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Freedom Is on the March, and the Elites Can’t Stand It

A glaring sign of our intelligentsia’s decrepitude is their absolute lack of interest in understanding either the Brexit vote or the election of Donald Trump.  With a few notable exceptions, those who claim to spend their lives doing the public “thinking” that must surely require higher faculties than possessed by common people, have shown no intellectual curiosity for the social shifts of our day.  You would think people who do thinking for a living would find the events in the U.K. and the U.S. fascinating and historically compelling, if for no other reason than that neither outcome was expected by the public intellectuals themselves.

After decades of incremental movement toward a one-government Europe, the people of the U.K. pushed back.  After decades of uni-party leadership in D.C., Americans said, “No more.”  Regardless of one’s personal politics, these events should have at least seemed interesting to people who see themselves as reflective connoisseurs of the history of ideas.  Instead, they chose to see nothing at all.  It could all be explained away quite easily, they have assured, by detestable appeals to “populism” and “racism,” with a little Russian propaganda sprinkled in for good measure.  

So when the public intellectuals convince the public to vote according to their worldview, this popular election is called “democracy in action.”  When the public votes against the public intellectuals, this signifies that the public put the interests of the population ahead of the “thinkers” and must therefore be grounded in the old primordial goo of tribalism and hatred that afflicts the public, generally, but from which the public intellectuals can elevate us, should we simply heed their instructions.  The public intellectuals can lead us to salvation, but we will always be racists weighed down by our ancient, sad evolutionary instincts.  This is as far as most intellectuals have gotten for the last four years.  (Oh, and Russia is behind every bad thing said about the dominant governing paradigms in the U.K. and U.S. because, unlike the seventy years of communist and Cold War propaganda, there has never been anything more effective at winning hearts and minds than Putin’s ability to post mean things on social media.)  

I think it is worth saying that if you fancy yourself an intellectual and yet believe almost everything believed and advocated by the permanent government and media institutions of your time, then you aren’t thinking very creatively, or perhaps even thinking at all.  If you spend your mental energy invested in Marxist class consciousness and postmodern social constructs yet fail to see the irony of actively supporting the governing status quo, you might need to examine the mental prisons you’ve constructed for yourself.  Empathy is not only a virtue; it’s also a valuable diagnostic tool for understanding social upheaval and change, yet our public intellectuals never seem interested in understanding us.  They seem interested in getting us to understand that we must understand them. 

Oh, we do.  There’s a growing certainty among freedom-minded people of the West that our public intellectuals and governing institutions find more in common with the command-and-control leadership of the former Soviet Union than with the ideas of Lech Walesa or Václav Havel.  Whereas we see Poland’s Solidarity uprising and Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution as fraternal moments to the signings of the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence, modern public intellectuals see vulgar populism, motivated by tribal spirits (with a sprinkling of Russian propaganda thrown in).  

Everywhere we look, public intellectuals are advocating for restrictions on free speech and criminalization of free expression.  Being confronted with ideas that conflict with their own, public intellectuals see no choice but to silence the public.  If personal freedom should suffer as a result, then the public should have considered this repercussion before saying what they believe out loud.  Freedom of conscience, if kept securely in the private thoughts of the public, is allowed, but exercising freedom of conscience is dangerous to the public intellectuals and is therefore forbidden.  

For all their worry and hand-wringing about “populism,” public intellectuals are missing a grand historical moment.  An Iron Curtain is once again descending on free peoples of the world, and they, themselves, are the ones pulling and yanking the ropes, hoping to quiet the rumblings of public dissatisfaction with the State or hunger for personal freedom before the public gains enough awareness of their predicament or strength to do something about it.  

Hmm.  Perhaps our public thinkers do understand what Brexit and Donald Trump signify.  Perhaps they realize that freedom is once again on the march, and they’ve taken up positions on the wrong side of the intellectual battlefield.  Perhaps they realize that, in the battle of ideas, they will inevitably lose, but if their ideas are the only ones allowed, then they win by default.

It is a sad irony that the U.S. and U.K. spent much of the post-WWII twentieth century working to help liberate the peoples of Eastern Europe from the Soviet shadow, while it is they who now beg us to open our eyes before it becomes too late for us to resist the shackles of State socialism.  The deepest cut, however, is that most of the rebellious intellectuals under the Iron Curtain fought for freedom, while most of our public intellectuals fight against it.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.