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The Emotigentsia

Here’s a letter to someone who “stumbled into” my “disturbing blog”:

Ms. White:

Thanks for your e-mail in response to my favorably quoting George Will’s observation that America’s intelligentsia “is so unintelligent.” You accuse me (and Mr. Will) of mistaking “disagreement for unintelligence.”

You’re wise to be alert to this common problem: While people can disagree with each other without any of them being unintelligent, very often disagreement nevertheless is wrongly taken as evidence of unintelligence. Yet in this case I believe that George Will expresses a sad truth.

There are, of course, exceptions, but members of today’s intelligentsia too often mistake their good intentions for sound argument; too few of them understand that (as David Henderson warns) “intentions are not results.” Further, today’s intelligentsia are almost all utterly ignorant of basic economics, despite the eagerness of many to hurl economic jargon that they recall from their sophomore econ classes of years ago. It’s no crime to be ignorant of economics. It is, however, unintelligent to publicly declaim on economic matters without bothering to learn the first substantive thing about economics and economic history.

But perhaps the single worst characteristic of today’s intelligentsia is their addiction to emoting. Intellectuals today score points amongst themselves and with their audiences largely by expressing the right emotions. Writers and speakers are today applauded according to their facility at emoting appropriately on each of the affairs du jour. The intellectual contents of their words – the coherence, and the conformity to the historical record, of their arguments – seem to be irrelevant beside the quality of their emitted emotions.

We have today in America not so much an intelligentsia as an emotigentsia.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


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