A glance at the debut issue of The American Interest: The myopia of the intelligentsia

Roundup: Talking About History

When it comes to predicting the future, intellectuals "tend to get things hopelessly wrong," writes Owen Harries, a member of the Global Advisory Council for this new, independent journal, which was founded shortly after the demise of The Public Interest and a rift among the editors of The National Interest (The Chronicle, April 15).

According to a statement from members of its editorial board, who include Francis Fukuyama and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the new journal is dedicated to the theme of "America in the World."

In his article, Mr. Harries writes that over the last century, intellectuals have had an "appalling record of prediction." For instance, in 1910, four years before the First World War, Norman Angell, who would later win the Nobel Peace Prize, forecast the end of all armed conflict -- whoops. Nor should anyone forget, Mr. Harries writes, "the apocalyptic conclusion" reached in the 1970s by intellectuals who believed overpopulation and industrial growth would end the world by the 21st century.

Mr. Harries credits George Orwell for one theory on why the intelligentsia get the future wrong. Orwell said that intellectuals suffer from "power worship," or "the tendency to assume that whoever, or whatever, is winning at the moment is going to prevail in the long term," according to Mr. Harries. Intellectuals do that regularly, he adds, "if not compulsively."

Considering another example of false forecasting from the 1970s, he writes that many intellectuals then considered America's counterculture, domestic assassinations, government corruption, and mounting death toll in Vietnam as sure signs of democracy's end. The events led Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an intellectual who later served as a U.S. senator, to say that American democracy would have "simply no relevance in the future." But, he notes, a democratic surge swept across Europe, Latin America, and Asia shortly thereafter, culminating with the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Certainly there is plenty of evidence of such worship in the history of the last century," writes Mr. Harries. "How else can one explain the widespread adoration among intellectuals of such vile and murderous figures as Stalin and Mao Zedong, which persisted long after evidence of their true nature was abundantly available?"

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