We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectuals have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

Robert Nozick. This essay is several years’ old and it remains in my view one of the very best explanations of why universities and other such places are full of persons so hostile to the open market economy. Given current angst over why so many young graduates, especially in fields such as the arts, are all keen on the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, its certainly worth thinking through.

20 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • terence patrick hewett

    The reason that the arts are more fascinated with Corbyn and not the sciences is because scientists and engineers are mostly mono-manic obsessives who are only interested in their respective disiplines although there is a significant trend to polymathy. And of course you cannot blag your way through an honours degree in mathematics, physics or engineering: try that on and you will be booted out. They simply have neither the time nor the inclination to indulge themselves in meaningless theatre.

  • Bridges do not remain aloft on theory and partial credit. This is a check on engineers. Neither do nations, but it takes them longer to fall — cause and effect can be disassociated by politicians. Venezuela is falling more rapidly than is common, and there are still ideologues denying it’s socialism.

  • Darin

    By analogy, intellectuals raised and educated in Soviet system would hate socialism, because in real world outside school your family and your connections mattered, not your school grades. This seems plausible.

    Anyone did empirical verification of this theory (the better people do in school, the better grades they get, the more they will hate the ruling system)?

  • Mr Ed

    The desire to avoid the necessity of living an economic existence is a huge driver. Whether it be the wish to win the Lottery or get a sinecure job, or simply to steal from others under colour of law, there is a gnawing awareness in us all that we cannot abolish scarcity and we have to actually work, starve, find a way to carry on under charity, or steal.

    For the intellectual, the awkward facts of life are that upstart ‘hawkers’ can earn more, be self-sustaining and be more successful, and this is humiliating and intolerable. Therefore, the hawkers, makers and doers should be denigrated or destroyed, and the myth of the sanctified public servant be promoted.

  • pete

    At least in the olden days intellectuals were few and far between.

    Nowadays we have a university in every small town and more than one in many.

    Nearly all of them are staffed by mediocre people who consider themselves to be intellectuals.

  • bobby b

    “Intellectual” used to have a specific meaning involving mental ability.

    Now it simply means “someone who never learned a trade.”

  • Pat

    There is in addition the fact that schools are organised on paternal (or maternal, makes no difference) lines. Teacher is right, students can’t disagree without being marked down. Therefore those rewarded at school are rewarded for agreeing with teacher- the ones with the best grades are not necessarily the brightest, even where teacher is in fact right which is not always the case.
    Immerse people in a paternal society and they will accept that society in general should be paternal- which is basically the model that socialists propose.
    At present we have a further problem. Half of young people go to university where they get a degree telling them that they are part of the elite. Clearly half the population is way too large to actually form an elite. Most of them are being duped. Expect it to take some time for them to blame the teachers and lecturers who actually duped them, they will blame society first.

  • Alan Peakall

    The higher the level of abstraction at which a practitioner works successfully the greater the level of integrity necessary to compensate for the reduction in direct feedback. Because greater integrity merits greater prestige, people seek to work at higher levels of abstraction as an end in itself regardless of whether they can do so with success.

  • Paul Marks

    I am reminded of J.S. Mill saying (in “On Liberty”) that the freedom of production and trade (although he generally believed in it) was based on a “different principle” from the freedom of intellectuals (i.e. people like he himself) – this snobbery (for that is what it really is) is vile, and led liberalism to disaster. “Liberals” came to believe that as long as “civil liberties” were respected they could order people about in the economic sphere as much as they liked – after all had not J.S. Mill himself (like his father James Mill and family friend Jeremy Bentham) not despised big landowners and industrialists – and believed in worker coops under the advice of wise intellectuals…..

    Thus liberalism turned inside out – and became the doctrine of Plato, of Philosopher Kings, or rather “philosopher” Civil Servants.

  • Paul Marks

    There is a Japanese saying (although I can not remember which Japanese philosopher coined it)….

    “No arms without learning, and no learning without arms”

    Sadly arms were eventually restricted to the Samurai – which is NOT what this teaching origninally meant.

    It meant that a person should not rely on brute force alone – but also must develop their mind. However, that the mind is useless without practical skills, most importantly the skill to defend one’s self and other people with physical weapons.

    And not just men – after all one of the leaders in the war that established the property rights of Samurai (the principle that the state could not take away their land – a principle that made Japan different from China and the rest of Asia) was a woman.

  • Sean

    Eric Hoffer nailed it:

    “In a trader-dominated society, the scribe is usually kept out of the management of affairs, but is given a more or less free hand in the cultural field. By frustrating the scribe’s craving for commanding action, the trader draws upon himself the scribe’s wrath and scorn.”

    “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”

    “It is the malady of our age that the young are so busy teaching us that they have no time left to learn.”

  • Lee Moore

    By analogy, intellectuals raised and educated in Soviet system would hate socialism, because in real world outside school your family and your connections mattered, not your school grades. This seems plausible.

    I haven’t read Nozick’s piece for a while and don’t plan to read it again today. But my recollection is that his point was that free markets do not reward academics as well as they feel they deserve. I don’t recall that he made any comments about socialist systems. I think the Soviet system was pretty kind to academics, so long as they toed the party line. (Not that the free market is actually unkind to academics, far from it, merely that other folk can achieve more material success on less brainpower.)

    Anyone did empirical verification of this theory (the better people do in school, the better grades they get, the more they will hate the ruling system)?

    Again, I don’t think this is Nozick’s point. He doesn’t suggest that all clever people go into academia, just that people in academia are on average clever people, but clever people who can see less clever people (ie people they regularly used to beat in school exams) doing better in terms of money, fast cars, dancing girls etc. This is because free markets reward people who can deliver what customers want, rather than people who can do well in exams. (Or in Nozick’s terms, academia – outside the sciences – is essentially a beauty contest. Judges hold up scorecards with their opinion of your words, much like the teacher marking your essay. Commerce is not a beauty contest – your success or failure is measured in banknotes. It really doesn’t matter what observers think.)

