In his book Intellectuals and Society, economist Thomas Sowell writes, "There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society than the era in which we live."
For most of history, mankind has worked under autocratic governments, at the behest of kings and emperors, where public opinion was of precious little consequence. With the democratization of political systems, those societies have simultaneously witnessed the (albeit limited) democratization of information, power and influence; however, this is not to suggest that information, power and influence are equally sought after among the people who comprise those civilizations.
On the contrary, just as most workers in the developed world have become specialists in their own respective fields, so too have they sought out guidance from so-called specialists and intellectuals to advise them and mold their understanding of public affairs and political issues. Despite their convincing sales pitches and impressive presentations, most of those specialists and intellectuals are themselves ill-equipped to understand what they're truly selling.
Worst of all, just as with the used car salesman who's unaware of the mechanical issues of the lemon he's confidently sold, the intellectual pitches poetically to an eager audience just as ill-equipped to recognize the snake oil he's selling; the intellectual grows empowered and more brazen after each presentation and the warm reception from the adoring public who count themselves lucky in the presence of greatness. Little do they know, of course, that they've been bamboozled; and often the same can be said about the salesman who's bamboozled them, who's often just as clueless to the failure of his ideas and, if he's wise enough to have recognized that they've indeed failed, the reasons for their failure.
Fortunately for the buyer of the used car, he has recourse, and often the dealer can make things right; for the citizen, on the other hand, it's often too late to reverse course after the public has bought hook, line and sinker into the con of the intellectual, who's often just as powerless in remedying the ills he's propagated, especially after they've already been adopted by the unstoppable political machine.
This is the nature of all governments, which grind their subjects under their rapacious heels, bearing the weight, power and influence of selective information all too commonly advanced under the name of progress by high-minded intellectuals eager to change the world and profit themselves with their high-minded ideas. In each case, the public is left to assess and repair the damages, tasks for which they are each time woefully unprepared. This is when the next round of intellectuals, some of whom reemerge once again after the previous disaster, pounce on the opportunity to expand their power and influence with apparent impunity, even after their repeated failures and policy disasters.
Nowhere in the course of history is there a more conspicuous policy disaster or a more repeated failure than the institution which seeks to systematically subject some part of the population to the dictates and edicts of others. Indeed, intellectuals abound in support of uniquely draconian systems whereby one segment of the population is made free to coerce another into serving its objectives. Wherever it should fail, that system is only modified under a different name and a slightly different set of rules, but for the same basic ends.
Needless to say, the intellectuals are always clever enough to obscure the nature of this arrangement, failing everywhere to honestly describe the underlying institution which has existed for as long as mankind has roamed this planet; an institution that they have no intention of ever abolishing, but instead modifying to their own shortsighted advantage. This is, of course, the institution of slavery.
There is perhaps no concept more reviled and universally rejected in principle than the institution of slavery. Needless to say, of this the institution is most deserving. However, it seems no force will soon impede its resurrection in more fashionable forms, and it seems that an ever-growing cult of intellectuals will gladly bring it to life shortly after they've vainly rejected its antiquated forms presumably undertaken by their less civilized and intellectually incurious forebears.
Even before the final slave was freed in the United States by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865, lobbyists, political activists and heads of state were already preparing for the next phase of America's enslavement, albeit by ostensibly legal means and of a kind more acceptable than the forms which preceded it. Indeed, this has been for millennia the age-old craft of demagogues and despots, sophists and soothsayers, vying everywhere for control by whatever means, absolutely and indisputably.
The course of American and world history has time and again demonstrated mankind's inability to positively stomp out the scourge of slavery. Instead, on each occasion the institution has either, on the one hand, coexisted with a form of government which itself enslaved some part of the population or plainly sanctioned the practice, or otherwise, on the other, yielded to a form of slavery which is more discreet and universal so as to render the subject ignorant to the imposition. This is the very nature and history of socialism, Marxism, communism, and all forms of collectivism, the various titles of which are too fluid and numerous to even begin to enumerate here. Indeed, their forms and outward appearances change daily, but their premises, as clouded and as convoluted as they are, remain the same today.
Just as with every subterfuge known to government, their intents disguise their ends, which in turn seek to justify their means. Every form of collectivism has had occasion to pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting public, transfixed by the illusions of grandeur as the wiser of whom stand bewildered in their own astonishment. The means are left to change, but the ends are always the same: control and slavery. Marxism, socialism and communism are just the forms of control and slavery preferred by the modern intellectual who's distracted himself and his adherents from their own premise: one antithetical to liberty.
