Political Power and Knowledge

by | Aug 11, 2004

Despite clever and hard-working political handlers who have done a masterful job of concealing and distracting attention from John Kerry’s voting record in his long Senate career, and the liberal vision behind that record, glimmers of reality still break through now and then. Senator Kerry himself has said that he was for spending more money […]

Despite clever and hard-working political handlers who have done a masterful job of concealing and distracting attention from John Kerry’s voting record in his long Senate career, and the liberal vision behind that record, glimmers of reality still break through now and then.

Senator Kerry himself has said that he was for spending more money on education with “no questions asked.” The teachers’ unions no doubt loved hearing that, but blank checks are precisely how our schools have produced the most expensive incompetence in the world.

Then there was another glimmer of reality breaking through recently, courtesy of wife Teresa Heinz Kerry. While her husband was addressing some midwestern farmers, Teresa passed a note to him, which led him to ask her to address the group.

Her message? Organic hog farming is “economical” and there is “a huge market” for it.

A hog farmer in the audience was immediately on his feet, objecting. That this sheltered rich woman from Boston would have the nerve to try to tell hog farmers how to raise hogs is a classic example of the liberal vision.

What is liberalism all about? Regardless of whether the particular issue is race, agriculture, housing, or a thousand other things, liberalism is about the government telling people what to do in their lives and work.

Most of the liberals who are for ordering other people around know as little as Teresa Heinz Kerry. But they don’t have to know.

It has been said that knowledge is power but, politically, power trumps knowledge.

When government agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the courts take statistical differences in the “representation” of various ethnic groups in an employer’s workforce as evidence of discrimination, they don’t have to prove their belief to anyone. They have the power. Employers have to try to prove their innocence to them.

When the people who run our schools and teachers’ colleges prefer the “whole language” and “whole math” approaches to teaching English and mathematics, it doesn’t matter how many studies show that these approaches don’t work. The education establishment has the power — and power trumps knowledge.

Back in the 1960s, when judges began buying into new theories about the “root causes” of crime and about “rehabilitation,” it didn’t matter that the old approach which they cast aside had led to declining crime rates — and it didn’t matter that the new approach led to skyrocketing crime rates.

Nowhere does power trump knowledge more than when those with a particular preconception are in charge of handing out money. Foundations can back any fashionable notion that strikes their fancy, whether in art or environmentalism or anywhere else, and what anybody else believes — or even proves — doesn’t matter.

The very process of acquiring knowledge requires money and those who hand out the money can decide whose studies they will finance and whose studies they won’t, just as the media will decide whose results they will publicize and whose they won’t. There are many kinds of power.

Like swallows heading for Capistrano, liberals are drawn toward those institutions where they have the power to impose their beliefs and ignore any knowledge that says otherwise. Such institutions are usually dominated by the left.

Only belatedly have people with other ideas begun to challenge the liberal dominance in these institutions. Among the fiercest battlegrounds are the courts. Here anyone who challenges the liberal dominance is certain to be not merely criticized but targeted for a whole campaign of smears, a process that put a new verb in our language, “to Bork.”

The left understands that power trumps knowledge. The question is whether the rest of us will realize that too — and try to keep such power from becoming or remaining a monopoly of the left.

We don’t need limousine liberals telling farmers how to farm, builders how to build, and everybody else how to live their lives. That power is too dangerous to let it trump knowledge.

Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college. Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read the THOMAS SOWELL column in your hometown paper.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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