The Crisis of the American Intellectual
Published on: December 8, 2010
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  • “We are much less effective at teaching and supporting people who are able to master the essentials of many complex subjects, integrate the insights from this kind of study into a coherent social or political vision, and communicate what they have learned to a broad general lay audience.”

    Right, we need more geniuses. But seriously, Mead aside, there is a shortage of good generalists out there. For example I Googled yesterday to find someone writing about the linked issues of trade, immigration, and automation and came up with zilch.

    David Brooks on the other hand does a pretty good job, as does Charles Murray.

    As a general rule there are more good conservative intellectuals out there with fresh ideas than Democrats, which strikes me as odd.

  • Neville

    We can all be optimistic about how this comes out in the end. But your implied optimism about the pace and civility of the process would be better supported if you could show a few (or even any) examples of members of earlier guilds cooperating with their own abolition.

  • kj_california

    This was an interesting blog. The most interesting portion, to me, was Mead’s observation on the need in our information- overload society to “integrate ideas and disciplines”. This was reflected in his comment “The more complex a society and the more rapidly it is changing, the more need it has for multi-disciplinary, synthesizing intellectuals who are focused on communicating serious ideas to a large audience.”

    Taking the idea of communication of serious ideas to large audiences into another area that may help to prevent the sort of “protectionism” we are seeing now and that will cause many headaches for policymakers over the next several years:

    Recently I was reading a book published in the early 1980’s and the author put forth the idea that within any team of people striving to acquire new knowledge (whether theoretical or in practical applications), should be included an individual with the gift of synthesizing information into what we often call “seeing the bigger picture”. Someone with this gift who has enough necessary knowledge in cross-disciplinary areas pertinent to the project, will “see” more connections than other specialized-knowledge individuals (the experts) working on the project . This person’s role was to bring ideas and questions to bear on the enterprise during its process in order to achieve a result greater than that envisioned when the project was first defined and/or to identify areas that merited further exploration or development in the future.

    I bring this up as an idea to use if we choose to more consciously direct our society’s development in new structures and practices designed to meet our needs – rather than simply ending up (again) with a “power group” of people who will be more interested in “protecting” their area(s) of expertise from encroachment by others than in advancing the causes of society as a whole.

    If the specialized-knowledge people are accustomed to working with others outside their area of expertise and normally are engaged in a practice that seeks to expand their work beyond what was originally envisioned, the “experts” can be trained to be less resistant to the dissemination of their knowledge to others – and perhaps the “protection” racket may not ever get started in the first place.

    Wouldn’t that be a blessing for us all.

  • Engineer

    Another interesting piece, thank-you, Dr. Mead. I was delighted to see the progressive left accurately identified as “reactionary.” One’s imagination is led to toy with the notion of Obama as a new Herbert Hoover whose policy efforts simply fail to gain traction or even magnify the problems that confront the Republic.

    At the same time, it is unrealistic to expect that an even more out-of-date governing philosophy of Coolidge-style conservatism would succeed the progressive left with effective reform.

    This gets to Dr. Mead’s point of needing imagination and innovation to address current issues.

    In the projects I work on there is typically a range of specialists in different areas who have to collaborate across their technical boundaries to succeed. Likewise, most construction projects involve the orderly integration of many different trades and professions to be successful.

    However, politics is dominated by lawyers when government is poking its fingers into virtually every aspect of modern life. It’s a matter of over-specialization. When William F. Buckley talked about his preference for being governed by a set of essentially randomly selected people from a telephone book, he was grasping the advantage of having more diversity in the ruling elite than we currently possess.

    Of course we wouldn’t need the diversity if the elite was truly and benighnly superlative in it’s performance, but defending that point would be a rather challenging proposition.

    Just some thoughts. . . .

  • David

    I agree with much of what you say in this blog post as I have with much of what you said in previous posts on the subject, but as previously I wonder what you can propose beyond simply diagnosing the problem — do you have any constructive suggestions? And I’m again left wondering about how you might deal with the human cost of bringing a close to the “administrative, redistributive” state? For instance, if America does move in the direction of outsourcing the diagnostic work in health care while also moving away from the blue-state model of public spending, what provisions can or should be made for dealing with shrinking opportunities for professionals who can no longer find work in their fields (as is the case with many young PhDs in the humanities)?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @David: these are tough questions indeed — answering them intelligently, humanely and purposefully is what we need these new intellectuals to do.

  • Mrs. Davis

    In many ways the social structure you describe is really more German; Weberian, Bismarkian, Freudian and Marxist, than pragmatic American. In many ways the 20th century was dominated by German social ideas that were ultimately adopted, perfected ad nauseum, and rejected by Americans. We are in a period of drift, unguided and without direction.

    Ultimately this will be seen as a period of radical change like the 17th century; interesting to study but distressing to endure. The internet and bloggers will be seen as the printing press and pamphleteers of the new age. But it will not arrive quickly or easily.

    When reading about the emergence into the early modern period I could never figure out what the problem was with the schoolmen, the scholastics. Now I understand, because they rule my world. The iconoclasts are coming.

  • Rachel

    I disagree with this post nearly in its entirety. It suffers from many of the fallacies shared by Tom Friedman’s The Earth is Flat. An embrace of “technology” does not solve everything, nor does its democratizing influence replace the arguments in favor of credentialed guilds. The rise of the 10-second Googled answer heightens the need for people in professions dedicated to more thorough evaluation. (For example, the first commenter on the piece laments that her Google turned up no one working on trade, immigration and automation. I could point her to syllabus upon syllabus on these issues.) Research agendas of modern academic disciplines wax and wane over time; I do not accept that we need to unravel the concept of academia in order to effect change in the priorities of academic disciplines. Moreover, interdisciplinary agendas, departments, and new formal disciplines are on the upswing. It is unlikely that governments will shrink their mandates, their administrative oversight of an increasingly complex polity, their role as major spenders in the economy, or their prioritization of domestic employment (nor have they been). Automation cannot replace hairdressers, nor can it replace the host of products combining services and traditional manufactured goods on the market today. Democratizing technologies have helped to spur entrepreneurship in the US at massive rates. The problem is, start-ups don’t automatically scale-up; problems come when innovators “throw the technology over the wall” to the manufacturing side. Restructuring the system to support “big ideas” but not the intellectual infrastructure to make them sustainable is irresponsible. There is a divergence in the American higher education system today. Future professionals, people at elite institutions, etc. do well (and benefit from increasing wages). But it is the mismatch between the education available for everyone else and the jobs available for everyone else that causes problems. While I don’t think we necessarily need sacred Ivory Tower academics to solve this problem, we need something more than unqualified, non peer-reviewed (in the broadest sense of the term), off-the-cuff thinking. Intellectuals’ choice of audience may be wrong, but their existence is not.

  • david porreca

    Mr. Mead is correct about almost everything–with one exception. The Asia Pacific 10
    will be 4 bllion of the world’s 7 billion in just 25 years. ig noring the dysfunctional countries like Pakistan, these particular 10 are evolving rapidly, have young populations who are optimistic, hard working, incedibly adaptive: and have governments who are increasingly focused on facilitating business rather than taxing it to death–while they are investing in technical and classical core knowledge curricula to develop critical thinking skills and technological literacy–collaboratively. They, as a group, are growing in importance as ‘demand generators’–and their GDP is rising significantly faster than the rest of the world. As their agricultural population transforms itself into a services, frugal manufacturing, and the new technologies industrial base– it is they–with their pent-up demand–who will determine the product specification, price-point, materials sciences, and trans-national capital, financial, and business models of the future. These 10–CHINA, INDIA, SOUTH KOREA, JAPAN, TAIWAN, INDONESIA, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, PHILLIPPINES, THAILAND,–abetted the financial powerhouses–SINGAPORE & SHANGHAI–will swamp the 600 million US & EURO COMMON MARKET consumers who have been the demand generators of the past! I have worked with this region now for 12 years–and the tsunami is coming! If we don’t change our models and belief systems–as Mead eloquently and compelling advises–and re-invest in strategic R & D–and get more of our young adults interested in the sciences, techological innovation, and
    and entreprenureship–where will our childrens and grandchildren’s place be in this new world?

  • Mike M.

    In my humble opinion, America needs a far more truly meritocratic system in place than the one we have now. In recent decades, elite ruling society seems to have become far too focused on process, and not focused enough on actual results.

    Things such as self-esteem, racial and ethnic makeup, familial and socioeconomic background, and educational pedigree may well have some degree of importance, but they cannot and should not outweigh true merit.

  • Peter

    Judging the American ‘intellectuals’ by Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals & Society” (2009), they are, as a class, a bunch of horses’ [rear ends — ed].

  • GB in TN

    I agree. Don’t ignore the obvious!

    McLuhan was a great predictor of such matters in that as technical progress is made it changes society far more than thought process.

    Indeed, intellectual thought process might merely be a reflection of such progress so really it is more hindsight than foresight.

    The vanity of most intellectuals keep them from realizing this humbling fact.

    And so the rest of us pay the price of policy based on these flaws.

    At least you’re thinking instead of following.


  • Andrew

    Prof. Mead,
    It’s worse than you think! As you have written so cogently in the past, natural science is, as demonstrated by the great global warming scam, just as bad as the other intellectual guilds.

  • Cooler head

    The entire liberal/progressive project is to make the future expected and unsurprising — in other words, to revoke reality. It’s no wonder the elites are having a hard time getting their heads around the current situation.

  • Jack


    I’m not sure why you find it odd that there are more conservatives with fresh ideas than liberals. In general, liberals tend to fall back on ideas that are outdated or historically haven’t worked even though they sound good such as spread the wealth, income equality, etc…Conservatives support de-regulation, lower taxes, lower capital costs. They have proven to work. The left has undermined some of these ideas by raising spending far beyond the higher tax revenue earned in a growing economy.

  • Ster

    It was the “intellectuals” that screwed everything up.

    We need more EXPERIENCED business people and others who “DO”…. not just big-brained no-experience people to sit in ivory towers and use theory to guide our lives.

    That fails over and over. Socialism & Communism were created by intellectuals. America was created by hard-working people working in their own interest.

  • Mark Jordan

    The U.S. was blessed beyond measure by their founding fathers who, somehow got it right. They institutionalized the “American spirit” and it is that that will carve out the next phase of our country … and of the world.

    Because I have such faith — well founded — in the system we have in place, I am filled with optimism today for the future. The Tea Parties surely demonstrate that the American spirit is alive and well and irrepressible. They have shaken the status quo to its foundations, Democrats and Republicans alike, and they have opened a thousand doors to the future.

    To today’s intellectuals it is impossible to fathom, but history will record that Sarah Palin was the most influential person in this “punctuated equilibrium,” moment of cultural change. She is the archetype of this spirit of which I speak and she is living proof that it endures.

  • DanW

    There is an underlying progressive bias in this piece. The bias expressed is the belief that intellectuals and academics can invent new solutions to our fiscal problems. The fact is that the solutions are apparent to anyone willing to study accounting. Progressive policies have destroyed the income statements and balance sheets of American business. They have also destroyed the federal budget through deficit spending. This is only complicated to intellectuals who have not studied accounting and in fact don’t know what it is.

    As a culture the American people have made the mistake of believing that really smart academic people could design a better world irrespective of accounting rules. Americans have even voted for a really smart academician for president that never heard of an income statement. Surely this is due to the failure of our education system and the academics at the head of it.

    It was Ronald Reagan who said that the solutions to our problems are not complicated, they were just hard to do. He was ahead of the curve.

  • Tony Clarke


    @David: these are tough questions indeed — answering them intelligently, humanely and purposefully is what we need these new intellectuals to do.

