Zadok the Texan

38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and took him to Gihon. 39 Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. (1 Kings 1:38-40)

As my wife and I have been telling people that we intend to name our son Zadok, it has become apparent that most our friends are rusty on certain sections of their Old Testament. It seems too that they’re rusty on their Handel and their British coronation anthems, but neither of us knew about those connections either until we started googling around the name ‘Zadok’ to see what we could see. To knock off some rust and to include as many people as we can in our hopes and prayers for our son, I thought it would be good to write out a summary of who Zadok was and how we see the name functioning for our son.

The Hebrew name ‘Zadok’ translates to English as ‘righteous’ or ‘justified,’ and there are a few Zadoks in the Bible. Jesus has a Zadok in his lineage (Matt. 1:14), and there are a number of Zadoks who return to Jerusalem with Nehemiah after the exile in Babylon (Zadok, son of Baana, in Nehemiah 3:4; Zadok, son of Immer, in Nehemiah 3:29; and Zadok the scribe in Nehemiah 13:13).

The Zadok we hear most about in Scripture, though, is Zadok the son of Ahitub. He is a member of the tribe of Levi and is one of the Aaronites who flock to David in Hebron in order “to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 12: 23). After Saul is killed, David is installed as king of the tribe of Judah and rules in Hebron but he is not yet king over all Israel. He was anointed king while Saul was still alive, but there is a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David, and even after Sauls death, it takes seven-and-a-half years for David to consolidate power and receive the throne which God promised him. During those seven-and-a-half years, some Israelites who weren’t of the tribe of Judah heeded the word of the Lord to David and made a covenant with him that he should be their king. Zadok was among these Israelites and the Chronicler describes him as “a young man, a valiant warrior,” and describes this group more generally as “men of war, who could keep ranks, [who] came to Hebron with a loyal heart” (1 Chronicles 12:28; 38).

During David’s reign, Zadok serves alongside Abiathar as one of the priests (2 Samuel 8:17). We don’t hear much about him until David’s son Absalom attempts to steal the kingdom away from David. Absalom gains the hearts of the men of Israel and David has to flee Jerusalem. Again, loyal Israelites flock to David the shepherd-king (2 Samuel 5:2), and they form a procession as they leave the city. Not only does Zadok show up again at this point, but he brings all the Levites and the ark of the covenant with him.

Recall that Uzzah died because of his improper handling of the ark when the ark was entering Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-8). It is a weighty thing to decide that the ark needs to be moved without a word from God. But God’s wrath breaking forth against Uzzah in the past does not deter Zadok from action. He knows that he has been ordained to serve at the ark, he trusts that God has been clear in what he’s said about how to handle it reverently, and he’s courageous to act on this confidence. In his loyalty, Zadok is eager to honor the Lord’s anointed, and he thinks it’s only fitting that if the rightful king is leaving the city, then the place where God dwells ought to go out too. David disagrees as to the fittingness of this move, tells Zadok to return to the city with the ark, and David entrusts himself to the Lord. David knows that if he finds favor in the Lord’s eyes he will return to his city (2 Samuel 15).

As it turns out, the Lord has Zadok play a pivotal role in David’s return. Having been left behind in Jerusalem, Zadok the priest becomes Zadok the spy. He listens for Absalom’s plans and then sends his son as a runner to communicate those plans to David. The king receives this intelligence in time to move his camp and regroup at a town across the Jordan River. Absalom follows his father across the river and is killed in the ensuing battle (see 2 Samuel 15-18).

This would have perhaps been enough for one man’s story, but it is not the end. Some time later, another of David’s sons tries to seize the throne. Some who were loyal to David in the last rebellion are convinced away from their loyalty. Zadok remains faithful. Abiathar the priest, who had been a brother priest with Zadok for years and who had acted with Zadok as a spy for David, is persuaded to join with the rebellion. David’s son has recruited David’s priest and the commander of his armies, Joab. This looks bad, but it is the scene directly before the majestic coronation verses quoted at the start of this post. To fight this rebellion, David has Zadok anoint Solomon as king over Israel. The people who had been broken up in factions receive this appointment with gladness: “the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with the sound” (1 Kings 1:40). Solomon the Son of David receives the kingdom from his father. The people put aside their rebellion to receive their king. And heaven and nature sing.

