Turning experts into priests

H/t Jonah Goldberg in The Goldberg File:

Experts Über Alles

My favorite insight from William Voegeli’s brilliant book Never Enough is simply this: There is no limiting principle to liberalism (which was basically Eric Voegelin’s point when he called liberalism a “totalitarian political religion”). When liberals hear you — or at least when they hear me — say this sort of thing they immediately assume I’m saying that liberalism is indistinguishable from socialism or fascism. But that’s not really my argument. The point is that there’s no dogmatic, external, enduring liberal principle that says “the state can go this far and no farther.” Rather, all limitations on government action, according to the liberal worldview, are by definition temporary, contingent on circumstances, and reliant solely on the good judgment of liberals. This is what “pragmatism” ultimately means for liberals: Liberal policymakers get to decide what the government should or shouldn’t do based upon their expert judgment and their own evolving personal standards. This mindset is what lets people like Al Sharpton argue for knife control.

If you’re not bound by, say, a Constitution or a coherent and clear ideology, why shouldn’t you go wherever your own intellect takes you? Well, as Hayek might note, the problem is that no one is that smart. That is why we let prices tell us what something is worth. That is why we should be informed by the embedded knowledge in tradition. That is why we should push decisions down to the lowest level possible. Because even the most brilliant experts are not smart enough to do society’s thinking for it. But that is precisely what Deweyan liberalism does. It turns experts into priests and the priests are the only haruspices authorized to read the goat guts and tell us what the gods want from us.

Which brings to mind a great line from G. K. Chesterton: “I have always noticed that people who begin by taking the intellect very seriously end up by having no intellects at all. The idolater worships wood and stone; and if he worships his own head it turns into wood and stone.”

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