Ed Driscoll

The New Sophists

In his Townhall column, Victor Davis Hanson first reminds us of who the original sophists were:

In classical Athens, public life became dominated by clever and smart-sounding sophists. These mellifluous “really wise guys” made money and gained influence by their rhetorical boasts to “prove” the most amazing “thinkery” that belied common sense.

As VDH adds, “We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern equivalent of Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound:”

America is huge and diverse, but the world of our credentialed experts is quite small, warped and monotonous — circumscribed largely by the prestigious university and an office in the incestuous Washington-New York corridor. There are plenty of prizes, honors and degrees among our policy setters and experts, but very little experience in running a business in Oklahoma, raising a large family in Kansas, or working on an assembly line in Michigan, a military base in Texas, a boat in Alaska or a ranch in Idaho.

In classical sophistic fashion, rhetoric is never far from personal profit. Multimillionaire Al Gore convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he helped create.

How many climate Cassandras have well-funded research positions predicated on grants and subsidies that depend on convincing the pubic and government of impending disasters that they then can be hired to monitor and address? Are there no green antitrust laws? In contrast, how many of our climate theorists run irrigated farms and energy-intensive businesses at the mercy of new regulations that emanate from distant theorizing?

The public might have better believed the deficit nostrums of former budget director Peter Orzag had he not retired after less than two years on the job to position himself for a multimillion-dollar billet at Citigroup — itself a recent recipient of some $25 billion in government bailout funds.

Are we to wonder why an angry, grassroots Tea Party spread — or why it was instantly derided by our experts and technocrats as ill-informed or worse?

Ann Coulter posits two sources of fiscal sophistry the new GOP Congress should investigate. To borrow from the title of Orson Welles’ last movie, conveniently their names both begin with F — For Fake.

And Doug Ross notes that fiscal sophistry is now credentialed by the Department of Education. What could go wrong?