Zadok recognized David as the Lord’s anointed as early as Hebron, and never wavered in his devotion. God had promised that David’s son would be God’s own son, and that this son—Solomon—would build a house for the name of the Lord (2 Samuel 7). Zadok anointed this Solomon as king and was the priest during the time of the construction of Solomon’s temple. The Lord had cut a covenant with David and his line. Zadok rejoiced in this and kept his “loyal heart” till the end.

It may be obvious by this point why my wife and I want to name our son Zadok. We want Zadok the Texan to be like Zadok the priest in a number of ways.


This piece features the Hebrew of Song of Songs 6:3, which translates to “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Liana made this for me for my birthday last year. She continues to fill our house with wonderful things.

First, we want our Zadok to be a priest like his namesake. By this we mean that we want him to serve Christ as Zadok the priest served at the tabernacle, and then at the temple. That is, we want him to be a servant and friend of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is both the temple rebuilt and the heir of the throne of David, and so devotion, service, and friendship are appropriate for his priests. We want our Zadok to play the flute and rejoice with great joy because Jesus the Son of David is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, and we want him to lead other people into this rejoicing as well. We want him to have an eager loyalty to the Lord, courageously hearing the word and doing it.

Second, we want our Zadok to receive the best of what we have to pass on to him and to reject what is useless. To be a priest, the first Zadok had to be a Levite. The Levites were descended from Levi. And Levi was a violent man. When his dad died, his dad’s last blessing to him was to curse his anger (Genesis 49:7; 28). Generations later, though, the descendants of Levi are designated the priestly tribe because of their violence. They’re zealous for the Lord and in the face of Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf, it is the Levites who take up their swords against their brothers and kill three thousand men from among the people (Exodus 32:25-29). Some time later, a descendant of Levi and ancestor of Zadok named Phineas saves the people of Israel from the wrath of God by running his javelin through the middles of a couple of idolatrous fornicators (Numbers 25). Generations later, Zadok was a priest and a warrior like his fathers and he had to learn how to be the right kind of violent. In his opposition to idolatry, he had to learn how to be zealous with the zeal of God, how to be like Phineas. In his anger, though, he should not sin. He should not become violent like Levi, bringing the curses of his fathers upon him.

Of course, we Richmonds are not Levites. But these things go along with what it means to be a man. Men must learn how to wield their strength. They must never compromise with evil or tolerate wickedness, and they must not give themselves over to their fighting spirit such that they are animated by their own zeal instead of the Lord’s. We want our Zadok to be dangerous to his enemies, and to learn to control and aim his powers so that he will be—at the same time—a valiant warrior and a gentle Christian. We also want to raise him with the ability to discern what is good and right about his own past, and what needs to be improved upon or rejected. We want him to receive his lineage with gratitude because it is a witness to him of how the Lord has been faithful to his family long before he was on the scene. And we want him to evaluate what he receives from us with a view toward refining it and passing on a more concentrated dose of faithfulness to his own sons and grandsons.

And this brings us to the third and final reason we decided upon such an unusual name: Zadok the priest was not only faithful himself, but he raised faithful sons who continued in the best of what it meant to be a priest in Israel. Generations after Zadok lived, we see the sons of Zadok appointed as the priests who are sanctified to serve in the sanctuary of the Lord because they had not gone astray like the rest of Israel and the rest of the tribe of Levi had gone astray (Ezekiel 48:11). Among the Levitical families, Zadok’s line alone remained faithful to the Lord, not veering to the right or to the left. We hope that the Lord will cause such faithfulness in the sons and daughters of our son for generations to come.

This is a lot to hope, so we have much prayer and much work to do. As always, it’s ora et labora. And though we hope he will out do us in all things, we hope to make it as hard as we can to be outdone.  Toward that end, we continue to rejoice with great joy at the life that has been entrusted to us, and we can’t wait to meet him.

