Joel Engel has a superb piece on why intellectuals have contempt for the likes of President Bush. His thesis is that they live in a world that values IQ over all else. Engel explains in detail why this perception exists and why it is foolish:

IF IT WERE TRUE that a high I.Q. in and of itself guaranteed peace and prosperity, then we should appoint Stephen Hawking president right now and be done with it. But I don’t want Professor Hawking as president, nor any of the other truly brilliant people I know. Yes, it’s thrilling to sit at a dinner table and behold gifted minds interacting with other gifted minds, and to read and watch and listen to their works of genius. But that’s not the same as admiring their character, which is often less developed than their ability to slash a Z on someone’s chest with their wit. Anyway, for all their verbal eloquence and artistic finger-pointing, which big issues, exactly, have the reigning intelligentsia been correct about in the last 40 years? One would be hard-pressed to compose a short list.

The truth, which Orwell pointed out, is that truly brilliant people and truly talented people often believe truly stupid things: G.B. Shaw believed in Hitler and Stalin. Norman Mailer believed that convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbot deserved to be paroled because he could write well (and that we went to war in Iraq to bolster the white-male ego). Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich believed that the few hundred of us still alive after the ecological holocaust of the ’80s and ’90s would be living in caves. Steven Spielberg believed that his meeting with Castro were the “eight most important hours” of his life. The academic establishment believed in the efficacy of bilingual education and largely continues to believe that communism spreads prosperity and social justice. Princeton professor of bioethics Peter Singer believes that parents ought to be able to murder their disabled children. And Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta believes that a 70-year-old lady from Vero Beach and a young Arab man chanting Koranic verses are equally likely to hijack a plane.

The best and the brightest, as we learned from JFK’s advisers, offer little protection against absolute foolishness–and may, perhaps, be more susceptible to it, given the anecdotal evidence suggesting that brilliance and common sense are inversely correlated. It’s no wonder Castro hoped Bush wouldn’t be “as stupid as he seems.” For 40 years the dictator has been surrounded and visited by brilliant people who swear that he’s brilliant and benevolent–and if Bush were indeed a dimwit, he might see right through Castro and conclude that all those people willing to brave sharks, drowning, dehydration, and firing squads to escape from Cuba actually recognize something that the dictator’s brilliant admirers do not.

While Engel goes too far with his argument–while there is not a positive correlation between IQ and wisdom, nor is there a negative one–the piece is well worth reading.

FILED UNDER: Education, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Susan Crowe says:

    A major corporation did some research on their executive levels asking the question “how does intelligence correlate with management success.” They found that, while executives, as a group, are smarter than the general population, management success inversely correlated with intelligence. Sorry that I can’t name the corporation.

  2. Steven says:

    And, really, while Bush may not be eloquent, or a genius, he is obvioiusly pretty smart. The whole dimwit thesis is rather ridiculous.

  3. It really pisses me off that intellectuals seem to be such outspoken liberals. I am in MENSA, and the last time my IQ was measured it was 161. I read much of the same stuff as these *intellectuals*, but I am a libertarian mixed with a little conservatism. I have read a ton of books by liberals, and I still don’t think they are correct. I can tell you that among the “layperson intelligent”, meaning the people in my local MENSA group who aren’t PhDs, but are really smart, the politics lean to the right. My theory is that the liberal intellectual elite lack 1)pragmatism and 2)a good understanding of human nature, and that is where they err. Many of them are professors or journalists who may know a great deal, but haven’t worked in the “real world.” As a result, they do not understand how differently the average Joe thinks. The truth is, if everyone in the world were a kind and gentle highly intelligent humanities professor, liberalism may actually work but the world is not that way (thank god), and you have to play the hand you are dealt.

  4. BTW, Bush got a 1206 on his SATs, not too shabby really.

  5. Paul says:

    But Businesspundit you too are a dimwit. (Allow me to explain 😉

    According to the media pop culture, intelligence is measured by liberalism. Bill and (especially) Hillary are the smartest people to ever walk among us.

    Now… I watched Clinton for years. I was never once bowled over by his IQ or knowledge. I just can’t think of a thing he said where I said, “Wow, that guy is smart.” The media keeps telling me how smart he is but I only see him do very stupid things. (all of the above can be said of Hillary too.)

    Fast Forward to Bush/Gore…. Gore is brilliant and Bush is a moron… (says the media) OK, Who won 3 debates out of 3? Remember the media making excuses for Gore? After the first loss, the media assured us it was a fluke. Gore was smarter and would win. Bush was a bumbler who was not fit to carry Gore’s books. Bush went 3-0.

    If you look at modern political puntditary you will see conservatices are all dumb and liberals all smart. Obviously the media defines intelligence by ideology.

    Therefore you, not being liberal, are a moron… Sorry. 😉

    Which brings me to everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Newt.

    On or about 9/12/2001 one of the cable networks let him just talk for like 2 or 3 minture uninterrupted while he explained terrorism and the middle-east.

    I sat with my jaw dropped. He rattled off every country involved in state sponsored terror, who ran it, what groups were in it, what they had doen it the past etc, etc, etc. Now granted, this guy was Speaker of the House and he is a professor of History so he had the background but this guy nailed it.

    As we all have gotten our lesson in middle east terror over the last few years, I am finding everything he said that night was very accurate. On 9/12/2001 VERY FEW people knew near what he knew off the top of his head.

    My point….

    If Bill Clinton or Hillary (or Gore etc) had said that, the media would have swarmed all over it and called them brilliant. As I recall after Newt was done the anchor said something to the effect of “Well, that is one view.”

    I waited for 8 years to Clinton to prove he was this brilliant guy the media kept talking about. I’ve waited 3 years now for Bush to prove he is a moron.

    So far, I am finding the opposite to be true.

    Whew! end of long rant. (sorry)


  6. Paul,
    Yeah, it’s hard to believe Clinton is a genius when he says things like “that depends on what the meaning of IS is.”