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. 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A common error is the assumption that anyone intelligent must be an intellectual, and that anyone not an intellectual is not intelligent. There are many examples of intelligent and effective leaders who were not intellectuals, as such.

Part of the reason that many past leaders were not intellectuals is that the intellectual classes were a small and relatively closed group, and therefore there were many intelligent people who were not intellectuals. Today, the ruling elite has done a fairly good job of identifying and coopting almost every person of high intelligence, thus reducing the prospect that independent thoughts and centers of resistance can arise.