    I live in CA and I just don’t see a progressive legislature, topped off with three new progressives (Brown, Newsom and Harris) doing anything other than staring at the headlights. People here are clueless about the points in this blog and unfortunately, that goes for the “intellectuals” here in the Bay area.

  • Robert Kelly

    One way to diminish the influence of the guilds is to legislate them into a weaker position. Now the guilds are supporting the legislators who are creating the legislation but it is, I believe, a simpler task to change the law than try to get the guilds to come to the aid of anyone but their constituency.
    A great recent example of the guild’s power is with Michelle Rhee in the Washington DC school district. She has negotiated with the guild for a loss of tenure in exchange for higher wages. Hundreds of incompetent teachers were fired and then her team was voted out of office and all progress will most certainly be lost. My guess, the salary increases will remain.

  • Doug

    I am sympathetic to the notion that something is terribly wrong within the intellectual guilds and their willingness to experiment on the rest of us. On the other hand I have been around long enough to remember how at one time we were at at the mercy of the UAW, CIO and Teamsters, etc. Respected economists thought their “power” was the cause of inflation in the 60’s and 70’s. Recall the phrase “countervailing power.” Now we laugh as it turned out that the industrial unions have come and gone. In the longer view of history the monopolies and guilds have given way to challengers. However, at any moment in time the incumbents look unstoppable. I keep trying to remind myself of this living here in California where things look pretty bleak. We have it all, the corrupt Universities, the legislature, a run wild legal system, out of control environmentalism, local school systems, etc. Hopefully I’ll live long enough to see their comeuppance.

  • Jack Rudd

    “We are in a period of drift, unguided and without direction.”

    Excellent! This is an environment in which Americans will thrive, after they have shed their expectations that their so-called betters will provide good direction.

    Guilds delenda est!

  • kitman3

    Progressivism you describe is out right totalitarianism – controlled and regulated one and all.
    What is wrong with the government staying out of every ones business.
    Progressivism has perverted the constitution.
    Progressivism has denigrated the founders.
    Progressivism has tried to replace our god given rights with big government.
    Progressivism is about the collective.
    America is founded on the individual.
    Progressivism has turned our education system into an indoctrination rather than teach critical thinking.
    America is a Republic not a democracy.
    Progressivism wants to legislate charity.
    Social justice is NOT in the constitution or the bible.
    As far has I am concerned KEEP your NANNY – I prefer my god given rights!!!

  • Doug

    As a university professor, and in general, I would consider myself an intellectual. I’m not stuck to the old ways so much as unwilling to give in to other ways. The reason for this is that I find it impossible to trust those in corporate power. The ‘do anything for the almighty dollar’ concept is deeply imbedded now such that corporations can’t help but screw over the average Joe and completely obscure the political scene. When banks and health care companies get morally correct maybe things can change.

  • Yes but

    I came to this essay eagerly, but have found it a muddled mess. One statement of Mr. Mead’s I agree with fully: he is indeed “overgeneralizing wildly.”

    I agree wholeheartedly that we have many, many serious problems, but it is very unclear how this is due to “runaway guilds” (other than perhaps the teacher’s unions). Rising costs in health care and college education, for example, are due largely to spiraling administration and overhead (and, in health care, malpractice) which are largely the result of various governmental and quasi-governmental forces, not anything that the actual physicians or professors are doing. It would be nice if Mr. Mead got specific and actually defended his many, extaordinarly vague assertions.

    Does Protestantism really suffer from “hyperdeveloped theology?” I know someone recently trained as a Mainline minister and was struck by how little theology she was taught. Does the New York Times really suffer from an “over-professionalized” staff? I could use many words to describe the NYT staff, but “over-professionalized” would not be one of them. What precisely does this mean?

    Mr. Mead speaks of the “crisis of the intellectual,” but, to the extent that he appears to hint any any suggestions, they seem to be geared toward impoverishing intellectual life even more. Not all research is highly specialized or arcane; there are people, most notably tenured professors, who do interdisciplinary and applied work.

    The essay seems to conflate and confuse many different problems, trends, and conditions, is frustratingly short on specifics, and is even more frustratingly short on prescriptions.

  • David H

    “build the new government and policy structures that will facilitate a new wave of private-sector led growth”

    How about demolish the old ones that are the cause of the problem and stop adding new ones like the present administration?

  • Paul Thiel


    I’m not sure I agree that conservatives have more original ideas than Democrats.

    If you compare a fire and brimstone preacher to a union boss, you will see the same value rigidity (albeit for different values). Neither is flexible enough to see outside his comfort zone.

    I think the intellectual flexibility you see as coming from conservatives is really coming from the Libertarian wing of the conservative movement.

    If you think about it, this makes sense as Libertarian thought is the fading afterglow of the Enlightenment.

  • Rex

    Professor Mead-
    always enjoy your work- yes, the blue model is suffocaing itself, and the guild mentality has become the norm in the institutions of our society (couched in the market-based terminology of professionalism). Intellectual diversity could be the answer, if it were not structurally discouraged by the artificial substitution of cultural diversity. The synthesis necessary becomes impossible when there is nothing to synthesize – intellectual conformity of the “blue” social compact has a chilling effect, and the possibility of reform is in the hands of the very people who do not think there is a problem with unsustainable policies (pensions, health care, welfare, tax policy).

  • Robert Stenson

    After reading this post, I now know what it feels like to have a true intellectual distill and crystalize the various amorphous concepts that had been rattling around my brain.

    I recently noticed how so-called progressive thinkers seem to have what I would call a “stasis” mindset in which they fail to recognize the inherent dynamism that exists in the world. Everything appears measured by seeing today as the summit of human achievement. Therefore, you have a focus on redistribution of what exists as opposed to harnessing the dynamic change that is present to achieve genuine progress. This mindset also fails to recognize that while dynamic change can be destructive and disruptive, it is not always cataclysmic, in fact, it is frequently incremental, albeit the speed of incremental change is increasing.

    I find this preference for stasis most prevalent in the environmental movement. The Endangered Species Act, if founded on the premise of stasis because it is designed to thwart natural evolution as the environment changes. Similarly, climate change proponents seem to dismiss earth’s history of ongoing climate change, even before the presence of man, oscillating between colder and hotter. Instead, applying their static mindset, unless we revert back to historic emission levels, we will have global armageddon. This sounds remarkably similar to the dire warnings about over population from the middle of last century that was premised on the globe having a fixed capacity for producing food based on the farming technology that existed back then.

    Similarly, it has amazed me that despite the fact that sophisticated financial models helped facilitate the recent financial meltdown, highly educated people are still so willing to rely on ever more sophisticated and flawed financial models to predict the future. However, I think you answered this with your observation regarding “self-referential black holes” that are ever more divorced from reality.

    Here is where you hit the nail on the head regarding bridging that gap between the highly intelligent and sophisticated specialist and the learned generalist who can see relationships across disciplines. Specialists can be great at taking historic data to construct these sophisticated predictive models but if you don’t have the learned generalist who can see cross-disciplinary relationships, the model will most likely will be fundamentally flawed and miss the dynamic impact of the course of conduct being modeled. If nothing else, a learned generalist will not be so invested in the model as to fall in love with it and really believe that it is capable of predicting the future. That concept alone, had it been implemented, would have saved us a lot of heart ache and money of the past several years.

    The missing link of the generalist you describe is frequently far from the smartest guy or gal in the room but it is he or she who makes the specialist better and helps them achieve their maximum potential. It is also the generalist who welcomes creative destruction because he/she sees the opportunity in the dynamism of change and is capable of adapting, while the specialist, fearing his/her own obsolescence, will be more inclined to fear change that requires adaptation and thereby diminishes the value of his/her specialized skills.

    It was a great piece.

  • J. Lee

    Alas, there always seems to be a lot of bloodshed associated with any significant change in the status quo. As Mrs. Davis says in an earlier post, these next few decades may be “…interesting to study but distressing to endure.”

  • steve dankle

    This is a quite insightful post. As a specialist surgeon, I have observed the hyper-specialization that has occurred in medicine over the past 30 yrs – it has served to isolate knowledge in some respects rather than disseminate it. One could argue that some of that is self-serving economically but I think the vast majority of the problem relates to the logarithmic growth in the knowledge base and the difficulty in organizing knowledge in a way that provides a more global perspective.

    Of course it is far more simple to just say we have gotten lost in the forest for the trees.

  • Hank

    Professor Mead,

    In short: “Beware of the smart people.”

  • Bill Hocter

    Professor-great column as always. Perhaps the arrogance of intellectuals blocks their view. Some things are easy enough to foresee, like the rise of China. However, few expected militant Islam to matter as much as it has, probably because the commentariat looked down their noses at people they considered 7th century throwbacks. Few sophisitcates took Ronald Reagan seriously until after he became President. Before then, he was just a “drug store truck drivin’ man.””
    What despised (by intellectuals) models, philosophies, religions, and people around today would gain much credibility if the current liberal secular bureaucratic welfare state collapses? Some intellectual ought to consider this, although it would no doubt render him unpopular among his peers. He might see some big pieces of the future.

  • Steve C.

    I agree with the general theme. I’m not sure “intellectuals” are capable of outlining or re-inventing society beyond some big ideas like more customization, better information and reducing the impact of government. For one, as you point out, this class is part of the problem. Second, and probably more important, there is a large number of people in government (at all levels) who are invested in the current system.

    Regardless, creative destruction is remorseless and unforgiving. I just finished reading an article in Time Magazine about robotic surgery. Amazing technology. Not surprisingly there are some doctors who oppose it. And they have a good argument to the extent that a robot is never going to replicate the skill and experience of a good surgeon. The issue this doctor does not consider is that for 90% of the patients robotic surgery is probably “good enough”. How many patients (insurers) are going to be willing to pay this doctor a large premium for his skill.

    Ironically, he’s now making the same argument that skilled weavers used 150 years ago when opposing the mechanization of cloth manufacturing.

    (This is not a commercial for robotic surgery. As the author noted, there are some significant incentive problems related to bias for using the machines versus less costly non-invasive treatments.)

  • Ron Radosh

    I believe that Walter Russell Mead’s essay is one of the most important articles that have appeared in a great while.
    For those interested, I have written about it and related his concept to the tasks of The New Republic magazine. You can find my blog here:

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Thanks, Ron!!

  • Glen

    Our society simply doesn’t yet know what to do with “people who are able to master the essentials of many complex subjects, integrate the insights from this kind of study into a coherent social or political vision, and communicate what they have learned to a broad general lay audience.”

    I have no doubt that this sentence encapsulates what will be required to thrive in the future. But precisely because our society currently prizes specialization – and the power of the intellectual guilds has yet to be broken – it’s still pretty tough to earn a living purely on these skills.

    Today, only after one has established their bona fides in law, medicine, engineering, science, or (more generally) the academy, can one exploit these abilities. Except in a few special cases, fantastic multidisciplinary synthesis abilities coupled with great communication skills won’t get you a job.

    Everyone still wants to hire people who are exquisitely specialized – and who have the credentials and resume to prove it. “Genius generalists” need not apply.

  • jay chenn

    I detect a strain of Aristotle in Mr. Mead’s comment about galloping credentialism. Aristotle does an admirable job of describing the difference between scientific arts and artisanship. Simply stated, the artisan learns more and more about less and less and therefore becomes infinitely less useful to the broader field of endeavor.

    And isn’t this what we encourage at the academic level? Many of the broad theores have already been flexhed out. As such to get published it’s practically a prerequiste that you topic is extremely narrow.