What Médaille Calls Capitalism

This post is the third in a series of posts on John Médaille’s book, Toward a Truly Free Market. To start at the very beginning–a very good place to start, mind you–find the first post here, and the second here.

Chapter two of John Médaille’s book revolves around his take on capitalism. He’s not a fan, and he doesn’t think you should be one either. He produces a chart with a hundred years worth of data on it concerning the American economy, discusses that chart for a page and a half, and is ready to call the debate for his side:

This leads us to an unavoidable conclusion: capitalism and the free market are incompatible. History shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the growth of capitalism and the growth of government go hand in hand. Capitalism and big government are not, as in the popular imagination and the economic treatises, things opposed; rather, the one grows on the back of the other, and the more you get of one, the more you will need of the other. (15)

Sadly, this is par for the course for this chapter, and there’s almost nothing helpful here. That is, there isn’t much helpful with respect to better understanding political economy, history, justice, or ethics. He begins with an equivocation on what capitalism is, and uses this shaky foundation to build up arguments full of insinuation and bluster. Chapter two is helpful, however, for understanding Médaille’s approach to his work. He is more salesman than economist or historian; more of a propagandist than anything else.

capitalist pig

None of this is meant to besmirch the man. Salesmen are not bad people. I aim to take up something like a defense of capitalism in this very post, after all. It would be weird to start such a thing by insulting people who sell stuff. Neither are propagandists all bad. Sometimes they make cool posters. When we like their work, we call them popularizers. The catch is, a salesman needs to have a solid product and a propagandist ought to advocate for something good, true, or beautiful. When these crucial elements are lacking, it discredits the whole project. And that’s what Médaille has done here for distributism. He’s too much in the tank to make a coherent argument that would persuade people who aren’t persuaded already. Again, I’m not saying he’s a shyster or a bad man. He could be innocently wrong here. But I am saying that this chapter is incoherent and should never have been written.

Let’s see if we can start at ground we hold in common and then get from there to why I found this chapter so unhelpful. Hopefully you’ll agree with me that ethics deals with fitting ourselves to what is real. Ethics is based on metaphysics. Médaille spent his first chapter claiming the high ground when it comes to combining economics and ethics, so we should assume that he has a good sense of how what is real relates to what he is proposing. However, in this chapter’s retelling of American economic history, Médaille somehow fails to distinguish between big government conservatism in America and Britain in the 1980s, the political economy in America in the years between 1900 and 1945, Hayekian economic theory, and pure capitalism. In his treatment of Ronald Reagan, he fails to distinguish Reagan’s rhetoric from Reagan’s policies. He jumbles all these things together under the label “capitalism,” and it’s no wonder the argument comes out as a mess. Further, it is only as a mixed-up jumble that Médaille could claim with any kind of justification that the idea of capitalism has failed “in exactly the same way in every case” of failure in the 20th century (18). The first half of that century saw the creation of the Federal Reserve, the institution of the income tax, the Great Depression and the New Deal, two hugely disruptive world wars, and a whole host of other massive government interventions into society, and Médaille is so bold to write “pure capitalism disappeared in the 1940s, caught in its own contradictions” (21).

Just as we struggle with ethics if we’re not grounded in metaphysics, it’s hard to evaluate an economic system if we don’t know what that system is. For Médaille’s assertions to make any sense, capitalism would have to be an arbitrary system that is whatever someone claims about it. But it is not that, and Médaille is not ready to critique capitalism because he does not understand what it is. Just as it makes no sense for a man to claim that his blue shirt is green, it makes no sense for a President to claim to be a capitalist and then turn around and manage the economy like Wilson, Roosevelt, Reagan, or Bush did (or Trump does, or the next guy will…). And in just this way, it makes no sense for an author to claim that an era that saw enormous government interventions into the economy leads to the “unavoidable conclusion” that “capitalism and the free market are incompatible” (15).

