Rob Riemen
Nobility of Spirit:
A Forgotten Ideal.
Yale University Press, 160 pages, $22

History shows innumerable examples of intellectuals whose political judgments turned out to be misdirected, misguided, and just plain mistaken. To borrow an old line, there are propositions so bizarre that only an educated person could believe them. Cleon pointed out as much during the heated Mytilenian debate of 427 B.C., when he urged the common folk of Athens to ignore the intellectuals and continue the war against Sparta.

Which they did, at least until the Battle of Amphipolis in 422, when the Athenians were defeated and Cleon was killed. In truth, throughout history, the eggheads, longhairs, and bluestockings have often been wrong—but that doesn’t necessarily make the people right, particularly when there are vicious demagogues such as Cleon to urge them on.

 
Introduce yourself to The New Criterion for the lowest price ever—and a receive an extra issue as thanks.
Popular Right Now