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Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

Preparing for episode of Uncommon Knowledge on higher education later this week–my guests will be Joseph Epstein, author of “Who Killed the Liberal Arts?”, and Andy Ferguson, author of Crazy U–I came across this article by the late Robert Nozick.  A libertarian, Nozick wrote Anarchy, State, and Utopia, one of the most powerful books I have ever read.  Somehow, though, I had never before come across this essay, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

Nozick’s answer?  Because they did so well in school.  To wit:

“By intellectuals…I…mean…those who…deal withideas expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive.  These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors….

“The schools told [intellectuals]…they were better….To the intellectually meritorious [students] went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades….The wider market society, hwoever taught a different lesson….There the intellectual skills were notmosthighly valued.  Schooled in the lesson that they were…the most deserving of reward…how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority ‘entitled’ them?  Is it surprising that what the school intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus…?”

Nozick is on to something here, no?

  1. outstripp

    Because power is a zero-sum game. Under capitalism the smart have to share power with the rich and they don’t like it.

  2. Crow

    Cannot help but notice that Nozick’s definition of intellectuals largely would also apply to himself.

    In fact, under this definition, there are many, many conservative intellectuals of one stripe or another who staff colleges or think tanks or magazines, and aren’t hostile to capitalism.

    Now, I of course realize that we’re speaking in great generalities here and that much of what Nozick says is spot on. 

    But I can’t help but wonder, and can’t resist impishly asking: is there, perhaps, more than one form of “the life of the mind”? Or maybe there is only one genuine form, but many mere simulacra of it?

  3. Israel P.

    [Don't know why this comment showed up twice. Ricochet has been doing weird things the past week or so.]

  4. Israel P.

    When I first learned a bit of Talmud at age ten, we were intoduced to two ancient sages who were called Rava and Abaye, who were raised together and who dispute one another throughout the Talmud. Our rabbi made a point of saying that Abaye was considered the more brilliant, but the disputes were nearly always (save six instances) settled in favor of Rava – who was the more thoughtful.

    The messages to us were: Don’t think you are so smart & Don’t think smart is everything.

  5. Israel P.
    PsychLynne: As a member of the over-educated, I would also point out that capitalism makes no sense to them.  Working from the assumption that what they value is what is most important, how could the world not see that?!  and reward them accordingly

    This kind of thing shows up in the Facebook posts of certain friends from time to time, usually in the form of “Why do teachers make less than [villain du jour]?”

  6. Vice-Potentate

    Hearing a lot of talk about how intellectuals don’t think their skills are properly valued. It seems to me, for how much they produce, intellectuals make a killing. If anything, they must think the market is inherently unfair because of the advantages they enjoy not the advantages that have passed them by.   

  7. Vice-Potentate

    I think the thing that really grates intellectuals is the prominence of mass cultural phenomenon and the misplaced values that  they see as a symptom of consumerism. Conservatives often view these things in opposite terms. The misplaced values are the root cause and banal and sometimes stupid consumerism is the symptom. Of course, making a judgement on what is and isn’t worthy of consumption in the first place requires a certain aristocratic tint which intellectuals excel at affecting.

  8. Matt Travis

    I look forward to that episode of Uncommon Knowledge, for my money Victor Davis Hanson and Andy Ferguson have their finger on the pulse of this country like very few others.

  9. Cutlass
    Israel P.

    PsychLynne: As a member of the over-educated, I would also point out that capitalism makes no sense to them.  Working from the assumption that what they value is what is most important, how could the world not see that?!  and reward them accordingly

    This kind of thing shows up in the Facebook posts of certain friends from time to time, usually in the form of “Why do teachers make less than [villain du jour]?”

    As a teacher I revel in the opportunity explain to students why I shouldn’t necessarily be paid more than [villain du jour]. I freely choose how I make my living. I also freely chose to work in a small private school where I earn less than I would in a unionized public school.

    As a straight, white male it’s one of the few self righteous joys available to me.

  10. Stephen Hall
    Crow’s Nest: 

    But I can’t help but wonder, and can’t resist impishly asking: is there, perhaps, more than one form of “the life of the mind”? Or maybe there is only one genuine form, but many mere simulacra of it? 

    Leftism is a secular religion. Intellectuals are its theologians. Hollywood ‘stars’ are its priests. The MSM are its evangelists. Yes, there is only one genuine form, and those intellectuals (and Hollywood or MSM types) who do not embrace it are infidels or heretics.

  11. John Hanson

    One rather simple reason is Marxism is taught in many guises in colleges and universities but one has to really search for courses that teach conservative economics, unless in a form to show that Marxism is better.  The result of 16 or more years of indoctrination in Marxism, is more good little Marxists, and only very occasionally one who questions what is taught and discovers the Capitalist system, which actually works.

  12. david foster

    Note that for many people, their “intellectualism” is not about genuine interest in ideas, but rather an assertion of their (claimed) status position.

    And true capitalism is very threatening to people who suffer extreme status-anxiety.

  13. Angmoh Gao

    My instinctive response was rather less high minded than many here – could there be some correlation with the reliance on grant, subsidy and state support required by the “professional” intellectual? I am sure that the great thinkers of the enlightenment were not sucking at the teat of the state.

  14. JVC1207
    Bereket Kelile: I’ve spent the last few years in the university and I’ve noticed that the college campus has become somewhat insulated from the outside world. I feel like it’s turning into an adult day care center in many ways.

    Adult day care center…hahaha! I love it. That is so true in so many cases!

  15. Dan Halbach

    I’ve always wondered why, as a rule, intellectuals have contempt for Capitalism but seem to love Evolution theory.  The two models are based on the same principles of adaptation and incremental improvement.  I thought maybe I was missing something fundamental until I read a Thomas Sowell column where he made the same point.  (Always reassuring to have TS on your side.) 

    I think it boils down to arrogance: Evolution (especially the anti-religion form) allows intellectuals to claim to be king of the hill, but Capitalism combats that claim with reality.

  16. Crow
    Stephen Hall: Leftism is a secular religion. 

    Yes, I’ve heard this argument before. It was prominently made in the middle of the 20th century by a French intellectual named Raymond Aron.

  17. LowcountryJoe

    My question is why some conservatives on the Ricochet forum oppose it. When the topic of international trade comes up you’ll see several folks defend limits to the ability and right to engage in free(er) exchange with even more government meddling. Trading property is the essence of capitalism, right?

  18. LowcountryJoe

    “I’ve always wondered why, as a rule, intellectuals have contempt for Capitalism but seem to love Evolution theory. The two models are based on the same principles of adaptation and incremental improvement.”You’ve nailed it! Ecology and economy are very similar. Liberals can seem to accept the harsh realities of what animals have to do to one another for survival but they really cannot fathom the minor inconveniences that humans should have to live with as a consequence for unwise choices. They understand that adaptation is necessary to confront change but many times does not work out well. In society, these same people do not want others to have to adapt and they’ll even mute the signals which drive the need to adapt.that they call themselves”progressives” is a sick joke.

  19. The Mugwump

    Much of what passes for intellectualism is just meaningless academic jargon.  The entire raft of victim studies is based on one’s ability to master the lingo.  It’s easy to expose the vacuousness of these so-called disciplines with a pithy question.  Explain to me, please, why social diversity is better than national unity?  Your average lefty “intellectual” can’t answer the question because he’s never thought it through.  If you wonder why the left is so often 180 degrees out of sync with reality, it’s because what they believe is mumbo-jumbo dressed up in advanced degrees.  Attend a school board meeting sometime and you’ll see what I mean.   

  20. david foster

    Vice-Potentate: “I think the thing that really grates intellectuals is the prominence of mass cultural phenomenon and the misplaced values that  they see as a symptom of consumerism.”

    Yet these same intellectuals generally make common cause, politically speaking, with Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general.