Follow the Leader

An interesting news item appeared on Newsmax yesterday with the headline, Billionaires Dumping Stocks, Economist Knows Why. In brief the article states that Warren Buffett and other billionaires have no faith in the future of “dyed-in-the-wool” American companies because of recent “disappointing performance.” The rest of the article is an advertisement for an economist who is predicting a large market correction. Such predictions, of course, are the flies of a summer. How can anyone pretend to predict the future?

The political economist Max Weber was, perhaps, best known for writing The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in which he argued that Puritan ethics influenced the development of market society. Weber wanted to be scientific about economics and the way people deal with uncertainty. To this end Weber wrote Economy and Society, in which he divided social action into four types: (1) instrumentally rational; (2) value-rational; (3) affectual; and (4) traditional or “ingrained habituation.” Of these four kinds of action, we might presume that market prediction falls under “instrumentally-rational action” or “value-rational action.”

Science, for Weber and many other scientists, is about prediction. If you want to understand human economic action you need some kind of comprehensive typology for grasping the factors at work. In economics you cannot explain everything that happens in terms of the individual rationally seeking pecuniary advantage. A great deal depends on irrational factors that are rarely discussed. Such factors are hopelessly intertwined with each other – as in the case of the action produced by Puritanism on the market economy of previous centuries.

Weber was particularly interested in the role that religion played in economic activity. And if Weber were alive today, he would be fascinated to see that irrational beliefs of a non-religious kind are having a profound effect on the economy today. In fact, so strongly held are these irrational beliefs, that we cannot even discuss them without entering into controversy. One must either believe, or be an enemy of belief. No rational discussion can be allowed in such cases. For the true believers are, after all, true believers; and everywhere these believers exist and assert their influence. They tyrannize our thinking and bring about profound economic and social changes in society.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Weber’s Economy and Society is Chapter XIV, “Charisma and Its Transformation.” We must not underestimate this most irrational and mysterious factor in economic and political history. For it is during a great crisis that charismatic leadership typically comes into play. Weber explains it like this: “All extraordinary needs … which transcend the sphere of everyday economic routines, have always been satisfied … on a charismatic basis. The further we go back into history, the more strongly does this statement hold.” In other words, the true charismatic leader appears in times of distress, not in times of peace and prosperity. He appears at the beginning and end of things. He may be described as Christ describes himself in the Book of Revelation, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending … which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”

The “natural” leader, the charismatic leader, appears as if Providence had summoned him. He speaks as if he has authority from a higher source. Such leaders, wrote Weber, “[are] neither appointed officeholders nor ‘professionals’ in the present-day sense, but rather the bearers of specific gifts of body and mind that were considered ‘supernatural.’” The charismatic leader seems to be channeling something that comes from a “higher” source. When the charismatic leader speaks, people are mesmerized or fascinated by his inspired fervor. They might even feel they are hearing the Word of God.

We must not be constricted, says Weber, with a strictly religious notion of charisma. In an increasingly secular world, where politics has replaced religion, the “charismatic” leader might be a magnetic speaker who hypnotizes the masses while seeming to drift in and out of a religious kind of ecstasy. Setting aside frauds and circus acts, Weber suggests that such leadership is real and has a profound impact wherever it appears. In the complex society of today there might be charismatic leaders in many walks of life, even in corporations. Consider the almost divinely inspired genius of Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla. Both these figures engaged in work that transformed the world economy. We might ask ourselves: Where did they receive their extraordinary inspiration from?

It is interesting to note that the word “genius” comes from the Latin word genii, which refers to the tutelary deities of a person, family or place. Does anyone seriously think that creative inspiration is rational? Or is it mystical? And is not the economy, in large part, driven by creative inspiration? In fact we do not know what invention, what scientific discovery, may next overturn all our economic expectations (whether optimistic or pessimistic). Consider the economic consequences of the computer or smartphone on which you are reading this article. Thirty years ago these products (in current form) didn’t exist. What will exist thirty years from now? Perhaps there will be massive undreamt of prosperity. On the other hand, there may be nothing but rubble and destitution. At this juncture, we simply cannot picture the future with any certainty; for many possibilities lie open to us. Given the creative and charismatic forces unleashed by the global economy, there is no set future, no longer a discernible pattern, and no past with which to compare the present day.