    In many ways our social institutions have become a farce. Take for instance our educational system which is dominated by PhDs who are constantly inventing some new (and generally costly) way to reinvent educaion. One ought to rightly ask, given our loss of competitiveness academically, wouldn’t it be simpler to employ simple business managers who could copy successful programs from the past or from other nations?

    Our institutations have actually become an impediment to progress, and like old forest growth may well have to go through a destructive phase in order to be rebuild. And given the petty and self-serving nature of our current two party system, it’s virtually a guaranteee that we’ll see some catastrophic collapses all too soon.

  • Stan Lippmann

    Through corruption, the intellectual class no longer corresponds to intelligence. Obama is said to have an IQ of 130-145. This means his is only intellectually qualified in lead an institution of a few hundred people. Bush has an IQ of 125, making him incompetent to lead more than a few dozen people. To be an “intellectual” you need an IQ of 140, which means you are qualified to lead a couple of thousand people. If you have an IQ of 158.5, you can competently lead 30,000 people, the legal size of a Congressional District. Wilson as President of Princeton knew that only 2% of the population in in a “meritocracy” had the intelligence to be “middle class”. To make a long story short, when Obama goes to Wisconsin and promises a lumpen labor audience is to make everyone “middle class” he demonstrates his mental incompetence. The so-called intellectuals are not the smartest people in the Country, they are the mediocraties who muscle their way to power, because they are materialist who have lost their souls. They smarter one is, the higher the price for one to sell his soul, so now we have through CFR/Yale/FED Monopoly wicked fraudulent printing of money without silver backing for 100 years, having lead to this corrupt state of affairs where the relative morons are destroying the country at the moment. If we can reject Newton’s myth of linear time, through clear proof as I see it, then tomorrow the American people will all at once “get it all”, and fearing this, the inbred and incestuous degenerates (The bulk of tenured Ivy League faculty) will be confirmed in their worst nightmares, if they survive the mob like the one outside Westminster today.

  • PerryM

    Sounds like centralized planning to me – hey folks that don’t work.

    A free and open internet is all that is needed to bring together billions of folks to work on zillions of problems – if the want.

    Just like the concept of a university is a dinosaur so is the idea of pointy headed socialists debating how the rest of us slobs should live…..

  • Jack Kalpakian

    All fine and well, has there ever been an era where intellectuals have NOT been in a crisis? The second question concerns what is wrong with the society, is it guild politics or unbridled and unchecked markets? Anyone watching the developments on Wall Street knows what the answers to that questions are, and I assure you they do not include guild economics, except perhaps partially within the medical profession.

    The primary job of the intellectual is offer constructive analysis, critique and study of the society and its problems. Beyond that, it is the role of the society itself to come to terms with the prescription.

  • Stan in Sugar Land

    The basic problem is the command and control sytem – push responsible and decision as far down as possible, let people be self-actuated and most of the problems are solved. Most of the “intellectuals” Mead discusses or describes can’t drive a nail or change a tire if their cell phone is broken. The two best intellectuals in American today? Victor Davis Hanson and Thomas Sowell!

  • Lochness

    I consider myself average, not intellectual. I am not even sure how intellectualism is defined, except for the cynical version; “someone who agrees with me”. One of the best articles I have ever read, even though it took me two or three times to comprehend and I am not familiar with the author.

    The most significant quote from the article for me was “The professional, life-tenured civil service bureaucrat will have a smaller role; more work will be contracted out; much more aggressive efforts will be made to harness the power of information technology to transfer decision making power from the federal to the state and local level.”

    I am a bureaucrat, that once worked for an engineering firm that contracted for government agencies and what I found was that the contractor was often time more bureaucratic than the agency. They would often interpret the regulations more strict than the agency and would often make the report writing more voluminous and complicated than it needed to be.

    My brother defined regulatory agencies as equitable as a referee at a professional basketball game. Which is a beautiful metaphor. But, from my experience the regulatory agencies are more like a hockey referee at a pro basketball game that during time outs has to run over an officiate a volleyball game.

    Solution: Minimize the regulatory role as far down on the bureaucratic ladder as practically possible.

  • Gern

    It is crazy to think that government, which was fundamentally never designed to be fast and reactive, can keep pace with the ever increasing rate of technology, innovation and change going on in society. Societies which empower individuals to solve problems rather than governments will find they adapt and survive better than those that attempt to control it all from the top down. What is needed is a system in which those who are faced with those problems are able to directly motivate those in a position to solve them, and where individuals with viable solutions are able to be rewarded directly by those they help. Such a system would be very quick in solving problem without the need to centralized control. Fortunately such a system was envisioned a long time ago. It is called capitalism. We have the ability to solve our own problems, if only we could just stop trying to dismantle capitalism in favor of state control, and instead focus on restoring it’s ability to empower individuals to influence how their problems are solved.

  • paul

    Mr. Mead nailed it. And sadly, until the university system/ fantasy-land environment many of the “elites” exist in is re-configured into a pay-for-value model that the rest of us operate in, nothing will change. Ignorance is bliss.

  • Major B

    I am a retired mililtary officer; I have completed nearly 300 semester hours in schools all over the world, and I have a BA, MS, and MA, all in subject matter courses, not M.Ed. crap.

    I teach school in a public education setting, and students and parents requested my classes for their children, because they remember what I teach them, and they learn how to ask questions and explore on their own.

    The problem is, that professional educators (masters of teaching methodology) don’t like me and don’t like my often edgy classes–so I have been exiled to teach juvenile sex offenders in a state facility where our system provides the teachers. I had seniority over the rest of the faculty, but they rejected knowledge in favor of methodologies.

  • Theo Goodwin

    The idea that the internet and similar technologies can make delivery of education more effective, economical, or whatever is totally pie in the sky. Education is no less labor intensive when teachers and students are connected by the internet. I write this opinion from the hard won experience of a professional internet educator.

  • SpottyBush

    I read this article and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Under a thin worn veneer of American exceptionalism we are provided with a solution to America’s problems – the dismantling and re-building of the American intellectual into a Cyber-Renaissance man.
    This quote deriding our intellectuals made me very uncomfortable:
    “Instead of opportunities they see threats; instead of hope they see danger; instead of the possibility of progress they see the unraveling of everything beautiful and true.”
    Isn’t this the same old line used to deride scientists who warn us about the possibilities of climate change and the depletion arable land and ocean stocks. Isn’t this the same old line we use to dismiss those who warn us of impending financial collapse and the coming extinction of the middle class. Isn’t this the same old line used to encourage unfettered capitalism and de-regulation at any cost. This is un-restrained ”techno-optimism” = a worldview where technological progress, optimism and the American spirit will overcome all of the world’s vices.
    Unfortunately we are entering the Age of Scarcity. All of this so called American “peaceful reform and renewal” took place in a world of abundance (seemingly limitless resources) as we went from colony to world super-power. This is all about to end rather quickly as we increasingly compete with the rising East and South America in a world increasingly bereft of low cost energy. The Chinese and Indians understand what it is like in a world without access to resources and they have embraced sacrifice in exchange for progress in recent memory. Sadly, we Americans no longer understand sacrifice and we obscenely squander resources imperiling future generations. We are living off a free lunch of endless tax cuts, serial deficits, cheap oil and a drive-thru culture. The idea that we are about to become a New Holland ushering in a 21st Century Age of Enlightenment dismantling intellectual guilds with our internet egalitarianism is naïve.
    The plague of late nineteenth century intellectuals is largely a result of the complex civilization we have built fuelled solely by fossil fuels. We are about to rapidly deplete what remains and ironically we will find ourselves in a world much to Mead’s liking. We will not arrive there voluntarily though. We will be forced to endure one social, economic and political convulsion after another. At first the pace of change will appear glacial to our twittered minds distracted by the instant knowledge gratification of the cyber-world we inhabit. Our civilization is about to be undergo an unprecedented downgrade that will not be mitigated by an intellectual paradigm shift. The all powerful state will shrink, bureaucracy will wither away, our ability to sustain specialized intellectuals will evaporate, generalists will be valued, and the global economy as we know it will have virtually disappeared within 40 years. The local economy focused on resilience and sustainability will replace the short-lived and unsustainable 20th century knowledge-based economy.
    Our world is about to get a lot smaller in many ways – we are about to enter the “Age of Scarcity”

  • itzik basman

    What a lot of vapidity is Mead’s piece! The day he offers some concrete prescriptions and stops declaiming, I’ll take him more seriously.
    I contend beneath the over arching, hyper charged generalities he says nothing concrete or helpful. I’d be happy to be shown wrong.

  • Generalists can’t get hired. My expirience trying to find work in DC and elsewhere was that employers saw my wide array of different work experience and studies as detrimental and “un-focused” while I still see it as “well-rounded” and as the author suggests “a big picture view” – not to mention the fact that generalists tend to be very resourceful.

  • The problem with intellectuals is that much of “what they know, isn’t so,” to borrow from a great non-intellectual leader, who led better than the intellectuals before and after him. For example, some intellectuals know we should close the Guantanamo prison so they ordered it closed. But 2 years later, these same intellectuals had to acquiesce to reality and have been forced to leave it open. Never mind the academic arguments for closing the prison which are excellent – its the reality of the situation the rules the day. I would argue that most Americans have enough common sense to solve our problems, and the “intellectuals” would do well to be bit more common, and live where truth and reality cannot be explained away.

  • Bch

    Here’s a view of the problem that Friedrich Hayek explains before. In order to implement the socialist Utopia that the liberal and progressive thinkers envision, central planning must be superior to the unfathomable anarchy of the free market. By the nature of their Worldview, they distrust what they cannot control. Hence central planning is the core of their belief.

    To be effective, the central planners must be staffed with the knowledge to replace the workings of the free market. But centralization of such knowledge is increasingly more difficult as the complexity of society increases.

    Any attempt at centralizing knowledge by a technocracy of bureaucrats is doomed to fail by the nature of the complexity of how American society works. Think about the various expertise they must amass in the business decisions of biochemistry, semiconductors, robotics, search engines, internet. And worse, the attempt to build such a knowledge base within the government will empower bureaucrats that understand that they do not have the actual expertise to replace the results of the free market. Yet to hold on to power, they must pretend that they do. This cannot work even when society was much simpler. How can this work now?

    Yet great thinkers fail to see the basic flaw in their reasoning.

  • E. T. Kelsch

    The problem with American intellectuals is that they do not share the values of the American people. Hence, they have no legitimacy to lead America. Most intellectuals share few of America’s moral or ethical standards. Often, they feel entitled to violate legal requirements. Since they have no sense of noblesse oblige, there is no sense of duty to lead others by their example, to establish and promote justice, to make reasoned arguments about what is right and what is wrong and to promote responsible behavior that is in the interest of all. They have forgotten the intellectual basis of the Founding Fathers; George Washington and John Adams are just national myths. Some advocate discredited social theories historically advanced by foreigners or, in the arts, appeal to the most prurient interests in the name of selling to the masses. Elitist intellectuals generally have little time for American traditions, so don’t really understand how Americans feel. They want to re-make America without much appreciation of what has made America great and what makes Americans feel great. They focus on the negatives and their solutions often are at odds with the American experience. Consequently, many Americans are turning away from anything that smacks of intellectualism or elitism in order to return to their roots in order to gain a better understanding of themselves and their country.

  • Oldmanklc

    What we commonly think of as the “intellectual elite” are in the professions that they are in because they lack the ability to function in the real world. They mainly run our government and higher education systems both of which are in severe decline because those institutions, like their intellectual masters, have absolutely no grasp on reality and would starve to death were it not for societies need to watch them listen to themselves talk.

