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

Character is more important than brains. The first time I heard this assertion, it was uttered with exaggerated disdain by an Oxford history don. He went on to remark that this was a quotation from one of the leading generals of the twentieth century, a veteran of two world wars. This statement, the professor opined, clearly revealed the anti-intellectual prejudice typical of an upper-class military officer. I remember wondering even at the time whether it had occurred to him that the opposite assumption was equally typical of a middle-class academic.

Alastair Cavendish

35 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Shlomo Maistre

    “Alastair Cavendish” most British name ever, lol. Love it.

  • Weird; a person who doesn’t think brains are important should rate twentieth-century intellectuals more highly than someone who does.

  • Stonyground

    If we didn’t have people of high intelligence but bad moral character, where would our evil villains come from?

    Would it be too controversial to suggest that both things matter and that, in our complicated and messy world, we have people with various mixtures of the two?

  • Martin

    Well, it explains why so many academics “show attitude”. In Germany “Haltung zeigen”, nearly all the times against any criticism of the government or media which doesn’t come from the extreme left or supposedly horribly mistreated minorities, is rather common for academics.

    It’s character simulation for people who don’t have one.

  • TomJ

    @CaleyGraph: Not so weird for someone who also thinks good character important…

  • Rudolph Hucker

    From the same author (Alastair Cavendish):

    It has been almost impossible to predict which of one’s friends would maintain a relatively level head and which of them would behave like decapitated chickens, but one thing is clear: advanced degrees do not help. This, when you think about it, is not altogether surprising. Members of an Oxford college are no more immune from groupthink than members of a working men’s club. People tend to replicate the political and social opinions of those around them, and this tendency may be even more pronounced if they regard those around them as unusually intelligent people.


    I have worked with some of these “unusually intelligent people”. One Professor was a classmate of Margaret Thatcher (Oxford, Chemistry). He described her as “invincibly narrow-minded”. Whether we loved or hated Thatcher, there’s no mistaking she had vision, a sense of purpose, drive and commitment. Which are all aspects of personality that are foreign and mysterious to a typical member of the intelligentsia.

  • GregWA

    There’s a third thing that’s important that isn’t quite captured by either “character” or “brains”: common sense.

    My observation has been that the more educated (not intelligent) a person is, the less common sense they have, myself included (my reference here is my many brothers and sisters who do not have advanced degrees, mostly just high school education). And the more intelligent they are, the more likely they are to have several very weird personal traits. It is one of the joys of life to run into people who are exceptions to these rules.

    Unfortunately, the bureaucracies that rule us are dominated by educated people; education, or race/gender/etc, being the only prerequisite for the job, not intelligence or common sense.

  • Glyn

    Intellectuals notoriously overvalue purely intellectual achievements.

  • Fraser Orr

    FWIW, I think the word “character” is often used to manipulate people into doing things against their best interest. What is “character”? Well the fact that it is hard to answer that question crisply is part of the problem, it becomes an open book in which you allow others to write their own demands of you and insist you follow them lest you compromise your character. One of the guys in the OP was a military man. There is a place bristling with this stuff. I recently watch a documentary on the Battle of Britain, and one of the still living pilots described his fear that if he didn’t go up, and didn’t attack, that he might be dismissed with the notation LMF — lack of moral fibre — that would follow him forever. So this is just a way of manipulating a man to go against his own self interest in survival by manipulating this notion of “character”.
    I’m not by any means saying that “character” is bad, or that everything that gets thrown in the bucket of “character” is not praisworthy (those pilots certainly were praiseworthy), I am just saying it is a mechanism of manipulation that we, even we on the libertarian side, are often deceived by.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Personally, my favorite quote from the link is:

    There could be no more graphic illustration of the debased characters shared by everyone currently in power than the way in which they all reacted to a medical emergency at the beginning of 2020. First, instead of trying to instill courage and stoicism in the populace, as Churchill did, they created a propaganda machine to indoctrinate the public with blind panic. Second, they sought to enrich themselves as much as possible with a gigantic transfer of funds from the public to the private sector, and specifically to the cronies of those in government. Third, they sought an immediate and drastic increase in state power. The sickest joke of all was this: as they acted solely to increase their own power and wealth, they continually screamed that any member of the public who stood up to them was being “selfish.”

  • Nemesis

    Think I prefer an Einstein quote:
    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

  • Rudolph Hucker

    More from Alastair Cavendish:-

    The problem is not that the Prime Minister and his myrmidons threw a few parties, it is that they made a lot of insolent and unnecessary rules preventing others from doing so. The rules the government made really were wicked. They undoubtedly killed some people, and created misery and despair for many others. Men and women died alone, without the comfort of their families round them. People retreated to their beds, pulled the covers over their heads, and slowly went mad with loneliness and fear.
    It bears repeating over and over again, for the media invariably gets it wrong: there is nothing wrong with Downing Street staff enjoying themselves. The reprehensible thing is that they tried to prevent others from doing so.