Charisma, says Weber, is a revolutionary force in both society and economy. This is because the charismatic leader creates a new dispensation by laying down a new law, or by instigating a new mode of life “for the sake of glorifying a genuine prophetic and heroic ethos.” People are therefore inspired by the story of Nikola Tesla or Edison, or even by billionaires who have made their money through a process of thought that simply eludes routine number-crunching and common sense. And yes, even billionaires can be charismatic leaders.

Perhaps the uninspired majority need to follow someone. The problem for investors, as with most followers, is a problem of discernment. Which financial prophet has the gift of grace? Which has genuine charisma, genuine inspiration? And are we correct to think that extraordinary people possess an extraordinary understanding which explains their achievements? And if charisma is real, as Weber asserts, is it a permanent possession or something temporary? Certainly we cannot deny that Joan of Arc was an example of charismatic leadership, although her “voices” abandoned her prior to being burned as a witch. So even if we could recognize a genuinely inspired financial leader, how can we be sure he hasn’t suddenly lost his grace in the manner of Joan of Arc?

The wellspring of human creativity is from the soul, and the soul must remain a mystery. It is perhaps true that science is no better at predicting human action than shamanism. And so we are left to follow our own analysis of the economy or someone else’s. But who, in truth, follows their own analysis? Even our inspirations may ultimately come from outside ourselves (that is, if our inspirations are “genuine”).

Jeffrey Nyquist is the President of the Strategic Crisis Center and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Political Science at the Inter-American Institute for Philosophy, Government, and Social Thought.

This article was originally published on Financial Sense on July 15, 2013. The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

American Anti-Intellectualism?

Iwon’t beat around the bush. I’ve known Russell Jacoby [Email him [2]] now a septuagenarian fixture at UCLA [3], for about twenty-five years. Both of us served on the editorial board of Telos magazine [4] and were present at some of the same board meetings. Jacoby always struck me as a lightweight, in contrast to most of the other editors, who were broadly educated and multilingual. I always knew he had some kind of cachet among Jewish-leftist magazine editors, but he was not in the same league as the others who were present at our board meetings—including the Jewish Marxists. [5]

A recent issue of The Chronicles of Education carried an article by Jacoby with the ominous headline: “Dreaming of a World with No Intellectuals” [6] (July 16, 2012). It is keyed to a new book, America-Lite: How American Academia Dismantled our Culture [7]by David Gelernter, Yale professor [8] of computer science, AEI fellow, maimed victim of the Unabomber [9], and a longtime favorite in neoconservative circles. [10]

Jacoby finds America-Lite dangerously anti-intellectual and conflates it with what he claims is the GOP’s relentless crusade against intellectuality.

I find Jacoby’s article/ review snobbish, rhetorical and insubstantial. But I also think it reflects the continuing drive by Leftist gatekeepers to present the followers of Leo Strauss [11] as the “serious,” socially-acceptable conservatives. And, tellingly, I note that Jacoby does not scruple to insinuate that Gelernter’s analysis is pervaded by anti-Semitism, although Gelernter himself is a very observant Jew.

One last relevant bit of information: The Chronicles of Higher Education doggedly rejected every request (there was more than one) that it review my book Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal [12]. (See VDARE.com discussions here and here [13] and here [14]). The editors no doubt threw my expensive work into the trash bin, after shredding it.

Since they, like the editors of the New York Times, have displayed intense interest in Strauss and his disciples, this rebuff may seem surprising. Of course, it’s not.

Jacoby was commissioned by CHE to write his self-important sermon for the same reason that my book was unceremoniously pushed aside: The editors want to tell their readers what they think is good for them to know—rather than to confuse them with non-authorized versions.

Jacoby has written a widely on intellectuals. (The Last Intellectuals [15]) But his operative term refers to nothing more significant than those who share his not very distinctive Leftist politics.