    The truth is, our society has never been advanced by people who considered themselves or were considered “intellectuals.” The greatest but certainly not the only example, is Lincoln, remembered today for rapidly advancing the future success of his nation amid tremendous opposition but known in his time as a complete idiot.

    To contrast this, we have clear examples of instances where individuals ran their countries straight into oblivion with their idealistic and unrealistic theoretical vision of the way things “should be.” The empire they built began its final collapse in 1989 after nearly a century of human misery all based on the theory of a man too smart for the real world. We have another “intellectual” running Cuba right now and what he could not deliver to his people in prosperity, he has certainly made up for in multi-hour speeches uttering complete nonsense.

    We don’t need any more college professors to lead us. In fact, it would be best if they lead other countries so we’d have an even easier time burying them in economic prowess due to our continued committment to reality.

  • WM

    It seems obvious that the root cause of the problem stated here is statism. When you subsidize something, you get more of it; academic rent-seekers and half of all lawyers are products of statism gone wild. They are not free market artifacts. If you roll back government, this phenomenon dries up, and the people who create useful intellectual products will be rewarded by the market. This means that the few remaining “great scholars and daring thinkers” should be creating rollback plans. Mr. Mead should encourage fellow intellectuals to move in that direction.

  • gcblues

    since monetarism, welfare states, etc have not worked ever, can we please jettison it all and look for private solutions. left wingers cannot be smart no matter how you define smart, because it does not work. if you believe in fantasy, the should bes, oughta bes, could bes, wish it could bes, your dumb. period. end of story.

  • Gary B.

    The comments’ range is most amusing. What seems most telling for me is that there is simply too little reality and too much political spin, i.e., attempts to convince that unreality is somehow true, to call many of the “intellectuals” intellectual. It seems often far too flattering, and sullies the word. When everyone is an intellectual, and academic, a theorist, a pundit, then the resulting din drives out the salient with the screech of the specialized mediocrity.

    I am content with the article’s conclusion that tomorrow cannot be predicted, not because there are neither signposts nor firm and lasting rules and principles, but because so many supposed intellectuals rise up to pretend otherwise. (Usually they may be found reaching for my wallet yet again.)

    I am also content to watch for tomorrow, and heed not the Armageddon-like “my view’s important” dry hollering of these many and their crises.

    Thank you, Mr. Mead, for an interesting essay.

  • Frank

    To Walt:

    All I see here are vaguely defined problems–void of any specificity and entirely lacking real world application–coupled with even vaguer solutions. Stranger yet is your repudiation of ideological driven policy, tell me, what are you advocating here other than a nebulous neo-libertarian ideology for the future of America? Ideology is loosely defined as a system of ideas (or ideals) that form economic and political theories and policies; how is what you’re doing any different from that (aside from the lack of courage to be explicit on any issue)? Avoiding becoming unnecessarily complex, there can said to be four political ideologies driving America, those being social progressivism, social conservatism, libertarianism and socialism. The two dominant parties and the members that comprise them are all amalgamations of these four ideologies. The world is not at a turning point in ideology, certainly not on the scale that was the advent of the enlightened nation-state ruled through consensus from pseudo-autocratic monarchy. All that is changing is the balance of these ideologies in the characters that we elect to office, and even then it would be absurd to divine a trend from such a little frame of history. There is no major impetus for overwhelming change, and even then, your new brand of intellectualism isn’t really anything new. Speaking of “Guild Economies,” as if it were even an accurate depiction, how is what you’re advocating anything different from Gilded Age economics? You aren’t.

    The internet is a truly unparalleled technological advancement, broadly expanding the market in both the service and manufacturing sectors, and facilitating a whole new medium for communication unbounded by distance. While the internet can clearly cut down costs for the dissemination of information, and remove superfluous middlemen, it’s not the Ave Maria antidote for a renaissance in a new brand of intellectualism.

    If free-market competition was truly applicable to all aspects of “the market,” America would not be caught in the paradox of ghastly under-credible, yet inexpensive, online and community colleges and rising prices for traditional universities. While a higher proportion of the population is more educated as a result, costs have remained entirely unaffected by the process. Many of these (for lack of a better term, but in no means meant to be derogatory) lesser universities give out credits that are not transferable to higher establishments. It could be argued that this is the fault of higher universities, but that would fail to acknowledge the woeful inadequacy of lesser colleges to deliver on substantive education to its enrollees. More than anything, these colleges are more like trade schools, in which students best chances are in completing an associates degree or vocational degree. Further, competition amongst higher institutions of learning does not drive down costs as assumed the market would, despite that enrollment is essentially without borders. There is not a lack of competition, and if anything, universities on par with other universities are inclined to raise prices along with other universities in the interest of maintaining prestige. The market can’t fix this problem, and the internet won’t change it either.

    Likewise for legal service, while the internet may make advice easier to attain, how reliable is that information? There is a world of difference between and getting advice from an attorney. The internet won’t be able to undercut highly valuable professionals, and it shouldn’t. The internet will serve to aid both parties in the client-professional dynamic, but I seriously doubt the validity of your claim that it will remove entire parties from the process.

    If I had the heart, I would go through and remark on every bad example you cited, from your intellectually lazy claims that academia is “too self-referential,” that the problem with churches is that the clergy is “too professionalized” (the origin of that issue is Christianity has largely failed to adapt to the modern world), and your platitudes about “elites eroding our cultural strengths.” Not only do you misperceive issues, but you misdefine them too. You’ve got the rhetoric, but not the research to back it up.

    And finally for alleged weakness of bureaucracy (also claimed without substance), running government as a business has been a disaster from the onset. While government should and does play a role in the market, it is not a “part” of the market. It is distinctly different in both function and purpose than a private sector entity. It’s one thing to advocate an efficient, effective, and equitable bureaucracy, and another thing to claim that bureaucracy is largely unnecessary and outdated for politically expedient points. Bureaucracy is a largely successful institution, and regularly out performs its private sector competitors. Take for example in 1990, the Floridian government cancelled a pipe-laying project being undertaken by the city, and contracted it to a private sector firm. The city’s engineers initially estimated the price per foot of pipe at roughly $70. The private contractors put it at $130. In response, the city engineers reorganized a new study, and found that they could get the job done at $43 per foot, causing the private contractors to drop there price between $50-$60 per foot. When it comes to it, the private sector is happy to feed from American taxpayers’ trough to beef up the bottom line.

    You’re advocation of some form of adhocracy is irresponsible, there is no reason to believe that government should be run in a manner that is decentralized, non-standarized, and without determined hierarchical roles. While you don’t outright proclaim this to be the solution–I apologize if I’ve put words in your mouth–your rhetoric cannot lead to any other conclusion. Further, claims that government at both state and federal levels operate on “100 year old models” brazenly ignores the history of reform in America, from the progressive era at the dawn of the 20th century, to the rise of public unions (less pay than the private sector in turn for collective bargaining rights), to affirmative action, to an emphasis on merit based employment. Bureaucracy is an institution that deals with issues uniquely different than those by the private sector, as such, it needs a high level of accountability and consistency to attain true effectiveness and efficiency. Look into PEWs Government Performance Project.

    The remedy for your distress over America’s intellectual void lies in immigration. It’s America’s openness to intellectuals from other countries, its openness to welcome foreigners with the will and power to succeed that drives America. This is why we need the DREAM Act, and not embarrassments like Steve King (R-IA) advocating amending the “beloved” Constitution’s 14th Amendment to end naturalization. We derive our strength from diversity, e pluribus unum.

  • The intellectuals fail to see the synergy in shooting Caribou and eating red meat. They envision a more Humane world of soy protein and faux turkey.

    A world where things would never happen without a robust USA.

    No Space Station
    No Microsoft
    No Apple
    No Internet
    No Personal Computer
    No Apple
    No Google
    No Wal-mart
    No General Electric
    No private space programs
    No investment Capital
    No Drugs
    Worldwide Aids
    No Facebook
    No Twitter
    No Tinker toys
    No GI JOE
    No Hula Hoop
    No Pet Rock
    No Country Music

    Do they love anything about freedom?

  • naomi barlev

    I would settle for someone who can see what is versus what is said or does not follow what we passes today as conventional wisdom.

    The reality is that while criminals have turned once large viable corporations into carcasses and have spread to our government doing the same even printing money and spreading it all around to the same criminals raping and turning countries into carcasses while promoting chaos to avert attention away from this criminality- in the economy, law and order via immigration, and choking the average man via regulation we the American people do nothing. Have we been so dumbed down or numbed by our school system and a complicit media? It seems however so blatant the criminality that has spread in our government that even this is no excuse for inaction.

  • dookhh

    Your article hits on extremely salient points. But what has happened is that academia has been populated and promotes true believers in the blue society, and strongly discourages any dissent- they created a bubble that is shocked because everyone that they(because they are surrounded by clones) utterly agrees that the blue society is the only way to go, and yet they are being rebuked, which will likely increase. What is going on now is simply reactionary backlash. The average joe woke up and saw that the left’s model was to become “more like” Sweden, Europe, Russia, China, Cuba and freaked out. The right doesn’t object to progress for any and all levels of society, but a modified Robin Hood makes it wiser to be at the bottom end and get freebies, than in the middle or top and even try to succeed, and the wheels eventually grind to a halt.

  • As someone who quite obeisantly jumped through the rings of academia, I never could quite understand what was so imaginative and insightful about statism. It seemed to me that the model of enlightened despotism had been tried since civilization first began in a myriad of manifestations, but typically resulted in an abusive ruling class and a passive, barely productive populus. It seemed to me that the Western Civilization’s innovation of individual liberty unleashed the forces of genius to lead men out of the dark ages. Statism thus to me seemed to be the obsession of jealous, mediocre minds seeking to co-opt the fruits of liberty and capitalism and to enlist them in the service of utopian causes. This vision quite evidently to my mind kneecaps the pillars on which it rests, and returns the state whose political class adopts it to the static middling despotism so common in world history. But academics, many of them being the frustrated narcissists, cannot handle being relegated to shopkeeper for the innovations of the Enlightenment, and so childishly rebelled against Western Civilization. What many don’t understand is that the flourishing of America was not due to avarice or colonial conquest, but a deep-seated distrust of government, a grounding in Aristotelian ontology, and an unjaundiced view of man as a self-interested being. It is utopianism that more often leads to periodic dark ages, not hard-headed realism. Rebelling against reality doesn’t end well.

  • Mike_in_Kyiv

    Mr. Mead, you lost me after the first sentence of your piece: “America has everything it needs for success in the twenty-first century with one exception: a critical mass of thinkers, analysts and policy entrepreneurs who can help unleash the creative potential of the American people and build the new government and policy structures that will facilitate a new wave of private-sector led growth”; particulary the part about “build the new government”.

    I am not inherently anti-intellectual. I am however a realist in having seen during my sixty years that government is the last place you want to waist your time setting in place a group of wonks to try and do it the government way. Let’s remember how leader-of-the-pack-whiz-kid Robert Strange McNamara botched and micro-managed our defeat in Vietnam; lets look at the mass screw ups of the current occupant of the White House or maybe a so-called economist The Ben Bernak.

    The intellectual pool you speak of should remain outside of government and in a consultanting capacity. Government itself just needs to become minimalist and very quickly. Congress needs to be a part-time body. The less they are in power, the less they can hurt us.

    Like todays battlefield which is asymmetric in character the concept of the “nano-government” needs to evolve. WE don’t need an Abrams M1A1 tank weighing 68 tons, we need a hand launched drone that weighs ounces. Actions by the nano-govement should be periodic and short term in nature, innovative and time limited save for maintaining the necessary Constitutional requirements (meeting defense requirements for instance).

