In November 2016, Donald Trump gave the American political establishment the greatest shock it ever received, before or since, when he defeated Hillary Clinton — its Number One establecimientista — in the race for the presidency of the United States. Trump’s victory was almost universally recognized as a near-majoritarian rebellion against the professional political class that had governed America, by and large, since 1789. It was surely that; yet, as the subsequent four years showed, it was a good deal more as well.
What, after all, is a professional politician if he is not a supposed expert, first in the business of getting himself elected to office, and second in the art of statecraft that competent governance requires? Before 2016, expertise in politics was expected and admired by the American electorate, as Americans admired expertness in every other occupation. In electing Trump voters were expressing their distrust — indeed, their contempt and positive dislike — for the professional political wizards who had transformed their country beyond recognition over the past half-century, in the process half-destroying it. But because political expertise has been merged in modern activist-progressive democracies with techno-scientific-bureaucratic expertise, expertise as a concept — even as a word — has been discredited along with expertness of the political kind, to the point where this overworked nine-letter word is close to becoming the popular equivalent of a four-letter one.
In technocratic society even the one-eyed scientist is, if not a king (of whom a single country can comfortably accommodate only one), then at least a prince, or princeling, of the blood. The people a society of this sort calls experts are naturally aware of the honor, and so they have made strenuous claims, beginning with the Enlightenment, for the formal recognition of nearly every field of supposedly useful or practical learning as a ‘science’, and its practitioners as ‘scientists’. The result has been the steady proliferation of bogus sciences and the creation of vast populations of uncountable, fraudulent, but nevertheless accredited ‘scientists’ whom society supposes to possess the professional wizardry and personal capacities to solve every problem and remove every trouble that has oppressed humanity since the exodus of Homo sapiens from East Africa that commenced some 70,000 years ago.
Every myth — if it is only a myth — offers logical and necessary objections to what in modern intellectual parlance are called ‘truth claims’; the myths in which the humbuggery of our faux sciences are enfolded are no exception. Science, strictly defined, is knowledge acquired through the discovery of consistently verifiable facts measured and tested by rigorous experimentation against a designated and unchanging control element, such that an exact procedure produces the exact results each and every time it is performed.
This definition, which is too cold, exact and even beautiful a one to be popular among modern professional people, plainly excludes the disciplines of economics, history, sociology, pedagogy, much of psychology and psychotherapy (among others) from the scientific sodality. To this list one might even add, by no great stretch, epidemiology, which patently failed to distinguish itself in the pandemic year of 2020. Indeed, it seems to be a general rule that the closer a medical doctor or medical scientist approaches to public service, the less his professed expertise is trustworthy. Thus it is safe to suppose that the large majority of people respect and believe in the competence of their personal doctor (someone, say, like the internist Dr Anthony Fauci), or the expert who has been recommended to them by their general practitioner to perform a delicate surgical operation. It is equally safe to suppose that a far smaller number believe everything Dr Fauci, as an epidemiologist and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has to say about the pandemic every time he opens his mouth on national television. He has already said too much — in the early stages of the present health crisis, for example, when he advised President Trump against barring flights from China, denied that masks prevent infection and advised the public not to alter its daily habits — that later proved to have been wrong for his professional expertise to be taken by sensible people without a strong dose of skepticism.
And as with Dr Fauci, so with the medical establishments of the United Kingdom, Continental Europe and the Americas, where one anti-epidemiological order from the official medical geniuses has followed another with scant success — or any. Governments elsewhere around the world, save for East Asia, have been equally ineffective in coping with COVID — and no one believes the sole or even chief reason for that is the bad medical advice they received from the doctors. This is not to say, of course, that all designated experts are incompetent fools; simply that they are not the demigods so many of them profess to be.
Nonetheless, what goes for experts and expertise in medicine and government goes also for those in the other professional fields where claimed expert knowledge is falsely credited with accomplishments that are real and solid. For instance, the discipline of economics and its adepts have a dismal record when it comes to prophecy and performance; the economists, indeed, have been wrong far more often than they have been right, without noticeable damage to the reputation of the reigning Queen of Sciences among educated people.
Similarly, the modern ‘science’ of pedagogy, founded by Dr Dewey early in the 20th century, has an even more deplorable record — in America especially, where it has had huge success in graduating generations of wholly ignorant people whose sole body of knowledge consists of what is obviously not true — a failure that has not gone unremarked by their parents, the majority of whom cannot afford to rescue their offspring from the almost equally ignorant members of the teaching unions, who (as they have lately demonstrated) don’t wish to teach anyway, if they can avoid the work. In fact, there is very little reason for ordinary people to take seriously the various types of expertise they hear praised daily in the media — and so, increasingly, they are learning to do the opposite.
Needless to say, their disbelief, and even their prudent skepticism, infuriates their educated betters — some of them experts themselves, to whom they seem as swine turning up their snouts at the pearls that have been tossed to them. ‘Believe the science!’ they insist through clenched teeth — ignoring the inconvenient fact that the true scientist never believes ‘the science’; or, rather, he believes it only provisionally, until he discovers that yesterday’s science (or last night’s) is incomplete, faulty or just plain wrong, and hence in need of revision or even rejection.
Not every man of science, of course, discovers the same facts concurrently, or interprets them in the same way; which is why an expert may be defined as someone who disagrees with other experts — the same people of whom hoi polloi have every reason to be doubting and skeptical.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2021 US edition.