Friday, June 28, 2002
Nothing to do with anything: John Derbyshire has a really funny column on NRO. Well, I laughed out loud, anyhow.
Some comments on two of his substantive points:
BARBARIANS: Barbarians are people who don't speak Greek. Is that so terrible? We owe a great deal of our civilization to barbarians. Trial by jury? The concept of individual rights? These are the Germanic inheritance of our Hellenic-Hebraic-Germanic civilization. I yield to none in my appreciation for civilization over barbarism, but it is well when we find noble men - or ideas - among the savages to assimilate them into civilization. As we have done by making a hero of Geronimo, and by extension of the American Indians in general.
BOOKISH PRESIDENTS: Intelligence and leadership qualities are poorly correlated. Intellectualism and leadership are inversely correlated. And I'm not sure that intelligence and intellectualism are as well correlated as your average intellectual tends to think. One reason I'm glad I don't have a graduate degree is that I know I am still able to think for myself; I have not had my mind narrowed by ideology.
Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt were Renaissance Men and anti-ideologues; they were brilliant, but were the precise opposite of the intellectual. Wilson was probably our only intellectual President, and he was a disaster. Carter and Clinton were, by contrast, highly intelligent men who wished they were intellectuals, also a bad thing. Johnson and Nixon were intimidated by intellectuals; bad yet again. Kennedy wished others to think him intellectual; he was too smart to be one himself. Much better. Reagan was actually a kind of counter-intellectual, infatuated with conservative ideas, but as an autodidact more similar to the Churchills and Teddy Roosevelts than to the Wilsons (though by no means brilliant). Lincoln was similar.
Actually, I take that back about Wilson being our only intellectual President. He was our only modern one. There were Jefferson and Madison before. Jefferson may have been a great President, but he was maddening, like Franklin Roosevelt. Madison was a mediocre President but an incredibly important and historically underrated figure among the Founders, and a personal idol of mine.
In any event, what is objectionable, and disturbing, about Bush is not his un-intellectual or even anti-intellectual nature, nor even doubts about his raw intelligence (which is manifestly at least adequate) but that he seems genuinely incurious about the world. Smugness is not a good trait in anyone, and certainly not in a leader.