Thursday, October 1, 2009

God Save Us From Smart People (the ones without humility, that is)


In a recent column for National Review Online, Thomas Sowell discusses the danger in choosing leaders based on their intellectual prowess alone. His column was prompted by the over-emphasis in the media and elsewhere of  the oh-so-impressive academic credentials of  President Obama and his administration.  As Sowell relates, history shows that brains without wisdom can be more dangerous than beneficial.  He analyzes some of our previous, ivy-league educated administrations and the messes they created.  The article starts with FDR's "brain trust" which failed to come up with a solution to the Great Depression and, in fact, stretched out the suffering until another disaster, World War II, eventually brought it to an end. Not long thereafter,  he points out, it was LBJ's "whiz kids",  a group of well educated intellects led by Robert McNamara, who "micromanaged" the country into a disastrous situation in Vietnam.  Around the world, brilliant and charismatic leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Juan Peron, brought murder and destruction to their own people and others. 

Sowell notes that these very "smart" leaders had been told all their lives how brilliant they were, and eventually they began to overestimate their abilities. Great intellect combined with great ego can be a very, very dangerous commodity.  As Sowell notes, "There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people  For creating a truly monumental disaster you need people with high IQs."

In order for true intellect to be used for the good, it must be tempered with true humility.  Brilliance fueled by pride will always lead to disaster.  The pinnacle of this dangerous combination is the devil whose brilliance made him the "lucifer", the light bearer, but whose lack of humility led to his fall from heaven and the destruction of many souls.

May our leaders always remember that their intellect is a gift.  From God.  They are not responsible for their intelligence, but they are accountable for how it is used.  And, hopefully, they will use it in His service.  As Saint Therese, whose feast day we celebrate today, said, " ...the only good is to love God with all one's heart and to be poor in spirit here on earth."  Amen.


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