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Melanie Phillips, author of The World Turned Upside Down, laments that “it is the intellectual classes—the supposed custodians of reason—who have turned into the destroyers of reason,” as our cognitive avant-garde retreats ever deeper into the realm of disembodied cerebration and reality-disconnect. Proposing one or another blueprint for radical social change or meddling in the complexities of foreign and economic policy, it would seem that these intellectuals and academics have too much time on their hands. After all, they are not required to deal with the grubby details of wrenching a living from a harsh, empirical world, and so are free, like Swift’s pixilated “projectors” in the Academy of Lagado, to spin their crackpot theories and advance their irrational speculations about real-life situations they have little knowledge of.
It is not only in Swift’s Academy that such projectors, “full of volatile spirits acquired in that airy region,” labor to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, spin silk from cobwebs, propagate a breed of woolless sheep, adjust “the annual and diurnal motions of the earth and sun,” strive to “reduce excrement to its original food” and, most pertinently, devise methods to build houses by “beginning at the roof and working downwards to the foundations”—the forte of our standard, top-downing intellectual conventicles.
It is also in the seminar rooms and study carrels of our current intelligentsia that we find comparable absurdities, as for example: professors who advocate rampant spending to neutralize debt (Paul Krugman); teachers who believe that history is a narrative to be manipulated for ideological ends (Howard Zinn); philosophers who affirm that truth is a relative concept, except, of course, for the truth of their own claims (Michel Foucault); writers who promote violence as the road to millennial harmony (Slavoj Zizek), and so on. Indeed, on the major issues of the day—climate change, the war on terror, the free market, Israel, Iran—our “supposed custodians of reason,” pontificating from the Left, get everything backwards, opting for measures that only magnify the problems they affect to settle. As the popular idiom has it, the inmates have taken over the asylum. Clearly, to avoid descent into madness, reason must accommodate itself to reality. Sundered from the world as it is and from men as they are, it generates only caricatures and deformities rather than solutions and practicable recommendations.
Considering the same malformation of thought from a different angle, Robert Harkins muses on the beauty and workmanship of the Waterford crystal goblet as a symbol of the artistry, intelligence and genius of an accomplished civilization. The sequestered intellectual, however, believes that a new world order “may be invented just as easily as one might conjure a crystal goblet from the sand” and mold its symmetry without the slightest knowledge of the craft. The trouble is that “there is not one of them who can work a crystal goblet from sand and the forge.”
Perhaps David Horowitz hits on the aptest analogy when he says, referring to the Democratic Party (though he might just as well be speaking of the Left in general): “These people see themselves as visionaries, as an army of the saints marching through the electoral process opposed by the army of Satan, which is us,” that is, those who adopt a conservative perspective on political life. Horowitz’s soi-disant “saints” are chiefly militant atheists who have substituted a presumptive secular paradise for the Second Coming of the Lord and are busy assembling a new Vulgate for the deliverance of mankind.
They are the gutter messiahs of the time, lashing themselves for the sins of their colonial forefathers while promising to create a new and pristine dispensation for the benefit of mankind, or rather, for that part of mankind deemed worthy of their efforts. Having studied in the cloisters of hermetic university departments and relishing their hard-won ignorance, they will turn the world upside down and pretend that it is right-side-up. They will, so to speak, forge the cultural goblet out of thin air, serene in their false humility and confident of their nonexistent means. And they are committed to the belief, as French sociologist and author of We Have Never Been Modern Bruno Latour argues, that time is on their side, that “Kronos would eat away all that [is] archaic and irrational [by their lights]…sparing only those predestined for a radiant future.”
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