04 March 2010

On Intellectuals, Tyrants & Elites

"Scarcely a mass-murdering dictator of the twentieth century was without his intellectual supporters, not simply in his own country, but also in foreign democracies . . . Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler all had their admirers, defenders and apologists among the intelligentsia in Western democratic nations, despite the fact that these dictators each ended up killing people of their own country on a scale unprecedented even by despotic regimes that preceded them."~ Dr. Thomas Sowell

And . . .

"While American politicians and intellectuals have not reached the depths of tyrants such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler, they share a common vision. Tyrants denounce free markets and voluntary exchange. They are the chief supporters of reduced private property rights, reduced rights to profits, and they are anti-competition and pro-monopoly. They are pro-control and coercion, by the state. These Americans who run Washington, and their intellectual supporters, believe they have superior wisdom and greater intelligence than the masses. They believe they have been ordained to forcibly impose that wisdom on the rest of us. Like any other tyrant, they have what they consider good reasons for restricting the freedom of others. A tyrant's primary agenda calls for the elimination or attenuation of the market. Why? Markets imply voluntary exchange and tyrants do [not] trust that people behaving voluntarily will do what the tyrant thinks they should do. Therefore, they seek to replace the market with economic planning and regulation, which is little more than the forcible superseding of other people's plans by the powerful elite."~ Dr. Walter E. Williams



Scott Manning said...

Richard, it is a tall order to successfully mix in Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, and Mao with today's politicians, intellectuals, and elites. While these dictators had similarities, they all had many differences too. Hitler and Stalin did not like each other. Lenin distrusted Stalin. Stalin and Mao even had issues. The only real common thread in these four men was the low value they placed on human lives. And while a man like Mao rallied against the rich, Mao also rallied against the intellectual elite. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), men on the opposite ends of the spectrum like Victor Davis Hanson and Howard Zinn would have both been victims.

The western intellectuals who supported these men were not that numerous and they typically did not realize the horrors that were approaching or that already occurred. David Lloyd George visited Hitler in 1936 and even praised the dictator, but Hitler had yet to show military aggression toward other countries. Bernard Montgomery toured China during the Great Leap Forward (1958-61), but the Chinese successfully painted a picture where they were overflowing with food and not actually starving. The full extent of the Great Leap Forward took years to reach the west. Yet, consider that in 1989, there was not a single intellectual in the west who supported the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a horror that was plain for all to see.

I think the article makes some good points, but it makes some bad comparisons by bringing in dictators in the mix to criticize today's politicians, intellectuals, and elites.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


All points well-taken. But I think the main point of Williams' piece is that they were all power-hungry, tyrannical control freaks who despised the free market and liberty - which is similar to what we're seeing (on a smaller and not so brutal scale of course) in America today.

And, I agree with your Zinn/Davis point. Its quite ironic that if brutal communists ever overthrew America, ACLU attorneys would probably be the first to face a firing squad.

"they typically did not realize the horrors that were approaching or that already occurred"

Precisely. Which is another point of Sowell's book. Doesn't the "designation" of "intellectual" suggest superior ability to discern such things? Knowledge does not automatically produce wisdom.

It all comes down to having a basic understanding of human nature and political philosophy and how the two work out practically in real life. For example, I did not have to wait to see what Barack Obama would do. All that was necessary was to read what he had written, how he had voted, who his mentors were and once you understood his political philosophy, one could accurately predict that he would implement statist policies.

Thanks for the challenge and the input and helping to put the piece in the proper context. Again, you raise some valid points.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...



Scott Manning said...

Richard, I agree with you that Obama leans toward more government control, especially in industries like banking and healthcare, but don’t you think viewing it as "power-hungry" and "tyrannical" takes it a little too far? The biggest equalizer being that Obama will have to face an election in 2012. If he wins, he will still be done entirely in 2016. Even while in power, his power is not absolute. We can see how tough it has been for him to get a healthcare bill passed, even with his party in control of Congress and the Senate.

Regardless of what happens over the next two to six years, America is much different than those other countries ruled by dictators. We have already seen a party takeover of Congress and the Senate in 2006, then a new president in 2008. This all occurred without threats, violence, or deaths. And when power switches again in the future, I believe we will see the same peaceful transition.

On a side note, I work with a lot of guys from India. In discussing the differences between our governments, one of them said, "We do not have government healthcare like America. In India, you can only get healthcare through an employer or if you’re rich." I was baffled at first, but I eventually realized that he was referring to Medicare when he said "government healthcare."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"don’t you think viewing it as "power-hungry" and "tyrannical" takes it a little too far?"

No, actually, I don't. Just look at the healthcare debate. Its been defeated at every attempt. Poll after poll shows a solid majority of the American people want nothing to do with the current legislation, yet Obama presses on encouraging the reconciliation route, though he's on record in the Senate opposing such tactics. The "reform" transfers 1/6 of our economy to bureacrats and the Feds. Given their track record w/ Social Security & Medicare (both actuarially insolvent), why would anyone want to do that? Answer - power.

In the GM takeover, Obama skirted bankruptcy laws and appointed UAW power brokers to the BOD, though it is quite clear now that the generous UAW contracts had a lot to do w/the demise of GM.

Those are just a few examples. I could go on and on. You're well read, you know what's going on . . . his association with ACORN, etc, etc. I don't think "power hungry" is in the least bit too far (not that he's the first, just the latest and worse I've seen in my lifetime.) Yes, Bush was also power hungry in many aspects, but not to the degree we've seen with this guy.

"he will still be done entirely in 2016."

True, but the legacy of the financial sector takeover, the auto industry takeover, the healthcare takeover (if he gets his way) will remain with us - possibly for generations.

Thanks again for the input.