Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Are the Masses Intellectual Cowards?

By Robert Wenzel

At the post, The Greatest Killers, a commenter writes:
We should all own "Death By Government", a powerful tool against the Pelosi's and Schumer's. Arm yourselves for the intellectual battle. But sadly, the truth is, 97% of men are moral and intellectual cowards. Perhaps the hardest lesson I had to learn in life. Nothing as ever caused me to doubt that sad finding.
Although it is not hard to see how some believe this, I would argue that the masses are just not deep thinkers---and it is folly to think they ever will be.

Mises, Hayek and Rothbard always understood the battle for liberty was an intellectual battle. Everyone from Ayn Rand to John Maynard Keynes understood that tomorrow's economic and social mass thinking is based on today's intellectual battles.

Great intellectuals with new ideas who influence what Hayek called second-hand dealers in ideas is the method by which the masses are introduced to ideas. Rand called it a type of osmosis.

Most current social justice warriors, and the masses in general, hold views on equality, "discrimination" and "oppression,"  that were the result of ideas developed by thinkers of the Frankfurt School.  Yet few among the masses have ever heard of the key members of the school such as Herbert Marcuse,·Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin and Erich Fromm--or the school itself.

Whenever I come across someone who holds a very naive Frankfurt school-influenced view  of the world, with little in the way of logical underpinning, but obstinate about his position, I think to myself, "What possible direction will second-hand dealers ever use to cause this man to take on new views?" But yet some second-hand dealers would be capable of doing this.

The battle for liberty is an intellectual battle and a battle for the minds of the second-hand dealers. This is where the battle must be waged, not directly with the masses. The work on the masses is just clean up work, if the battle is won with intellectuals and second-hand dealers.

The big battle as I see it now is between what I call house intellectuals and truth-seeking intellectuals. 

House intellectuals run government, academia and the media. It is difficult to see how any of these sectors will be re-captured by truth-seeking intellectuals anytime soon. Indeed, most often, a truth-seeking intellectual, unless extremely principled with a very strong inner core, will, upon entering these sectors, be captured by the house boys.

But this is where the battle is. The masses aren't intellectual cowards. They are not intellectuals at all. They are not deep thinkers when it comes to social philosophy. They run from intellectual logic because they are not good at thinking things out intellectually and thus they take their guidance from the second-hand dealers. But they are not the problem. If liberty somehow wins at some time the very difficult intellectual battle, and the battle for the minds of the second-hand dealers, the masses will not be a problem. They will be flipped with ease.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of  EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. The Robert Wenzel podcast is on  iphone and stitcher.


  1. Excellent analysis and insight.
    I wonder what Albert Jay Nock would think about all this? His approach seemed to be more of a desultory "what happens, let it happen...there will always be inextinguishable Remnant out there somewhere...believers in Liberty, living quietly, and keeping the spark alive among themselves, no matter how bleak things get."
    And compare to Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who would excoriate Democracy and the concomitant need at all to sway the masses.
    Really fun stuff!

  2. "House intellectuals run government, academia and the media'

    Interesting analysis and I just wanted to add the point that the top tier in academia, media, govt and corporations read 'conspiracy" and truther /liberty websites all day long. I have the isp logs and the truth would astound many people. The very theories that the so-called establishment scoff at publicly are what they read about as soon as any event occurs.

    1. This is sooooo very true and it underscores Robert's insightful "The masses aren't intellectual cowards. They are not intellectuals at all."

      This is a driven agenda that has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams with the prevalent social distraction that social networking and media minutia have brought to those may have become intellectuals but now are lost in the rising background noise!

  3. Our whole philosophy [rightfully] works against us in this way. Normal people shouldn't have to worry about any of these things of which they have little understanding. The problem is a system where these people have a say and influence over other people's lives. When TPTB only have but to convince a majority of people -- ignorant in the philosophy of freedom -- that central-planning, redistribution of wealth, and a massive military and police presence are the "easy" solutions to all of life's woes, we all suffer.

  4. I actually feel like the neoliberal elite may become a little more receptive to libertarian ideas. For a long time they’ve been pushing democracy, as it conferred a perception of consent to their policies. However, as they must see with the Trump/Sanders movements, that monster is finally in the process of breaking its chains and ravaging the economy. TPTB May start to regard libertarian policies as a means for preserving their golden goose against the populist insanity.

  5. I understand why RW believes that "The battle for liberty is an intellectual battle..." but it is a very limiting view. The way people have viewed equality, discrimination and oppression are on full display throughout history. People's actions as far back as the Roman Empire show their attitude to be similar to today, long before the Franklin School. My point is that ideas are often expressed after the action in an effort to explain the action that has already occurred. The battle for liberty is a battle that engages all people from the moment they are born and they use all the faculties at their disposal. Intellectuals can do little more than record this struggle and occasionally jump in front of one trend or another.

    1. It is also an emotional battle. If you can make someone think one way but feel another, many times the feeling will win. Why do you think we have people like Lab Manager who claim to agree with the founders but obviously don't, or groups like antifa who claim to be against fascism but obviously aren't? These aren't thinkers, but feelers. They use rationalization to explain and justify their feelings. They don't use reason to arrive at a conclusion.