This is more than a quibble about definitions, with me taking a strict definition of capitalism and Médaille taking a more broad definition according to how it’s used. Recall Médaille is trying to show us why we need to listen to him when it comes to ethics and justice. He’s trying to show how we’ve got it all wrong so far. But as he’s trying to sell us his vision, he evidences no particular understanding of what pure capitalists actually claim, and no particular understanding of any of the history involved. Why would anyone think that the creation of the Federal Reserve was the necessary result of pure capitalism’s own contradictions? What do private property rights have to do with the Great Depression, or any of the other recessions on his chart? What about deregulation? He would need to address questions like these to prove his case. He would need to demonstrate why these interventions were necessary. Instead, he’s contented himself to talking about second- and third-level issues with no attempt to show us that he’s understood the first- level issues.

One of the stranger aspects of the “failure of capitalism” conversation is that the mistakes Médaille makes in this chapter have been consistently answered by capitalist theorists for decades. Consider Ludwig von Mises’s essay from 1932 called “The Myth of the Failure of Capitalism.” Médaille’s line of argument is similar to the line the Marxists took in Mises’s day:

The line of argument that leads to blaming capitalism for at least some of these things is based on the notion that entrepreneurs and capitalists are no longer liberal but interventionist and statist. The fact is correct, but the conclusions people want to draw from it are wrong-headed. These deductions stem from the entirely untenable Marxist view that entrepreneurs and capitalists protected their special class interests through liberalism during the time when capitalism flourished but now, in the late and declining period of capitalism, protect them through interventionism. This is supposed to be proof that the “hampered economy” of interventionism is the historically necessary economics of the phase of capitalism in which we find ourselves today. But the concept of classical political economy and of liberalism as the ideology (in the Marxist sense of the word) of the bourgeoisie is one of the many distorted techniques of Marxism. If entrepreneurs and capitalists were liberal thinkers around 1800 in England and interventionist, statist, and socialist thinkers around 1930 in Germany, the reason is that entrepreneurs and capitalists were also captivated by the prevailing ideas of the times. In 1800 no less than in 1930 entrepreneurs had special interests which were protected by interventionism and hurt by liberalism.

Today the great entrepreneurs are often cited as “economic leaders.” Capitalistic society knows no “economic leaders.” Therein lies the characteristic difference between socialist economies on the one hand and capitalist economies on the other hand: in the latter, the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production follow no leadership save that of the market.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, men like Rockefeller and Morgan had a bunch of capital, but they weren’t capitalists in the sense of believers in a capitalistic economic theory. These men were “captivated by the prevailing ideas of the times,” and the politicians of the day right along with them. In fact, as Murray Rothbard explains here, we got stuck with the Federal Reserve when these Zeitgeist-filled men all conspired together to make it be. This was not a necessary outworking of capitalistic economic theory, nor was it a needed intervention to steady out the economy. It was a power play characteristic of the Progressive Era, an era which saw technocrats and bureaucrats seizing control of various sectors with the belief that they could be managed to perfection. And so it makes no sense to say that this era proved the failure of capitalism. To argue in this way is to equivocate on what is being discussed and to bring darkness to the subject instead of light.

Imagine, if you will, what Médaille might say if someone used his style of reasoning against him. Médaille is a Catholic and much of the literature in the distributist library has been produced by Catholics. How would one expect Médaille to respond if someone brought up an example of recurring corruption among the priesthood over a period of a hundred years within the Catholic church and dismissed Catholicism because of that corruption? If that corruption had actually taken place and was provable, do you expect he would abandon Catholicism because this corrupt priesthood “grows on the back” of Catholicism, and the more you get of Catholicism, the more you need corrupt priests to make Catholicism work? Of course not. Catholicism is a thing. It is a system and a religion with definable characteristics. If Médaille decided to answer this critic at all, he would presumably set about showing how corruption isn’t essential to Catholicism. He might explain that examples of corruption within Catholicism are not due to that religion’s defects but are rather due to man’s corrupt nature, which Catholicism grants.