    Government is simply not the appropriate agent to create ” a critical mass of thinkers, analysts and policy entrepreneurs who can help unleash the creative potential of the American people.” Government gets in the way of the free flow of ideas and dynamism. Government in my view never gets it right.

    A great example of how government should adopt the quick-in-quick-out concept could have been applied with the American space program. NASA met a medium term objective of getting someone on the moon in 10 years or less; after that the program should have been privatized and saved all these billions of dollars and so many false starts since 1969.

    Government will never understand things as the private sector does. Government creates empires that get too weighty, loose inertia and collapse (fail at their mission). The private sector on the other hand stays flexible, will abandon something that doesn’t work while government keeps pouring money into it (e.g. Amtrack, , NASA, TSA groping squads, HUD Section 8 housing assistance, Dept. of Education – I could go on….) Government simply never facilitates the private sector in an intellectual fashion. Government just needs to get out of the way and stay away. Let all your experts and intellectual folk find refuge in a dyanmic company or create their own.

  • VTHS

    This is a good place for this quote

    “The unphilosophical majority among men are the ones most helplessly dependent on their era’s dominant ideas. In times of crises these men need the guidance of some kind of theory; but, being unfamiliar with the field of ideas, they do not know that alternatives to the popular theories are possible. They know only what they have always been taught.”- Leonard Peikoff

  • Paul Thiel

    There is a difference between intelligence and wisdom. Unfortunately, the most intelligent often have the most difficulty in seeing this.

  • This is a game changing, paradigm shifting article of great importance. I would recommend to Mead that he evolve these ideas further into a book-length treatise. It reminds me a little of the words Dick Morris wrote for Pres. Clinton after the ’94 rout: “…the era of big government is over.” Except here it would be, “…the era of the liberal entitlement mentality is over.” It’s the first time I’ve seen a liberal make this statement so boldly and presciently. Other ideas here remind me of the work I do. One of the publishing brands for which I am senior editor, Full Court Press, is in the process of completing a series of books on American public education, specifically targeting the increasingly anti-scientific POV in its choice of instructional materials and teaching methodologies and worse in its embrace of goofy theories such as postmodernism. The American Educational Research Assn., the biggest such public school org by definition that I know of, is one that has been way too besotted with what is essentially anti-science postmodern thought. Liberals who on one hand have railed against the “anti-science attitudes” of conservative climate change skeptics (since when did skepticism become the enemy of science liberals?), have studiously ignored such clear research-based winners of instructional methodologies like Direct Instruction in favor of such research-proven disasters as whole language and inventive spelling. Yet across America, these latter losers are practiced to the near exclusion of research-based methods in liberal school districts like ours here in Madison, Wisconsin. I congratuate Mead for this insight and clear writing and thinking and hope to see these ideas in book form someday. I’d publish it if nobody else would, but we’re a relatively small company and I imagine Mead could do much better than to work with us.

  • O.B. Ron Quxote

    What is important is not so much about coming up with newer, “deeper,” and more creative techno-solutions but identifying what the most commonly accepted problems are and who should be responsible for solving them.

    For example, is it the responsibility of our schools to wrest the teaching of values from parents? Or should the scope of education be constrained to the “3 R’s?” Clearly, new theories and strategies for how teachers should approach value-based “education” are irrelevant if most people agree that it is the parents’ responsibility in the first place. Creative or not — on either side — without some sort of consensus, we are just continuing to add conflict and more floors to an already teetering Tower of Babel.

    School-based value education proponents may argue that, left to parents, the values educators feel are important are not being taught. Yet years of programming children against their parents does not seem to have resulted in getting us any closer to a progressive paradise.

    In such cases, the media and the internet may be at its most useful — to host the necessary debate over what values are important and the priorities with which they should be endowed.

    All the creative solutions in the world will not keep us out of the collective drink if none of us can agree we have a leak in our canoe and that someone needs to start bailing water.

    Until we have agreement about what the problems are and who should be responsible for solving them, new and creative theories will never accomplish much more than generating more un-read textbooks — regardless of the author and their political persuasion.

    We need to use the democratic principles upon which this country was founded to agree on what the problems are and who should be tasked with resolving them.

    Outside of that, the rest is just hot air and empty rhetoric, if you ask me.


  • Geoff Laendner

    David, Greg and Dr. Meade,

    Years ago I treasured the idea of teaching History and how to mentor potential teachers
    to teach Social Studies. Unfortunately, there was no room for me, I really thought that the Civil War required extensive treatment, the people in charge thought differently. What to do? Briefly…

    1. Realize fining a job and doing it are two different activities

    2. Realize that people whom you think will help you in this endeavor won’t or can’t etc.
    However, people will come out of the woodwork to assist.

    3. Career Development is a lifetime journey
    and needs constant attention. Discover your expertise, skills etc and then find a place or situation where you and your expertise can grow. This new place maybe be completely different from what you now know or even contemplate. Research,information interview
    people. Don’t stop and have several lines of possible careers. For me, I uncovered Training and Development in business. To my amazement most of the skills required I had in one form or another. It was then up to me to make these skills relevant to a potential employer. They don’t wish to know everything, just what they are looking for and can you perform it better than anyone they can find. In short what are they looking for and what in your background will meet it. Then you don’t get “unfocused” “overqualified” and other weasel words. Once in continue to develop yourself and don’t stop.
    The country needs the expertise described in this blog. More and more we are a “Knowledge Society”.


  • wildman

    The thinkers have been in charge for a long time now and things have gotten worse not better. They try over and over again the same tired nostrums they learned from their co-intellectuals in the universities with the same or more disastrous results. Einstein was right: doing the same thing and expecting different results is insanity. We need less intellectuals and more common sense.

  • joe schmoe

    Too many intellectuals use too many words.
    To point – find the verb, if you can, in phrase below….

    “Too many of the very people who should be leading the country into a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of the technological revolution and make the average person incomparably better off and more in control of his or her own destiny than ever before are devoting their considerable talent and energy to fighting the future.”

  • bstr

    Walter seems to carry water for Goldman Sachs. Can one honestly believe that unemployment is the creation of the intellectual class? Can one believe that the cost of Healh Care and the matching insane bonus income of its administrators is the fault of a misguided socialism. The problem is more likely found in the morals of individuals then in such broad political programs, that he would have us pretend to exist. i know, i know, if i’m going to get distressed over your blather i shouldn’t read neoconservative journals. But your covers are so bright and colorful.

  • DD

    Nice article. Bottom line: watch out for really smart people who think they know how to run things. It is hubris to think that economies can be managed. It is downright damaging to think that bureaucrats can pick winners in the marketplace. It is also ridiculous to think that bureaucrats can facilitate progress. True progress is unpredictable. It’s enemy is ‘stability’. Thus the clash between modern-day guilds and those trying to put them out of business. How sad to think that the GM bailout may have buried some small innovative company with a real solution to the challenges of transportation. Or that Obamacare has killed innovation in health care delivery in favour of existing models. Wealth creation can only come from new things, not redistribution.

  • maxwello

    Some important points are raised, but the prescriptions seem naive. A proposition may not be 100% correct. That does not necessarily indicate that the opposite of the proposition is 100% correct. The opinion of someone who devotes their attention doggedly to a particular topic may be correct or not, but it will be better-informed than that of the casual observer and, depending on the knowledge area, statistically more likely to be correct.. “Equality” does not mean that one person’s opinion is necessarily as valid as another’s. I’ll trust the doctor with 8 years of college and 4 years of supervised practice over annecdotal accounts on WebMD.

  • GeeLS

    “Almost everywhere one looks in American intellectual institutions there is a hypertrophy of the theoretical, galloping credentialism and a withering of the real.”

    The author seems to think he is the first person to identify the eternal problem of intellectuals who overspecialize and produce arcane self-referential texts rather than some other “useful” product. Most of this essay could have been written in 1810 or 1510.

    More to the point:

    Sure, the new “information economy” has changed the landscape. And yes, the “information revolution” will change the intellectual community much like the industrial revolution changed the manufacturing guild system.

    But the industrial revolution didn’t mean that average joes could build their own cotton gins. We may think that the internet enables us all to be professors, but it’s patently not the case, just like mass undifferentiated data dumps don’t make us all journalists.

    Every era, every generation, is at the center of some kind of major flux. Time has never stood still. There is no “crisis of intellectual leadership” – merely the same generational changing of the guard that has happened for thousands of years.

  • Kevin Foster Keddie

    This is excellent.

    Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because it aligns very much with my understanding of current issues. Yesterday I responded with similar observations to a young friend who was asking questions related to this topic. I, too, believe the basic challenge is to our intellectual elite.

    My area of interest along these lines of thought is the clash of civilizations and the legitimate criticism that the Islamic World makes of the Western World’s moral code.

    My thought is that the crisis in intellectual circles orginates in the moral and philosophical realm.

    What are the appropriate standards of behavior in our society? How do we develop them? What are the standards and how can we move forward to address the issues raised in this article until and unless intellectuals embrace a moral social order that is not driven by the state?

    There are roughly 1.4 billion humans on the planet that share a moral code – and it is a code that is challenging much of what the Western World stands for. A recent survey suggests that this group sees a very different future – one which resembles Medieval society more than our current present.

    How do we answer?

  • Joseph Camp

    The biggest problem with this issue is that any true intellectual knows that knowledge is impossible to centralize. It is forever changing. The younger generations with all the tech skills seek out information while in search of procuring their future. What they fail to recognize is that in order for civilization to advance, all generations must come together to maintain the collective intelligence of the human race.The older generations must learn to accept new technologies so they can share their experience, not through preaching, but through examples of success. The younger generations today cannot see past their own instinctual desires. This excess socialization does not allow young minds to seek out self exploration. The brain needs time to process information. A disrespect of this basic need will lead to a path of relying on human instinct to make important decisions. Humans easily make simple mistakes. For example, much of our youth believes that every piece of information to life is on the internet, well they are wrong, some things must be experienced. Lack of sleep, overload of information, and excess social/emotional exposure, fuel the downward spiral of manipulative misinformation. Collective knowledge of the world is simply too vast for any one mind to comprehend. Until these new generations learn to mature without excluding the importance of experience, new advancements towards an exponentially improved civilization will be thwarted with failures. The socialization and centralization that many seek will only lead to a repeat of past failed, gluttonous civilzations such as the Roman Empire. Education plays a big role in preventing this failure. We can only be ourselves, but we do not have to do it alone.– Joseph Camp

  • Godless Infidel

    “[The intellectuals] are a group that holds a unique prerogative: the potential of being either the most productive or the most parasitical of all social groups.

    The intellectuals serve as guides, as trend-setters, as the transmission belts or middlemen between philosophy and the culture. If they adopt a philosophy of reason—if their goal is the development of man’s rational faculty and the pursuit of knowledge—they are a society’s most productive and most powerful group, because their work provides the base and the integration of all other human activities. If the intellectuals are dominated by a philosophy of irrationalism, they become a society’s unemployed and unemployable.

    From the early nineteenth century on, American intellectuals—with very rare exceptions—were the humbly obedient followers of European philosophy, which had entered its age of decadence. Accepting its fundamentals, they were unable to deal with or even to grasp the nature of this country.” – Ayn Rand

  • hb

    It comes down to productivity. Add value or eat less. Real intellectual capital is no longer found in the academy. The thought and technology leaders are elsewhere.

  • picomanning

    Who needs thinkers? When government intervenes to lift people out of human suffering the need to innovate is substantially reduced and personal initiative takes a nose dive. It took several generations, but the results of social intervention to maintain increasingly higher levels of minimal standards of living now prove that it pays to be a parasite; until the host dies. So now what does government propose?

