In some quarters it’s become something of a parlor game. Who predicted the advent of Trump? Who wins the soothsayer award this year?
Master salesman, showman and famed cartoonist Scott Adams proudly touted his prognosticatory powers on his blog. He even suggested that, for having called the election correctly, he had demonstrated that his pseudo-theorizing was absolutely correct. One happily grants credit to the Adams Ouija Board. As a theorist, he leaves much to be desired.
More serious intellectuals and a few pseudo-intellectuals nominated the Frankfurt School of anti-fascist Marxist philosophers who rose to prominence after World War II. Having lived through the Nazi era they wanted, reasonably enough, to ensure that it would not happen again. So they theorized that it would come back and give everyone a chance to get it right this time. They wanted to fight it… with words.
In truth, the Third Reich was not defeated by words. And the Marxist fairy tales they were selling, once they were put into practice, produced some of the greatest political catastrophes the world has known.
The Frankfurt School’s love of Marxism, coupled with a strenuous critique of capitalism meant only one thing. They could not bring themselves to credit the capitalistic Anglosphere with winning the war. They did not want to emulate life in stuffy, proper Great Britain. They were afraid that the Anglosphere would take their mistresses away from them.
In truth, Nazism was another effort to win a culture war against Anglo-American hegemony. So, grant the Frankfurt School some consistency.
Now, we have Eric Hoffer. At least, he was not a pointy-headed intellectual elitist. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today Prof. Reuven Brenner recalls some thoughts of the great longshoreman philosopher, a man whose book, The True Believer was a best seller in the 1950s. According to Brenner Heller predicted the rise of Trump in a 1970 New York Times op-ed: “Whose Country Is America?”
As it happens, one admires Heller for his clear thinking and robust prose. Did he predict the advent of Trump? Not exactly. On the other hand, Heller’s analysis of American culture circa 1970 resonates well.
Writing in the midst of the Vietnam counterculture, Hoffer took out after the intellectual elites and student radicals.
About the intellectuals, he wrote:
Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk.
Does this explain the Democratic and Clintonian contempt for the common people. Perhaps it does. Hoffer argued that “the alienated intellectual” wants to assert his own importance:
He wants to influence affairs, have a hand in making history, and feel important.
True enough, intellectuals want to assert their own importance. They abhor a world where military and industrial prowess determines status and prestige. Apparently, they were willing to place their self-importance ahead of the national interest. Today, they are promoting factional interests, multiple cults over national interest.
Intellectuals look at the world and see only problems. And they declare that they have solutions to the problems. Hoffer suggested that they do not. Intellectuals believe that problems “like race relations, violence, drugs” can be solved by government programs.”
Common people like Eric Hoffer, however:
… know that at present money cannot cure etc., whereas the social doctors go on prescribing an injection of so many billions for every social ailment.
Even John F. Kennedy understood this. Brenner writes:
Even John F. Kennedy had been skeptical of intellectuals. Arthur Schlesinger noted that JFK had “considerable respect for the experience of businessmen,” which “gave them clues to the operations of the American economy which his intellectuals, for all their facile theories, did not possess.”
This is a noble theory. It is belied by the facts. Didn’t John F. Kennedy hand the reins of government over to a band of intellectuals, aka the best and the brightest? And didn’t these people give us Vietnam. One understands that Robert McNamara was not a Harvard intellectual, but he had no military experience. The Vietnam War was escalated by McNamara, a man in love with his brilliance, by McGeorge Bundy, a Harvard dean and by Lyndon Johnson.
Now the best and the brightest are at war again… this time against Donald Trump… a man who was, until recently, a New York Democrat. In truth, they are defending their social position against someone who is promoting national identity.
As for what was wrong with the counterculture, Hoffer posited that the young were too rich for their own good. They could indulge themselves and avoid meaningful work. They could especially avoid fighting in Vietnam.
The point is worth considering:
They have become more flamboyant, more demanding, more violent, more knowledgeable and more experienced….The general impression is that nowadays the young act like the spoiled children of the rich.
Hoffer called the problem, the “ordeal of affluence.” As he suggested, it is a quality that recalls aristocracy. Nowadays we have trust fund children. Brenner explains Hoffer’s analysis:
Wealth without work “creates a climate of disintegrating values with its fallout of anarchy.” Among the poor this takes the form of street crime; among the affluent, of “insolence on the campus”—both “sick forms of adolescent self-assertion.” As a result, “‘men of words’ and charismatic leaders—people who deal with magic—come into their own,” while “the middle class, lacking magic, is bungling the job” of maintaining social order.
Arrogance, decadence and insolence… it’s a wondrous trifecta. Were I to be slightly churlish I would point out that counterculture was a cult to a charismatic and martyred president, one JFK. And, I would also note that Bill Clinton owed his appeal to his charisma. The same applies to Barack Obama. These presidents did not work their way up the ranks. Most of them never did anything but work for the government.
As for what was wrong with the Boomer generation, some thinkers at the time suggested that the fault lay with the pervasive influence of the child rearing techniques of Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Hoffer was correct to see that the intellectual elites, a group that was empowered by JFK—and by FDR before him—would want to assert their own importance by shaping: “a new generation in their own image.”
Today, bureaucrats, celebrities and the media elite are fighting for their influence. They are trying to rally the nation against Trump by conjuring up nostalgia for Barack Obama. Since Obama projected weakness on the world stage and since he significantly diminished American pride and influence, those who are marching in his name are projecting strength… but not national pride. They are marching for multiculturalism.
Hoffer was having none of their pretensions:
We must deflate the pretensions of self-appointed elites. These elites will hate us no matter what we do, and it is legitimate for us to help dump them into the dustbin of history.