THE ACADEMYnThe Ignorance ofnthe Doctorsnby George ^^^tsonnMontaigne in his Essays called itnignorance doctorale (1.54). Fournhundred years later an American journalistncalled it “educated incompetence.”nIt means the sort of nonknowledge,nor anti-knowledge, that cannfollow upon higher learning, especiallynwhen theorizing about politics, morality,nand the arts.nThat, in the first age of mass higherneducation in human history, is a largenmatter, and far larger than Montaignencould ever have guessed. It has nothingnto do with taking degrees, and myntarget here is not the Ph.D. industry. Itnis too late for that. In 1903, in anHarvard journal, William James inveighednagainst it in an article calledn”The Ph.D. Octopus,” and for eightynyears and more the American nationnhas chosen to ignore his advice. Thenoctopus won, in fact, as you wouldnexpect any octopus to do in singlencombat with a philosopher. My concernnhere is wider than that. It is withnthe sort of mistake you would have tonbe learned to make, though it might benenough to have talked to someone whon44/CHRONICLESnVITAL SIGNSnhad read a book or taken a course. It isnmuch harder to forgive than whatnMontaigne called ABC ignorance,nwhich is merely childish, innocent, andneasily cured. With the ignorance of thendoctors someone has been to a lot ofntrouble to get it wrong.nLet me give you a simple example.nIn November 1989, days or weeks afternthe tumbling down of the Berlin Wallnand the democratic revolution innCzechoslovakia, the Communist Partynof Great Britain held what may be itsnlast annual general meeting — its last,nbecause the national membership hasnfallen to some 7,000-odd loyalists, andnafter the news from Berlin and Praguenits atmosphere was understandablynreminiscent of a wake. “Stalinism isndead,” one of its leaders announcednfrom the platform, “and Leninism hasnhad its day.” That was the voice ofnMartin Jacques, editor of the monthlynmagazine Marxism Today and reputedlyna lively editor and a man of someneducation and intelligence. He becamena Marxist in the mid-1960’s. In othernwords, it has taken him a quarter of ancentury to realize that the philosophynof a German sage born a year beforenQueen Victoria does not work for thenpolitical societies of Europe, East ornWest, in the last years of the 20thncentury.nOne is inclined to say that it wouldnbe more surprising if it did. All thenprincipal views of Marx and Engels,nafter all, were formed before 1850.nThey were early Victorians. Early Victoriannmedicines are not much used onnthe human body, eady Victorian literarynviews are not much taught innschools and colleges, except as curiosities,nand engineers do not employ earlynVictorian techniques, on the whole,nwhen they build buildings and bridges.nWhat is surprising about Mr. Jacquesnand his 7,000 fellow members is thatnthey should be so surprised. PerhapsnMarxism Today will now be renamednMarxism Yesterday. Perhaps the CommunistnParty of Great Britain, whichnnnhas not managed to elect a singlenmember to the House of Commonsnsince 1945 (they still have one in thenHouse of Lords), will now call itself thenParty That Got It Wrong.nBut what was above all breathtakingnabout Mr. Jacques’s platform speechnwas a passing remark he made aboutnChina. Chinese Communism, he remarkednsadly, “turned authoritarian”nin June 1989 when the People’s Armynfired on demonstrators in TiananmennSquare in Beijing. That “turned”nshows what the ignorance of the doctorsncan be like. What illiterate peasantnin China since 1949, or for that matternbefore 1949, ever doubted that hisnrulers were authoritarian? He mightnnot know much about the 25-30 millionnsaid to have been killed by Maonand his followers in the first years ofntheir rule — perhaps treble the Nazintotal — or about the uncounted thousandsnwho were killed in Mao’s lastnpurge during the Cultural Revolutionnof 1967-76. But he did not doubt thengeneral character of his rulers. Thennotion that the Beijing governmentnonly turned authoritarian in June 1989nis enough to make a cat laugh. Howneducated would you have to be tonbelieve that?nMarxism is an Ism, and some Isms,nlike some sacred names, achieve anstatus beyond doubt. Consider colonialism.nAny ordinary citizen of coloniesnlike Hong Kong or Gibraltarnknows something about how well ornbadly he is administered, and he probablynhas views about joining or notnjoining China or Spain. But once youncall such territories colonies, and oncensomeone with or without a doctorateninvents the term colonialism, it starts tonlook as if all the cases might be subjectnto a single moral judgment. If colonialismnis wicked, then it must be wrongnthat Gibraltar or Hong Kong should bencolonies. If capitalism is wicked, asnMarx said before our grandparentsnwere born, then any instance of capitalismnmust be wicked, too.n