Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

The Role of Intellectuals in Societal Change

Posted by Orrin Woodward on May 20, 2012

The late Murray Rothbard was a polymathic genius. I have read few authors who have studied and understood history, economics, philosophy, sociology, liberty, and power, in as entertaining and informative a manner. I find that, even when I disagree with Rothbard, he still makes me think. In truth, isn’t this the goal of all reading? I don’t read to believe everything the author writes; rather, I read to sharpen myself on the iron thinking of other great minds. Unfortunately, our school systems, newspapers, magazines, television sets, and radio stations are all geared to tell you what to think (propaganda) instead of teaching you how to think (education).

After reading Rothbard’s analysis of the Revolutionary War from his book Conceived in Liberty and the role of intellectuals in the conflict, it became crystal clear to me who the court intellectuals are today.  Invest the time to read Rothbard’s analysis of 18th century America for yourself. See if you can identify some of the court intellectuals today who share the ruling statist ideology in our society. Likewise, think of some of the anti-statist authors and organizations who faithfully teach our English heritage from the Magna Carta, Petition of Rights, and Bill of Rights. These great documents protected the citizens against un-checked statist power, helping create a society ruled by law to protect life, liberty, and property.

Did anyone ever study these three documents in high school? How about college? Amazingly, three off the most precious documents in the history of the English-speaking people that, along with the King James Bible, flowered freedom to a level previously unknown throughout the world is largely forgotten. Even though these documents produced a level of liberty that was the envy of every other European nation. Indeed, the West would not even be conceivable without these documents. However, if this is true, then why aren’t these great truths shared in every school in every English speaking country? Moreover, is there anything that English speaking citizens from around the world can do about this catastrophic, at least from a liberty perspective, series of egregious events?

Call me a dreamer, but if only there were communities who inspired people to begin a self-directed education. If only people began reading, learning, and sharing from the original sources with one another to learn the great truths of freedom by working around society’s purveyors of propaganda. 🙂 Imagine the impact of millions of people taking the Mental Fitness Challenge and launching a self-directed education into their personal lives while associating with others taking the same journey? Yes folks, the road ahead will be challenging; however, great leadership is only revealed when the obstacles encountered cannot be resolved with anything less. Like my friend Chris Brady says: Today’s the day!


Orrin Woodward

The essence of the state throughout history is a minority of the population, constituting a power elite or a “ruling class,” governing and living off the majority, or the “ruled.” Since a majority cannot live parasitically off a minority without the economy and the social system breaking down very quickly, and since the majority can never act permanently by itself but must always be led by an oligarchy, every state will subsist by plundering the majority in behalf of a ruling minority. A further reason for the inevitability of minority rule is the pervasive fact of the division of labor: the majority of the public must spend most of its time going about the business of making a living. Hence the actual rule of the state must be left to full-time professionals who are necessarily a minority of the society.

Throughout history, then, the state has consisted of a minority plundering and tyrannizing over a majority. This brings us to the great question, the great mystery, of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience. From Etienne de La Boetie to David Hume to Ludwig von Mises, political philosophers have shown that no state—no minority—can continue long in power unless supported, even if passively, by the majority. Why then does the majority continue to accept or support the state when it is clearly acquiescing in its own subjection? Why does the majority continue to obey the minority?

Here we arrive at the age-old role of the intellectuals, the opinion-molding groups in society. The ruling class—be it warlords, nobles, bureaucrats, feudal landlords, monopoly merchants, or a coalition of several of these groups—must employ intellectuals to convince the majority of the public that its rule is beneficent, inevitable, necessary, and even divine. The leading role of the intellectual throughout history is that of the court intellectual, who, in return for a share of, a junior partnership in, the power and pelf offered by the rest of the ruling class, spins the apologias for state rule with which to convince a misguided public. This is the age-old alliance of church and state, of throne and altar, with the church in modern times being largely replaced by secular intellectuals and “scientific” technocrats.