It is clear, however, whom Jacoby would not accept as friendly to “intellectuals” as he understands the term, starting with Christians who allegedly reject modern science [16]. (Or at least that part of science that Leftists are permitted to embrace—their fanatical race denial [17] in the teeth of mounting evidence to the contrary is, in fact, the salient case of anti-intellectualism [18] in modern American intellectual life).

Jacoby also includes those who supported the Bush administration, and anyone who questions the merit of having women seeing themselves primarily as wage-earners and professionals.

Needless to say, none of these pariahs would ever be invited to a soirée attended by the author.

Jacoby never succeeds in proving his doubtful contentions. He simply states his opinions, which become valid by virtue of the fact that “intellectuals” in Jacoby’s circle hold them.

For example, he tells us that women have “entered the work force and—as some conservatives say—abandoned the family.” According to Jacoby, this economic-social change has to do “with the realities of war, say, in which men leave their jobs and women replace them” and apparently with something else which for Jacoby is axiomatic, “with the imperative of supporting a family when one paycheck no longer suffices.”

Who are all these conservatives (Heavens knows I haven’t met them) who are trying to get women to return to Küche, Kirche und Kinder? [19] Are men going off to fight wars in such numbers that their wives have to take their jobs to make ends meet? What proof do we have of this?

And as far as I know, the Rosie Riveters [20] of World War Two [21] didn’t stay in the work force but typically returned to domestic duties after their husbands were demobilized.

As for the “imperative” of women working because “one paycheck no longer suffices,” my question is “suffices for what?” In the 1950s, [22] when women generally stayed at home, nobody starved because of that decision, although the disposable income of a family of four was considerably lower than it is now, and so was the standard of living. If women today work outside the home, it’s not to avoid sinking to a subsistence living level but because American consumers want a more affluent lifestyle t [23]han they had fifty or sixty years ago.

Besides, a majority of women no longer find home-making and child-rearing to be socially acceptable, unless they can also be commercially or professionally active. But this is a cultural choice, not one driven in most cases by stark poverty.

Lest anyone think that Jacoby cannot imagine civilized conservatives, who are not “anti-intellectual,” he begins his tract by naming nice guys and one nice gal: “Edmund Burke [24], Leo Strauss, Gertrude Himmelfarb [25], Harvey Mansfield, Wilfred M. McClay” are all “conservative thinkers” who have “championed scholarship, learning, and history.”

But the first figure, Burke, falls immediately from grace: Jacoby tears into him for making snide references to social dreamers [26] in Reflections on the Revolution in France.

(Another apparent hero of Jacoby, Wilfred McClay, [27] is a kind, tactful scholar and close friend of mine. Bill has never given offense, to my knowledge, to anyone on this planet. But nor is he someone who would raise deeply divisive questions in a public forum).

What immediately leaps out about the rest of the list: Mansfield, Himmelfarb, her late husband Irving Kristol [28], and their son Bill [29], have all been big fans of the Straussians—proof of the link, for Jacoby, between being a Straussian and being an acceptable “conservative” intellectual.

For liberal intellectuals, Straussians are acceptable because they and the Straussians are socially, ethnically, and to some extent politically alike. They all dwell on the ever-present danger of anti-Semitism (which David Gelernter apparently doesn’t care about) and also agonize over the Holocaust, which really didn’t end in 1945, but which continues to shape political and cultural attitudes here [30] and in Europe.

Jacoby denounces Mitt Romney’s griping that, in his words, “Obama spent too much time at Harvard” [31] and also Rick Santorum’s concern that expanding college education to more adolescents will simply enable them to be “indoctrinated by liberal professors.” [32] He claims that Gelernter has given respectability to this anti-intellectualism by describing how liberals were able to “take command of higher education and derail America.” Jacoby’s summary:

America progressed smoothly from Presidents George Washington [33] through Dwight D. Eisenhower [34], but went to hell in the 1960s and has yet to recover. Radicals have taken over the universities and spread their poison.