Marxism is the theoretical social order which seeks to organize society around workers' ownership over the means of production. Whereas Marx does well to theorize that "social revolution" is part of a cycle developing out of productive forces, he errs in his attending assessment of capitalism and free enterprise. In his 1859 treatise A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx observed:
"At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms—with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution."
What Marx regards as "their fetters" is more accurately described as a psychological phenomenon likened to the popular films The Graduate and Into the Wild, best checked at the individual level and maintained spiritually through adventure and freely through the freedom of contract. In his remedy to the so-called "fetters" formed out of productive forces, Marx essentially throws the baby out with the bath water by neutralizing those productive forces and promulgating a social order which inherently undermines the organic systems by which individuals, and thereby societies, advance: economic freedom, private property, and private enterprise. As Nobel laureate Milton Friedman once put it, "Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property."
In seeking to remedy the purported problem resulting from those "productive forces," Marx promotes workers' control over production, shackling the rightful owners to the “fetters” of that “social revolution” before severing the very limbs by which the economy advances. From an ethical point of view, a system whereby "workers control production" destroys the essential right to private property and inherently makes slaves of the owners and executors of business; the former enslaves the latter, whether to the workers themselves or to some nebulous abstraction regarded as "the common good" or "the will of the people." Wherever the slaves inevitably seek to escape and relocate their businesses, they are predictably met with insurmountable force, or an incorrigible bureaucracy leveraging the same, which keeps them from fleeing.
As with any form of slavery or involuntary servitude, this system predictably and inevitably fails due to its lack of incentives for efficient labor and resource allocation, and for its failure to incentivize savings, capital investment and innovation, all of which follows from the interests of private property, self-ownership, and the freedom of contract. Regrettably and without their knowledge, the "workers" who'd theoretically "control production" would eventually find even themselves enslaved by their own system, as they are left with progressively fewer prospects for their personal advancement because of the aforesaid incentive problem and the lack of choice and mobility within a system determined not voluntarily but by one's need and ability, however defined.
The workers, as they are classified by the Marxist, are at first thrilled by the change of their circumstances, from laborer to owner, but just as Zimbabwe found itself flush with trillionaires during their bout with hyperinflation, the life of the laborer is hardly improved under Marxism because, as it turns out, he owns less of the business in this arrangement than he did as an employee; indeed, as an employee, he still reserved the right to negotiate for more of the business, to earn a promotion.
What's more, before the workers took control of production, he reserved the right to seek alternative forms of employment, or to seek no employment whatsoever. Indeed, before becoming a cog in the Marxist machine, the free man reserved the right to work or not to work, to define the terms of his employment and the form of his lifestyle. Above all, before falling subject to the Marxist monolith, he was left free to determine his wants and needs, and he was left free to determine how, or even whether, he would meet them.
As popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Recognize that Marx makes no mention of wants, desires or dreams; instead, his worldview condenses all of life's purpose to so-called "needs" and "abilities" that no system could ever accurately gauge within a person, let alone a city of thousands, a state of millions, or a diverse world comprised of billions of individuals.
Marx, however, rejected the notion that society consists of individuals; on the contrary, in Fundamentals of a Critique of Political Economy, Marx wrote: "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand." It is, thus, no surprise that Marx never developed any appreciation for the various proclivities and idiosyncrasies of the individual, that he thereby arrives at the conclusion that the "sum of interrelations" and "the relations within which these individuals stand" represent the sum of their social value. It is, thus, no surprise that, in Marx's view, the social "good" supersedes the individual, as Marx makes no accommodation for the individual anyway. In his view, the individual's very existence is either the expression of society or owed to it.
Put another way, the individual is, in Marx's view, the consequence of his society, an assertion which apparently necessitates his enslavement for due compensation or the continuance of this process of life, however devoid of meaning, substance or fulfillment. For the Marxist, the sacrifice of the individual and the sacrifice of freedom are absolute necessities and preconditions for the preservation of their society, and so long as money is never exchanged, labor, voluntary or otherwise, will suffice to cover the cost of the promises made by the Great Society. Never mind the parallels to slavery, the Marxist might say, for this is all for the "common good." Of course, this nonsensical and irresponsible argument accords with the life Marx led.
According to historian Paul Johnson, Karl Marx employed a housekeeper yet didn't pay her anything but room and board. Reportedly, Marx impregnated her and refused to support the child financially. This anecdote exposes Marx for what he was: an opportunist unapologetically unconcerned with personal responsibility, focused exclusively and unabashedly on totalitarian power over people and society. Just like so many other socialist intellectuals, Marx routinely mistreated those around him despite all of his rhetoric about his concerns for humanity. As the clever H. L. Mencken once quipped, "The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it. Power is what all messiahs really seek: not the chance to serve."