F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
March 19, 2000
Intellectuals Can Be Slow Learners

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

"Intellectuals should not require the virtual decomposition of their own society before learning a little realism."

"Forty percent of Colombia's territory is now under the control of Marxist guerrillas seeking to overthrow the government," reports British physician Theodore Dalrymple. "Under cover of political instability, every kind of crime flourishes in Colombia. There are four times as many violent deaths as 20 years ago," Dalrymple observes. "Eighty percent of homicides are nonpolitical," he emphasizes, "though they are most frequent where guerrillas are active. Fifty percent of all the recorded kidnappings in the world take place in Colombia, but the guerrillas . . . are responsible for only half of them."

Writing in the current issue of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, Dalrymple argues that "Colombia's intellectuals bear heavy responsibility for their nation's descent into barely restrained anarchy. The climate of opinion in Colombia -- which of course the intellectuals created -- long legitimized violence in the furtherance of utopian ideas," he explains. "At no point until quite recently did the intellectuals acknowledge that civilized existence requires some measure of conservation of the social order and its key institutions, imperfect as they undoubtedly are."

Dalrymple notes that Colombia's "traditionally leftist intellectuals have suddenly discovered the virtues of what they once despised, or affected to despise: namely, the prosaic institutions such as law courts and parliament that bind society together. Bogota's excellent bookshops," he points out, "overflow with studies that try to explain the country's catastrophic fate." Dalrymple detects a common theme in this outburst of analysis: "that the old way of explaining violence as an inevitable response to poverty . . . no longer persuades." He credits the authors for trying to understand "why people decide to act violently; for, without the decision, there would be no violence."

Dalrymple contends that "Colombian intellectuals are also beginning to realize that their nation's high levels of crime and violence grow out of the leniency of the criminal-justice system. Colombia's law prescribes lesser sentences for violent offenses allegedly committed for political ends," he remarks, "implicitly recognizing a partial right to resort to arms whenever a citizen thinks it just to do so." Dalrymple concludes that "when an impending catastrophe will affect them personally, in their very flesh and blood, intellectuals start to think more clearly about the legal and institutional prerequisites of a free society."

In the meantime, the rest of us lowbrows have to suffer the consequences of their pompous imbecility. It doesn't seem fair, does it? I mean, if intellectuals were the only ones to be victimized by their own misguided policies and programs, who would care? If they were at least the first to be victimized, then they could set about correcting their mistakes while the rest of us took precautions against them. The problem is that intellectuals are always the last to feel the effects of their boundless stupidity, and we wind up being their guinea pigs and whipping boys. If they would just start minding their own business and stop trying to take care of the rest of us, we'd all be a lot better off.

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