February 12, 2004

The New Intellectuals

Lew Rockwell on the present intellectual environment:

The best journals today are not published by universities or large publishing houses, but by non-profits such as the Mises Institute, the Independent Institute, the Acton Institute, and many, many others. These are journals that seek to make a difference in the world. They aren't just manuals for state planning, as academic journals used to be. In books, no one takes marching orders from nationally approved lists as people did in generations past. As for news sources, you know the story: the cartel has been entirely smashed. The prominence of libertarian ideas in the debate today is notable, but what is most striking is the presence of debate at all! And the left does great good in exposing the nefarious plans of the Republicans, and drumming up antiwar sentiment.

Something resembling a free market in ideas is present today in a way in which it was not in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The debate, the conversation, is not national but global, and it goes on constantly in forums so numerous that it is impossible to keep up. The spread and speed of ideas makes it impossible for the state to manage opinion with anywhere near the degree of control it once had. Time was when a president on a major network spoke ex cathedra. Now he is subject to relentless criticism and even ridicule.

The Bush administration has never understood the changed political and cultural environment which it inherited when it took office. It operated on the old assumption that controlling the state and its major adjunct industries was enough to carry the day. To supercharge an economy and win a war was simply a matter of will and money. The lies were seen as an incidental, inevitable, and wholly justifiable part of statecraft.

But we live in times that devour anyone who aspires to be the one all-controlling national or international will. Real intellectuals - and they are everywhere today - will never stand for it. What has made the difference? Technology? Sure. Maybe the day of the monolithic nation state, managed from the top down, has just run its course. Or maybe the work of those who dared dissent from approved opinion in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, is finally coming to fruition. Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, and all the other courageous people who never bought the line back then, gave a great gift to the world, which we are just now unwrapping.