Capitalism is not a religion. That’s not the parallel here. But, like Catholicism, capitalism is a system with actual definable characteristics. And, just as Médaille would not call Catholicism all that the imaginary critic would call Catholicism, we ought not call capitalism all that Médaille calls capitalism unless and until he demonstrates that what he asserts is true. It is true that capitalism does not prevent men from seizing power in its name, and it does not itself expose them as hypocrites when they use “capitalism” as a cover for their interventionist policies. No economic theory will perfect mankind. If economic theory could perfect us, Jesus would have given us economic theory instead of giving us Himself. Neither can economic theory self-enforce one hundred percent consistency. But capitalism never claimed to be able to do those things. And, in the same way that corruption in the Catholic Church doesn’t disprove Catholicism, corruption in a more capitalistic country’s economy does not disprove capitalism.

Now, as a Protestant, I actually believe there is corruption baked into the essence of Catholicism. Priests should not have to take vows of celibacy because celibacy is not required by God of his ministers. So these priests wind up vowing themselves to a pattern of behavior which God never promised to empower them to maintain. And the logical result, as well as the historical result, is sexual frustration leading to sexual corruption within the ranks of the Catholic priesthood.

Of course, it is not my aim in this post to beat up on Catholics. I simply mean to show from one more angle what type of argument would have done the work Médaille wanted to get done in this chapter, and what kind of argument was conspicuously missing. “Because capitalism” is a lousy way to demonstrate causation.

So then what is real capitalism? There is no official catechism of capitalism like there is for the Catholic church. It’s true that the term ‘capitalism’ was coined by anticapitalists who wedded the ‘capitalistic mode of production’ to a specific understanding of exploitation. But that’s not what Médaille is talking about here. Throughout this chapter, Médaille is often specifically talking about capitalism as represented by Hayek and the Austrians. And because this is his frame of reference and the theory in his cross-hairs, maybe we can trust what Mises said above: a capitalist economy is one in which entrepreneurs and owners of the means of production follow the leadership of the market, and no other. Médaille has failed to show us that capitalism understood in this way is broken.

For my own part, the best explanation of capitalism I’ve heard comes from elsewhere in Mises. I linked to in my first post, but I’ll quote it here for good measure:

The market economy is the social system of the division of labor under private ownership of the means of production. Everybody acts on his own behalf; but everybody’s actions aim at the satisfaction of other people’s needs as well as at the satisfaction of his own. Everybody in acting serves his fellow citizens…

This system is steered by the market. The market directs the individual’s activities into those channels in which he best serves the wants of his fellow men. There is in the operation of the market no compulsion and coercion. The state, the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion, does not interfere with the market….It protects the individual’s life, health, and property against violent or fraudulent aggression on the part of domestic gangsters and external foes….Each man is free; nobody is subject to a despot. Of his own accord the individual integrates himself into the cooperative system. The market directs him and reveals to him in what way he can best promote his own welfare as well as that of other people…

The market is not a place, a thing, or a collective entity. The market is a process, actuated by the interplay of the actions of the various individuals cooperating under the division of labor. The forces determining the–continually changing–state of the market are the value judgments. The state of the market at any instant is the price structure, i.e., the totality of the exchange ratios as established by the interaction of those eager to buy and those eager to sell…..Every market phenomenon can be traced back to definite choices of the members of the market society.

The market process is the adjustment of the individual actions of the various members of the market society to the requirements of mutual cooperation. The market prices tell the producers what to produce, how to produce, and in what quantity. The market is the focal point to which the activities of the individuals converge. It is the center from which the activities of the individuals radiate.

Because this is what capitalism is, it is appropriate to say, as I have said, that capitalism is based on love. Two things are meant by this. First, men’s value judgments drive capitalism. They seek what is valuable and desirable to them. They seek what they love. Recall from that first post that “love” can be righteous or it can be wicked, depending on the thing loved. If men find wickedness desirable and falsely believe that evil is desirable, they will go after these ends with abandon and a purely capitalist economy will not keep them from it. However, if they value righteousness and love what is lovely, a purely capitalist economy will not keep them from pursuing praiseworthy ends either. In a capitalist economy, the market reflects the values of the society.

