Owen Harries writes in today’s Financial Review,
“On political matters, intellectuals tend to share two characteristics: they are slaves to fashion; and on the big questions, they tend to get things hopelessly wrong.”
Harries proceeds to give a few thousand words of relevant examples beginning with,
“If you had been a man of affairs living in 1910 or thereabouts, it is likely that you woiuld have been well aware of the increasing tense international atmosphere, as Germany not content with having the most powerful army in the world, sought to challenge Britian as a leading naval power. But if you had been an intellectual living in the same period, chances are you would have subscribed to the view, propagated by Norman Angell in The Great Illusion, that war was a dying institution… ”
The Club of Rome predictions in the 1970s – that unless we limit population and industrial growth the world would self-destruct by the end of century – are included in Harries list.
Harries asks, “Why do intellectuals get things so wrong, so often? The question is worth asking because they are still with us, still vocal, still taken seriously by many as the interpreters of the course of human history. A large part of the answer, surely, lies in the intellectuals’ search for – demand for – coherence in human affairs, for pattern, for meaning and consistency. Once this was found in the form of religion; for the past hundred years or more, most intellectuals have found it in the form of ideology.”
Does this provide some insight into how and why some of our most revered environmentalist academics get it so wrong – from Paul Ehrlich to Ian Lowe?
The piece by Owen Harries titled ‘The parochialism of the present’ is to appear “simultaneously in the inaugural issue of The American Interest” at www.the-american-interest.com. But I can’t find it there.