April 20, 2006


How Bush's Bad Ideas May Lead to Good Ones (ALAN WOLFE, 4/14/06, Chronicle Review)

If, like me, you are in the business of ideas, the presidency of George W. Bush is a dream come true. That is not because the president is fond of the product I produce; on the contrary, he may be the most anti-intellectual president of modern times, a determined opponent of science, a man who values loyalty above debate among his associates. But governance is impossible without ideas, and by basing his foreign and domestic policies on so many bad ones, President Bush may have cleared the ground for the emergence of a few good ones.

Mr. Wolfe confuses two separate questions here. Mr. Bush is indeed -- like Ronald Reagan, Ike, Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, and most all our other successful modern presidents -- an anti-intellectual president. Of course, America is a notoriously anti-intellectual nation as is Anglo-Americanism a deeply anti-intellectual culture. That is, in fact, how we avoided the disastrous isms of the 20th century and how we differ from those who followed the Enlightenment/French model to ruin.

However, it is precisely because Mr. Bush is so hostile to the products of Reason and dependent on faith, history, and tradition that his ideas about governance are so powerful and destined to prevail regardless of who follows him in office or from what party. No elected American leader is going to diverge very far from his understanding that the words of the Declaration are literally true and, universally, the only basis for decent government :

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Contrary to the two books under review in Mr. Wolfe's essay then, America will continue to force the Middle East towards liberalization and continue to transform our welfare system from a statist one with defined benefits to one with mandatory contributions, an Ownership Society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2006 2:27 PM

Perhaps the distinction should be between "anti-intellectual", someone who is opposed to the intellectual mindset or way of thinking, vs. "an-intellectual" (as in "apolitical"), someone who is not an intellectual and doesn't aspire to be one. The first actively opposes intellectuals and their -isms, while the latter is someone who just doesn't care to be an intellectual the way some people chose not to be sports fans of a given team.

The same distinctions can be made in a spectrum of causes and interests, and it's usually the true believers who just a can't understand that because one doesn't share their enthusiasm doesn't mean that one dislikes their enthusiasm. And so they lump everyone together in their little us-vs.-them worldview.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 20, 2006 3:21 PM

Except that Americans are actively anti-intellectual, having fought Communism, Darwinism, Nazism etc.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2006 5:24 PM

"...a determined opponent of science"--Isn't it the Left who think Bush controls the weather?

The author probably refers to man-made Global Warming, which is not science, but a mutant hybrid cult of earth-worship with a statist regulatory regime.

By 'anti-science', he must also mean opposition to human embryo farming. Science can do many things. But it cannot tell us if that thing is right or wrong, moral or immoral. Hiding behind "...Science!" is just a way to silence critics and win the moral debate...without having actually engaged in one.

They are trying to make science do what it cannot do, as if science could tell us if it is self-evidently true that that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.

Posted by: Noel at April 20, 2006 9:18 PM