Jacoby is particularly concerned that Gelernter dares to note, in Jacoby’s paraphrase, that “obnoxious leftist Jews have taken over elite higher education.” According to Jacoby, Gelernter makes this accusation with “enthusiasm untempered by facts” and even has the temerity to quote Norman Podhoretz [35] as a “source.” Gelernter, Jacoby complains, falsely associates Jewish leftists with the “more thrusting, belligerent tone” that has come to dominate American academic life.

I really wonder whether Jacoby is dumb enough to believe this [36], or whether it is an exercise in Political Correctness. A slew of studies are available, going from the (in my opinion) nasty but heavily documented [37] studies of Kevin MacDonald [38] to the sociological work of Stanley Rothman [39], that highlight the noticeable Jewish contribution to the radicalization of American universities.

I would also call attention to a dissertation recently accepted at Cambridge University and submitted by a young friend of mine, David Verbeeten, on the role played by specifically Eastern European Jews in radicalizing American Jewish culture.

Verbeeten shows that Jewish philanthropic organizations in the US were given a decidedly leftist edge in the 1930s and 1940s as Eastern European Jews [40] replaced an older German Jewish leadership [41]. The newcomers pushed Jewish organizations into promoting socialist and later multicultural agendas, over the objections of their predecessors. American Jewish civic and professional elites, Verbeeten notes, were generally conservative and followed the WASP upper class before this fateful changing of the guard occurred.

Jacoby’s attempt to counter the obvious by pointing to the relative tranquility of Brandeis University [42] as proof that a college can be founded by Jews without thereafter becoming known for its radicalism.

But Brandeis from all accounts is conventionally leftist—hardly a bastion of educational traditionalists. Moreover, predominantly Jewish universities attract the Orthodox as well as the more numerous secular Jews. [43] These Orthodox students and professors are more typically neoconservatives than standard leftists in their politics.

Finally, Jewish leftist academics now have the luxury of going anywhere they have well-placed allies. They need not confine their “thrusting, belligerent tone” to a Jewish enclave in the Eastern suburbs of Boston.

Someone recently joked with me that if Jacoby was looking for a Jewish academic who would contradict Gelernter’s alleged stereotype, he might have cited me! Of course, Jacoby would never want it to be known that he’s acquainted with me or my work. But, for his convenience, my VDARE.com work is available here [1].

 


 

Source URL: http://www.vdare.com/articles/american-anti-intellectualism-russell-jacoby-david-gelernter-and-the-anti-semitic-canard

