Thomas Hobbes on 17thC Universities, Experts and Today’s Expert Clerisey

Graham Hill's picture
Submitted by Graham Hill on Sun, 2021-06-20 03:15

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) has something to say about the modern 'Expert Clerisy' because the same issues of the 17th C appear today. Hobbes disliked universities-despite being a graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford- and saw universities, and their graduates, as a cause of the English Civil War, which, in a sense, was a cultural war, involving puritanism, blown out to a military one.

He picks out a quality of human nature of some university graduates who get power; lack of humility, a Dunning- Kruger bias like belief in superiority and competency, as imperial ‘experts.’

Presently, it has become commonplace following Covid-19 to question the ‘Experts’ and the ‘Bureaucratic Clerisy.’ Animosity and disdainful condescension to the English “Gamon” Orwell’s “Prols” - our “Ferals” and “Bogans”- and US “Deplorables”’ classes is a signature feature by some in the Beltway Clerisy.

Politicians have at times abdicated responsibility for policy decisions to experts and university academics. Unelected people, the experts, end up making decisions of a differing order, political decisions. Some have become notorious with one earning the name Professor -Pants –Down for his ‘do as I say but not as I do’. Governor Newsom of California was also derided for expensive dining out during lockdown.

Looking at the United Kingdom’s Spiked On-Line over the last 18 months Brendan O’Neill and other writers have focused attention on the default to the “expert class” its fallibility and implications for democracy and for political elites. Charles Murray’s idea of the “hollow elite” and T S Elliot's ‘The Hollow Men’ has traction.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the United States with scientists saying that they withheld their true opinion and mislead the public over covid origins, because they did not want to be seen to agree with President Trump. Professional obligations and truth did not matter but political partisanship did.

The cover-up on US NIH funding of the Wuhan Virology lab is unravelling and Dr Fauci is the ‘rabbit’ in the oncoming headlights of inquiry. A ‘Litany of Lies’ seems to have been told.

The Marxist drift by the Biden administration is clear as is its deference to experts- follow the science-and centralised government experts and know-how. This historical trend has roots in Professor Woodrow Wilson’s progressives (read as socialist) to FDR’s experts, “The Brain’s Trust”, which drew its experts from the universities, some of whom were fans of Mussolini’s socialist like state and the Soviet Union. John Dewey was the foremost of its thinkers who liked the Soviet system and collectivism.

The United States universities welcomed the émigré Marxists of the Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse, Theodore Adorno and others who avidly pushed a newer form of Marxism, Neo-Marxism/Cultural Marxism, along with French theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida (the inventor of deconstruction). Neo-Marxism now predominates in the universities. Traditional learning and thought is despised for being racist, sexist patriarchal western and seen as favouring power elites and not the oppressed.

Wokeness and its totalitarian religious like puritanism,- echoing the puritanism of Hobbes’ time including censorship- critical theory, in race and gender, degrowth environmentalism are underpinned essentially by a Marxian anti-capitalist mindset-e..g. white supremacy is capitalism.

Antonio Gramsci’s idea of ‘the march through the institutions’ has become a reality. Scholars, Harold Bloom, The Western Canon and Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind were lamenting the demise of traditional university education, its fall to ideology, indiscriminateness and relativism.

Graduates of the universities have adopted the Neo Marxian viewpoint and moved into government service, politics and the profession and corporations. Barrack Obama is a product of this education. A large number of Neo Marxist leaning bureaucrats staff the Biden Administration.

MSM in the US likewise, with graduates from Media Studies courses extolling ‘Public-thus activist- Journalism’ at NYU and Stanford. One New Zealand journalist recently admitted that activism is his aim but he is not alone.

Mark Levin, a constitutional conservative lawyer, has on 13 July 2021 a new book, American Marxism, being published. Listeners to his radio, television and podcast programmes will know that he lays responsibility on the universities for the Neo-Marxist undermining and transformation of the US Republic. Levin uses the term ‘indoctrination mills’ as a synonym for tertiary education.

It seems that the US is moving towards some form of -slow or colour- revolution, where the existing legal constitutional order is uprooted.

Those who think that the ideas of university academics do not have consequences need to think again.

This brings us to the famous author of Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes. J C A Gaskin in the introduction to the Oxford World Classics edition of Leviathan says: “In Behemoth or The History of the Causes of the Civil Wars of England, he maintained that 'the core of rebellion... are the Universities'. The reasons he gives for this judgement are illuminating”:

And as the Presbyterians brought with them into their churches their divinity [Calvinism] from the universities, so did many of the gentlemen bring their politics from thence into the Parliament; but neither of them did this very boldly in the time of Queen Elizabeth. And... certainly, the chief leaders were ambitious ministers and ambitious gentlemen; the ministers envying the authority of bishops, whom they thought less learned; and the gentlemen envying the privy ­council, whom they thought less wise than themselves. For it is a hard matter for men, who do all think highly of their own wits, when they have also acquired the learning of the university,' to be persuaded 'that they want any ability requisite for the government of a commonwealth, especially having read the glorious histories... of the ancient popular governments of the Greeks and Romans, amongst whom... popular government... passed by the name of liberty. (English Works, vi. 192­3)

Not only illuminating but instructive for today.

Graham Hill MA (Hons) LLB (Hons)
Nelson, 20 June 2021