Beleaguered by the Intelligentsia

A new work of intellectual history by puts forth that the brains have been behind our downfall all along. EconLog looks it over Bill Greene's Common Genius:

While a major theme of this book is that a historical progress has bubbled up from the bottom -- from the actions of the common men and women of history--a secondary theme is that most of history’s evils have come from the top--the intelligentsia, the organized groups, the soft-science experts who arise in mature societies and lead their nation’s decline.
Greene's over-arching intellectual theory is that intellectuals with over-arching theories are a the chief threat to civilization. In William Easterly's terms, ordinary people are Searchers, who try to improve things by trial and error. Intellectuals are Planners, whose grandiose attempts at top-down organization are doomed to failure, sometimes with a totalitarian mode of implementation in the process.


Joe6Pak said...

If your favorite books include Ben Franklin's autobiography and Adam Smith's work, you would love COMMON GENIUS. Arnold Kling gave it a good look and the website www.thecommongenius.com gives much summary info about the book. It's a very readable survey of world history and explains why some nations succeeded and others remained mired in poverty. And the reasons were not climate, genes, or geography. Most of all, though, it tells the reader "the lessons of history" that could be used to help the people of the Third World escape their poverty. The intellectuals at the World Bank and the IMF and the UN have failed to help those nations, in spite of the money spent, because they don't know how! The answer comes from understanding how ordinary people have solved most of their problems over the past couple thousand years. Joe6Pak

Kinggame said...

I'm not sure how much I agree with his thesis. Individuals do have the power to permanently sculpt history, for ill and for good. Prior to the American Revolution, 1/3 of the colonial population was firmly Tory, 1/3 was neutral, and the final third was behind the revolution. Individuals got the rest of the colony in line, not the other way around. A person can lead and bring about change. People follow blindly.