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Blue Collar Intellectuals

One of the most valuable talents conservatives have is the ability to detect the bad ideas of intellectuals. Whole books by conservatives have been devoted to this.A few examples are  Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, Jacques  Barzun's The House Of Intellect, Thomas Sowell's Intellectuals And Society and Daniel J.Flynn's Intellectual Morons.

The problem is that someone who  reads  enough of the works of intellectuals to  write a book about it is probably an intellectual himself. So a sweeping indictment of all intellectuals is probably not a good idea.Fortunately, most conservative intellectuals are, in addition to being intellectuals, actually smart. They know to  limit the scope of their criticism.

Daniel J. Flynn, in his latest book Blue Collar Intellectuals does more than this. He demonstrates  that , in spite of all the indecipherable papers and nutty ideas that come out of modern academia, the life of the mind is a good thing and intellectuals can make positive contributions. He makes this case with  biographical sketches  of Will&Ariel Durant, Mortimer Adler, Milton Friedman,Eric Hoffer, and Ray Bradbury, the "blue collar intellectuals" of the title. Flynn defines a blue-collar intellectual as  "a thinker who hails from  a working class background, and whose intellectual work targets, in part or whole, a mass audience".

I expected this book to be enlightening and wasn't disappointed. I didn't expect it to be as entertaining as it was. Will Durant's scandalous romance with the young Ariel & associations with anarchists would fit nicely in a screenplay.Many novelists would love to have written the following real life detail about Ray Bradbury

Ray graduated from high school wearing his only suit, which his uncle had been wearing when murdered by a stick-up man...It still sported the bullet hole.

Eric Hoffer's early life almost seems to come out of Dickens. Flynn does warn us that there is little corroboration for Hoffer's childhood tales beyond Hoffer himself. But aspects of his later life are more credible and just as interesting.He  continuied to work as a longshoreman after writing his bestselling The True Believer.He  refused  an invitation to the White House because he didn't own a tie. His fish-out-of-water existence in 1960's San Francisco is also  interesting. As Flynn writes

In the Star Wars bar scene that was the Bay Area in the 1960s, Eric Hoffer played the most exotic alien of all. Amidst militaristic Black Panthers,drugged-out flower children...and strident student radicals, the burly senior citizen clad in 1940 workman's clothes with closely cropped white hair bordering a bald dome elicited stares

Amidst all these colorful anecdotes a theme emerges. These blue collar intellectuals lived and worked in a time when the masses sought intellectual enrichment. The heroes of this book delivered it to them,in spite of academic resistance to "popularization". Flynn believs that the gap between the masses and the intelligentsia is wider than it has ever been. I don't think it's as wide as Flynn does, but that's a quibble. The gap exists, and we could certainly use the likes of Eric Hoffer and Mortimer Adler today to help bridge it.