When state rulers act, then, to use and aggrandize state power, their primary motivation is economic: to increase their plunder at the expense of the subject and the taxpayer. The ideology that they profess and that is formulated and spread through society by the court intellectuals is an elaborate rationalization for their economic interests. The ideology is the camouflage for their looting, the fictitious clothes spun by the intellectuals to hide the naked plundering of the emperor. The economic motive behind the ideological garb of the state is the heart of the issue.

But what of the actions of the rebels against state power—those infrequent but vital situations in history when the subjects rise up to diminish, whittle away, or abolish state power? What, in short, of such great events as the American Revolution or the classical liberal movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Of course, an economic motive exists here, too, in this case one of defending the private property of the subjects from the depredations of the state. But our contention here is that, even when conjoined as in the American Revolution, the major motive of the opposition, or of the revolutionaries, will be ideological rather than economic.

The basic reason for this assertion is that the ruling class, being small and largely specialized, is motivated to think about its economic interests twenty-four hours a day. Manufacturers seeking a tariff, merchants seeking to cripple their competition, bankers looking for taxes to repay their government bonds, rulers seeking a strong state from which to acquire revenue, bureaucrats wishing to expand their empire—all of these are professionals in statism. They are constantly at work trying to preserve and expand their privileges. Hence the primacy of the economic motive in their actions. But the majority has allowed itself to be misled largely because its immediate interests are generally diffuse and hard to observe, and because the majority comprises not professional “antistatists” but people going about their business of daily living.

What can the average person know of the arcane processes of subsidy or taxation or bond issue? Generally, he is too wrapped up in his daily life, too habituated to his lot after centuries of state-guided propaganda, to give any thought to his unfortunate fate. Hence, an opposition or revolutionary movement, or indeed any mass movement from below, cannot be primarily guided by ordinary economic motives.

For such a mass movement to form, the masses must be fired up, must be aroused to a rare and uncommon pitch of fervor against the existing system. But for that to happen, the masses must be fired up by ideology. Only ideology, guided either by a new religious conversion or by a passion for justice, can arouse the interest of the masses (in the current jargon, “raise their consciousness”) and lead them out of the morass of daily habit into an uncommon and militant activity in opposition to the state.

This is not to say that an economic motive—for example, a defense of their property—does not play an important role. But to form a mass movement in opposition means that the people must shake off their habits, their daily mundane concerns of several lifetimes, and become politically aroused and determined as never before in their lives. Only a commonly held and passionately believed-in ideology can perform that role. Hence our conclusion that a mass movement like the American Revolution must be centrally motivated by a commonly shared ideology.

How then do the masses of subjects acquire this guiding and determining ideology? By the very nature of the masses, it is impossible for them to arrive at such an opposition or revolutionary ideology on their own. Habituated as they are to their narrow and daily rounds, uninterested in ideology as they normally are, it is impossible for the masses to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps to hammer out an ideological movement in opposition to the existing state.

Here we arrive at the vital role of the intellectuals. Only intellectuals, full-time (or largely full-time) professionals in ideas, have the time, the ability, and the inclination to formulate an opposition ideology and then to spread the word to the people. In contrast to the statist court intellectual, whose role is a junior partner in rationalizing the economic interests of the ruling class, the radical or opposition intellectual’s role is the centrally guiding one of formulating the opposition or revolutionary ideology and then of spreading the ideology to the masses, thereby welding them into a revolutionary movement.

An important corollary: in weighing the motivations of the intellectuals themselves or even of the masses, it is generally true that setting oneself up in opposition to an existing state is a lonely, thorny, and often dangerous road. It is usually directly in the economic interests of the radical intellectuals to allow themselves to “sell out,” to be co-opted by the ruling state apparatus. The intellectuals who do choose the radical opposition path, who pledge—in the famous words of the American revolutionaries—“their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor,” can scarcely be dominated by economic motives; on the contrary, only a fiercely held ideology, centering on a passion for justice, can keep the intellectuals to the rigorous path of truth. Hence, again, the likelihood of a dominant role for ideology in an opposition movement.

