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Thursday, January 02, 2003 - 06:50 PM Permanent link for Intellectuals, Capitalism, and Physical Reality
Intellectuals, Capitalism, and Physical Reality

Back from a long blogging break.    I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays -- I certainly did!

(via ParaPundit, via Instapundit)  A *while* ago, Parapundit (aka Randall Parker) linked to an essay by Robert Nozick titled "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?"  Back in my college years, I used to be a somewhat faithful reader of Nozick and many of his writings are considered to be the backbone of Anarcho-Capitalism and Min-Anarchism  (see Anarchy, State & Utopia.  Nozick has since, formally renounced a few of the key concepts he pushed forward in ASU;   so have I  ;-).

While not all intellectuals oppose Capitalism overtly, there is a relatively clear apprehension towards it that even lay observors can broadly identify.  Nozick argues that a particular, large, strain of "intellectualism" is responsible -- the "Wordsmiths"..  These wordsmiths are distinguished from the Number-smiths and engineers, and to a lesser extent legal scholars.  Think Literature, Poli Sci, Art History, Drama, etc.  Nozick argues that the source of this antagonism is a sense of failed expectations from the scholastic process.   The would-be intellectual is coddled all the way through elementary, high school, college, and grad school: 

...The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. By incorporating standards of reward that are different from the wider society, the schools guarantee that some will experience downward mobility later...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.

Nozick seems to be particularly revelling in the image of the wordsmith geek who gets beaten up in the playground.  And, of course, yrs of grad school can only delay commencement day so much and our Intellectual finally enters the real world...

...Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals. Ludwig von Mises explains the special resentment of intellectuals, in contrast to workers, by saying they mix socially with successful capitalists and so have them as a salient comparison group and are humiliated by their lesser status.

Like many things in life, it takes 2 to tango and I'm suprised that Nozick doesn't look into why capitalists often seek out the company of, and to a lesser extent the admiration of, these intellectuals.   Think of charity auctions, art buyers, benefactors boards, etc.   Whatever element of the human psyche breeds the anti-capitalist occasionally breeds within the full-capitalist as well.  Still, while an unsuccessful businessman/worker does NOT typically have animus towards the capitalist system, Nozick's wordsmith intellectuals have this animus regardless of their own material success.  A wealthy Arundhati Roy is far more likely to disparage capitalsm than a just-squeaking-by storeowner. 

An interesting observation Nozick makes is that the wordsmiths are uniquely equipped for propagating this meme down to successive generations of new wordsmiths:

...Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

In a separate article, Glenn Reynolds argues a very similar point -- that there's something unique about the wordsmith lineage:

Today's academia is descended from the clerical scholars and courtier intellectuals of the middle ages. Those folks naturally identified with the princes and potentates who provided their funding. Today's academics affect to identify with the working classes, but many of their attitudes — a contempt for popular culture, a low regard for business and commerce and a desire to set themselves apart from the common herd — are leftovers from a bygone era. There's a reason why kings and princes are no longer found in our society; emulating them isn't going to make you popular.

While I think Nozick makes some interesting arguments, I don't think he captures the majority reason for anti-capitalistic sentiment amongst intellectuals.   An encompassing theory here needs to explain some significant points that are outside of Nozick's model.

First, an entire generation of economists and political thinkers were utterly swept up in anti-capitalist thought.   This is a broader group than just the Wordsmiths.  Think Marx, Lenin, and even many more-classically trained economists who seem more preoccupied with Market Failures than market successes.   More than a few scientists and engineers also fell prey to this flirtation in the communist/socialist hey day in the '50s/'60s.  Many Intellectuals who aren't in this camp today avoid it only grudgingly because actual experience in the real world has been sooo damning. 

Second, as I mentioned earlier, we often see top tier capital holders allied in opposition to Capitalism.  Brink Lindsey presents an excellent discussion of both of these types of individuals & their flirtation with technocratic faith in Against the Dead Hand.

Nozick lays out the source of the Intellectual's value system and why their world might reinforce that system.   He doesn't fully explain WHY the intellectual value system is considered (by the intellectual) to be superior.   It's not simply superior because it gets higher grades, there is a deeper thread that explains why Intellectual teachers are readily about to recognize Intellectual students and Intellectual achievements. It's something intrinsic about the word "Intellectual".

My personal theory is that MUCH of Intellectual philosophy towards capitalism is predicated on a conceit that the physical world is accidental rather than intrinsic to existence.   -- the Mind / Body Dichotomy.

There's a perenniel, recurrent belief that philosophical purity seems to stem allow for greater DISENGAGMENT from the physical world.  The physical world is what introduces rounding errors into the perfect schemes that intellectuals hold.   I blogged about this at some length in response to an article from ESR on Male Physical Courage.  To these intellectuals, I contend, capitalism is more about the grungy used car salesman and dirt-under-his-nails mechanic....

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