Charles Krauthammer: Intellectual for the Ruling Class

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In ” The Intellectuals and Socialism,” F.A. Hayek contrasted intellectuals with scholars, original thinkers, and specialists. The intellectual is a public figure who is a “secondhand dealer in ideas” who is not necessarily very bright but can speak and write with confidence and authority about a wide range of subjects with which he or she has little direct knowledge or experience. What can make the intellectual class so dangerous is its insularity combined with its unprecedented power (via Big Media) in modern democracies to influence public opinion over the long run.
One has to wonder what Hayek would have made of Charles Krauthammer. The ex-psychiatrist and conservative commentator recently died on June 21 after a ten-month battle with cancer. To say that the eulogies of Krauthammer (that are still coming in) have been fawning is an understatement. “Unparalleled genius,” “intellectual giant,” and “scintillating brilliance” have been just a few of the superlatives offered on Fox News Channel and other media.
Four ideas that Krauthammer embraced provide insight into why he was so adored by the U.S. ruling class and media establishments.
1. Civilized societies do not allow their citizens to own firearms.
“It is simply crazy,” Krauthammer wrote, “for a country as modern, industrial, advanced and now crowded as the United States to carry on its frontier infatuation with guns…Ultimately, a civilized society must disarm its citizenry if it is to have a modicum of domestic tranquility of the kind enjoyed in sister democracies like Canada and Britain.”
Krauthammer supported the federal “assault-weapons” ban because, even though he knew that there was no such actual class of weapons, he saw the ban as a first step toward banning all firearms: “Its only real justification is not to reduce crime but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation. Its purpose is to spark debate, highlight the issue, make the case that the arms race between criminals and citizens is as dangerous as it is pointless.”
Notice the complete denial of the legitimacy of the U.S. Founders’ motive for writing and ratifying the Second Amendment: small arms as a counterbalance to state tyranny. Mass ownership of firearms, a relic of “frontier history and individualist ideology,” is really about engaging in a “pointless and dangerous arms race between criminals and citizens.”
The intellectual in the Hayekian sense works for the ruling class; makes a comfortable income from various media outlets; lives in a low-crime, gated, or security-guard monitored community in a national capital; and rarely if ever hunts or shoots for sport. Hence it’s no surprise that he or she sees gun ownership as a Wild-West anachronism.
2. Democratic Realism
Krauthammer favored the Reagan Doctrine (1985) of militarily and financially supporting the Third-World enemies of communism and Democratic Realism (2004). In applied foreign policy he supported the Gulf War (1991), the invasion of Iraq (2003), and the torture of captured Islamic militants for information gathering.
Democratic Realism is not foreign-policy realism in the usual sense, which has “no vision…no ends” ( 18 ). By all means, invade and topple regimes and centrally plan Western-style democracies, but only “where it counts” ( 19 ). Yes, this was hardly an objective standard and had an uncanny way of coinciding with where ruling-class interests, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh wanted to see societies bulldozed and rebuilt…with U.S. blood and taxpayers dollars, of course.
To his credit, Krauthammer understood the herculean (if not impossible) task of centrally planning nations such as Iraq into Western-style democracies: “Reformation and reconstruction of an alien culture are a daunting task. Risky and, yes, arrogant” ( 1 ). Yet he still enthusiastically favored it: “There is not a single, remotely plausible, alternative strategy for attacking the monster behind 9/11. It’s not Osama bin Laden; it is the cauldron of political oppression, religious intolerance, and social ruin in the Arab-Islamic world—oppression transmuted and deflected by regimes with no legitimacy into virulent, murderous anti-Americanism” ( 16-17 ).
Hayek identifies one fallacy behind this way of thinking: “In particular, there can be little doubt that the manner in which during the last hundred years man has learned to organize the forces of nature has contributed a great deal toward the creation of the belief that a similar control of the forces of society would bring comparable improvements in human conditions.”
The other problem is, again, insularity. The intellectual class’s advocacy of war is easy because it so often has little if any “skin in the game.” Despite ample opportunity before his spinal-cord injury paralyzed him from the waist down, Krauthammer never enrolled in any branch of the armed services. Although Krauthammer left a long record of wildly wrong predictions, his most ironic was that he would have serious credibility problems if weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were never found in Iraq. Even he had to be astonished to see his career not only flourish like never before, but the ruling and media establishments double down in promoting him as an infallible foreign-policy guru.
3. The cartelization of medicine.
Before taking an extended leave of absence in 2017 to fight his cancer, Krauthammer was troubled by the debate over repealing Obamacare, specifically the arguments made by some Obamacare opponents that health care should be treated like any other service and the market for health care be allowed to operate freely. To this Krauthammer objected vehemently, arguing on Fox News that health care was different from other services and those differences required heavy state regulation.
This belief is common among medical professionals but ironically the most thorough elucidation of the unique properties of heath care was by economist Kenneth Arrow in his 1963 American Economic Review (AER) article, “Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care.”
Arrow, a fervent interventionist like Krauthammer, saw health care’s unique properties in four areas: demand, supply, intrinsic nature, and pricing practices. Demand is unsteady and unpredictable because it is based on illness. Supply is restricted by occupational licensing and very costly education. The product cannot be sampled before purchase, competition in price and quality are just about non-existent, and uncertainty about product quality is very high. Price fixing is pervasive and it has never been subject to anti-trust enforcement.
None of these characteristics individually is unique to health care and taken together they do not make the case for heavy state regulation. Auto, home, appliance, and computer repair are all subject to individually unpredictable demand. Many goods and services cannot be sampled before purchase and have a product quality that is uncertain. Return policies and warranties have addressed at least some of these issues. Occupational licensing and the artificially high cost of medical education were created by the industry to serve as barriers to entry.
For the intellectual class, these details do not matter. Hayek: “It is perhaps the most characteristic feature of the intellectual that he judges new ideas not by their specific merits but by the readiness with which they fit into his…picture of the world which he regards as modern or advanced. [The current dominant world view] will make the intellectual readily accept one conclusion and reject another without a real understanding of the issues.”
Intellectuals in the U.S. and Europe can be wrong again and again with disastrous consequences and still maintain their good standing in the media and ruling classes. On the other hand, persuasively advocating the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Medicare, Medicaid, or even the obviously dubious Veterans Administration (VA) is a quick route to irrelevance and losing access to mainstream media outlets.
4. The welfare state, not limited government and technology, brought the U.S. into the modern world.
If there is a distinctive feature of progressive ideology, it is the ardent belief that the state is the ultimate source of civilization and high living standards. Said Krauthammer on the 24th of July 2017 :

