Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eric Hoffer on the Intellectuals

 In the 1950s and 1960s a self-educated longshoreman from California began his commentary on American society and change. He had a lot to say about the intellectuals (Progressives as they call themselves today) that were rapidly becoming influential in his time. Here are a few quotes and predictions from Hoffer:
 The fact is that up to now the free society has not been good for the intellectual. It has neither accorded him a superior status to sustain his confidence nor made it easy for him to acquire an unquestioned sense of social usefulness. For he derives his sense of usefulness mainly from directing, instructing, and planning-from minding other people's business-and is bound to feel superfluous and neglected where people believe themselves competent to manage individual and communal affairs, and are impatient of supervision and regulation. A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual's sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman's sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worship. He sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.

The Ordeal of Change, Chapter 12 'Concerning Individual Freedom'

The ratio between supervisory and producing personnel is always highest where the intellectuals are in power. In a Communist country it takes half the population to supervise the other half.

The Temper of Our Time (1967) p. 70

The attitude of the intellectual community toward America is shaped not by the creative few but by the many who for one reason or another cannot transmute their dissatisfaction into a creative impulse, and cannot acquire a sense of uniqueness and of growth by developing and expressing their capacities and talents. There is nothing in contemporary America that can cure or alleviate their chronic frustration. They want power, lordship, and opportunities for imposing action. Even if we should banish poverty from the land, lift up the Negro to true equality, withdraw from Vietnam (Afghanistan or Iraq), and give half of the national income as foreign aid, they will still see America as an air-conditioned nightmare unfit for them to live in.

The Temper of Our Time, Chapter VI “Some Thoughts on the Present” (1966)

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