  • HS

    To generalize, the intellectual class is intellectually bankrupt. What Orwell said is still applicable: Some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe it. Today’s progressives are, as Mead wrote, reactionaries in nearly every way, not just the ones mentioned here. They like to put everyone in his or her tribal group by race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. What could be more reactionary than that? People are more and more realizing that there used to be more freedom before the advent of progressivism and the statism that they have given us. They want their freedom back.

  • Mark Twain

    “Respect for the law” has become much diminished since the law became whatever 535 thieves, tax cheats and molesters decide it is.

    Respect for intellectuals has suffered much the same fate, for much the same reason.

    Do not look for government for solutions; any solutions they generate will come with an additional fifty problems created for each solved.

    Solve your own problems; educate yourself and your children, don’t leave it to permanently-tenured government bureaucrats disguised as teachers. Fix up your own communities, don’t look for federal funds to do so. Seek answers, methods and cures at the lowest possible level (including your own, yourself, using your resources and available tools) rather than looking outside.

    Perhaps – if you make a habit of solving your own problems, by yourself, and using your own available resources – you will find less need for Federal government and involvement in your life.
    Perhaps – if we all do this – the State truly will “wither away”, and all of us be happier, richer and more productive because of it.

  • Leroy Foster

    Frank Says…..No, Frank States Frank.

    Your slight of the original INTENT of the 14th Amendment is embarrasing. Read the papers and arguements of the time (1866). What does the 14th have to do with immigration?

  • Herkimer

    I like the article.
    There are a lot of bright people within academia who publish work that is not practically useful. The publish or academically perish philosophy leads to too much unimportant, arcane writing.

    One concern is too much banking and financial services. The financial sector may receive too much government backing that leads to too much sector capacity competing to supply investment opportunities.

    I’d like to see more schools assign Poor Richard’s Almanac.

  • noahp

    Same ol’ WRM. Only a few weeks ago he was celebrating the technocratic triumph over the eurozone crisis. Now as the crisis rages on he assumes its eventual solution by the same clearly deluded elites.

    Reality: top-down solutions by intellectual elites have a very poor track record. Just recall that not very many years ago Alan Greenspan was hailed as “the Maestro”…today the more appropriate nickname would be “bubbles”.

  • Who have been the most influential intellectuals in history? Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche? Not a good sign.

    Maybe what we need is not a new class of intellectuals but something more akin to the Puritan divines in 17th century England, or the Pharisaic rabbis in the time of Akiva and Hillel?

    In both cases it was a kind of educational “clerisy” that reinterpreted traditional ideas in a way that led to a fundamental transformation of society.

    We could use something like that, only this time of course it would have to be different — though I would hope the Hebraic element remained, and that a lot of Jewish talent got involved.

    Of course this time it would have to be different.

  • Kirk Parker

    Mike In Kyiv (13),

    Sorry, but that little hand-launched drone will only be of much use to us if we also have a few Abrams around–unless you are planning to fight all our battles on our own territory, we actually need a bit of that old-fashioned force projection on hand.

    Tom Kinney (16),

    Didn’t Philip Bobbitt already write that book? 🙂

  • Tom Grey

    See Nozick’s Why are Intellectuals so Opposed to Capitalism?

    Because in school, they get rewarded for sucking up to a central authority that rewards based on sucking up ability … and these school-successful intellectuals expect society to be like that, too.
    Successful capitalists are servants of the customers, creating win-win deals with as many as possible, based on the free, peaceful choice of the customer.

    Elite snobs don’t like freedom to choose other than what the snobs think is best for you.

  • Too large a percentage of today’s so-called intellectuals are Liberals.

    Meaning, they’re idiots. How does that scramble your eggs?

  • Harry Flashman

    The 2008 election of Barack Obama epitomizes the intellectual bankruptcy of American academia. He was presented as a brilliant intellectual with stellar Ivy League credentials whose cool low key style would transform the culture of Washington and lead the nation into a new harmonious postracial era while achieving miracles of bipartisan cooperation. Academics almost uniformly bought into this fantasy and voted for it.

    Any consideration of the current president should begin with an awareness of the fact that he continues to conceal virtually the entire paper trail of his existence in a tight shroud of secrecy.

    American voters of all political persuasions clearly remember the Obama 2008 campaign repeatedly promising that their administration would uphold the highest ethical standards with a particular emphasis on transparency.

    A vast majority of these voters believe that the process of running for the office of President of the United States should be the toughest public job interview on the planet.

    The sad fact remains that the current president could not be hired as a janitor in a federal building with the amount of verifiable background information that he has provided.

    Barack Obama’s original typewritten long form birth certificate, school records, SAT and LSAT scores, college and law school admission records and grade transcripts and thesis papers, medical records, passport history, Illinois state senate tenure records, presidential campaign foreign donor lists, complete White House visitor logs and other relevant records and documents have all never been released or allowed to be subjected to any sort of scrutiny, despite several years of repeated requests for disclosure by numerous individuals and non-traditional media organizations.

    The Obama 2008 campaign and subsequent administration have to date spent a considerable sum on legal fees, estimated in the millions of dollars, to fight Freedom of Information Act filings and other requests to examine this material.

    There exists a widespread and growing international speculation that Barack Obama’s meteoric rise up the educational and career ladders was largely the result of multiple affirmative action decisions and that his vaunted intellectual reputation was a careful fabrication.

    In short, just another leftist ideologue big city machine politician with more than a touch of narcissism who has cleverly used his race to get ahead and get over.

    Obama and his handlers were able to successfully hide his past and explain away and minimize his associations with controversial individuals and groups during their 2008 campaign.

    Will they be able to successfully repeat this deception between now and 6 November 2012?

    Only if you let them.

  • Mark Michael

    The best way to change the intellectuals is to get them off the public dole; make them earn their living in the marketplace. Then their arcane, guild-like, self-serving, self-referential behaviors will stop or they’ll go bankrupt. Universities should earn their incomes from students and those who would hire graduates, not government, grants, contracts, or subsidies. Actually, much of the federal bureaucracy needs to be abolished, or at least turned over to the 50 states to decide to fund or not. It’s a big, big problem, as a practical matter. Concept isn’t hard; implementing it is.

    My 2 cents worth.

  • Luke Lea

    I hope you will post on the Bernie Sanders phenomenon.

  • Waldemar

    “Galloping credentialism” is indeed at the root of this problem. An enormous proportion of the American intelligentsia has been siphoned away from productive fields into academia, which often proves to be a professional dead-end for those individuals.

    The country suffers, because competent people who could be leaders in industry are instead reading theory. And they suffer for a host of reasons, some of which are listed on a blog of reasons not to go to graduate school:

  • Tim Brynteson

    As a lawyer and entrepeneur (I ran my own business for 12 years, sold in 2007) I think Mr. Mead is falling for a stereotype of “intellectuals” that doesn’t really fit anymore. Most that I know have conceded the dream of the ever expanding state. They’ve conceded to the innovative potential of the market. What they long for are innovative public/private partnerships that began to address the very issues you see as needing to be addressed. The source of my fear is not wistful liberal-intellectuals who give no ground to entrpeneurs, but to right-wing ideologues who can conceive of no public role for the challenges we face in education, manufacturing innovation, climate-change and building social and human capital.

  • Frank,
    Superb and devastating reply to Mr. Mead,
    Best regards,

  • Excellent article, but a very tough set of problems to solve. Not only is the Academy largely blinded in the manner Mead describes, but it dictates the socially and intellectually acceptable boundaries of discourse and thus to a considerable extent the perceptual reality experienced in journalism, philanthropy, and education, all of which obsequiously follow the lead of the Academy, such as it is.

    However, if one breaks with the left-liberal establishment on any issue, one can become persona non grata in the advancement hierarchies of that establishment: career over, or at least one is likely to be quietly marginalized. All of the market-friendly graduate students I know who hope to have a mainstream academic career know that they must be very discreet prior to tenure if they want to have any hope of an academic career. This system of selective retention hardly rewards the bold or the forthright or in most cases even the original.

    Once an intellectual is outside these mainstream left-liberal hierarchies, one is faced with the right-wing world, which is also excessively politicized. Until we have greater intellectual diversity either within the Academy, or among think tanks and philanthropies that are independent of the Academy, an intellectual who betrays the norms of the left-liberal establishment but who does not become orthodox right-wing is lonely indeed. There are a few exceptions, but the firings of Will Wilkinson, Brink Lindsey, and David Frum show that life is perilous for a thinker who is more pro-market than is generally considered acceptable in academia, but who does not adhere to orthodoxies in the right-wing think tank world.

    Although the internet provides radical freedom of thought, most of the money that would support full-time intellectual life is tied to highly partisan institutions, and unless one is independently wealthy, it is tough to be a full-time intellectual if one violates partisan norms of acceptable discourse on either side.

  • tintent

    And I agree with Luke Lea. Not a mention in Mead’s article of the importance of the economic imbalance Bernie Sanders addressed Friday. Be you an intellectual or whatever you call its proud opposition, more important essences in the U.S. are way out of kilter. For a concise statement, please consider:

  • John C. Randolph

    Most of the people who consider themselves intellectuals are merely sophists. A genuine intellectual is one who is capable of original thought and synthesis, not one who toes the party line.


  • jay

    quoted in Sanders speech “they have been competing to see who could own the largest private yacht, who could own the most private jets, who could own the most expensive cars, jewelry, artwork, et cetera.”

    For hardworking, skilled, boat builders (and crews), jet mechanics, jewelry makers, artists, etc, is this a bad thing?

  • Tom Kinney

    To Kirk Parker…don’t see the connection between what I was saying and the Bobbitt book (wish I could say I did) but the latter sure does sound interesting thanks to your link on amazon. Thanks for the tip. I’m ordering. Used of course.

  • Alex

    Is this an argument for the Annales School of thought?

  • The real issue isn’t that there aren’t enough intellectuals to stimulate debate, it’s that the American public is not interested in any debate. Have you ever tried to have a reasonable discussion with someone these days? Most responses are either partisan soundbites (both sides) or proud ignorance. Personally, I think the amount of available data and new and refreshing ideas is unbelievably immense and increasing exponentially. Unfortunately the amount of people not reading it is also increasing. What’s causing that is a multitude of things, but it is happening.

  • Richard Ong

    Frank, you gratuitously insult Mr. Mead by describing him as cowardly and lazy. Can you fix that by any chance?

    Your “reorganized a new study” was an interesting locution indicative of the precision of your thought. Your government bidding example doesn’t prove that the bureaucrats could do the job more efficiently, only that the bureaucrats initially made a mistake. Then they revised their mistaken calculation and came up with another lower number of unknown accuracy. The contractor came down in price, presumably after new bids were requested (or “new bids were rerequested,” to use your mode of expression). Since we don’t know whether the second bureaucratic estimate is worth anything and we don’t know whether the second bid from the contractor was sweet reason itself or the essence of corporate greed, your example proves nothing.

    Your idea that America’s “openness to intellectuals from other countries, its openness to welcome foreigners with the will and power to succeed that drives America” tells the same story.

    300,000,000 lazy, helpless Americans praying for the Latvian, Saudi, and Nigerian intellectual shock troops.

    I’m sold on that idea. Yes, I am.

  • yahudie

    One aspect of intellectual blinkering you neglected to discuss is what goes by the pejorative name (and rightly so) of “political correctness” and its attendant orthodoxies, like “victimism”, “multiculturalism” “non-judgementalism” , etc.
    These intellectual redlines prevent thorough analysis and remediation of accumulated social problems that the earlier idealist generations of “progressives” did not (perhaps did not want to) recognize. Now, their assumptions are holy text and cannot ever be re-visited and consequently, the problems that they were supposed to ameliorate cannot ever be properly addressed.