  • pete

    We need more information. Who was the general talking about?

  • djc

    Many thanks for this QotD, it has led me to the author’s very engaging blog. Bookmarked

  • Paul Marks

    Moral character (moral wisdom) is more important than intelligence (“brains”).

    Someone may be highly intelligent – and do terrible evil, using their intelligence to make their evil intention do more damage.

    We all have evil within in us (each day we fight the evil in ourselves – in greater or lesser ways), when we say someone has good moral character we mean that they are person who wins that fight – at least some of the time.

    As for the highly intelligent person who denies there is any struggle in the human person between good and evil (and no capacity to choose good over the desire to do evil) – do not let them take you alive, you will profoundly regret it if you allow yourself to fall under their power whilst still alive.

    On the other hand, the person of good moral character also needs intelligence – in order to defeat those people who give in to the evil within themselves.

    If the evil are intelligent and the good are stupid – then the consequences are very bad indeed.

  • Paul Marks

    One must also be wary of outward appearances – someone can lead a very decadent life and still be morally right on the really important things (when it really counts).

    The classic example would be the American Founding Father G. Morris – everyone knew of his decadent life (drinking, women chasing, and so on), but on the great moral questions of his time, such as the horror of slavery in the United States, or the terrible atrocities (and false principles – the rights of “the people” rather than individual persons) of the French Revolution, he was a righteous man.

    Sometimes it takes a situation of real horror to show who the man of the right, the righteous man, really is. Sometimes one can be very surprised by who it turns out to be.

    That does not mean a decedent life style is a good thing – but the old line “a certain sort of man may not live well – but they always die well” comes to mind.

    “Get her out of here now, I will hold them back as long as I can. Name your first son after me – but careful they keep away from drinking and gambling, I wish I had”.

  • I might not have a problem with someone who values character over brains if I didn’t think they disdained brains. I might not have too much of a problem with someone who valued brains over character if I didn’t think they disdained character.

    All the same, to me this is like trying to decide whether it’s more important to have lungs or a heart. Good luck in trying to go without either! @_@

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Intelligence is over-rated.

    I prefer wisdom and backbone.

  • Lee Moore

    The old Army saying was :

    Clever and highly active = useful staff officer
    Clever and lazy = ideal General material
    Stupid and lazy = perfectly OK officer material
    Stupid and highly active = disaster in the making

    So they don’t entirely disapprove of brains.

  • bobby b

    It’s a bit anachronistic, if you’re in the U.S., to discuss the relative merits of intelligence versus character by measuring the current U.S academe against the current U.S. military leadership. Neither has much of either.

  • WindyPants

    I’d like to echo the point made above. I’d never heard of Alastair Cavendish or his British Freedom blog before yesterday, however after reading the SQOTD, I’ve spent the last 24 hours or so shredding his blog. It’s very rare to find a new (at least, new to me) blog these days with the wit and warmth of Mr. Cavendish and he seems to be an all round agreeable chap.

    My favorite line of his, so far, has to be the beautifully phrased;

    “[Matt] Hancock is a man with no discernible talents, who has not put foot right in his current role. Add to this complete lack of ability the menacing demeanour of a teenager complaining that none of the girls notice him in a video made immediately before a school shooting, and you might wonder why he has remained in his post.”


  • Paul Marks

    Not quite correct Lee Moore.

    Clever and hard working is indeed staff officer material.

    Clever and lazy can make a good combat officer – the enemy will stop him being lazy.

    Stupid and lazy is not a perfectly good officer (not at all) – such a person needs to be put in a position where they can do no harm (or just removed – they should NOT be officers at all).

    Stupid and hard working is indeed a disaster – they must be removed at once, they should not be officers and if (by some mischance) they become officers , they must be removed at once.

    I believe it all comes from Prussian Army sayings.

  • Paul Marks

    I have now read the article itself – it is a left down. It claims that government policy was driven by the desire to enrich cronies of the government – that is absurd. Even someone as cynical as me would not make such a claim. The idea they the government stirred up panic so that its cronies could make money is ignorant (that was not the motive – government cronies may well have profited, but that was NOT the driving force of policy). “Unconscionable” – to use the word the article used towards a whole class of people (people it supposedly is defending)

    And, of course, the article assumes that Duke of Edinburgh (and everyone else – of the people it claims to be defending) had “unconscionable” opinions on race and women (and blah, blah, blah) – without producing any evidence for such a claim, or even a clear definition of what “unconscionable” is supposed to mean in this context.

    My mistake – I forgot the rule to “always think twice before clicking on the link”.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Paul Marks,

    It claims that government policy was driven by the desire to enrich cronies of the government – that is absurd.

