When Intellectuals Attack! (or Reality Happens When You're Busy Making Tenure)
Destructive fantasies can come from intellectuals of all types, but they are particularly common on the left. First, it is the left that dominates academia, which is actually an idea factory for those who toil in its service, no different really from any other factory (except that it produces abstractions that may or may not have any actual utility). In order to become known and achieve tenure, the intellectual must come out with a fashionable “new model,” even if there’s nothing wrong with the old one. Truth, even if inadvertantly stumbled upon, is quickly bypassed in favor of a provocative or edgy alternative.
Fortunately, unlike Europe, America has never fully trusted (leftist) intellectuals, and with good reason. America is the only nation on earth that is consciously steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which has an entirely different intellectual genealogy than leftism. That is, as I have touched on in previous posts, its epistemology and ontology are pragmatic and logoistic, meaning that truth is embodied in concrete reality: reality is both “real” and intelligible -- it is the incarnation of a logos, or “word made flesh.”
Our job is to understand reality from the bottom up, not to impose our abstractions upon it. Concepts are fine, but only if, like bank notes, they can be cashed back in and exchanged for the Real Thing. In other words, they must be backed by the full faith and credit of reality. Deconstruction, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, various revisionist histories and leftist ideologies -- all of these attack the immanent word that makes the world intelligible, and thereby sever the sacred bond between reality and truth.
Ironically, in order to arrive at their materialism, leftists must start in the opposite direction -- away from the concrete and toward the abstract. Intellectuals tend to live in a platonic world of abstract reason, as if their abstractions are more real than the concrete world they are intended to describe.
As Lee Harris notes in Civilization and its Enemies, the educated man, in order to become “educated,” simply internalizes a set of predigested concepts that are presented to him as finished products. The mind is not trained to first deal with the practicalities of the concrete world, but to immerse itself in abstractions, which are then projected onto reality. As a result, reality is constantly coming up short for the leftist, so it becomes his responsibility to “force the issue.” (In case it isn’t clear, I am not talking about science, but the the traditional humanities and the newer subhumanities, such as Gender Theory.)
That is, if reality falls short of the abstraction, it is reality that is at fault. Petey says that this is when you need to reach for your revolver, because there is usually hell to pay when peace-loving leftist intellectuals are pissed off at reality. As Harris writes, the 20th century was the first time in history that “intellectuals had sought and gained power, with catastrophic results. No other social class in mankind’s history had ever initiated horrors on the scale of the Nazi holocaust and the black book of communism.” Repeatedly, throughout the century, we saw a group or “vanguard” of intellectuals who “believed that the world had been waiting for their appearance in order to set itself right,” and decided to “make a clean sweep of things.”
On Dennis Prager’s radio program yesterday, he noted that, to the left, there is no way that we can win the war on terror, because they compare the messy reality on the ground to their leftist utopian ideal. No matter what happens in Iraq, it will by definition be at odds with the unrealistic ideal. Over the weekend, I believe it was Dick Durbin who said that if the Iraqi constitution passes it will be bad, and if it doesn't pass it will be equally bad.
Likewise, no economy can ever compete with leftist fantasies of full employment, high wages for everyone, and an absence of poverty -- of “sugar candy mountain.” In reality, by any historical standard, our present economy is about as good as reality gets: five percent unemployment, three or four percent annual growth, low inflation, low interest rates, record home ownership, and record tax revenues leading to a shrinking deficit between three and four percent of GNP.
But to the left, this is “the worst economy since Herbert Hoover,” since it compares so unfavorably to their utopian fantasies. By comparison, European socialist economies are mired in unemployment and stagnation. However, there is no question that their economic ideas are more beautiful.
This also explains why controlling the Supreme Court is so critical to the left, for it has become the primary means of forcing their abstractions onto an unwilling world by judicial fiat. To paraphrase Justice Scalia, the left wants "moderate judges," which apparently means people who will strike a balance between what the constitution says and what they would like it to say. In reality, they want judges who would redefine my aunt as a trolley car if they thought it would reduce greenhouse gasses.
And this is where the left converges with the Islamists. They share a common enemy, which is not just the United States, but the embodied truth it represents, that is, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Both leftists and Islamists worship at the altar of their sacred abstractions, and see reality as a defective form of their fantasies. When a Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore refers to the terrorists as “freedom fighters,” they aren’t kidding. They are cheek to jowl with the Islamists, hunkered in the safety of their delusions, fighting against the tyranny of reality.