, so rapid was their destruction. But the modern, intellectual, secular pacifist? What’s his or her excuse? Why haven’t they learned? How can that failure to learn be considered intelligent? And if the rest of us haven’t learned or won’t learn from pacifism’s grotesque and murderous misdiagnosis prior to 1939, and its continuing fraud cum idiocy after 1945, how unintelligent would we be?

For those who subscribe to this view, the “manufacture of consent” metaphor gives them a clear conscience to undertake the wholesale reeducation of the deluded masses in order to get them to see their true good, which—no surprise—can be secured only by following the dictates of their intellectual superiors, whose capacity to think independently is proven by their rejection of all traditional and local values and their adoption of the ideal of rational cosmopolitanism. —Lee Harris, The Cosmopolitan Illusion

I’ve dumped on Martha Nussbaum’s “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” before, in Carnifex. Perhaps I owe her an apology. (If so, it would be a debt that rested very lightly on my shoulders, to be sure.) Not that I think I pegged it precisely wrongly, mind you, but—mea culpa—I don’t think I really understood what was going on there, at the core of the thing, at the time I wrote. I think I do now. And here it is, perhaps in somewhat convoluted form. (But then, we’re talking about some convoluted minds and trains of thought, so you’ll have that.)

First, a question: What is happiness? (Oh, stop the Genghis Khan quotes. That’s, at most, how to get it, if you’re a fairly odd sort, not what it is.) The pshrinks and philosophers seem to differ. Some say it’s an emotion. Others disagree. No one seems to disagree, however, that, as a minimum, happiness is a derivative of emotions, an emotional state. Just shunt that off to one side of your mind for a bit, but we will get back to it. I presented it here, early, just to give you a little time to re-assimilate the concept.

On to “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism”! More specifically, what I intend to do is show how Nussbaum’s thesis is objective nonsense and then postulate how it came to be that a well educated and eloquent woman could put forth and maintain such nonsense with a straight face.

At the center of Nussbaum’s idea, I think, is the notion that logic demands that, once we’ve drawn the circles of nationality around ourselves, we must—having been exclusive, the once—continue to draw ever narrower circles. This is false, as I alluded to in Carnifex. Whatever the logic might be in a closed system, one with no external threat, we don’t live in that system. The system is, indeed, a fantasy. It would be intensely illogical—if survival and freedom have any value—to draw circles so narrow that successful collective defense becomes impossible. Just ask the Arabs, who usually have weak nations, but who have perhaps the most closely drawn circles in the world, how well they’ve been doing against the Israelis for the last six decades.

Yes, that means that, in the real, the non-intellectual, world, we do not necessarily draw those circles narrowly because, logically, factually, objectively, and intelligently, we might well end up being kicked out of our homes if we did.

Also, as I mentioned, in Carnifex, what does actually happen when national boundaries are erased, or at least weakened, in a theoretically closed system without an actual, admitted or perceived external threat, is that, contra Nussbaum, then people start drawing narrower circles. Scots and Welsh, for example, start ceasing to be Britons and begin to revert to much narrower identities, as the EU becomes more powerful and the nation states of Europe weaken. It is very unclear that the European identity the EU would like to foster will ever get out of the starting gate, except among a very few.

Similarly, no useful pan-African identity has come from sub-Saharan Africa’s weak states. Less still does a pan-human identity develop, in a place without those nationalist circles. No, no, there the narrow circle of the tribe matters.

So if logic demands it, why doesn’t it happen? Why, indeed, does the opposite happen? It’s really quite simple: Logic has little to do with it.

Rather, the driving force, the one Nussbaum is loathe to admit to, is not logic, it is emotion. And reason’s part in this is only to realize, accept, analyze, and deal with the fact that emotion rules, not a distant logic, and especially not one with false premises, ab initio. Anything else would be illogical.

It is obvious. It is intelligently applied emotion—not cold logic, except for the logic of defense against a threat—that makes people draw the largest circles to which they can feel an emotional tie.

So why can’t a woman as well educated, eloquent, and apparently logically reasoning as Martha Nussbaum see that? I can’t be certain, of course, but I can offer a suggestion as to what I think was going on. I think it was a multistep process: 1) she was projecting her logic on to the rest of mankind, despite copious evidence that mankind is not logical, 2) she was simultaneously denying our right to be, and our existence as, primarily emotionally driven beings, 3) despite the probability approaching certainty that a people which loses its sense of nationhood will fragment into weak and possibly warring factions, and high likelihood that such a people will become, thereafter, subjects, or perhaps slaves, of those who did not lose their sense of nationhood, she would still have us do it, because, 4) the attempt would make her happy, which is to say, it would engage her emotions in a personally satisfying way.

In other words, a) I doubt that even she, herself, realizes that she is as emotionally driven as the rest of us poor, ignorant ’eathens, and that that drives everything she says beyond the merely trivial, while b) though she does so differently from the way some other noted and notable intellectuals use others—financially and sexually—she has no more care than they do for what would happen to the rest of us, in the real world, should we be so silly as to follow her advice, so long as our doing so makes her happy.

That, friends, is sociopathy. We do not exist as independent, morally significant, individual beings to Nussbaum anymore that we would to Sartre, Shelley, or Marx. Our function is merely to make them happy.

If I am right in this—and I frankly do not see any other way for a clever person like Nussbaum to put forth such a factually fraudulent argument —can we reasonably call making that kind of misprediction, maintaining it in the face of copious evidence to the contrary, and that kind of lack of personal insight, truly intelligent? Again, glib and eloquent I readily concede, but intelligence is more than these.

One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool. —George Orwell

One of the ways to tell if a philosophy is inherently illegitimate is to ask and answer certain questions, the answers to which either must be historically and universally valid, or must postulate some profound change in the human condition such as to allow them to be valid in the future even if not in the past. These include: “Would the philosophy depend for its continued existence and prosperity on a particular kind of society, which society is its antithesis? Would it undermine the defense of the very kind of society it requires to continue to exist and prosper? Having undermined its home society, would it need universality to continue to exist and prosper while having no credible way of attaining that universality?”

My typical reader will probably understand fully how those three apply to both pacifism and cosmopolitanism. But let me give one that that some of my readers are likely to choke on: Ayn Rand’s objectivism, coupled with her rejection of altruism.

How would objectivism have dealt with Nazism or Stalinism, in the past? It would self-evidently have failed; only the intensely, stupid could imagine Rand’s self-centered egotists dealing effectively with either the altruistically motivated Wehrmacht or the Red Army. And don’t bother with, “Well, that just shows that altruism is inherently evil.” That’s simply nonsense; like a firearm, altruism is morally neutral, neither good nor evil except in respect to the uses to which it is put. (Yes, this does mean that generally pro-gun objectivists who make the claim have latched on to the moral and intellectual equivalent of the gun grabbers’ argument for gun control and confiscation.)

In any case, what Rand was doing there was something profoundly intellectual, and profoundly unintelligent, fully equal to the stupidities inherent in pacifism and cosmopolitanism. She forgot that there was a real world outside her brainpan and beyond the limits of her fantasy, which world contained people whose emotions, whose altruism, could be harnessed for purposes inimical to Rand’s own, and which she could neither convert, defend against, nor conquer.

You can call this intelligent intellectualism if you want. But why would you?

I’ll be continuing the conversation in the next volume of the Countdown series, Criminal Enterprise.