In the mid-Twentieth Century, [the Democrats] did great things for the country. They invented Social Security, they decided the elderly should not be destitute. They’re the ones who gave us Medicare, Medicaid…For three generations they worked on the idea of a safety net, a social network around people supported by the government. They brought us into the modern world because before FDR we really had a government that wasn’t that different from the government of the Founders.

No one would be surprised to hear these thoughts from far-left progressive Elizabeth “The State Created Everything” Warren, and yet they were actually expressed by the most adored conservative Republican intellectual of at least the last decade.
The history is muddled (Medicare [1965] and Medicaid [1965] were not part of FDR’s New Deal [1933-1936]) to complete fantasy (the federal retirement age was originally set at 65 [life expectancy] to ensure that Social Security benefits would be difficult to collect—not exactly a program designed to insulate the elderly from destitution). Yet even on a supposedly market-friendly conservative television network such as Fox there is no challenge to this viewpoint or any attempt to educate the audience on how federal economic policy (including the creation of the Federal Reserve) led to the Great Depression which in turn paved the way for the New Deal.
As Hayek explains, the intellectual “by his whole disposition, is uninterested in technical details or practical difficulties. What appeal to him are the broad visions, the spacious comprehension of the social order as a whole which a planned system promises.” To intellectuals such as Krauthammer and Warren, it is preposterous that the high standard of living in the U.S. came about apart from rigorous bureaucratic state planning.
Conclusion
In Irving Charles Krauthammer we see the quintessential intellectual in the Hayekian sense. It is one of the greatest ironies in a life of them that his career ended shortly after writing a book titled, Things That Matter. What his ideas illustrate is that what matters little for the intellectual class are the facts, true cause and effect in history, an adequate understanding of economics, and the millions of people their favorite policies put in peril in terms of life and limb. These things matter even less to the intellectual class’s swooning followers in the media and ruling classes. After all, the job of the intellectuals is to eloquently and skillfully promote ruling-class interests, and that, like Krauthammer, they have certainly done well, if little else.

Dale Steinreich is an economist and an Associated Scholar of the Mises Institute.
Reprinted from Mises.org.
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