As a side note, this is actually the best line of critique of pure capitalism to my mind. What kind of limits ought a society to impose upon men to restrain their evil? Do men have a right to do anything they wish with their property as long as they aren’t aggressing against someone else? And if property rights ought to be limited somehow according to true religion (or some other standard), what does this mean for laissez-faire economic theory? I hope to write out my answers to these questions at some point, but because this is not the line of argument that Médaille pursues, my extended thoughts on these matters don’t belong here.

More to the point of this post is the second way that capitalism is based on love. It is related to the first. Not only do men’s loves/desires/needs/values make up the market, but because they do, the way to “get ahead” in a free market is to serve other men by giving them what they want and providing for their needs. Again, the free market is not a moral panacea, and men may love wrongly. Still, capitalism teaches a man to find a way to meet other men’s desires, to benefit his neighbors by serving them in some way. This is a good skill to have, and capitalism teaches it. Economist George Gilder is especially good on this point:

The unending offerings of entrepreneurs, investing capital, creating products, building businesses, inventing jobs, accumulating inventories–all long before any return is received, all without any assurance that the enterprise will not fail–constitute a pattern of giving that dwarfs in extent and essential generosity any primitive rite of exchange. Giving is the vital impulse and moral center of capitalism. (Wealth and Poverty, 35)

Hopefully we can circle back around to the morality of markets when Médaille develops his ideas of justice and property rights more fully. For it is not a subjective love based on man’s felt-needs that fulfills the law, but a love that is in accord with what God has commanded. And so, to act justly in accordance with the law is to do no wrong to a neighbor, to love your neighbor truly (Romans 13:8-10). Justice, law, and love are all tied up together, and Médaille is correct to say we shouldn’t forget about them in our economic theorizing. However, truth also ought to be part of our theorizing, and in chapter two of Toward a Truly Free Market, Médaille managed to write nearly ten pages worth of things that aren’t so.

Postscript: Oddly enough, Médaille’s approach to the economic history of America in the 20th Century in this chapter was the approach of the new economic historians, not of the political economists of old. In chapter one, Médaille spent a good chunk of his time explaining how economics does not “draw its proper methodology from physics, astronomy, chemistry, or any other physical science” (4). Now in chapter two, Médaille takes us to the laboratory of history to test out economic theories. For a good Austrian critique of this type of stuff that is more in line with what Médaille was commending to us in the first chapter, I’d recommend Joe Salerno’s essayHow to Do Economic History.”

The General Relentless Advance

Richard Pipes’s book, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, is the first book on the topic that I’ve read. It’s a good one. I anticipate returning to it a few times in the not-too-distant future. For now, please accept for your consideration a couple quick quotes from that book on the tactics and foundations of the revolutionaries. The first comes from Lenin himself, and the second is Pipes’ analysis of the intelligentsia.

We have great revolutionary experience, and from that experience we have learned that it is necessary to follow the tactics of the relentless advance whenever objective conditions allow it…But we have to adopt the tactic of procrastination, the slow gathering of forces when the objective conditions do not offer the possibility of making an appeal to the general relentless advance. (176-177)


There would have been no relentless advance–no revolution–if the intelligentsia had not been there to manufacture it. Note especially in the next quote how materialism pops up in Pipes’s description of these people. Add to Bavinck, add to Mises and Médaille, the witness of Richard Pipes that materialism is bad whiskey.

Why use the foreign-sounding “intelligentsia” when the English language has the word “intellectuals”? The answer is that one needs different terms to designate different phenomena–in this case, to distinguish those who passively contemplate life from activists who are determined to reshape it. Marx succinctly stated the latter position when he wrote: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” The term “intelligentsia” describes intellectuals who want power in order to change the world. It is a word of Latin origin, which passed in the middle of the nineteenth century from German into Russian and from there, after the 1917 Revolution, into English.

Whether the conflicts and resentments that exist in every society are peacefully resolved or explode in revolution is largely determined by the presence or absence of democratic institutions capable of redressing grievances through legislation, and the presence or absence of an intelligentsia determined to fan the flames of popular discontent for the purpose of gaining power. For it is the radical intelligentsia that transforms specific, and therefore remediable, grievances into the uncompromising rejection of the status quo. Rebellions happen; revolutions are made. And they are made by bodies of professional “managers of the revolution,” namely the radical intelligentsia.

