Socialists may be clever but they’re certainly not humble

Prof Philip Booth writes for ConservativeHome

Guido Fawkes reported recently that Polly Toynbee told the Edinburgh Book Show that left-wing people were both more intelligent and generally better people than others. Presumably by this she meant that they were more intelligent and better people than economic liberals and conservatives. I have not been able to find confirmation of this statement, but let us take it on face value. I am aware from other things that Polly Toynbee has said that it is perfectly plausible that she would make a statement like this and, in any case, it is worth investigating as a hypothesis.

To take the first half of her statement, I am happy to admit immediately that it is likely that left-wing people are more intelligent than liberals and conservatives – though the causality is in the other direction. In his final book – The Fatal Conceit(of which, more later) – Hayek said: "One’s initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialists diminishes when one realises that, of course, intelligent people overvalue intelligence, and suppose that we must owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilisation offers to deliberate [human] design…". As far as I am concerned there is little more to be said about the subject. Polly Toynbee is right. People who are intelligent are much more likely to believe that they can use their intelligence to design and perfect society. As Adam Smith reminded us, central planners treat the individuals who make up society – who all have a motion, a will and a brain of their own – as if they were pieces on a chess board. Socialists believe that organising and perfecting society is rather like organising a family outing to the zoo – it just requires a little more brain power and, of course, intellectual socialists believe that they have brain power in abundance!

What socialists have in brain power, they may lack in wisdom, humility and subtlety, as Thomas Sowell so brilliantly summarised in the title of his book The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. Those coming from a Toynbeeesque position rarely appreciate the self-ordering qualities of communities made up of co-operating human beings within a market economy; and they most certainly do not appreciate the limits of their own intelligence (or of human intelligence in general). It is worth adding that, though intelligence is not a virtue, wisdom and humility are virtues that can be cultivated. Being more intelligent is not something to boast about: it no more reflects well on left-wing people if they are more intelligent than if they are better looking. As we get older, of course, our intelligence can decline and we can become wiser – perhaps this is one reason why the tendency towards socialism often declines with age.

Read the rest of the article on the ConservativeHome website.

IEA Brexit prize

Invest in the IEA. We are the catalyst for changing consensus and influencing public debate.

Donate now

Thank you for
your support

Subscribe to