Thus, statists tend to be governed by economic motivation, with ideology serving as a smokescreen for such motives, while libertarians or anti-statists are ruled principally and centrally by ideology, with economic defense playing a subordinate role. By this dichotomy we may at last resolve the age-old historiographical dispute over whether ideology or economic interests play the dominant role in historical motivation.

24 Responses to “The Role of Intellectuals in Societal Change”

  1. Ken McVicker said

    Great thoughts to ponder. Thank you!

  2. dk said

    The place is here the time is now

  3. John said

    Great post Orrin! I strongly encourage everyone to begin a personal development program. As ideas have consequences, the lack of ideas do as well. This article made me think of those governed by the economic ideology, seem to have a lack of ideas. This due to their being capitalized on by those with a greedy economic interest. It’s time for the ” great consumer wake up”. The only way out of this mess america is in, is to stand upon our ideals and run toward change, personal change. The ideological revolution starts with you, are you mentally fit?

  4. Great article Orrin!

    Being from Canada, I can tell you that we never learned any such concepts in school here either. We never touched upon documents like the Magna Carta or Petition of Rights in our economic or history classes. I did learn about how the state was there to take care of us with it’s economic policies 🙂

    Thanks for helping people see the need of education ourselves

  5. Excellent article! It can be hard work encouraging people to think again but I know a group of people who are leading the way in doing just that. In the past, the hardest thing about reading an article like this is there would be nobody to talk about the content with. Now, there is a large community of people who are not only reading deep thinking articles like your post, but they are discussing them as well.
    Better create another beer, the people are starting to think! 🙂

  6. What a great piece Orrin! You hit on some great points. I am reminded of Oliver Demilles’ challenge to become voracious readers. A curious mind not only should question, but quest for answers, for truth. When confronted with that new and additional information; action is needed to put it to use. As you mentioned this is the hard part, fear and criticism are wating to knock you down. They have set me back more than a few times. This is where purpose comes to bear. It makes so much sense that the MFC kicks off with finding your purpose. Look at the gifts that GOD has given each of us, what weighs upon your heart, ask those questions Orrin and Chris outlined in the first exercise. As you learn what that purpose is, it gives you that roadmap for your journfey; maybe even glimpsing the path GOD has lain for you. You then will realize that there are other people out there in community who are with you and who are willing to join in standing up for their Lord, their country, and their family. Orrin, Thank you for role modeling for us what that looks like. Thank you for developing leaders who do the same. God bless

  7. Chase Archer Evans said

    This is music to my ears and could be liberating to anyone willing to invest in themselves. Thank you Orrin.

  8. Great information. Individual learning – what a profound concpt

  9. Very insightful. Individualized learning is what we educators have struggled with since we moved out of the one room school house – now there is a solution -The Mental Fitness Challenge.

  10. Rob Crichlow said

    I gave a copy of the Constitution of the United States to my kids when they were young. They knew more about the source of our freedom then many of their teachers. I would have never done that without the influence of great leaders like yourself and Terry Franks. Thanks for continuing the fight … the good fight for our freedom .. real freedom.

  11. CJ Calvert said

    Orrin, I had to look up the word “polymath” to know what it meant. Not surprisingly, the dictionary simplified it’s definition by simply posting a picture of you and a link to your consistently brilliant blog. Kudos to you, sir, on another thought-provoking article.

  12. Jennifer Schreiber said

    Thank you again for the fabulous articles on media & how the school system is teaching with an agenda, not for creating a better future. I know that through the right media, and helping people learn how to think again that this community will help get things on the right track thru information. Thank you again.

