The Wisest of Left and Right

There are brilliant people on both ends of the ideological spectrum, and there are not-so-smart people at both ends as well. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, of course (for intelligence, not necessarily politics). Stereotypes suggest that the proportion of the less-intelligent people is more sizeable on the ideological right, and for all I know that may be true, but in any case it is irrelevant.

The unintelligent who engage in the debate from either direction will defend silly, caricaturish conclusions, by means of silly, ineffective argumentation. We all take delight in pointing out examples of this from the other side. If you think it doesn’t happen on your own side … then I guess there’s probably a decent chance that you are that person on your side!

I think it is worthwhile to think about the wisest people on both sides. I don’t know who they are. I would have to be one of them in order to make a reliable identification of them; otherwise, you’re just getting on ignorant person’s opinion about the brilliance of someone else, which is likely not to be worth much.

Even though I can’t name the wisest on either side, I think I can say some things about them that are going to be true.

For instance, their conclusions will be nuanced. They won’t be sloganeers, at least not when they are having an intelligent discussion. “More freedom.” “Tax the rich.” “More guns.” “Free university education.” “Smaller government.” They might support some or all of these goals, but not in straightforward, simplistic ways.

These wise people will base their political views on evidence, but their views will of necessity also grow out of a broad educational foundation, and out of their personal intellectual ability and good character. They will have studied economics, political science, sociology, comparative politics, war, history, yes certainly. They will also have studied moral philosophy and political philosophy, poetry and literature, will have ruminated long on these subjects, and will even have tried with all their might to become the sort of people that they believe (on reflection) that people ought to be. They will be people of exceptional intellect, and uncommon virtue.

Most of us will never become such people, even after a lifetime of study and sincere effort. If we are capable of it, however, we should seek to get as close as possible, and to use what we will have learned for the benefit of ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our political community, and of as many people as our influence extends to.

In the end, we must fail. But we will be better for having tried, and we will be glad for having made the effort.

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