Links:
[1] http://www.vdare.com/users/paul-gottfried
[2] mailto: rjacoby@history.ucla.edu
[3] http://www.history.ucla.edu/people/faculty?lid=827
[4] http://www.telospress.com/main/index.php?main_page=index&zenid=d3264cade4e79b65bf32557d8d1b7647
[5] http://www.vdare.com/articles/some-other-memories-of-madison-and-the-new-left
[6] http://chronicle.com/article/Dreaming-of-a-World-Without/132813/
[7] http://www.amazon.com/America-Lite-Imperial-Academia-Dismantled-Obamacrats/dp/1594036063/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[8] http://www.cs.yale.edu/people/gelernter.html
[9] http://bigthink.com/ideas/19763
[10] http://www.unz.org/Pub/AmConservative-2007jul02-00033
[11] http://www.vdare.com/articles/leo-strauss-immigration-and-israel
[12] http://www.amazon.com/Leo-Strauss-Conservative-Movement-America/dp/1107017246/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[13] http://www.vdare.com/articles/paul-gottfrieds-leo-strauss-and-the-conservative-movement-in-america-whats-behind-the-crack
[14] http://www.vdare.com/articles/leo-strauss-immigration-enthusiast
[15] http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Intellectuals-Russell-Jacoby/dp/0465036252/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[16] http://www.vdare.com/articles/making-a-monkey-out-of-darwin
[17] http://www.vdare.com/articles/the-left-doesnt-like-darwin-either
[18] http://www.vdare.com/posts/anti-intellectualism-in-american-academic-life
[19] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/19/germany-children-birthrate-lowest
[20] http://www.nps.gov/rori/index.htm
[21] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xVuRotcUl8
[22] http://www.vdare.com/articles/did-pre-mlk-america-really-need-redemption
[23] http://www.vdare.com/articles/bad-schools-immigration-and-the-great-middle-class-massacre
[24] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/%22Edmund%20Burke%22
[25] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Gertrude%20Himmelfarb
[26] http://www.bartleby.com/24/3/8.html#185
[27] http://www.eppc.org/scholars/scholarID.71/scholar.asp
[28] http://www.vdare.com/articles/kristol-confesses-neoconservatism-is-not-conservative
[29] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Bill%20Kristol
[30] http://www.vdare.com/articles/americas-immigration-policy-hitlers-revenge
[31] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/mitt-romney-obama-harvard_n_1405723.html
[32] http://www.mediaite.com/tv/santorum-doubles-down-on-education-remarks-liberal-indoctrination-is-encouraged-at-many-colleges/
[33] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/George%20Washington
[34] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Eisenhower
[35] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Norman%20Podhoretz
[36] http://www.vdare.com/posts/the-prestige-of-ignorance-what-russell-jacoby-doesnt-know
[37] http://www.kevinmacdonald.net/books.htm
[38] http://www.vdare.com/users/kevin-macdonald
[39] http://www.vdare.com/search/node/Stanley%20Rothman
[40] http://www.amazon.com/The-Rest-Us-Americas-European/dp/0815606141/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[41] http://www.amazon.com/Our-Crowd-Jewish-Families-History/dp/0815604114/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vd0b-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325
[42] http://www.vdare.com/posts/the-past-is-another-country-they-say-things-differently-there
[43] http://www.vdare.com/articles/race-realism-good-for-the-jews-good-for-america
[44] mailto: gottfrpe@etown.edu
[45] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?tag=vdare&creative=9325&camp=211189&link_code=as2&path=ASIN/0691059837
[46] http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?link_code=ur2&tag=vdare&camp=1789&creative=9325&location=/gp/product/0826214177/
[47] http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?link_code=ur2&tag=vdare&camp=1789&creative=9325&location=/gp/product/0826215971/
[48] http://www.amazon.com/Leo-Strauss-Conservative-Movement-America/dp/1107017246/r?_encoding=UTF8&tag=vdare&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

 

Paul_GottfriedDr. Paul Gottfried is IAI’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Western Civilization and the History of Ideas.

This article was oiginally published at Vdare.com on August 6, 2012.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

The Condition of Brazilian Higher Education

On July 23, 2013 the President of the Inter-American Institute for Philosophy, Government, and Social Thought, Olavo de Carvalho, delivered a lecture on the current condition of Brazilian Higher Education at the Leadership Institute, Arlington, VA. Watch the lecture below.

 

The Condition of Brazilian Higher Education

I am aware that the presence of educators and speakers of various nationalities at this conference would suggest to me the convenience of speaking about universal and borderless themes. However, the situation of education in Brazil has become so dire that it barely can be understood by foreign observers. A sense of urgency, then, impels me to breach etiquette and address Brazilians more directly than others here present.

Since we are all gathered in this place to meditate on the ends and means of education in a serious manner, I would like to start my speech by making a vow: may God forbid and keep my speech from going beyond what I can personally do. The easiest and cheapest thing in the world for an educator to do is to propose grandiose and even universally comprehensive goals and purposes, which he will never bring about and whose results he will never be held accountable for. Ninety percent of those who are praised as pioneers, reformers, and revolutionaries of politics, education, or thought are prophets of the imponderable, that scum of mankind who have always had the prudence to withdraw from this low world before their beautiful proposals have been transformed into the depressing and often bloody realities that they foretell.

The first thing that should be required of any educator is that he knows precisely whom he intends to educate, for how long he needs to educate his students, and what are the evaluation criteria with which he will gauge the success or failure of his venture. Virtually none of those who are today lauded as great educators pass this test. Neither Paulo Freire, nor Jean Piaget, nor Vygostky, nor Emilia Ferreiro. The disastrous results of socio-constructivism are already so old and so widely known as the very idea that generated them, and yet the prestige of this school does not seem to have been shaken in the least, precisely because the public has become used to the contemporary idea that what one should expect from an educator is not that he educates people, but rather that he helps them “change the world.”

