Hazards of Hazlitt

It has often struck me that Dalrymple is highly critical of intellectuals, but is himself one. In this new piece in New English Review he provides an answer, calling himself “an anti-intellectual intellectual”.

But the bulk of the piece is a countervailing argument against William Hazlitt’s populist conception of the superior wisdom of the common folk:

It usually takes a philosopher to know that what a philosopher has said is absurd. Not every intellectual believes six impossible things before breakfast, and furthermore it often requires intellectuals to undo the harm that other intellectuals do. No one would deny Raymond Aron, for example, the name of intellectual merely because he failed to believe and opposed the lies and equivocations of Jean-Paul Sartre. From the fact that intellectuals have believed absurdities, it does not follow either that, ex officio, they believe only absurdities, or that only intellectuals believe absurdities. Orwell, the patron saint of everyone who wants to claim him as such, was not speaking the literal truth when he said that some things are so absurd that only intellectuals could believe them; rather he was trying to destroy blind faith in the superior wisdom of intellectuals (prevalent mainly among themselves).

You’ll want to read the whole thing to see how he travels from this argument to the conclusion that, “The ignorance of the learned is Hazlitt’s answer to the problem of evil.”

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