There are things to admire about John Gray’s article The Dangers of Higher Education in the current issue of Club Comment, the magazine of The Monday Club.
Gray suggests that perhaps the world would not be better managed if those in charge were intellectuals: “History offers no support for the belief that the world would be better ruled by graduates or PhD’s.” He supports his view with evidence – examples of intelligent, educated men who made catastrophically misguided judgements in political life.
He cites the philosopher Martin Heidegger who was an enthusiastic Nazi, Kim Philby who spied for the USSR and Eric Hobsbawm who remained a card-carrying Communist despite knowing all about Stalin’s purges and genocides and the atrocities committed by the Soviets in their suppression of uprisings in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968)
Gray’s article is intelligent and readable, but there is one omission so startling that only an academic could have made it: there is not a word about right and wrong in his piece, and he writes as if there is no such thing as morality in public and political life.
Instead these misguided men were simply easily led. The poor things were “often more easily taken in by mass delusions.”
Now I say that if a man possesses the intellectual capacity to understand the vileness of Communism and Nazism but persists in his allegiance to one or other of these foul ideologies, then it is not his intelligence which is in deficit, but his morality.
Heidegger understood Hitler’s programme only too well, but he maintained his support for him. A man who does such a thing does not lack brains, but he conspicuously lacks morality. In a word, that man is wicked. And i don’t care if he does happen to be Martin Heidegger, the author of Sein und Zeit.
Kim Philby was well aware of Stalin’s genocides and yet he supported the USSR until his dying day, becoming a traitor to Britain, his own country, in the process. That was an irretrievable wrong.
Eric Hobsbawm is the most culpable of the three because, as an eminent historian, he had intimate knowledge of the machinations of the murderous Soviet regime. But he was a devoted Stalinist to the end of his days. The word to describe such a man is evil.
How could John Gray not notice these things staring him in the face? Why no mention of the overriding ethical nature of the matters he discusses?
Because he wouldn’t want to be seen as “judgemental.” And that despite the fact that the capacity to form moral judgements is the one thing which renders meaning to the phrase “the dignity of man.”
I am a student of Plato who in The Republic declared that philosophers should be our kings. But we should notice what Plato meant by a philosopher: not some tenured theoretician scratching around on the edges of Deconstruction and the other diseases of Postmodernism, but one who is devoted to the Form of the Good.
When Christianity took over from Plato, we recognised this Form of the Good as God.
Gray’s colossal omission really arises out of the fact that he is himself a representative of the class he doesn’t think are fit to run the world.
He suffers from the terminal impediment of being an intellectual.