The worst intellectuals to put in charge of things are the ones who think that they should be in charge of things.
Today, ideas are far from the animating force of politics. Indeed, it’s hard to name a single original or even newly refreshed idea that animated the 2020 election.
On the right, the only real question was personal fealty to President Trump. Recall that the GOP platform was simply a one-page resolution that recited grievances against the media and proclaimed allegiance to the president. Democrats were content mostly to push to expand existing spending and entitlement programs while embracing illiberal ideas of racial essentialism and ahistorical revisionism.
Ideas still matter, of course, and there’s no shortage of them coming from academics, think tanks, journalists, pressure groups, unions, business lobbies and more. It’s just that these ideas are not what animate citizens and their public servants.
We’ve seen a similar debasement in the power of words. In the 1990s, Republicans and late-night talk show hosts were afflicted by paroxysms of heartburn and howls, respectively, over President Bill Clinton’s under-oath exegesis on the third-person singular present-tense form of “to be.”
It’s now an article of faith among much of the left that “hate speech” is not constitutionally protected and that words are violence—while at the same time slogans such as “defund the police” don’t really mean what they say, and anyone who suggests they do is acting in bad faith. This summer, many ostensibly serious intellectuals of the left beclowned themselves comparing self-described antifascist activists (fact check: they were hard-left authoritarian rioters assaulting police, intimidating civilians and destroying property) to the men who stormed Normandy, defeated the Axis powers and liberated the concentration camps because both, after all, were against “fascism,” as if that word meant nothing.