Earned Knowledge, L14,P2

A New Intellectual Class

Stable rulership has always required some sort of intellectual class to convince the ruled that their circumstances were ideal, necessary, or at least better than circumstances in other countries. Whether this intellectual class was religious or secular (non-religious) wasn’t really important, just that the intellectuals were aligned with rulership.

Over the period of monarchs (and as we covered in Lesson 11), intellectuals were given government jobs. The rulers needed people who could read, write and calculate accurately. They also needed people who could tear down the legitimacy of the Church, so it could transfer to the monarchs.

Then came the new method of Francis Bacon, with a flood of new discoveries following. The period of these discoveries in generally called the Enlightenment. And as we noted, these discoverers were outsiders, and opponents of authority. (As noted in Lesson 12, their motto was, Take nobody’s word for it.”) About halfway through its run, however, at roughly 1750 AD, the Enlightenment took a dark turn. Rather than working to discover what was right, it began to fixate on what was wrong… on condemning and defeating opponents.

By doing so, the leading voices of the Enlightenment became popular among rulers, who saw their utility. Soon enough, intellectuals understood that ruling groups would reward them for tearing down their opponents.

By the end of the Enlightenment, the new intelligentsia held posts at universities and royal courts. But with monarchies starting to fail, those positions weren’t terribly secure.

In 1830, a bright and troubled man named August Comte began promoting new ideas on science, claiming that theory was just as important as experiment and re-enthroning authority; especially the authority of an expanding academic hierarchy.

But Comte’s theories, as novelist Leo Tostoy warned, stood upon “the arbitrary assertion that humanity is an organism.” In other words, Comte and his followers insisted upon looking at humans as a collective, not as individuals.

At the same time another new doctrine that demanded to see humanity as a collective rather than as individuals began to be promoted. That doctrine was socialism. And, in the new intellectual way, socialists made progress by complaining, and by tearing down whatever stood in their way.

What’s fascinating about socialism is that it was contradicted to its core, but that people wanted to believe in it anyway. Beyond the fundamental error of seeing humanity as a type of bee hive, here are three of its biggest contradictions:

  1. Socialists attacked the bad results created by Europe’s aristocracies. But they didn’t blame the aristocracies, probably because they were losing all their power anyway. Instead, they blamed capitalism, the new industrial economy. And so they made money, a mere tool for exchange, into an evil of itself; this was rather like blaming a knife rather than the killer who uses it. And so, having enough money to hire employees became a sure sign of evil to the socialists.
  2. Many intellectuals hoped to become what the aristocracy had been: a legally privileged class. Socialism was able to provide that to them, while a capitalistic, market economy provided no position for privileged or protected classes.
  3. A primary problem under the monarchies had been that the best property was kept to the rulers, and the rest of the populace was left with worse property and far less of it. Socialism, however, made that situation even worse, demanding that its rulership would own absolutely all property, and that the people would own nothing at all.

All of that said, it’s unfair to blame many early believers in socialism. These people were ignorant of a great deal that we know (like socialist governments killing far more of their own people than any ruling groups in history), they were poorly educated, and many had suffered badly.

Under the monarchs, people were told that the king was grand, glorious, and was providing for them well. The difficult reality of their lives wasn’t acknowledged. And so when socialists began acknowledging the truth, then promising something far better… something they said was “scientific” as well… a lot of people wanted to believe.

As aggressive socialism rooted in Russia (1917) and other places, many intellectuals wanted it to succeed and wanted it to spread to their homelands. Not all intellectuals followed this pattern, of course, but as socialists slowly took over at universities and school systems, those who differed were pushed out.

By the early 20th century, many intellectuals were rushing into socialism. This, however, was also the moment when the industrial revolution was changing the world, and most Westerners chose commercial goods above socialist theories. Why, after all, would someone spend long hours with difficult books that merely promised a golden age, when all the goods of a golden age were for sale, cheap, at the corner store?

But even countries that rejected socialism very strongly gave in to huge, factory-style systems, overseen by the intellectual class. These, of course, were systems of “public education.”

Schooling that was uniform, compulsory and paid for by central governments began in Germany in the 1870s and then spread world-wide; it’s hard, after all, to argue against promises of every child being educated.

Such systems took hold in the United States by about 1910. Politicians were pleased to support this for several reasons. One was that they needed to cast whole generations in a single mold if they were to hold a huge nation together. Another was simply that it gave them more power and allowed them to gain larger budgets… that is, it helped them to draw more money out of the people.

Operating these huge systems, of course, required armies of properly trained intellectuals. And so dozens of new colleges and universities sprang up, nearly always with “socially-minded” intellectuals running them.

All Combined

Because of the things covered above. plus a few others, by the middle of the 20th century the West had changed dramatically, and these things dominated:

    • Politics and the state decided all questions of morality and punishment. Other standards were excluded and ridiculed.
    • Roughly half the production of the people was sent directly to capital cities.
    • Mechanisms were created for producing currency at zero cost. Traditional metal money (silver and gold) was always hard to obtain, and so it was replaced with national money, which could be created in any amounts and at almost no cost.
    • Financial transactions were kept within just a few, large financial centers, carefully overseen by central governments.
    • So long as their lives got a bit better (due almost entirely to technology), most people accepted more and more central control, then reflexively defended their choices.
    • Blame for failed policies fell upon a few office-holders at best. Being able to vote convinced people that they were in control, and so they went along with almost anything. Compliance with government orders approached 100 percent, far higher than any emperor or monarch had ever enjoyed.
    • The strategy of using government power to enforce your opinion was adopted by a very large number of people.
    • Christianity was continuously pushed out of Western life. In fact, more or less all external standards of judgment were pushed out of Western life.

All of these things, put together, made modern governments larger, richer and more universally obeyed than any others in human history. As a result, the 20th century saw far worse wars than ever before, frequent persecutions for those who held “wrong” political opinions, universal surveillance (despite constitutional protections), and far more emotional manipulation than ever in the past. No tyranny of any era could compare to the control and obedience enjoyed by modern rulership.


Paul Rosenberg