American Elephants

Liberal Intellectuals and Why They Are: by The Elephant's Child

From the preface to Jean François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a post-Soviet Era, by Anthony Daniels:

[L]iberal democracy is not an ideology in the sense that Marxism or any other form of utopian political thought is an ideology; liberal democracy does not hold out the hope of a denouement of history in which all human contradictions are resolved, no conflicts can arise and everyone is ceaselessly—and one might almost add remorselessly—happy. It assumes that conflicts, difficulties, problems and dissatisfactions are inescapable characteristics of the human condition, and that the best that can be hoped for is compromise without slaughter, bringing with it some faint hope, though not the certainty of progress. There is no blueprint. …

Intellectuals, the justification for whose existence is that they have a superior understanding of the world to that of non-intellectuals, find it hard to accept that all understanding of empirical matters is partial, temporary, subject to revision and doubtful; and that any political system that does not take this into account will end up imposing lies (and worse) upon whole populations. There have been times and places in history, perhaps, when to impose a prori schema on society has not been utterly disastrous; but Europe in the twentieth century was decidedly not one of them.

But intellectuals not only want to think well of themselves; they want to be important. The attraction of ideology is that it offers a simple principle, or a few simple principles, by which to understand the world; and of course, it offers the prospect of power to those who know and wield those principles with the greatest facility. It seems to me likely that inside every Marxist Western intellectual there has been a Stalin trying to get out.


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