Halfway through the chapter on Paul Ehrlich, you wonder why author Dan Flynn, in his new book Intellectual Morons, is devoting so much time to tearing this wacko to bits. Ehrlich’s predictions of massive famines in the 1970s should be enough to make the man irrelevant.
Flynn goes on to quote Ehrlich’s vision in which, by 1984, “the United States will quite literally be dying of thirst.” Ehrlich also forecast “a new Ice Age. . . with rapid and drastic effects on the agricultural productivity of the temperate regions.”
It isn’t just Ehrlich’s predictions that are absurd. Flynn makes clear it’s also his policy prescriptions, including “a series of financial rewards and penalties designed to discourage reproduction.” For example, Ehrlich would like “luxury taxes. . . placed on cribs, diapers.” Flynn documents how Ehrlich calls for “unlimited access to abortion” in this vein.
Then Flynn exposes Ehrlich’s advocacy of dishonest propaganda and strategy of smearing his critics.
So, again, is Flynn wasting his reader’s time with some straw man?
Hardly. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the MacArthur Foundation, Volvo, the Sierra Club, the United Nations and many others have bestowed this false prophet with prestigious and lucrative prizes. NBC has used him as an expert, and he is still a professor at Stanford.
It is this thorough dissection of the left’s icons that makes Flynn’s Intellectual Morons invaluable. And Ehrlich is hardly the most striking case in this well-researched book that hit bookstores last Tuesday.
Ehrlich looks sane compared to Alfred Kinsey, the unscientific pervert whose findings on sex became the intellectual justification for the hedonism of the sexual revolution. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, had little problem with concentration camps and endorsed eugenics, Flynn shows us. Peter Singer, Princeton professor and hero of the animal rights movement, favors infanticide.
Any parent worried about liberal indoctrination on the eve of sending his son or daughter off to college ought to require his kid to read Intellectual Morons. In this book Flynn goes after heroes of the academy and the media, Howard Zinn, Rigoberta Menchu, Noam Chomsky, W.E.B. DuBois, Alger Hiss and Betty Friedan.
He concisely lays out their fatal flaws: Their research was fudged, they were openly racist, they conspired with America’s enemies, or they were serial liars.
Flynn then shows how the establishment media and most American universities willingly ignore these facts and continue to exalt these figures. Even more important, Flynn points out how much of the official dogma of today’s elites stems from the philosophies of these hucksters.
Just as enlightening as his treatment of the celebrated heroes are his demonstrations that less well-known writers, such as Herbert Marcuse, have provided the foundations of modern leftist orthodoxy despite their unsavory beliefs and evil motives.
But Flynn does not just go after the left. He picks apart Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism for its hubristic claims of complete rationality and pretensions to replace religion.
Most interestingly, Flynn dedicates the middle chapter to a critique of Leo Strauss and Straussian neoconservatives, whom he charges with hijacking American foreign policy. Arguing both that modern-day neocons abandon some of Strauss’s prudence, and that Strauss himself was a numerology-obsessed nut, Flynn is just as harsh on these right-wing ideologues as he is on those of the left.
The Strauss chapter, however, is Flynn’s weakest–not because neoconservative ideology is innocent of Flynn’s charges, but because Strauss may be too big a fish for this book.
Strauss spent his life studying and teaching the history of ancient philosophy, and Flynn appears to have delved in over his head when he takes on Strauss’s philosophy. The book is better when it plays to Flynn’s strength of critiquing a writer’s methods and integrity than describing their worldview.
While the book’s overarching value is its dismantling of leftist dogma, it also touches on interesting themes in conservative philosophy. Flynn writes:
“It is a folly to blame ‘bad’ ideology for the current degraded state of the public square. The problem isn’t necessarily Left ideology or Right ideology, but all ideology.”
To the degree this theme reappears throughout the book, Flynn is hinting toward a conservatism as understood by Russell Kirk–a connection that makes Flynn’s critique of neoconservatives and Randians less surprising.
Throughout the book, however, Flynn rarely more than flirts with articulating a positive philosophy. The meat of the book, and its value, is in tipping over the left’s sacred cows.