    Why is that absurd?

    Does the article claim that this was the only motivation for government policy or just one of multiple motivations for government policy?

  • Lee Moore

    Clever and lazy can make a good combat officer – the enemy will stop him being lazy.

    I believe the thinking behind {clever + lazy} being the right mix for a General was that what is ultimately required from a General is PROMPT DECISIONS. You need the chap to break off from endless analysis and weighing of options, to actually decide what to do. Your clever lazy chap will probably absorb the options put to him by his staff officers quite quickly and competently, but then he will make his decision quite quickly and 80-20 competently. Whereas your {clever + hard working} chap may get too bogged down in the detail to make decisions quickly. Ditherers make poor Generals.

    Unlike politics, where doing nothing is the 80-20 correct answer, Generalling is not a do-nothing sport. The enemy is actively trying to kill you.

  • Jim

    “We need more information. Who was the general talking about?”

    My guess would be Monty.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I believe the author of that army saying (lazy & stupid etc) was Hammerstein-Equord.

  • staghounds

    And he said that most ordinary officers were stupid/lazy. Like most people, really.

  • APL

    “Character is more important than intelligence”

    That’s possibly true.

    If you have character, you might well refuse to kill a human infant, disembowling the still alive body and taking it’s cells while they are still warm, then implanting those cells into mice that have had their own immune system destroyed, ( so called ‘humanizing mice’ ), prossibly considering such an act an evil act.

    But people do such things, and I propose, ‘Humanizing mice’ is one example of just how inhuman, humans can be.

    If you are just intelligent, you might consent to do that sort of thing, rationalizing your actions as ‘I was just obeying orders’, ‘I had to do it, or I might have lost my job’.

    Everyone, intelligent or stupid, during, these last few years, has had the opportunity to demonstrate character, at the risk of some personal cost.

    Anyone recall, how in the olden days, we used to revile the Aztecs for cutting the beating hearts out of their sacrificial victims?

  • GregWA

    bobby b, at February 1, 2022 at 5:49 am,
    “current military leadership”…presumably you mean the highest ranking leadership, the political appointees? Say General officer and above. Yes? I suspect the mere colonels and below are better, apart from having been educated at the same cesspools of Marxist indoctrination as everyone else in the last 30 years.

  • Douglas2

    “We need more information. Who was the general talking about?”

    From a reference in Combat Motivation: The Behaviour of Soldiers in Battle by A. Kellett, 2013; I think the General in question was Wavell, and the context I’ve not found yet, but the source would be:

    Morale: a Study of Men and Courage by Baynes, P113

    This book isn’t currently available to me.

  • The Pedant-General

    “Your clever lazy chap will probably absorb the options put to him by his staff officers quite quickly and competently”

    This. The clever and diligent will fret about the impending inevitable loss of life – some Poor Bloody Infantry will have to bear the brunt – where the clever and lazy will have fewer compunction. Possibly.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It seems to me that both “character” and “brains” are ill-defined.

    Clearly, “brains” is not just IQ, but also creativity, self-criticism (necessary to weed out the bad ideas produced by creativity), and commonsense. (Hallo GregWA!) The latter might be just self-criticism but i won’t push Occam’s razor too far.

    Similarly, there are several “character” traits that make up “character” (many of which i lack).

    WRT what is “more important”: as others have remarked above, the exact mixture must be evaluated on its own merits. Lack of both “character” and “brains” is usually not dangerous; but the lack of only one of the two might well be.

    Having said all that, it is a thought-provoking SQotD.

  • … quotation from one of the leading generals of the twentieth century, a veteran of two world wars. This statement, the professor opined, clearly revealed the anti-intellectual prejudice typical of an upper-class military officer … (OP)

    I think the General in question was Wavell, ((Douglas2, February 2, 2022 at 4:18 pm)

    Wavell might have acquired a certain opinion about intellectuals from his early experience of their prejudice:

    “There is no need for your son to go into the army. He is really quite intelligent.” (headmaster of Winchester to the father of the future General Wavell, circa 1900)

    I mention the quote in this old comment, which also notes the tendency of modern US universities to defend their anti-Asian-American admissions by claiming that, above a certain level, character (which they claim academically-gifted Asian-Americans tend to lack) matters more to an ‘elite’ university than mere academic ability.

  • bobby b

    Niall Kilmartin (Stirling)
    February 2, 2022 at 11:25 pm

    “I mention the quote in this old comment, which also notes the tendency of modern US universities to defend their anti-Asian-American admissions by claiming that, above a certain level, character (which they claim academically-gifted Asian-Americans tend to lack) matters more to an ‘elite’ university than mere academic ability.”

    I think it’s the subjective, unmeasureable quality of “character” as opposed to the quantifiability of IQ that drives them to the former. It allows them pure personal preference in admissions.