Saturday, 13 November 2010

An intellectual ruling elite? Aye, there's the rub.


Most secular conservatives and libertarians agree with liberals that nations should be ruled by an intellectual elite - this is simply taken for granted.

Intellect is seen as the primary qualification for leadership. 

Yet, looking across history, it is clear that it is seldom that intellectuals - as such - have been rulers; most usually it has been warriors and/ or priests: and the ruling priests were not necessarily intellectuals.

Of course it is best if leaders can be intellectuals as well as possessing other qualities - and the very greatest leaders usually were intellectuals in addition to much else.

For example, King Alfred the Great was a great intellectual, as well as a great military leader and an exceptionally devout Christian.

Winston Churchill had a tremendous intellect - or at least he was a tremendous writer - as well as orator; as well as having clarity of purpose, integrity and courage.

But it is easy to find examples of bad leaders who were exceptionally intelligent - Henry XIII for example. Not to mention Lenin, Mao and Hitler.

The point is that we should not make intellect a necessary attribute of leaders, because the quality of leadership is so rare that if we do insist on intellectuals, we will find ourselves led by people who are intellectuals but lack other basic necessary qualities, lack other more important qualities.

Intellectuals that want intellectuals to run things are self-serving in a short termist sense - but need to think harder about what has happened when they get what they want.