In his interesting post on Robert Mugabe’s intelligence, the blogger calling himself Pumpkin Person notes “One reason for thinking he’s in the upper end of this range is that he was a Marxist, and left-wing politics are positively correlated with IQ (at least if you control for race and income).” This does not imply that all Marxists are highly intelligent. He is simply noting the observation that left-wing politics of the radical sort highly correlate with intelligence. Smart, educated people tend to be radicals.
This is an assertion most people have heard, if they have gone to college, spent time on a college campus or consumed popular culture. The assertion, that intelligence and radicalism are traveling partners, is a part of the cultural bath in which every western man swims. It certainly holds up when you look at the data. Whoever the Democrats nominate for President, no matter how nutty and deranged, that person will win more than 80% of the vote in every college town of America.
Now, normal people chafe at this assertion as the obvious implication is that stupid people oppose radicalism. That’s certainly what the usual suspects have always claimed, until biology became a taboo of late. Anyone over the age of forty probably recalls being told something like this in college. Of course, it was never just a passing observation. The link between radicalism and intelligence was always supposed to put critics on the defensive, as if they are inferiors.
The power of this can be seen in how Bill Buckley adopted the over-the-top WASP intellectual style. The point of it was to inoculate himself against the claim he was too dumb to understand what the Left was claiming. George Will’s silly bowtie or Kevin Williamson’s quill pen act are other recent examples. These affectations are intended to signal the person is smart and therefore cannot be dismissed by the Left. It’s Athena’s shield for the right-wing Perseus of left-wing politics.
It is certainly true that the data supports the claim. The voting patterns of the educated bear this out. There are exceptions from time to time, but generally speaking, the more credentials you have acquired, the more likely you are to be on the Left. Since credentials are a pretty good proxy for IQ, the original assertion holds. The smarter you are, the more inclined you are toward radical politics. Or, if you prefer, the smarter the person, the more open they are to radical politics.
The problem with this observation is that it a logical fallacy. Specifically, it is the fallacy of association. A famous example of this fallacy is the observation that hardcore drug takers usually start with marijuana, so pot is a gateway drug. All hardcore drug takers start life drinking milk, but no rational person would say milk leads to smoking crystal meth in adulthood. In other words, there is no causal link established between IQ and radicalism in politics, no matter how much the Left would wish it so.
Then there is the issue of how one defines left-wing politics. Every single establishment right-winger would have been called a radical a century ago. Two centuries ago the radicals in the West were people advocating liberalism. All of these terms used to describe politics are relative and their definitions shift over time. To pretend that Left and Right are timeless categories is to reveal a total ignorance of history. Even figuring out the relative poles in each era is not always possible, as we see today.
There is another angle here that is more important to the topic. People are social animals and we are a self-segregating species. People of like mind will tend to congregate with one another out of instinct. This is obvious to anyone who has been in a lunchroom of a large public school. This is not just true of mature humans. Even babies are attracted to their kind. This is why the college campus is so intolerant of free inquiry and dissent. Over time, it has boiled off those with contrary opinions.
What this means is smart people are naturally going to end up in areas around other smart people, like the college campus. The ornery and disagreeable will usually be boiled off for all the natural reasons. Most, however, will be as open to peer pressure as everyone else, maybe more so. Most smart people tend to live sheltered lives, insulated from the harsh reality of the human animal. If they are not left-wing when they hit the college campus, they soon adapt to their new friends and new culture.
This is such an obvious thing we have memes for it. The know-it-all coed, back from her first year at college, is a standard type in American culture. It’s a stock character in television and movies. Then you have the modern meme of sweet little Suzy heading off to college and coming back and blue-haired lesbian with a nose ring. This happens less frequently with males, which probably explains why the college campus is looking more like a hormonal coven these days than anything imagined by Aristotle.
Another thing to consider is that 500 years ago, if one were to use modern techniques to measure IQ and politics, the correlation would look much different. Instead of the intelligent tending toward radicalism, they would tend toward monasticism. The smart men of the age, if they were not the first born, often ended up in the Church. That’s where smart, curious men of the age went to be around other smart men. Maybe they would end up in the court of their king, defending the natural order.
Putting it all together, the reason radicalism and intelligence seem to go hand-in-hand in this age is that radicalism is the secular religion of this age. Just as the best and brightest of a prior age would have been great theologians, the smart set of this age seek to advance the secular religion of today. That means coming up with novel ways to justify it in the face of observable reality. Of course, there’s always profit in being the defender of the faith, so the Left attracts the most ambitious too.
The reason we currently observe a correlation between left-wing politics and intelligence is because left-wing politics is the secular religion of this age. In America this has been true since Gettysburg. In Europe, neo-liberalism has been the dominant faith since the end of the last war. To be in the high IQ world means embracing the religion of the high IQ world. If tomorrow, those people become Buddhists, the smart young people of tomorrow will suddenly trend toward Buddhism.
For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!