Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a Russian and a man of the 19th century, but he has the American and European intellectuals of the 21st century down well and proper.
"Oh, tell, me, who first declared, who first proclaimed that man only does nasty things because he does not know his own real interests?" he asked 140 years ago. "And that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real normal interest, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and nothing else. . Oh, the babe! Oh, the pure innocent child."
So easily the "enlightened" men and women turn upside down the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, and they become distorted as tyranny, usurpation and panic. The "enlightened" of our present day interpret almost everything that the United States does - even when such things are clearly in their interest - as nasty, selfish and malevolent.
Criticism of any public policy, or public man, is fair game in open and honest discussions, something to be not only tolerated but encouraged. But many of our enlightened intellectuals - or who pretend to be intellectuals - start with the assumption that American policies, and the men and women who formulate them, are not debatable, but diabolical.
Jean-Francois Revel, in his book "Anti-Americanism" <read Townhall.com's review>, documents how his colleagues among French intellectuals blame us for 9/11. Terrorism is something we brought on ourselves with our economic, cultural and political liberties - free trade, capitalism, technological inventiveness. The intellectual left refuses "to renounce its demonized image of the United States, an image that it needs all the more since socialism has ended in shipwreck. . Woe upon those who would deprive them of the convenient Lucifer that is their last ideological lifeline."
In England, the attacks take a slightly different shape. Dr. Rowan Williams, who as the archbishop of Canterbury heads the established Anglican Church, demands that America show not righteous anger but sympathy for the men who murdered 3,000 of us on Sept. 11. We must recognize that these mass murderers who crashed into the Twin Towers "have serious moral goals" that Americans merely fail to appreciate. Since we can't judge what's in our best and moral interests, he says, we must let the United Nations do it for us.
The Rev. Billy Don Moyers may not be an authentic intellectual - he's a television producer - but he has America's number. He accuses the conservatives in charge of the government of acting on a strategy whose "stated and open aim is to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors." America's leaders are on a "homicidal" mission, steeped in malice.
If you can't accuse a television producer of being an intellectual, you certainly can't describe a newspaper columnist as being one. Nevertheless, the Chutzpah Award for the year that just died must go to Polly Toynbee of London's daily Guardian for an enlightened rationalization and demonization that boiled over like volcanic lava. Toynbee fell for the infamous Nigerian scam and had to find somebody to be mad at, and it couldn't be herself.
She received a letter purporting to be from a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who needed money to pay to complete her education. Toynbee was touched. She sent the child a check for 200 pounds ($356) and immediately felt warm and fuzzy for her act of charity.
Warm and fuzzy soon evaporated. A perfect copy of her signature was soon attached to a form asking her bank to transfer a thousand pounds ($1,783) to an account in a bank in Japan. A suspicious clerk at her bank stopped the transfer just in time. The Nigerian bank scam is familiar to millions, and many of the greedy and gullible have been taken in by the familiar gross e-mails that clog computer terminals with offers of breast enhancement, penis enlargement and videos promising pornographic pleasure.
Toynbee's brush with financial disaster taught her a lesson that has eluded everyone else. She learned that the villain in the fraud is not a Nigerian scammer, but ... George W. Bush. "We reap from the Third World what we sow," she told her readers. "If some Nigerians learned lessons in capitalism from global oil companies that helped corrupt and despoil that land, it is hardly surprising they absorbed some of the Texan oil values that now rule the White House."
We don't need the intellectual Dostoyevsky to help us with this one. Damon Runyon nailed the likes of Polly Toynbee: "Life is tough, and it's really tough when you're stupid."