Principle and Intellect

Posted By October 12, 2004 No Comments

Evidently, like many people in the world – if not the United States – I am not a big fan of President George W. Bush. However, I do not despise him nor do I hold him in contempt. Sometimes I grudgingly think he is doing a decent job at being the President of the United States. Moreover, were I an American elector this November, he would have my vote.

The first reason why he would have my non-existent vote is simple enough – anyone that viciously denounced by so many smug actors, in so many partisan books, and by such a piece of cinematic McCarthyism as Fahrenheit 911 must be doing something right. Anyone that the likes of George Soros sink millions of dollars into unseating must be worth supporting.

Regarding the first, the rock singer Alice Cooper made some rather interesting remarks at some American musical industry awards show in Miami during the 2004 Republican Convention. A number of entertainment celebrities had stampeded out of New York (where they were busy demonstrating their terrific goodness by posturing against the Republicans) to make the show and be seen there. Cooper, usually better known in the 1970s for being one of the founders of heavy metal rock and wearing outrageous make-up, reminded his fellow entertainers that they really should cool it with their opinions about politics and policy. After all, as Mr. Cooper observed of his fellow entertainers, “most of us dropped out of high school” and, he went on to add, know little about most issues.

Bravo, Mr. Cooper! I never bought one of your albums as a teenager, but I think I will now. I might even listen to it.

I do not buy political biographies or, worse still, autobiographies by politicians (or their ghostwriters). Neither do I buy books about a current administration. Yes, the author usually has a partisan axe of some kind to grind, but I’m a commentator about current events too – and know well enough that for real accuracy one should wait long enough for political trenchancy to fade into history. Seeing the stacks of Bush bashing books now, or when I saw those taking stripes out of Clinton when he was President, I pass them by and wait for the next US election to invalidate the lot.

Given the tons of Bush-bashing material now weighing down the shelves at my usual book store, I hope the staff member who orders their inventory gets the sack next November when the store’s owners find they are stuck with tons of valueless paper… not that this prevents their political science department from sitting on tons of Chomsky books. Otherwise, if a “Day After Tomorrow” scenario unfolds and we are somehow subjected to an instant ice age, I know where to find a large stock of fuel while waiting for the chance to rebuild civilization. Best of all, the political science department is right next to the New Age Spirituality department, so I could remain toasty warm for months!

What really tips my sympathies in the direction of President Bush are two other considerations: The first is the sweeping arrogance of the contemporary liberal mind, the second rests with observations from history – that the best and brightest sometimes can’t be trusted to run a popsicle stand, let alone a government.

Since the late Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy it has become truly disturbing to watch the Western World’s liberal elites at work. One first starts with an assumption that the most intelligent are best suited to govern (of which more anon); then one assumes that the truly intelligent are those most like themselves – a natural conceit in any circle.

Jacques Ellul, in his classic 1961 exploration Propaganda, pointed out that the intelligentsia in any society are usually the first to fall in line with any propagandist; while Joe Six-Pack and company tend to be much more resistant to it – inevitably distrusting something new until it is proven. One should remember the story about the Emperor’s new clothes and how everyone looked on his naked majesty and exclaimed how marvelous his apparel looked. Care to guess how modern liberals and conservatives are dividing?

The intelligentsia in the last four decades have largely come to embrace post-modernist thinking and the ‘Progressive’ illusions generated by the old Left. To them, society can be improved if wisely governed and administered by the elite; failures in the past can be discounted (history carries little weight with Post-Modernists or Marxists), and the hoi polloi really cannot be trusted to think for themselves. This elite is self-defining and anyone – as P.J. O’Rorke pointed out in Give War a Chance – can join by adopting the group-think without having to have real concrete accomplishments to prove worthiness for elite status. It is plain to contemporary liberals that they deserve power, and that any government that does not share their assumptions is somehow less than legitimate.

Indeed, our elites seem to disfavor people who have measurable aspects of success – athletes, entrepreneurs, objective scientists (pop junk science is quite acceptable, provided it is ‘progressive’ in its conclusions), soldiers and so on.

The flavor of the group-think this year is that Bush is a disaster and must go; and that surely only some dense nincompoop would disagree with them.

Conservatives are not without their flaws too, having been trapped in a hostile intellectual climate for most of our lives. We have become quite bitter and are locked in an increasingly determined rear-guard action, desperately trying to hang on to the speed brakes as our societies accelerate into an unknown and uncharted territory. We do have two advantages that liberals do not share – we tend to trust our instincts and we read history. It is not that we are against progress, it’s just that we’d like to see where we are going first.

It is lovely to be intelligent, but not when you let your intelligence override instinct; suppress experience; and cloud your vision with wonderful dreams about what could be.

In the Province of Ontario, we had the socialist New Democratic Party govern us from 1990 to 1995 under Bob Rae, a charming Rhodes Scholar and very bright. It was an economic disaster. The recovery came later under Mike Harris, a Conservative ex-teacher and one time golf-pro of decidedly plebian tastes and appearances. Harris didn’t know much, but he knew enough to wrestle the Province’s books back into shape and make some very long overdue changes to our public institutions – not that anyone thanked him for it.

President Clinton was, likewise, a Rhodes Scholar and evidently very bright. President Bush the Younger seems much less so –although this appearance might be deceiving, Bush did go to Yale after all, and did learn how to fly a fighter plane. Perhaps he isn’t that swift, but neither feat can be achieved by an average intellect. Yet Bush is a doer rather than a thinker, while the Clinton years will probably go down in history as a decade of missed opportunities.

As an aside, I wonder how many people prefer Kerry over Bush simply because one looks more patrician than the other? Isn’t it one of the supposed contemporary values to look past appearances?

I also note that Canadians who feel that Bush is of a lesser intellect seemed to have no problems with Jean Chretien, who illustrates another point. There is a place for intelligence, and there is another one for cunning — which is applied intelligence. Chretien was not charismatic or clever, but he – however much so many of us disagreed with him – knew to stick to what he knew. In revolutionary or extremist ideological circles, the geniuses usually go off and make a complete hash of things – one can think of Robespierre making a solemn ass of himself with his worship of reason in 1794’s ‘Festival of the Supreme Being’. However, it is usually the Stalins and Hitlers who end up running things. Of course, these are not good arguments for the likes of Bush, but one should also remember Winston Churchill’s much less than spectacular academic achievements.

It wouldn’t do to describe Bush as another Churchill either… but Americans might be happy with an analogy from their Civil War. There were brilliant well educated generals like McClelland or Halleck, but when it came to wartime performance, they proved spectacularly inept. The best battlefield commander of the war was the eccentric and inarticulate Confederate Stonewall Jackson, and U.S. Grant’s peacetime record, taciturn nature and unassuming appearance didn’t inspire much confidence either. Perhaps Grant didn’t know much, but he knew what had to be done and went after victory tenaciously – much like Bush the Younger, really.

There are times when instinct is more important than articulate intelligence… and this is one of them.