Why do intellectuals hate capitalism so much?

Caption: Obama is an intellectual. It shows.

You might have never heard of philosopher Robert Nozick, but you’ll almost certainly be familiar with some of his ideas. In his classic Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick proposed the thought experiment of “The Experience Machine”, in which a person is plugged into a machine that gives creates an illusory “reality”. You might recognise that as “The Matrix” (or, if you’re a bit older and nerdier, as “Better Than Life”, the hyper-addictive virtual reality game from Red Dwarf).

But Nozick is also a political philosopher, and his book is also a philosophical argument for classical liberalism, libertarianism, and especially a minarchist state. Unsurprisingly, then, Nozick explores just why intellectuals are so hostile to capitalism.

Firstly, what does “intellectual” mean? Thomas Sowell defines “intellectuals” as people whose occupation is primarily related to ideas, rather than to practical outcomes. Quote:

By intellectuals, I do not mean all people of intelligence or of a certain level of education, but those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words…It does not include those who primarily produce and transmit quantitatively or mathematically formulated information (the numbersmiths) or those working in visual media, painters, sculptors, cameramen. Unlike the wordsmiths, people in these occupations do not disproportionately oppose capitalism. The wordsmiths are concentrated in certain occupational sites: academia, the media, government bureaucracy…

The opposition of wordsmith intellectuals to capitalism is a fact of social significance. They shape our ideas and images of society; they state the policy alternatives bureaucracies consider. From treatises to slogans, they give us the sentences to express ourselves. Their opposition matters. End of quote.

So, why do wordsmith intellectuals tend to be so opposed to capitalism? Quote:

Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society…[and] they think distribution should be in accordance with value…

What factor produced feelings of superior value on the part of intellectuals? I want to focus on one institution in particular: schools.

…Schools [are] the major institution outside of the family to shape the attitudes of young people, and almost all those who later became intellectuals went through schools. There they were successful. They were judged against others and deemed superior. They were praised and rewarded, the teacher’s favorites. How could they fail to see themselves as superior? Daily, they experienced differences in facility with ideas, in quick-wittedness. The schools told them, and showed them, they were better. End of quote.

But as those of us who eventually left school – unlike academics, who often spend their entire lives at school, as students and then teachers – quickly learned, school is not the real world. The real world values many things, from fixing pipes to running businesses; things that intellectuals are lousy at. Quote:

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them?

The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large. End of quote.

Another important feature of schools that forms wordsmith intellectuals’ attitudes is central planning. Quote:

Relevant rewards are distributed by the central authority of the teacher. The schools contain another informal social system within classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards, wherein rewards are distributed not by central direction but spontaneously at the pleasure and whim of schoolmates. Here the intellectuals do less well.

It is not surprising, therefore, that distribution of goods and rewards via a centrally organized distributional mechanism later strikes intellectuals as more appropriate than the “anarchy and chaos” of the marketplace. For distribution in a centrally planned socialist society stands to distribution in a capitalist society as distribution by the teacher stands to distribution by the schoolyard and hallway. End of quote.

So it’s no wonder that, contrary to leftism’s theoretical lionising of “the proletariat”, in practice, intellectuals despise workers, especially when they do well; hence the sneers about “cashed-up bogans”.

So in a nutshell: intellectuals are arrogant, resentful teacher’s pets.


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Who is Lushington D. Brady?

Well, a pseudonym. Obviously.

But the name Lushington Dalrymple Brady has been chosen carefully. Not only for the sum of its overall mien of seedy gentility, reminiscent perhaps of a slightly disreputable gentlemen of letters, but also for its parts, each of which borrows from the name of a Vandemonian of more-or-less fame (or notoriety) who represents some admirable quality which will hopefully animate the persona of Lushington D. Brady.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.

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