  • Bob

    While it seems to me this article presents worthy and debatable ideas, I have the uneasy feeling that things will not be rejigged so simply.
    As a non-American resident, but with American friends and family, I wish the American people could sometimes see themselves as they appear from the outside: which is both better and worse than they seem to see themselves.
    My concern is that Americans have absorbed for generations their own increasingly jingoistic propaganda, and now seem to hold views about themselves which bear no resemblance to reality, and will be extremely difficult and painful to back away from.

  • Intellectuals aren’t too likely to adopt the attitude that they are inherently incapable of understanding and, therefore, predicting the outcome of the world. Yet, that is the nature of all complex network systems — which includes quantum systems, many chemical systems, certainly biological systems, ecosystems, neural systems, and various social systems, including economies. Yet each of these are inherently unpredictable, inherently unknowable in their fullness. And the more complex the system, the less knowable it is, the less predictable. Perhaps there will arise more complex systems intellectuals like me in the future. I certainly hope so. But insofar as it requires great humility to be one, I find it unlikely to be very attractive to most intellectuals to become one.

  • Peter

    For America to move forward, power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, from the state to society and from qualified experts and licensed professionals to the population at large.

    Who else represents society and the population at large, other than elected representatives, i.e., the state? If power shifts from the state to entrepreneurs, presumably they would also have to be elected by the population at large. How else in a democracy could they be chosen or encouraged other than through a streamlined state bureaucracy?

  • JP

    “In literature, critics and theoreticians erect increasingly complex structures of interpretation and reflection – while the general audience for good literature diminishes from year to year. We are moving towards a society in which a tiny but very well credentialed minority obsessively produces arcane and self referential (but carefully peer reviewed) theory about texts that nobody reads.”

    I’m happy to report that your characterization of literary studies–which owes much to the caricatures of continental theory disseminated by culture warriors in the 1980s and 90s–is out of date. It’s widely recognized in the profession that theory’s “moment” has passed: the best academic publishers want clear, elegant writing. Look at recent books published by Oxford, Cambridge, Penn, and Cornell university presses. You won’t find much theory.

  • Robert Klaus

    Yes we have surrendered our patrimony as human beings to the meritocracy of the credentialed elite. But this condition is hardly the manifestation of government, which despite the author’s arguments to the contrary, still delivers more and better for a lower price. Consider the two institutions he singles out for criticism: education (particularly higher education) and health care. Government run healthcare, i.e. Medicare and Medicaid still operates at a fraction of the cost of private, insurance driven health care. And there is more cost containment provided even as numbers of users grows, Similar cost and performance claims can be made for higher education,especially as they concern student aid (direct government loans vs. government sponsored student loans.) And for sanity;s sake, let us put off from the table any discussion of the merits of government-sponsored research (especially medical and scientific) versus those of the private sector, where unsettled issues of cost containment, conflict of interest and intellectual property abound, the last of which suffers to be heralded in the style of Nobel.

    And so the author, Mr, Reed, may seek succor for his Rose views in the liberation of the mind and the improvement of the human condition in some intellectual revolution forged in the foundry of protean capitalism, there remains always in the penumbrae of the human cavalcade the murky image of “Kenny Boy” Lay and Mr. Kurtz,who bear their share in the destruction of a culture shared with equanimity by all.

  • As a sort of card-carrying member of the old-style liberal intelligensia, I agree with some of this. I agree that we as a nation have no real vision for how to move forward economically — the Republicans’ only ideas are tax cuts and deregulation, and 30 years of such policies have shown that they only help the rich, while other than nationalized health care the Democrats don’t have many ideas. I agree that progress depends on better leveraging the things we are good at, especially information technology.

    But it is silly to say that we “can’t afford” the traditional welfare state. If we raised taxes to the levels of the 1960s, we would have all the money we need and more. Even the tax rates of the 1990s would produce most of the revenue we would need — and economic growth was much stronger under those tax regimes than what we have now. If we don’t want to pay those taxes, that is a choice, not a necessity. There are also ways in which a move to a government, bureaucratic system would be a huge increase in efficiency; the overhead costs of the entirely government-run British health care system are only about a quarter of ours, those of Canada’s single payer system about half ours. Social Security is a highly efficient system.

    There is also the question of what our goal is. Most economists seem to think that the highest possible economic growth is the goal, but most people are more interested in security. If a move to a more entrepreneurial system makes the nation wealthier but gives the average person less income security, most Americans would see that as a loss. My basic complaint about Mead’s vision is that he calls on us to give up whatever security we have left in the name of greater efficiency, and I think that would be a very bad trade.

  • I am Canadian, not American, but it does seem that the challenges confronting both sdocieties are similar. Mead’s analysis of what is wrong is rigourous, thoughtful and broadly correct. He is far too intellectually disciplined to indulge himself by offering easy solutions. I will rush in. The best course of action in both countries would be the immediate and complete closure of the universities.

  • E

    Bra-[intensifying exclamative omitted —ed]-vo! This is absolutely right and it’s going on across almost every intellectual and scientific discipline. My question for Mr. Mead is are you open and looking out to the future? Do you look outside of your cloistered precincts for ideas/information? What are you doing to lift up those who are “outside” of this elite class?

  • I was a liberal academic for 10 years or so, and have to agree with Mr. Mead’s analysis…to some extent. I now work in Silicon Valley, and though many of my coworkers like Ron Paul (that is, they like a purely economic form of libertarianism), none of them is religious. None of them has *any* interest in the culture wars. None of them is religious. None of them is obsessed with illegal immigration. It’s not just the “elites” in this country who are afraid of the future.

  • gary

    The increased responsibility of individuals for their own fates, and the intellectual demands that this involves, will increase the need for governments to act like nannies, i.e., an increase in bureaucracy. Many are ready for the opportunities this new world offers, but many aren’t. The industrial revolution, which also made people more independent, and gave humanity a huge boost, also led to a very powerful, bureaucratic state to administer the increased complexity. Something similar is likely to happen with this change as well. The guilds will be replaced by bureaucrats, not the fantasized free persons that are here imagined. Modern life is nicer and less free than life once was. Dostoyevsky (see the Grand Inquisitor) believed that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it (be free) too. He thought freedom lay in caring more about one’s soul than one’s body (health care for example) but no democratic politician can suggest going down that road.

  • Gypsy Boots

    Two things are going on here. One is what you talk about; intellectual elites are becoming more insular and disconnected.

    But they (and all authorities) are also becoming more and more marginalized, due mostly to other things happening, not to their failings. They are no longer needed as a filter for “the mass” to inform themselves, as they were in their heyday in the mid-20th-century. It may no longer matter to most of us whether the self-designated intellectual elites are out of it or not. Of course, it’s also true that they long ago abandoned the project of articulating a common culture to the rest of us.

    So we are losing a common culture. But small communities are also self-organizing at a dizzying rate, getting their own information, without the guidance of any elites.

  • R

    “Basic legal services and advice can increasingly be found, free or at very low cost, on the internet.” This is why the news these days is filled with stories of self-represented everymen triumphing in court over the backwards-thinking and highly trained legal teams employed by corporations, the government, and wealthy individuals. Thanks to the internet, we’re also seeing a big spike in life-expectancy, as laymen increasingly Google their maladies and design their own course of treatment over the advice of their hopelessly overspecialized doctors.

    Sorry to be so sarcastic, but while I do agree with the basic thrust of Mr. Mead’s argument, his information-revolution utopia seems a big stretch. Don’t forget that the elite have internet connections, too, and that they’ve got a head start on using it to leverage their existing social and political capital.

    I agree that declinism should be pushed back against whenever possible, and that our society should (and probably will) change for the better. But I’m not sure Mead’s vision of the information revolution quite squares with reality.

  • Rich Bono

    There’s nothing here about the massive power and waste of the American mega-corporation, which now dominates the economic landscape. The cost over runs in the corporate world DWARF those of government. Medical insurance produces no one whit of medical care..yet it routinely produces 30% of medical costs. For European health systems these numbers are 1% to 3%. The same is true for the banking cabal, the credit card “industry”…and all the other corporate manifestations of the “corporate state”.

    Mr. Mead makes a huge mistake by looking at them both separately. They, in fact act today as a SINGLE entity. Corporations control the state. If you are going to make prescriptions to intellectuals, one should begin by clarifying the unassailable reality of our world. This Mr. Mead has not done.

    The pursuit of money in a mega corporate monopoly state where there is assumed “free” market is a complete myth. Our crises do indeed call for major public and private initiatives on the scale of the moon shot…or WW II. But today, on an issue like climate change…where liberals and conservatives should be able to unite…over the ever clearer science…as one..we are split. Who are the main opponents, if not the American Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party.

    The problems are much more in the PRIVATE sector than the public sector. Mr. Read is thinking like a blind man.

  • Caernavon

    Did you support the Iraq War in 2003? Isn’t that one of the most reactionary, dunderheaded things a self-proclaimed “intellectual” could have done? Millions of non-“intellectuals” all over the US and world saw right through intellectual and political sham the Bush administration was ginning up. You didn’t. We get that you hate the administrative state, progressivism, etc. What has brought us to our present woeful state as a nation and society is rapacious libertarian-inspired capitalism and neoliberalism. On top of both, the greed of the neo-plutocracy, which puts the aristocrats of pre-Revolutionary France to shame. Why don’t you critique them and offer a way out of this economic trap into which they have lured the country, a trap engineered by both the Republicans and the man you voted for in 2008, Barack Obama? Warmongering, budget-busting transfers to a small coterie of banks, unsustainable borrowing from China, and so on are all part of this. There are more than enough outstanding intellectuals who regularly offer critiques of this mess, but you are completely missing the point. The information revolution is not going to free us from this trap. Would you please offer some real solutions, and be specific?

  • Ed Olcbyh

    If I were a dog, and my name was Crisis, then all of Mead’s writing would sound to me like:

    “blah blah blah Crisis”
    “blah blah blah Crisis”

    In fact it kind of sounds like that to me now.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      I’m glad you feel things are going so well!

  • Nonsense

    This is not a new critique or a new solution. In fact this grand theory has not only existed but been tried (and subsequently failed). “Entrepreneurship” is just a marketing term at this point, it really is not that important. Maybe the failure is that everyone communicates in vague and vapid catch phrases and buzz words.

    Either way, as a member of this next generation I have no intrinsic loyalty to the current system which means I and others have no interest in saving or reforming it.

    Good luck keeping the empire going.

  • obiwankenobi

    Several commenters here would benefit from some optimism. Your reading assignment, for starters, include:

    “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley

    “The Case for Rational Optimism” by Frank Robinson, and
    “Ferraris For All: In Defence Of Economic Progress” by Daniel Ben-Ami.

    After you’ve read one or all of these books, perhaps then we could have an intelligent discussion.

  • Brad

    It’s only too “expensive” if you accept a top taxation level of 35%. 90% is the fair model, as it was in the Age of American leadership — the 1940s and 50s. Only seriously progressive taxation makes a level playing field that promotes a sense of common interest.

  • Robert SF

    “the process of disintermediation will enable many Americans to dispense with the expensive services of the professional classes . . . services once reserved for elites will be available for the masses, just as the industrial revolution enabled mass ownership of goods that had once been the preserve of small elites.”

    There’s a big difference this time around. The industrial revolution brought with it the mass ownership of goods without putting people out of work permanently. The Luddites were proven wrong within their lifetimes.