People’s mindset has been so imbued with the cult of universal change that nowadays there is virtually no person who does not follow, unconsciously at least, the maxim of that greatest prince of elegant stupidity who was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A new untruth is better than an old truth.”

The greatest of all educators, Socrates, never made plans for global education nor ever thought about pre-formatting the minds of future generations, but he merely confined himself to educating those who were within his reach, that is, a single generation, a small circle of students, out of which emerged two other great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, whose teaching still continues to educate us today.

So, God forbid that I should create any educational project which I cannot personally carry out and whose results I cannot myself evaluate during the course of my life.

Accordingly, any education project that I might dare to subscribe should be a provisional response to a given situation and not a model to be imitated per omnia seculae saeculorum. The immediate problem that my personal educational project attempted to tackle is the complete debacle of university education in Brazil. Of course, there is not a single country in the world in which people do not talk about a similar debacle, but we must be careful not to be misled by the use of the same word to qualify different situations. For the word “debacle” just describes a generic quality and does not convey an idea of the extent of the problem, and it is in the quantitative aspect of the collapse of its higher education that Brazil goes beyond the imagination of those who complain of the poor state of university education in their own countries. Maybe you can have a better idea of Brazil’s state of things in education when you know the fact that my native country, having more university professors per capita than any other nation, and now having virtually no children out of school, produces students who usually rank last in international education tests. Not coincidentally, Brazil is also a country in which all public discussion about education always revolves around funding and investments, without educational contents and techniques ever becoming a discussion point—consequently, one must infer that, to the Brazilian national imagination, money must have some educational power in itself, transcending human agency. Even more characteristic of the Brazilian mind of today is the fact that our former president, Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has become an object of general admiration not because he has risen from a poor background thanks to a cultural improvement he achieved through his own effort, but precisely because he managed to climb up the social ladder with no cultural improvement at all. People even compared him to Abraham Lincoln, but the contrast could not be greater between the poor axeman who developed intellectually to become one of the best writers of the English language and the man who distinguished himself rather by his physical transfiguration of a bearded and tattered poor man into an elegant figure with polished nails and dressed in sumptuous Armani suits than for any remarkable progress he made to overcome his original illiteracy. Brazil’s history is laden with poor people who acquired an education through their own effort and rose, by their own intellectual merits, far above their original station in life. I would even say that they preponderate numerically over the notable men of the upper class. The public prestige of Mr. Luiz Inácio is, in this sense, a most significant sociological phenomenon because it indicates a radical change in the judging criterion employed to evaluate the social rise of the humble. Previously, the value of an education acquired by one’s own merits prevailed over the hierarchy of social positions, but the success of Mr. Lula shows that this judgment has been reversed: being in high places is valued in itself, much more than any effort of self-education.

I mention this phenomenon because, more than any other, it denotes the mental state of affairs in contemporary Brazil. The worship of high places, coupled with the most arrogant contempt for knowledge, has become the general rule. In Brazil, a person is no longer required to have made discoveries, created works, and generated great ideas to be acknowledged as an intellectual and an educator of the masses. Rather, what is required of him is that he has occupied civil service positions, held the offices in the public administration, been a member of government commissions; in short, what counts is not who he is in terms of the substance of his creative and thinking person, but in terms of his place in the state bureaucracy.

I began documenting this state of things in my 1995 book The Collective Imbecile: Brazilian Uncultural News. But since then the situation has worsened so formidably that it can no longer be described in a comic and satiric key as it was in that book. Public stupidity has grown to the point where it has become fearful. It has established itself as a form of power which can impose upon a whole generation of students the most complete ineptitude as an essential regulatory obligation.

Because of this state of things, in 2005 I created an online Philosophy Seminar, which today has about three thousand students from all over Brazil and also some other countries. Based on the final projects I have received so far I am sure that these students, whom I asked to refrain from any public activity until they are properly prepared for it, are already an intellectual elite incomparably superior to that which has come out of Brazilian universities and occupied the most important positions in the media, education, and the publishing industry.

