Only yesterday to be called an "intellectual' was a compliment. But intellectuals no longer carry much weight in politics, in cultural salons, book clubs or the wider world of ideas. Like professors whose faculty-lounge infighting is so vicious because the stakes are so small, intellectuals are often noisy because they have nothing to say.
George Wallace carried four Southern states in 1968, but he's mostly remembered for his memorable description of snobbish East Coast liberals as "pointy-headed intellectuals" who "can't park a bicycle straight." David Halberstam's "best and the brightest" turned out to be neither. French intellectuals who held sway over college students in the middle of the 20th century were eventually unmasked as highly intelligent but not very smart.
Jean Paul Sartre completely misread how communism exploited the workers he wanted to protect. Woody Allen once joked that if the robust debates in Commentary and Dissent magazines were merged into one intellectual journal they could call it Dissentary. Witty, if unfair.
Some intellectual debates, however, are more important than others, and there's one today that goes straight to the heart of an important matter. Few intellectuals celebrate Karl Marx as they once did, but many continue to criticize "oppressive" Western values, defend Islamism and look for every opportunity to scorn America -- and Israel. They're influential and deserve to be exposed for propounding meretricious reasoning.
Many of them give cover to the cruder forms of anti-Semitism; Helen Thomas, though certainly no intellectual, probably felt empowered to say that the Jews ought to get out of Palestine and go back to Poland and Germany because so many academics stop just short of expressing themselves that way.
When Rodger Claire sought publishers for his new book about the story behind Israel's successful bombing of Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in 1981, every European publisher, including those in Britain, France, Italy and Spain, passed on the rights to the book. He said his agents were told that European readers shied away from anything that put Israel in a positive light.
"Furthermore, it can be easily argued that Europe's so-called intelligentsia has long been mildly anti-Semitic, drawing from a strain of mistrusting the Jews which dates back to the Middle Ages," he told Frontpage magazine. Many of these so-called intelligentsia joined the chorus to find Alfred Dreyfus guilty of treason in France in the 1890s because he was a Jew.