    To refute Nozick’s argument you would need to show that academics were no less favourably inclined towards free markets than a control cohort of folk who did much the same as the academics did in school, but went into the private sector.

    My anecdotal experience is – I know a few clever people who decided on leaving university to go into teaching (school) rather than going into the world of commerce. Teaching was a “vocation.” Almost without exception by the time they got into their forties, they bitterly resented their classmates who had nicer houses, nicer holidays, savings and all those wages of non vocational commercial activity. Reunions in the pub, after a pint or two, were dominated by complaints that their work was not properly valued by society. (I’ve cleaned it up a bit.)

    Of course, as with academics, there is no certainty that such folk would have done well in the private sector. Academia, and the public sector inc state school teaching is a sort of womb like place where sales targets, and keeping bridges up, don’t figure. And that sort of thing doesn’t suit all clever people.

  • RRS

    For those seriously interested in the hostility of the “Intellectuals,” we might look back at Chapter XIII (Part II in particular)”Growing Hostility” (and “The sociology of the Intellectual”) in Schumpeter’s “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” [1943].

    It is a short Chapter with brief, crisp footnotes.

    We shall all be indebted to Nozick for deploying (if not coining) “wordsmiths.”

  • Jacob

    It should be noted that the inflation in useless “intellectuals” (especially in the “social sciences”) is closely related to Government financing of higher education.

    A very high number of people in modern society produce nothing during their whole lives but an endless stream of meaningless and useless and unintelligible drivel – “papers”.

  • TomJ

    The Hayek piece quoted is also worth looking at. One of its observations is that bright people who are happy with a free market system are more likely to be making money in said system than sitting in universities developing the theory supporting it.

  • Fred

    bobby b – well phrased.

    Yorkshire intellectuals at work here:-


    OT This video is LOL, if you like that sort of thing. https://dioclese.wordpress.com/2017/10/02/guy-verhofstadt/

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Lee Moore – and not just in money.

    Intellectuals under capitalism do not get the money and the PRESTIGE they crave.

    I think it was Maurice Cowling (himself an academic – Peterhouse Cambridge) who argued that Bentham and the Mills (even John Stuart Mill – although I would argue that John Stuart Mill was a much more complicated case than Jeremy Bentham who, to use technical and scientific language, was a shit) really just resented the social position of both the aristocracy and the manufacturers, and of the CLERGY.

    The “liberal intellectuals” did not just want to replace the Old Whig aristocracy – they wanted to be the “priesthood” of a new religion, with everyone treating them with reverence and awe.

    Much like Plato wanted his “Guardians” to be treated.

  • Watchman

    Speaking as a frequenter of universities (sounds like the sort of medieval Scottish title that is held by some obscure office of the kirk…) I would agree that the problem traditionally with academics is that they self-define as an intellectual class (remember the class model somehow had intellectuals outside the upper-middle-lower system on one side in many representations), but then try and equate this class status-wise to others. So they wanted the status of the Greek philosophers, at least as portrayed in the more sycophantic accounts. without having to adopt the self-imposed exclusion from society of the Greek philosophers (other than perhaps Oxbridge college fellows, who could effectively live as philosophers should they wish…).

    In most effective universities this attitude is dying: people are increasingly seeing academia as a job, not a vocation, especially in the sciences and engineering where it is increasingly normal to have industrial and academic careers mixed, but even in social sciences where academics are often also practioners or have worked in think tanks or the like. All of this means that they are a lot more aligned to strange ideas such as targets and value – especially as those who try and occupy the old academic idiom are going to go onto performance management and the like pretty quickly. Now this is the case in better universities, where the leadership is forcing the workforce to realise their employer gets to decide how their job is structured; in a bad univeristy you’ll see much more discussion of academic freedom (an important concept, but only in reference to research, since it also allows minority views such as libertarianism to be expressed in research – but teaching and attracting funding are not covered by it) and much less focus on personal objectives and the like. Which ironically means that if they have staff with particular skills, such as engaging with school kids (a seriously valuable skill in universities, believe it or not) or producing practical equipment to address specific issuess rather than leading cutting-edge research they don’t get the chance to be assessed on using their skills but have to fit into a one-size-fits-all model.

    In reality universities are probably shifting from attempting to be an impression of Greek philosophers to an impression of a functioning business (with about as much success perhaps…), but it is notable that several former nests of Marxists I knew have disappeared as a result (presumably to journalism and charities), either because the department was closed due to low achievement or because new leadership was imposed that broke up the clique. Academia is unlikely to ever lean towards libertarianism (it is after all contained within large institutions that try and form oligarchies and lobby government directly), but don’t judge it by the composiiton of academia in the 80s and 90s, or by the output of some of its members in the press: remember most academics don’t publish political pieces because they don’t get counted for anything unless you have a very generous interpreation of public engagement.

    This applies to the UK primarily – in Europe the picture varies (vastly oversimplified: northern Europe is seeing similiar trends, but due to the lack of student fees in the main the state is still the main driver; southern Europe still has the old model, but younger staff want to get into northern European institutions (just look how many Italians are in northern European universities), so are still modernising a bit), and I have no idea about the US as a whole. I think Australia mirrors the UK to an extent here.

  • staghounds

    It’s the exam-passing theory of value.

  • Speaking as a frequenter of universities (sounds like the sort of medieval Scottish title that is held by some obscure office of the kirk…)

    Thread winner 😆 😆 😆