Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The character of Newt's intelligence

I don’t think there is any question that Newt Gingrich’s appeal in the Republican race comes down his perceived intelligence and that he’s not Mitt Romney.  On the former, I think it is highly over-rated (not least by Newt himself).  But even if his intelligence is conceded, it strikes me as a) not conservative and b) not well suited to the office of president.  The central characteristic of Newt’s mind is that it is prolific, but there is little evidence of it having any real depth or of any wisdom.  Newt is a philosophe.

In another context the philosophe was critically appraised as follows:

“First, an age of philosophisme implies a peculiar confidence in knowledge, indiscriminate knowledge…and he can only exist when there is a certain rude copiousness about the supply of knowledge which permits no suggestion of limit.  His is an inventive, ingenious, mildly perplexed and easily satisfied mind; there is vitality but no discrimination.  All knowledge appears equally significant…there is neither time nor inclination to learn anything profoundly…and when every suggestion is followed it is impossible to follow one suggestion far.

Second, besides his belief in encyclopedic knowledge, the philosophe is remarkable for his general credulity.  He does not know what it is to be perplexed; he only knows what it is to be ignorant.  And he is protected from the dilemmas of doubt by a tough hide of self- confidence.  Appearing to doubt everything and to be engaged upon the construction of a new world from the bottom up, he is really the most credulous of men.  For the philosophe the world is divided between those who agree with him and ‘fools’

Thirdly, besides his thirst for knowledge and naïve cast of mind, the philosophe is a rationalist.”

And it is this character of being a philosophe—“their minds replete with half-conceived ideas—which accounts for their completing so little of what they begin.”

Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, Michael Oakeshott, The New Bentham, page (132 – 150)

There are of course places for minds like this, but it strikes me that it is very far from what is required of a president.  A president is awash in ideas, what he needs is all those things that a philosophe and Newt lack, discrimination, judgment, patient consideration of circumstances, and wisdom.

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