November 30, 2008
Why Rush Limbaugh is a leading American intellectualBy James Lewis
I have a bone to pick with Rush Limbaugh about the word "intellectual." He says he isn't one. But Rush is the sharpest political commentator we have today. He is a public intellectual in the old sense: A fine, original thinker who constantly reveals new truths that slip past the mindless media. He can communicate with whoever bothers to listen, as tens of millions of people do every week, throwing a sharp light on the biggest questions we face. And he's entertaining and funny.
Rush has a well-thought-out political philosophy, with deep roots in European and American history. He constantly collects real evidence, and is better at explaining it to millions of listeners than anybody else today. Limbaugh has a twenty year track record of sifting truths from lies; that is not an accident, any more than Tiger Woods is an accident. It comes from great talent and lifelong practice.
In the upshot, Rush is a voice for rationality and sanity in a world awash in madness and propaganda. If that's not the proper role of an intellectual, what is?
The words "intellect" and "intellectual" deserve to be rescued from the myth-makers of the Left, which has decided in its amazing arrogance that it really owns those words. But that is just another sign of its narrow-minded cultism. The Left shuts out competing voices, like any other cult, and then becomes outraged when independent thinkers don't agree with its "smelly little orthodoxies" --- as George Orwell famously called them. (Orwell started as a Leftist and then figured out the scam.)
An intellectual is just a thinker, somebody who uses the intellect and does it well. An athlete is somebody who uses physical talent and does it well. Those words stand for excellence.
Rush Limbaugh listens to hundreds of competing voices and finds ways to make sense of them. That is what good intellectuals do -- a lot of listening, a lot of dialogue, a lot of clarification. Talk show hosts have the perfect job for it.
By far the majority of the great intellectuals in history have been conservatives, going back to the two main wellsprings of Western thought, the Greeks and the Bible. It is also true in ancient India and China. Confucius was one of the world's great conservative thinkers, emphasizing personal and governmental morality, correct social relationships, justice and sincerity.
(Which is why that Leftist hero Mao Zedong murdered tens of millions of people trying to uproot Confucian traditions in China. In the end, Confucius won.)
Plato was a great conservative. Cicero was a great conservative. The American Founders were conservatives, with rare exceptions. The wisdom books of the Bible are full of conservative sayings. That's what the Ten Commandments are about. "Honor your father and mother" is a profoundly conservative idea.
All high civilizations have been built by conservatives. You can't accumulate the cultural capital needed to build any high civilization if you try to destroy the past, as the Left constantly tries to do. You can't build a chariot if you have to reinvent the wheel every generation. The batty idea that kids have the real answers in life is just a modern delusion. It is just ignorant.
Conservatism builds. Leftism overthrows. That is the meaning of that pop word "revolution." The all-destroying revolution is an adolescent fantasy, and the Left hangs on to those fantasies a lot longer than conservatives do.
The idea of a "revolutionary" intellectual class is also a modern invention, made up to prop up the cult ego of the scribbling classes -- the teachers, newspaper writers and bureaucrats. Doctor Johnson called them the ink-stained drudges, and he was one himself. (A conservative, needless to say.) Professional word merchants only go back to 1800 or so.
Most prominent thinkers in history were talented amateurs, and didn't need to ride the wild horse of social revolution to gain control over other people. They kept their powerlust in check.
Socrates didn't have a college degree. He became an intellectual through constant dialogue. The Socratic dialogue is the origin of Western thought. Aristotle, the pupil of Plato, who in turn was the pupil of Socrates, founded the original "college" -- Aristotle's academy, which met in an Athenian grove. Mathematics goes back to Pythagoras and Euclid and many others, 25 centuries of cumulative thinking by talented amateurs. Almost nobody got paid for doing advanced mathematics until the 19th century. All from amateurs -- "lovers" -- of knowledge.
The same is true for the sciences and the other "departments" of human thought. But even the idea of "departments of thought" is a modern invention: As Alfred North Whitehead pointed out, "Nature has no departments." Neither does the human intellect. All that is just a bunch of paid professors trying to divide up the loot.
Intellectual creativity arose in thousands of places in the ancient world. We just happen to know more about Greece and the Hebrew and Christian sources than about the others. But they existed. Good thinkers are found all over, like good athletes and musicians. When they find other, they start to learn from each other, and then you see a spurt of creativity. It only takes a few to get it started.
But let me get back to Rush: Rush Limbaugh is far closer to the great tradition of Western intellectuals than anybody in the celebrity freak-show of the Left. It is the Rush Limbaughs who became Socrates and Plato in the ancient world. They composed the Psalms and the Book of Proverbs. They were not professional scribblers. They did not found a revolutionary cult designed to overthrow all the good traditions. They were talented talkers, and even better listeners. All good thinking starts from dialogue.
That's what the Doctor of Democracy does best today.