I made the horrid mistake of channel-surfing to C-SPAN Senate coverage a couple days ago just in time to catch Sen. Babs “Don’t-Call-Me-Ma’am” Boxer bloviating about some public letter by “very smart people” backing up Obama’s Iran negotiations. Just then the batteries on my remote conked out, and I had to get up and walk over to the TV to change the channel, just like our great grandparents had to do before they trudged off five miles through the snow to school. It was that traumatic.
By coincidence, I just happened to be re-reading an old essay by Sidney Hook, who had this to say about the “very smart people” in his mid-century world of philosophers:
The plain truth of the matter is that philosophers who have concerned themselves with public affairs in the past have not distinguished themselves by the cogency of their analysis or the accuracy of their predictions. For example, every one of the philosophers who ventured a judgment on the Munich settlement of 1938—Whitehead, Russell, Dewey, Santayana according to report—hailed it and urged its approval as the best insurance of peace. It turned out to be the worst.
I’m still not totally sold on some aspect of Sidney Hook, but he was right on the central questions of the Cold War, and we could certainly use him around today.