  6. “since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain – and since labor is pain in itself – it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work” Bastiat
    This pretty much sums it all up.
    I am no Intellectual, but I do think it is a Intellectual battle, among other things. The hearts and minds. This is where Ron Paul shined.
    This is why we need Target Liberty. EPJ. The Ron Paul Institute. The Mises Institute. Tom Woods Show/Liberty Classroom. Lew Rockwell.com, Anti-War.com, and all the things associated with them. And the ones I didn't mention.
    We need them all. We ain't licked yet, and if Nock was correct, we never will be.

  7. The people love their slave status and imposing it on others.

  8. Unlike libertarians, most people don't think in terms of whole systems, but, rather, only focus on individual issues. A systematic approach is
    is one of libertarianism's great qualities, but also its biggest drawback, since it's very hard to convince people to change their entire view of the system.

    I think we need to win each battle where we can, staying consistent with our philosophy, with whomever we can partner. When the aggregate of all individual wins against the state is large enough, perhaps then future battles will be easier to win; the giant may start to topple. Attack fiat currency through promoting gold and cryptos, attack the drug war at the state level, attack federal immigration controls through sanctuary cities, attack foreign interventions through the anti-war movement (say, where did that go?), attack the public education system through home schooling, attack gun control through Second Amendment movements, etc.

  9. Dominating views are made by social processes of ridicule, insult, shaming, and so on. Most people are too cowardly to step into that. Thus they go along to get along. Sure they aren't intellectuals at all but they will not (publicly) hold views which will hurt them socially or can be spun to hurt them socially.

    This is why the primary counter argument to libertarian ideas is insult, ridicule, and so on. It's not only to socially correct the person holding the libertarian views but to warn others what will happen to them if they express libertarian views.

  10. Well I'm glad my comment stimulated a conversation. To be clear, I maintain that 30% of men are physical cowards, while 97% of men are moral and intellectual cowards. By this I do not refer to their deep thinking ability. I refer to their cowardice when facing something that requires manhood and morality to acknowledge. For instance the overwhelming evidence that 9/11 was an "inside job", or that Sandy Hook was a scheduled event, or even that the "Federal Reserve" is not in our interest. But also speaking up when wrongs occur on the street in front of our homes. Men who are good and decent in most aspect of their lives are silent in the face of massive indecency. Men have stopped being men.

    1. "For instance the overwhelming evidence that 9/11 was an "inside job", or that Sandy Hook was a scheduled event"

      These beliefs don't have much to do with courage, but more to do with ignorance and a predisposition to believing fanciful tales. The people who believe steel maintains integrity in high heat are ignorant and unwilling to learn and as such are intellectual cowards.

    2. David T,
      How do I answer you ? Much like an avowed socialist blames everything on the "evils" of capitalism, men like yourself believe what they are told without investigating the actual facts. Explain building 7's collapse, where is the 757 at the Pentagon, at Shanksville? At one point I could have given a four hour non-stop talk on the things wrong with the governments lie about 9/11. Sorry to say, but you are one of the 97% IMO ( I don't mean to be un-civil ) Just science and common sense as well as an understanding of history and governments.

    3. LOL people in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.

      My beliefs come from my Engineering education which includes materials science. I apologize if I seem uncivil, but the whole thing about the steel in the towers was pushed by people like Rosie O'donnel. If you ask materials science Phd' s they can shoot down the whole tale in about 30 seconds. Alex Jones is just as unreliable as Hillary Clinton, they are just from different political beliefs.

    4. Architects and engineers for 9/11 truth has over 2000 members including some of the most prestigious people in their fields. But, if almost 17 years after the event you still hold your position you'll likely go to your grave believing what you believe. So this is a pointless conversation. Rosie O'Donnell ? Are you here from the SPLC ?

    5. Just because you say they are prestigious doesnt mean they are. They are looked at as buffoons by those who actually do know what they are talking about. The fact that you believe Alex Jones and Rosie Odonnel instead of the mountains of actual scientific studies that have obliterated the 911 conspwricies shows how intellectually incompetent you are. I bet there isn't a conspiracy theory you don't believe. It is just sick that people like you blame things like Sandy hook and 911 on anyone but the actual perpetrators. It is not only intellectually cowardly, but you and "libertarians" like Alex Jones who dream up all of this crazy stuff everytime something bad happens are a bigger harm to libertarians than libertarians for Trump or anything else.

  11. Were the American colonists, who so passionately embraced Individualism and Liberty, expressing an intellectual courage, or a moral courage? You can "learn" people all day long, generation after generation, but now as much as back then, it seems to come down more to virtues (humility being chief among them, as St.Augustine would say) and morals, than to being smart, schooled, educated, intellectual, etc. Americans had ONE job since our secession from Great Britain, and that was to stay devoted and passionate about individual liberty i.e. the sanctity of private property (as imperfect as it was back then even), and I don't know that it took oodles of intellectual prowess. The flame of moral principles and virtues must be kept strong and alive, and rekindled, more than anything. A doggedly virtuous public can better withstand the false intellectualism and false truths floated by the second-hand dealers.