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Old and right.

As one scans the works of the great political intellectuals, it is apparent that while none of them could be properly accused of warmongering, there is an abiding fascination with the kinds of leadership, heroism, and unity we are more likely to find in war than in peace. Few prescriptions by out-and-out militarists have exceeded Plato's Republic in devotion to military values, though it would be unfair to say that Plato loved war as such. Few intellectuals do. It is that they hate other things more: economic phenomena like profits, competition, and all the tensions and conflicts which threaten constantly to erupt from the marketplace. Economic values, so antagonistic to heroism and great leadership, tend to be despised accordingly by writers, artists, and other intellectuals.

Most of the great military-political personages in Western history have surrounded themselves at one time or other with intellectuals, often to the considerable profit of their cultures. We may be certain that Aristotle was not the only philosopher close at one time to Alexander; earlier Plato had associated himself with Dionysius the Elder, military tyrant of Syracuse. Augustus, we learn, saw much of Rome's historians, philosophers, and rhetoricians. Charlemagne's court was resplendent with scholars, teachers, and artists. It is impossible to miss the intellectual cast of the courts of such notable military leaders as Frederick II, the divine right monarchs, or most of them, and Napoleon. In our day there is a high correlation between the appearance of war-presidents in the United States and the flocking to Washington of large numbers of intellectuals.

There is a natural crisis-mindedness, I think, among intellectuals generally; a fondness for the great changes and great decisions which the crisis of war makes possible. It is not that writers and artists and professors love the carnage of war, or even the military as such, though they seem to prefer the military to businessmen. It is simply that when it comes to a choice between the banality and anti-heroic nature of the marketplace and the heady opportunities of crisis, especially military crisis, the decision is not hard to make. Most certainly when there is an Augustus, Cromwell, Napoleon, Churchill, or FDR to serve!

It may fairly be said, I think, that the American intellectual's romance with war and with the kinds of structures and processes which attend war began under President Wilson in World War I. Being himself an academic man, Wilson had the fealty of the intellectuals, for the most part, from the beginning of his first term in office. But it was only when he made the fateful decision to plunge the United States into the war raging in Europe that his affinity with the intellectual and academic class reached its zenith.

Wilson badly needed the assistance of the intellectuals, for opposition to American entry was formidable in almost all parts of the country. If an army was to be manufactured for export to Europe in a war that a very large number of the American people considered none of America's business, then a new nation had to be manufactured: economically, politically, culturally, and, not least, psychologically. Elementary social psychology dictated that if war enthusiasm among Americans was to be generated, then a whole new set of mind must be created on a mass level. And if popular consciousness was to be transformed, there must be superbly articulated instruments fashioned for his Herculean labor. Who but intellectuals could have fashioned, could have become, these instruments?

--Robert Nisbet, Twilight of Authority, 1975
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Title Annotation:Europe
Author:Nisbet, Robert
Publication:The American Conservative
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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