Taking on the right-on with cold, hard facts: a review of Social Justice Fallacies by Thomas Sowell (Jaspreet Singh Boparai, 2/05/24, The Critic)

These days, “idealism” means never having to say you’re sorry, and Sowell is disgusted by the mechanisms whereby intellectuals are protected from the consequences of their decisions, particularly when their ideas end in failure and cause people to suffer.

Sowell thinks the most dangerous intellectuals are the clever ones who don’t realise they have a faulty grasp of information that could change their ideas. Most of us would agree that decisions ought to be made by those with the most relevant knowledge. The problem is that intellectuals often disagree, not just on what constitutes “relevant knowledge”, but on bigger questions involving what knowledge itself really is.

To a normal person, this all looks like hair-splitting. Yet arguments about the definition of knowledge can have life-and-death consequences. Intellectuals have the job of trying to settle these questions for everyone ’s benefit. Alas, too many of them forget about benefiting others. Many develop a taste for using other people as lab rats. Sowell reminds us:

Intellectual élites crusading for their intellectual goals have, for centuries, seen children as a special target for their messages. As far back as the eighteenth century, William Godwin said that children — other people’s children — “are a sort of raw material put into our hands”. Their minds “are like a sheet of white paper”.

Sowell has a special contempt for Woodrow Wilson, who was president of Princeton University before he became US president. Wilson epitomises the smugness, self-righteousness and passive-aggressive authoritarianism of those who believe in a dictatorship of professors and seem to regard freedom as conditional on your race and whether you have the right academic qualifications to make decisions for yourself.

Wilson is one of the central figures in the “Progressive Movement” of the early 20th century, who were obsessed with breeding and eugenics; Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race (1916) helped shape much of their thinking. Grant deplored “a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life”, especially when it was used “both to prevent the elimination of defective infants and the sterilisation of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community”. Idealism provides no protection against dark ideas, it seems.

MAGA and the Progressives are united by their Darwinism.