The Tyranny of Experts and the Great Unlearning

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

What do you call more than a century of growing government, shrinking liberty, and cascading failure after cascading failure?


At least, to hear the experts who got us into this mess tell it.

In a piece from last week bemoaning how “science has been corrupted,” University of Virginia fellow Matthew Crawford explains how the “pandemic has revealed a darkly authoritarian side to expertise.”

It is only a revelation to those who haven’t learned their history.

That isn’t to say that Crawford’s article is a waste of time — far from it. His analysis of the “expert” response to the Wuhan Flu doesn’t require any history lessons to chill you right to the bone.

One of the most striking features of the present, for anyone alert to politics, is that we are increasingly governed through the device of panics that give every appearance of being contrived to generate acquiescence in a public that has grown skeptical of institutions built on claims of expertise. And this is happening across many domains. Policy challenges from outsiders presented through fact and argument, offering some picture of what is going on in the world that is rival to the prevailing one, are not answered in kind, but are met rather with denunciation.

“Respect my authori-tie!” says celebrity medical spokesmodel Anthony “Doctor” Fauci before getting caught sans mask at a baseball game. Meanwhile, a million Karens start double-masking as though “Follow the science” imbues them with moral (and political) authority over the rest of us.

But this isn’t a column about the efficacy of masks; it’s more about the decreasing efficacy of experts, and their increasing control over every aspect of our lives.

Mostly though, it’s the story of Progressivism and the failure of experts — by design.

Yet what sort of authority would it be that insists its own grasp of reality is merely provisional? Presumably, the whole point of authority is to explain reality and provide certainty in an uncertain world, for the sake of social coordination, even at the price of simplification. To serve the role assigned it, science must become something more like religion.

What Crawford misses here is that when Progressivism was born over a century ago, it was the offspring of the conceit of experts and the grasping folly of politicians.

Our first Progressive president — and by mutual acclaim of PJ Media’s own Bryan Preston, Stephen Kruiser, and Yours Truly — America’s worst president* — was Woodrow Wilson. He described his job as “to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good, to purify and humanize every process of our common life without weakening or sentimentalizing it.”

Lofty ambitions. What we got was the re-segregation of the federal government, 136,000 dead in the First World War, an unprecedented trampling of the Bill of Rights, and a loose monetary policy that helped lead to the Great Depression.

Progressives of the Wilson era also gave us the income tax, the neutering of the states via popular election of the Senate, and Prohibition.

When the Great Depression hit, FDR drove Progressivism back into power on its back.

Of that, historian Amity Shlaes wrote on Sunday;

The chief economist at Chase, Benjamin Anderson, noted that after failing by playing God, the government chose not to retire but simply “to play God more vigorously.”

The first lesson of this sorry account is that an arbitrary national economic campaign from atop generates damaging uncertainty in the economy. However charmingly it reverberates, the very phrase “bold persistent experimentation” stifles growth.

FDR, like Wilson before him, greatly expanded the size, scope, and reach of the army of experts he brought in to besiege the nation — and the result was that a bad economic downturn lasted seven years longer than it should have.

While partly repudiated by Harry Truman and then Dwight Eisenhower, Progressives began their “long march” through America’s institutions — particularly education. First, higher-ed, and now pretty much all of it except for a few private schools and homeschoolers.

Like swarming locusts, Progressives have left little behind in fertile ground of a child’s mind.

Let’s take the two most recent and egregious examples, the Wuhan Flu pandemic and the politicization of gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria, simply put, is when XY or XX chromosomes reveal themselves correctly anatomically, but something in the brain views these correctly functioning organs as “wrong.”

Who would look at that sad situation and conclude that it’s the genitals that require treatment?

Wuhan Flu is a killer almost exclusively of the aged, the infirm, the obese, and the malnourished — typically a combination of at least two of the four.

Who would look at that situation and decide that the best course was to shut in the young, the healthy, the trim, and the well-nourished?

The answer is the same to both questions: The products of Progressive education — and the Progressives seeking to exploit the ignorants they created.

What I concluded long ago was that Progressivism is not the creed of experts guiding us to progress, as has always been claimed. Rather, it is the creed of failure on purpose, if you will. The goal is power; the means is creating victims who can be taken advantage of.

If capitalism is the process of creative destruction, then Progressivism is one of pedantic destruction.


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