Intellectuals and Society

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by Thomas Sowell

Intellectual influence is not only greater than in previous eras, but it also takes a very different form than that envisioned by those like Machiavelli and others who wanted to directly influence rulers. It has not been by shaping the opinions or directing the actions of the holders of power that modern intellectuals have most influenced the course of events, but by shaping public opinion in ways that affect the actions of power holders in democratic societies, whether or not those power holders accept the general vision or the particular policies favoured by intellectuals. Even government officials who dislike or despise academics have been forced to adapt to the environment of thought created by those intellectuals.

Intellectuals and Society examines not only the track record of intellectuals in the things they have advocated, but also the incentives and constraints that have shaped their views and visions. One of the most surprising aspects of this study is how often intellectuals have been proved not only wrong, but grossly and disastrously wrong in their prescriptions for the ills of society—and how little their views have changed in response to empirical evidence of the disasters entailed by those views.

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— Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society