  13. Very insightful! Thank you. First thing that comes to mind is my reading of DeMille’s ‘Coming Aristocracy’ ( top 50, for a great reason ) – I have come to see clearly what I used to be part of: I was slaving away working, and many around me were doing the same (or still are), and while this was happening, the elites/aristocracy have been making all the decisions for the majority. This is the major theme of the industrial & corporate industrial ages still roosted in our information age culture – that of the “many” living to work ( their money view [ http://chrisbrady.typepad.com/my_weblog/2012/01/money-view.html ] not being optimized ) and not paying close attention to the undercurrents of society as their freedoms are slowly boiled away. Rothbard was writing in the early industrial age about court intellectuals, and today, as mentioned, we have the elites/aristocracy in that same position, they having re-taken control due to the ‘Force shift’ in 1913. Undoubtedly, it’s what we do to rebuild community/social capital, to share 5% information/thinking, such as the MFC ( http://www.mental-fitness-challenge.com) & the LIFE information ( http://www.the-life-business.com/Shopping/tabid/63/ProdID/1718/language/en-US/Default.aspx ) with the “many”, that can, and will, make the difference for a freedom shift. I’ll never be able to thank Terry Franks ( http://terryfranks.wordpress.com/ ) & others (Justin, Jamie, Mark) in the Kaizen tribe enough for showing how valuable a self-directed education can be/is 🙂 God Bless.

  14. Phil Wall said

    Today’s the Day

  15. Alaysha said

    I can agree with you that I was never taught about the Bill of rights, Magna Carta, or the Petition of Rights in high school. I remember hearing about them, but not really studying them like I am now. The more I learn about them and where our freedom comes from the more I want to protect it. It’s apparent my age group (I’m 22) has NO IDEA where their freedom came from or why they are able to live the way the do on a daily basis. It’s exciting to my husband and I that we are able to provide a way such as the MFC to help educate our generation on what freedom really is! Thanks for another great blog!

  16. It’s only been with my association with TEAM and LIFE that I am really learning history and its’ importance in life today. For so long, I shunned history and concentrated on the here and now. It may take awhile, but thanks for helping understand how relevant what happened years and centuries ago to our lives today.

  17. Richard Kroll Jr. said

    Thank you for bringing truth to the masses Orrin! It’s the only way we can keep our freedom!!

  18. Luke Scott said

    Orrin great stuff! I used to listen to conservative talk radio all the time, but when I started reading things like you have posted from Mr. Rothbard, I realized that the talk show hosts are court intellectuals. This may be hard for some to swallow, but yes even Rush and Hannity are court intellectuals. To find those true anti-statist, you have look deep because they are shunned or ignored by the mainstream.

  19. Great post! I think we all need to revisit those documents you mentioned on a regular basis…as a reminder of freedoms earned, freedoms enjoyed and freedoms threatened!

  20. Jody and Bob said

    We have been so blessed to be introduced to this information. As I learn and grow I am continually being streched by my mentor. I am learning why I am not satisfied with the schools and I am learning how to teach my family in a better way.
    Thank you.

  21. Hi Orrin

    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    As the article said the challenges that are waiting ahead are many. I just wanted to share Chuang Tzu rejection to the king’s offer to become his chief ministry and abandon his radical opposition to the destructive rule of the state. May those words strengthen the resolve of any one standing for freedom. Enjoy.

    Olivier Jean-Baptiste.

    “A thousand ounces of gold is indeed a great reward, and the office of chief minister is truly an elevated position. But have you, sir, not seen the sacrificial ox awaiting the sacrifices at the royal shrine of state? It is well cared for and fed for a few years, caparisoned with rich brocades, so that it will be ready to be led into the Great Temple. At that moment, even though it would gladly change places with any solitary pig, can it do so? So, quick and be off with you! Don’t sully me. I would rather roam and idle about in a muddy ditch, at my own amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I will never take any official service, and thereby I will [be free] to satisfy my own purposes.”

  22. Great Post Orrin! Thanks. Got some great thoughts from others in my network after sharing your post. It’s really getting some feathers ruffled! Some great conversations are taking place! People are starting to wake up in the United States and figure some things out. I thank God for the TEAM and LIFE and that we have leaders like you and Chris Brady at the helm along with so many others stepping up and saying “enough is enough” and taking action to change the direction of our nation! God bless you and the work you are doing!

  23. Paul Bragenzer said

    Wow, great post Orrin. When we the majority learn the truth, we are truely set free to pursue life and liberty.

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