Never have I thought about educating other people than those who fell within my reach through the Philosophy Seminar . Nor do I have suggestions about the teaching of subjects which are outside my field of expertise. My students are being educated in the fields of literature, philosophy, and social sciences, precisely those which have been most affected after four decades of absolute rule of the semi-illiterate mandarinate.

However, from this limited experience I can draw some conclusions which may be useful to other people who have the intention of becoming educators.

The first is that the contempt for knowledge in Brazil has always been coupled with the worship of outward signs which stand for knowledge and which, seemingly with some advantage, replace it: degrees, diplomas, titles, honors, media space, good connections in high circles, and so on and so forth. The phenomenon has been so widely documented and satirized in our best fiction literature (Lima Barreto and Graciliano, for example) that I see no need to insist on it.

But the worst is that a circle of mutual reinforcement between those two complementary vices was formed a long time ago, and this circle seems impossible to break .

It works like this: since our business and political elite is not exactly well educated, the well-meaning souls who emerge from it having the laudable purpose of remedying the national evils are by themselves unable to distinguish—through a direct examination of works and ideas—between who is competent and who is an eminent airhead among the available intellectuals. As a result, they will have to judge them by outward signs—those darn titles and positions—and they will end up giving heed to those who have nothing important to tell them nor useful to suggest. Unculture generates unculture with the fertility of a couple of rabbits.

This becomes even worse when a deceiving prestige comes from abroad, landing in Brazil with all the pomp and ceremony suited to “the most modern thing of all.” In the Vargas administration, a beautiful project of popular education ended up taking as model the ideas of John Dewey, then very celebrated by the American media as a great innovator. Today it is known that Dewey was, in fact, the destroyer of the American education, which until then was the best in the world. From 1960s onwards—during the military dictatorship in Brazil—, social constructivism became fashionable, being adorned with names such as Jean Piaget, Emilia Ferrero, Vygotsky, and many others. For half a century the application of this nonsensical theory has brutalized the minds of our children with admirable constancy, at the same time that the triumphal expansion of the number of schools and the increasingly centralized control of national education has spread the democratization of ineptitude to the farthest corners and the poorest people of the country.

And why do these things happen? Because Brazil’s uneducated elite goes along with the media and the volatile prestige of the cultural celebrities of the day instead of examining and testing their ideas. And by doing so our elite only heaps up errors and disasters with an obscene persistence.

Whoever notices this phenomenon cannot but conclude that Brazil’s chief educational problem is precisely the opposite of what people usually say it is. That is to say, our problem is not that we have educated the elite and left the people behind, but rather that we have tried to provide education to all the people before we have a qualified elite to educate them, or even to seriously examine the problem of popular education.

Anyone who has been a teacher at least for a day immediately realizes that the educational process has a radiating structure: first you educate ten people, who in turn will go on and educate a hundred people, who in turn will educate a thousand people, who in turn will educate one million, and so on and so forth. To reverse this order is like wanting children to generate their parents. The rulers of this country have promised education to millions of people before they have been able to gather together ten serious educators to discuss how they are going to do this. Why not educate the first ten people? And to those who may object that this is right-wing elitism, I recommend they read Lenin and ask themselves why he organized the Communist party’s elite first and then the mass. Lenin knew that the tail does not wag the dog.

How to break the vicious circle of an uneducated elite guided by amateurs as inept as itself ?

In my view, there is only one way: we have to raise, outside the official educational system, far from the mainstream media, far from long-established prestige, a new, sincere, and well-prepared class of intellectuals, who, moreover, must be aggressive enough to, in due course, behead airheads, expel sacred cows, and start dealing with problems in a serious manner.

A second conclusion is that a government can only define “programs,” “methods,” budgets, that is, the more external and insubstantial aspects of education. None of these abstract universals has the ability to go into the classroom and guide the souls and minds of students towards their better development. The teacher’s personality is all. You can ask any student of any grade about it. Some teachers make deep impressions on students and have an almost hormonal influence on their intellectual and human growth, others are justly forgotten after a few years, and still others become traumatic obstacles to any conceivable progress.