For an intelligentsia to emerge, two conditions must be met. One is a materialistic ideology that regards human beings not as unique creatures endowed with an immortal soul but as exclusively physical entities shaped by their environment. This ideology makes it possible to argue that a rational reordering of man’s environment can produce a new breed of perfectly virtuous creatures. This belief elevates members of the intelligentsia to the status of social engineers and justifies their political ambitions.

Second, the intelligentsia requires economic opportunities to secure independence: The dissolution of traditional social estates and the emergence of free professions (such as journalism and university teaching) along with an industrial economy in need of experts and an educated reading public, which, all taken together, emancipate intellectuals from subjection to the Establishment. These opportunities, accompanied by guarantees of free speech and association, enable the intelligentsia to secure a hold on public opinion, its principal means of political leverage.

Intellectuals first appeared in Europe as a distinct group in the sixteenth century in connection with the emergence of secular society and the progress of science. They were lay thinkers who approached traditional philosophical questions outside the framework of theology and the church, which in the postclassical world had enjoyed a monopoly on such speculation. Like the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, they saw their mission as one of teaching virtue and wisdom–educating men to curb their passions and to accept life with all its dark sides, including the inevitability of death.

Then a different kind of intellectual made his appearance. Impressed by the advances of science and the seemingly limitless possibilities inherent in the scientific method, he saw no reason he should not apply the insights into nature that science had made possible in order to master nature. It was a notion with very wide applications. The scientific (empirical) method posited that only that existed which could be observed and measured. It raised the question whether man could be said to possess an immortal soul or ideas planted in him at birth, as taught by religion and metaphysics, for neither this soul nor these ideas could be identified by scientific observation.

The full philosophical implications of this empirical approach were first drawn by John Locke in his seminal Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). In his political writings Locke laid down the foundations of the liberal constitutions of Great Britain and the United States. But his philosophical treatise inadvertently fed a very different, illiberal current of political thought. The Essay challenged the axiom of Western philosophy and theology that human beings were born with “innate ideas,” including knowledge of God and a sense of right and wrong. This notion had made for a conservative theory of politics because, by postulating that man comes into the world spiritually and intellectually formed, it also postulated that he was immutable. From this it followed that the principles of government were the same for all nations and ages. According to Locke, however, man is born a blank slate on which physical sensations and experiences write the messages that make him what he is. There is no such thing as free will: man can no more reject the ideas that the senses inscribe on his mind than a mirror can “refuse, alter, or obliterate the images or ideas which objects set before it” produce.

The implications of Locke’s theory of knowledge, ignored in his own country, were seized upon and developed in France by radical thinkers, notably Claude Helvétius. In De l’esprit (1758), Helvétius drew on Locke’s epistemology to argue that insofar as man is totally molded by his environment, a perfect environment will inevitably produce perfect human beings. The means toward this end are education and legislation. The task of the political and social order, therefore, is not to create optimal conditions in which mankind can realize its potential but rather to render mankind “virtuous.” Good government not only ensures “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” (a formula attributed to Helvétius) but literally refashions man. This unprecedented proposition constitutes the premise of both liberal and radical ideologies of modern times. It justifies the government’s far-reaching intervention in the lives of its citizens.

This idea holds an irresistible attraction for intellectuals because it elevates them from the position of passive observers of life into its shapers. Their superior knowledge of what is rational and virtuous permits them to aspire to the status of mankind’s “educators.” While ordinary people, in pursuit of living, acquire specific knowledge relevant to their particular occupation, intellectuals–and they alone–claim to know things “in general.” By creating “sciences” of human affairs–economic science, political science, sociology–they feel at liberty to dismiss as irrelevant practices and institutions created over millennia by trial and error. It is this philosophical revolution that has transformed some intellectuals into an intelligentsia, actively involved in politics. And, of course, involvement in politics makes them politicians, and, like others of the breed, prone to pursue their private interests in the guise of working for the common good. (21-23)