    Today, however, automation is putting people out of work permanently, and the phenomenon is hardly exclusive to professional services reserved for the elite.

    What good are cheaper goods and services when housing, healthcare, and education are truly essential and keep getting more expensive? What good are cheaper goods and services when people in large numbers have no income?

  • Arthur Wolf

    “hyperdeveloped theology”

    Say more about this. As a former mainline pastor, I can attest to your other observations about the problems within mainline Christianity.

    Are you talking about a theology whereby the clergy see the necessity for grounding in historical criticism? I have observed a strange phenomenon whereby clergy denigrate the necessity of the clergy, but then denigrate the laity for not being educated enough to “understand the historical/literary context of the Bible.”

  • Jack

    Typical right wing drivel. Unfettered capitalism = good; government regulation and protection = bad. Since the late 1970’s when we began demolishing the old New Deal model in favor of the new, unregulated capitalism of Reagan model, most middle class people have seen their wages, at best, stagnate, while thanks to the most enormous tranfer of wealth in history, the corporate, super rich have seen their share of income go from about 10% to 25% and their share of wealth go up to over 40%. Intellectuals are bad and out of touch because they ask people to actually observe and think for themselves. Increasing the GDP and productivity is all that really matters even if none of it “trickes down” to the middle class or the poor. One of the functions of intellectuals is to expose charlatans and apologists for the super rich like the author. No wonder he so despises intellectualim.

  • Jack

    “For America to move forward, power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs…”
    And this explains why Medicare delivers good medical care at about 3% overhead and private health insurance companies deliver spotty or denied health care often leading to medical bankruptcy for 30% overhead cost.

  • Nathan

    This little essay is so full of gross exaggerations and utopian faith in technology that it is hard to know where to begin. Just asking the question whether there should be more government or less is to ask the entirely wrong question. It is way too abstract. It’s like asking if you should use your left hand more or less. It depends on what you’re doing. It depends on what is working and what is not. The things that need attention and work are constantly changing. There are challenges that at some times government is best suited to meet. But times and conditions change. It is the same for markets and “society” or civil society and families and institutional religion and so on. We don’t need just a reverse ideology and a foolish faith in technology. We need intellectuals who can think case by case, who have a large repertoire of ideas rather than a single over-arching vision/theory/ideology, who can adapt to changing situations. The same goes for the professions and training. Training and credentialing in some fields will benefit from a kind of de-guilding process, however this would have very destructive consequences in others. This essay is deeply enslaved to the very thing it opposes: a simplistic ideology that it wants to force on a complex and changing reality.

  • Bernecia Moeller

    This article is operating on the level of abstraction, it’s true. I find reading many blogs and responses to them that there seems to be little appreciation for the part of the decision-making process where there is debate, and a rush to propose “solutions” and name-calling. So called “conservatives” appear rather better at describing situations in a scientific way, the essence of which is replicability of effects, which is why I read “conservative” blogs. “Liberals” usually do no more than reiterate the adolescent tantruming and wishful thinking I first ran into at college in the 60’s. Speaking of which, the economy didn’t start to go to hell under Reagan, it was going to hell under Carter, whose leadership expressed itself in taking turns at the gas pump, putting on extra sweaters, and applying Christian standards (his party liked Christians, who were voting for the Democrats pretty consistently, in those days, as was the “Solid South”) to government. It was probably going to hell before that, but with Vietnam war production and the permanent removal of young men from the job market that war entails, the economic weakness didn’t show. Unfettered capitalism doesn’t work for the general good as has been repeatedly proved. Bureaucracy is a form of welfare for the educated and in order to get any services from it at all, our government is busy providing a new layer of “navigators” to take people through it (it’s clear none of you who advocate for “increased services” actually has ever needed anything from the government). Other than the blessings of indoor plumbing, antibiotics,improved transportation of food,and facility of communication between people there is no improvement in humans’ ability to deal with the world and each other since the 18th century. So I have to say that the article fails to move from its premises to recommendations that are anything but reworking of “improved access to services” when in fact it’s not access but quality where our society falls down.

  • Lawrence Doyle

    In general, I think there is a lot missed in the article in regards to the proper role of government – it seems to be the typical privatizing argument, rather than a discussion of what the nature of government is and in what roles that can do the best good in our society.

    However, I was very intrigued by the ideas regarding the development of professions, in particular the concern of over specialization. In my own profession, architecture, I find myself bucking the trend by insisting that ours is a generalist profession by nature. To my mind, the “rocket science” of architecture lies in the junction between the built environment and society, not the ability to spit out a specific building type over and over again. But I don’t find a lot of comrades in that thought – mostly folks seem to rant about “the future” without looking too much.

  • John Snethen

    “Basic legal services and advice can increasingly be found, free or at very low cost, on the internet. Many Americans have substituted tax software for accountants; more and more activities once performed by highly paid professionals will be performed by computers and the internet.”

    I can’t wait until “computers and the internet” argue and win a Brown v. Board of Education in front of the US Supreme Court. Or we start performing our own colonoscopies guided by a YouTube video.

  • Angus Armour

    Two observations: in an economy that has nurtured Facebook and Google, it’s puzzling to hear that entrepreneurs need to wrest power from bureaucracies. Frustration exists with the bureaucracy of any large institution whether public or private, but to argue that government in the US has stifled entrepreneurship needs more analysis and less emotion. And from the perspective of guilds, to develop the argument without considering ‘the banking guild’ is a remarkable oversight.

  • Sam

    This is a fantastic article.
    Even the debate that it has sparked here shows some of the debilitating limitations we face as a society.
    I’ve seen diatribes against Facebook (which I can’t stand either), and Google – but what many people don’t realize is that all these mass services only perform the function of facilitators. They aren’t the problem anymore than they are the solution.
    The biggest problem we truly face today is that, in the quest to develop easier and faster ways to do things, we’ve forgotten was it was to do those things ground-up.

    When Sara Lee makes our pie for us, why would we learn how to make it ourselves?

    I’m for a developing society that makes things more accessible to everyone – but we can’t lose site of the why and how, and these lessons need to be taught in school.
    The only way we are going to be able to maintain our edge is through comprehensive education and personal intellectual development of the young individual, while at the same time providing the young individual humbling challenges that will keep their egos in check.

  • Ozzie Maland

    Francis Fukuyama’s current article at this website (main page) has this sentence:
    If the query is taken literally to mean that the non-rich—the vast majority of American citizens—have no influence in American democracy, or that the country is self-consciously ruled by some hidden collusive elite, the answer is obviously “no.” [end excerpt]
    The answer may be “no,” but this answer has nowhere near the obviousness presumed — so we have here another example of the low level of the intellectual discourse on the American scene.
    Ozzie Maland
    Walnut Creek, CA

  • lew glendenning

    Most of the replies to Mead’s article that I have read have 2 big problems:

    First, there is simply no way their proposed solutions can be enacted, e.g. raising taxes enough to handle the deficits and continue the welfare state.

    Second, they all miss the main point of the article : You can’t manage a complex system via rules and regulations and laws. If you think otherwise, you can make $Bs by writing a handbook for life.

    Rules, regulations and laws are a type of program. “Programming an open system” is a conceptual oxymoron.

  • The wonderful numbers for Medicare do not include fraud. If you include fraud it is about a wash.

  • hujjat

    stitt amrican intelectuals why not dicleared their clear policcies about the future of mankinds.specialy supressed nations and powerty of the wold,although the interests of modren financial capitals joint with the expention of market economy in the third worlds contries becouse the eurpean markets bit by bit going to be nerrow for the world capital at where 8o percent capital is already invested but voice verssa only 20 percent capital till now invested in 80 percent third worlds market its a requrement of wolrd economy to expond from20 percent markets to 80percent becouse asfor as Automation exponded in the first world the peoples of first worlds becomes unemplied day by day with the expenssion of automation so for that u have to need oppen markets in third world countries for in this regared urs policy makers have to need solve the national questions of third worlds soscieties whithout solutions of national questiones in the condition of conflicts in between the natios capital could be unsecure.

  • nohype

    Good article. Five word synopsis: Our elites have failed us. What is interesting right now is that the non-elites are beginning to realize it.

    The straitjacket of political correctness has contributed to that failure by stifling discussion.

  • Scott Murison

    Perhaps an anecdote would be Leopold Kohr’s Academic Inn. Free thinking/discussion in a convivial marketplace.

  • George

    Shallow, turgid, formulaic, “idea man” rhetoric. As has been pointed out above there is no significant knowledge revolution coming out of the internet. I am not about to trust my health to a Google browser who hits the Johns Hopkins site for a few hours. Ditto for my finances, any legal issues I may have or even something as simple as home plumbing or electrical.

    Someone above makes a comment about 300 million lazy apathetic Americans being rescued by immigration, sarcastic in intent, but close to home in reality. Due in part to the gigantic wealth transfers, tax starvation of government and general dumbing down of US culture in the last thirty years America has medical, education and social systems which for a large part of the population are closer to third world standards than first world. And the results of that are going to come home to roost pretty soon.

    The next 50-100 years are going to be the years of the East – China, India, Russia, Asia – and neither the undereducated mass population of the US, nor it’s right-wing doctrinaire “intellectuals” or “entrepreneurs” are going to win that battle. The only Americans who are going to come out of it well are the top 5% or so that you’ve spent the last thirty years handing over your country to while Fox News et. al. fed you the Kool Aid.

  • shabbir

    Planet of Earth Energy Crisis.

    Dear Sir

    Subject mater all our the World facing Energy problem So I am try to explain a idea for Old & New Dams / Reservoirs Hydel Civil Design can move in architectural Transition to increase our energy potential Because we are losing heavy quantum of already storage water in our Big Dams to generate past technology now need to convert into New theory of Technology.


    with best regards.

  • Scrotes McGee

    The “elites” as they have been so named in the article and many comments, are doing what the majority of the American public can not. The average American can barely tie his own shoes, that is, if he can see over his beer-gut. You could freely publish and distribute every piece of knowledge known to man, and still accomplish nothing becuase Americans are too dumb to know how to effectively apply it. Universities have increasing tuitions becuase statistics have proven time and again that low income families have, for generations, produced lower test scoring students and habitually fail to ascend from the poverty level due to their own inability to learn and take charge of their own lives. Therefore the better suited, high income students can congregate at said universities without being held back by low income students doomed to mediocrity or, in most cases, failure.

  • Ben

    Great article.Sober conservative author has the constructive thought about the social and scientific progress outside the guilds and big government.This ideas avantageously differ from the conservative idea -back into America.It`s a pity this ideas develope in a peaceful times, while the war is the permanent condition of humanity.The winers of wars are often not the advanced countries and the overcaming the consequenses of wars changes the society.

  • I have accepted a fact. I am an American Intellectual. A Schumpeter, Bohr, Pauli, Drucker intellectual. My liberal friends accept it. My conservative friends find the label irritating. But the facts are, this Economics / Marketing professor with a Math / Physics training is an intellectual. And, after 20 years of hiding it, I am coming out of the closet.

  • Michael Jones

    “The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now,
    if we would not perish, is to build the Earth.”

    – Teilhard de Chardin

  • Vera

    In Pennsylvania, currently the state licenses over 400 occupations. This has only happened since the Civil War. As Progressive ideas grew, the control of the people by the intellectuals was implemented through the establishment of licensing. Does this further freedom or limit it? Does this further liberty and free markets or limit them? We know that every area that is licensed is out of kilter. The price of medicine is out of control, doctors are licensed. Real Estate prices are out of control, Real Estate agents are licensed. Banks won’t loan to small business, they are licensed. The only areas of the economy that are in balance and are working are off the grid.

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