Intellectuals and Politics

The Age of Enlightenment ended over a century ago. It was known for producing a number of intellectuals. Are intellectuals a dying breed?

According to Wikipedia, “An intellectual is one who tries to use his or her intellect to work, study, reflect, speculate, or ask and answer questions about a wide variety of different ideas.” It seems of late scientists, lawyers, engineers, and doctors have become specialized into a myopic anti-utopia. I am encouraged by mathematicians and physicists working together to create Superstring Theory or cross breeding academic areas like Georgia Tech’s Threads. Specialization may reflect the difficulty of keeping up with many bodies of knowledge growing extremely quickly. Intellectuals are exceptional people. The Age of Enlightenment ended in the first years of 1800s which is just before the dramatic increases upon which we benefit today. It was centered in Europe. I think Europe misses it. Certainly the founding fathers, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin were all intellectuals.

Education, in attempting to cover as much material as possible, answers well the questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? The question, “Why?” deserves the most attention. As its the most complicated, it takes the most time to answer. People can cut the most corners with Why than any other question.
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Would an intellectual run for President of the United States today? We like to think politics are dirty today. The founding fathers played the same trash talking about their opponents as happens today. The change has really been the perception of what is honorable. We don’t trust politicians today like we did even fifty years ago.

During the Cold War we needed a President who would be decisive. Smart individuals could not be trusted to make resolute decisions. They would waffle, look at nuances, and fail to make us comfortable that we are being led. Their advisors would be the intellectuals. Only the advisors have become more and more specialized. We need an intellectual capable of providing us the vision. I especially do not want someone who has all the answers before they have even seen the question. I want someone who loves learning and wishes to serve society by helping to shape our society for improvement.

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