August 12, 2003


As the great Wilbur Cobb once said: “It’s easy to be a genius. You just have to say that everything is crap.” Jean Bethke Elshtain picks up Cobb’s theme:

Somewhere along the line, the idea took hold that, to be an intellectual, you have to be against it, whatever it is. The intellectual is a negator. Affirmation is not in his or her vocabulary.

For evidence of this you need only look at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, starring George Monbiot and a cast of emotionally enfeebled unimogs.

So reflexive is the role of the intellectual as negator, so free from accountability, that the very meaning of dissent has been obscured. Hence in the wake of 9/11, those who disagreed with claims that America somehow brought the attacks on herself were said to be "stifling dissent." But the true measure of dissent isn't whether the vast majority of one's countrymen and women agree with what one is saying but, rather, that one has the freedom to say it.

Which reasonable people have been pointing out ever since the alleged “crushing of dissent” began on September 12, 2001. Go read the whole piece.

Posted by Tim Blair at August 12, 2003 12:20 AM

"A Festival of Ideas". Whoppee!

What we need more of is: "A Festival of People who have good ideas, put them into action and then take resposibility for them if they fall flat."

Posted by: Wallace at August 12, 2003 at 02:21 AM

I do not agree with this--there I feel smarter already.

Posted by: Jim at August 12, 2003 at 02:25 AM

The vulgar thus thro’ imitation err,
As oft the learn’d by being singular;
So much they scorn the crowd, that if the throng
By chance go right, they purposely go wrong.

—Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, Part II at

The intellect makes simplified, reductive wire models of reality, in order to eliminate the details & get at far-reaching structures whose involvement in our world is often rather murky. The intellect is at its surest, when ceteris paribus becomes ceteris non existentibus & it makes structures of exhaustive alternatives—the stuff of mathematical logic, probability theory, etc. Of these structures, the simplest is true/false. “False!” is the intellect’s earliest & favorite tool. Or at least, for now I think that’s not false.

Posted by: ForNow at August 12, 2003 at 05:36 AM

Ya' don't suppose there's a Bizarro version called the "Adelaide Festival of Doing Stuff and Getting Things Done", do ya'?

Ewwgghhh, how frightfully American of me. Sorry!

Posted by: Tongue Boy at August 12, 2003 at 05:47 AM

What's a unimog?

Posted by: Skinny Hippo at August 12, 2003 at 09:08 AM

Dr Knopfelmacher wrote a classic essay on the subject of intellectuals as social critics.
"Knopfelmacher, Frank. Intellectuals and Politics, and Other Essays. Melbourne: Nelson, 1968."
He defined intellectuals as those agents whose social role it is to "fashion critque", relevant to the social, moral and intellectual destiny of mankind, of prevaling social institutions .
ie troublemakers and stirrers.
Thus intellectuals tend to be anti-capitalist, anti-American and anti-sci-tech on principle since these are the prevailing institutions relevant to our social, moral and intellectual destiny.
Thus intellectuals are, by definition, Leftist in orientation.
When they join the bureaucracy they become apoltical social constructors rather than social detractors.
Right wing intellectuals exist alright, however they do not engage in critique of society, as they think that society is basically Good. They focus their critique on the social institutions of Intellectuals ie they criticise the critics.
Hence Tim Blair is conforming to Dr Knopfelmacher's predicted role of a Right wing intellectual.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at August 12, 2003 at 09:59 AM

Hmmm . . . isn't it funny that if it weren't for right-wing bloggers and columnists, I would have had absolutely no idea that ANYONE was complaining about the crushing of dissent.

Thank god for these fearless folk who are willing to trawl through reams of left-wing sludge to bring these obscure gems to our attention.

Posted by: Mork at August 12, 2003 at 10:08 AM

Another good essay, one that I think I first found out about right here at Tim Blair’s Website.

“Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism” by Robert Nozick at

Posted by: ForNow at August 12, 2003 at 10:13 AM

I just skimmed through the Festival notice, & discovered an item which some may find a staggering disappointment. Notice that Mackie (identified as a “chair”) addresses an implicit concern that the Festival may falter, flounder, fail, in the absence of Robert Fisk.

Cancellation- Robert Fisk
Due to the current situation in Iraq, guest speaker Robert Fisk, author and Middle East correspondent for the London Independent, will be unable to attend the 2003 event. Robert Fisk’s message from Beirut reads: ‘Given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, my editor is anxious to get me back there as soon as possible.’ Adelaide Festival of Ideas Chair Greg Mackie said, ‘We regret the circumstances which have caused Robert to withdraw and we understand the imperative, however, the Festival of Ideas has a strong and diverse program and does not rely on the strength of any one participant.’

Posted by: ForNow at August 12, 2003 at 10:37 AM

‘Given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, my editor is anxious to get me back there as soon as possible.’ and he self-edited the last bit out 'because then I'm not mooning around the office being a pain in the arse. He's hoping a sniper will mistake me for an American serviceman.'

(No offence intended to any Service Men/Women).

Posted by: Jake D at August 12, 2003 at 11:46 AM

Unimog: overeducated cat.

Posted by: pooh at August 12, 2003 at 12:43 PM

Jean B is not quite right. Some things are entirely permissible -- no, scratch that, mandatory -- for intellectuals to get all affirmative about. The "excellent theatres and daycare services" of the former East German republic, for one thing, and the deep and sincere attachment of the Palestinian people to their ancestral houses and olive groves is another.

Posted by: Uncle Milk at August 12, 2003 at 01:07 PM

Don't forget Cuba's exemplary health care and literacy rate.

Posted by: scott h. at August 12, 2003 at 01:11 PM

So Fisk has to get back to Iraq in a hurry, huh?
Sounds like he missed his scheduled 3:30pm ass-whipping.

Posted by: D2D at August 13, 2003 at 12:50 AM