The problem here is somewhat the same as everywhere else: the problem of human quality. Governments are so helpless about it that sometimes the worst regimes in the world raise, by the power of suffering, the best personalities; and as soon as conditions improve, the souls settle down and deteriorate.

The raising of better individuals can only come from society itself, from spontaneous cultural initiative. Religious organizations, neighborhood associations and clubs, labor unions, community centers can do a lot about it, provided that they are not committed to any political agenda aimed at standardizing minds to use them as pawns. In Brazil, to find a civic association which is free of this commitment has become increasingly difficult.

Finally, there remains the problem of home education. In Brazil, the permanent state of social and economic insecurity leads parents, in their desire to seek an immediate guarantee of livelihood for their children, to deliberately turn their kids into mediocre human beings, inducing them to get an education only to be able to pass civil service exams, instead of promoting the development of their intelligence to reach more ambitious goals in the long term. A good intention deformed by fear is no longer a good intention and becomes a deforming prosthesis. I have observed this phenomenon in virtually all Brazilian families I have met.

A little bit of educational experience shows that the desire for premature social adaptation can cripple a mind and severely limit the very prospects for social ascension. People do not come with their vocations stamped on their foreheads, nor with a manual where they can find out in advance their most promising talents. But what is absolutely certain is that one can only be successful in those things which reflect one’s deepest innate talents. A teenager who dreams of trying his hand at sports, fine arts, or any profession which seems exotic to his family—like a career in the merchant marine, in polar expeditions, or animal caretaking—can easily be induced to failure if his parents impose upon him choices which seem more “realistic” in a limited and mediocre mental atmosphere. I dare say that this is one of the most widespread causes of human failure in Brazil.

If you think your child is a moron who cannot survive in a field of free choice and without the crutches of a depressing government job, it would have been better if you had not generated him, or if you had given him to be raised by a more optimistic family.

Besides, what help can the Brazilian government offer in such matters if it is itself predominantly staffed with inept people for whom the epithet “mediocre” would even be a compliment?

To the present Brazilian government, as to most of its Latin American counterparts, the new generations are but instruments for the implementation of nominally saving policies which despise the present generation in the name of an elusive and unattainable future. I say “unattainable” not only because they are unrealizable in practice, but because their conception is already infected with the promise of endless deferral. Every revolutionary politics, which aims to reshape the world in its image and likeness, begins by denying all higher values in order to be able to establish its own values, which implies that a revolutionary politics cannot accept any judge superior to itself. This is why only the “permanent revolution” exists, that is, the pursuit of goals which have neither a definition nor a deadline to be achieved, so that the revolutionary work might never be judged but might always keep pushing itself further into the future so that it might perpetuate its condition of sole judge of all things.

The third and final conclusion relates to the difference between education and instruction. To instruct a student is simply to pass on to him a set of procedures, habits, techniques, and even mental tics that the teacher has received ready-made. The Department of Education should be called the Department of Instruction, because every educational activity whose model comes from above and is uniformly imposed to an entire population is only instruction. Education, as the etymology of the word implies, has something to do with opening the eyes of the student so that he might see the larger world around him, and he might see it with his own individual and intransferable eyes, without anybody imprisoning him in a preexisting framework. Clearly, if instruction can be a social activity performed by a collectivity of technicians, education, in the sense that I understand it, must be a deep connection between the soul of the teacher and the soul of the student, a relationship that imitates on a smaller and limited scale the relationship between father and son. Thus, it is clear that the teacher has to convey to the student, rather than this or that particular piece of knowledge, a certain inspiration, a power, an enthusiasm, and a love for the search for the truth. And it is also clear that no one can give what he himself does not have. True education is a laborious and late result of the effort of self-education, which takes place in the soul of the educator and precedes education.

These considerations, however, are so far above the current state of affairs in Brazilian education that I do not see any way to put them into action except in small groups, without any illusion of interfering in the present state of things, but preparing, perhaps, a better future.

Olavo de Carvalho is the President of The Inter-American Institute and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Philosophy, Political Science, and the Humanities.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute. This lecture was delivered at the Leadership Institute, in Arlington, VA, on July 23, 2013. The original text for the lecture was translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota.