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VIEWPOINT: THE NEWS MAKES AMENDS by Tom Pauken Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Mon, Dec 19, 2005, 11:46 PM

The Points section of the Dallas Morning News ran a marvelous article Sunday by Owen Harries entitled "Earth to Intellectuals" which for all practical purposes was a rebuttal of their November 27th Points article in which 10 "intellectuals" told the News readers 10 ideas that were "on the way out". That particular commentary provided a widespread negative reaction. I won’t repeat what I wrote then, but you can read my response to that piece on DallasBlog if you like by clicking here.

Here is what Owen Harries writes about why intellectuals so often "get it wrong":

"On political matters particularly, intellectuals tend to share these two characteristics: They are slaves of fashion, and, on the big questions, they tend to get things hopelessly wrong …. Intellectuals generally are prone to run together. Beneath their often savage surface differences and scorn for orthodoxy, there is usually a surprising degree of uncritical acceptance of erroneous views concerning the ways things are and, in particular, the ways things are going."

Harries cites example after example about how "the best and brightest" of our intellectual elites have later got it wrong in their predictions of the future. Prior to WWI, Norman Angell (who later would be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize) predicted that "war was a dying institution" and that "the forces of capitalism" were "rapidly creating a peaceful and borderless world." And the intellectuals got it wrong in the latter half of the 20th century by concluding that "the totalitarian communist system was indestructible." Even an intellectual as knowledgeable about foreign policy as Henry Kissinger thought that we were on the losing side of the Cold War and said that we should cut the best deal possible with the Soviet Union under the circumstances. Ronald Reagan’s Presidency proved Kissinger wrong.

Harries goes on to identify the ideologies that are most susceptible to "getting it wrong":

"The ideologies that most intellectuals have adhered to – liberalism, Marxism, democratic socialism – all assume inevitable progress. Insofar as it subscribes to the End of History thesis, so does neoconservativism. And so does the current ideology of salvation by "globalization," which is really an updated version of the free-trade liberalism that Richard Cobden and John Bright preached in Manchester a century and a half ago."

Almost all of the "world’s 10 leading thinkers" who told News readers what the future would be like a few weeks ago, would make Harries’ list as ideological utopians who "preach inevitable progress." The danger of this kind of thinking (when it comes to predicting the future) is that it ignores in Harries’ words, "the factoring in of surprises, discontinuities and disasters."

Harries concludes his piece with the following sentence which says it all: "As we listen to them, it will do no harm, and it might be some good, to bear in mind what an appalling record of prediction intellectuals have had over the last century."

Congratulations to Rod Dreher, Editor of the Points Sunday section at the News, for getting it right this time.

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