Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thomas Sowell latest book — a true face of intellectuals or gross exaggeration?

The latest, full book of Thomas SowellIntellectuals and Society” will be read as the true enlightenment or as anti-intellectual tirade. Whatever you will find it — it is a book you just cannot ignore — it is absolutely essential for all who, even, occasionally, think of themselves as of „intellectuals”.

And one should, at least for the time span of the reading, forget Sowell's many controversial views and public utterances — like that about Obama speech to students. We should forget them and read carefully, because many of the examples of stupid intellectual's acts — are unfortunately true...

Sowell first defines whom he gives the name „Intellectual”. For good or for bad, he narrows the definition to those who generate or create — IDEAS — and leaves outside the scope of his interest those who contribute to the progress of science and technology, medicine etc. Of course, in many cases the groups overlap, yet what interests him are those who create or disseminate the ideas. And he is deeply critical about those he names that way! He gives many accounts of total misjudgement of the elite, mostly from XX century history. The key example is the role of French intellectuals in the aftermath of the I World War to promote unconditional pacifism in France, that almost directly led to the disaster of the II WW. With equal scrutiny he analyses the approach of many British intellectuals to Nazi Germany, matters of rearmament and disarmament and the like. One of the most striking example is that of Bertrand Russel, whose series of misjudgements, first about Hitler, later about Soviets, was particularly long...
The examples go further when he analyses the intellectual climate around cold war, and real wars of XX century, like Vietnam War.

The main reason, according to Sowell, of so many fallacies is complete lack of accountability of intellectuals. There is no „real world verifiability” that could be applied to the works of ideas, as it is with the other, more practical, activities of intellectuals. We can also find a profound ignorance of intellectuals outside their, usually narrow, area of knowledge. As the result they, quite often, create the climate of total misinformation. Instead of presenting evidence and using logic, intellectuals, according to Sowell, often indulge in „verbal virtuosity” with so many euphemisms, clever phrasing and pseudo-wise quotes.

Many will not agree with Sowell. Also, as he stands on the clearly conservative position (using US political terminology) , many will deny the value of his conclusions.

But, I will not. When I was reading the book, I could not forget about the another book about Intellectuals and their fallacies: „The Captive Mind” by Czeslaw Milosz. Even though it was written in 1953, and was probably unknown to Sowell — it provides a great support for his views and conclusions.

And — I could add so many examples from my life. I still cannot forget many teachers and university professors that openly supported communist regime in Poland and other Central European countries. Of course, there were also many intellectuals who opposed it — but the deep delusion in which so many lived and even promoted — was the key feature of my experience from the time of transformation from communist country to the free one....

So, if you think of you as of The Intellectual — read this book in earnest — and think and think and think — before you start promoting your ideas ...

BTW, here is the Sowell's incentive to read the book :-)


  1. Sounds very interesting!

  2. Yes, it is. It is like a awakening for all who assumed that intellectuals had only positive role in history....