Many worthy thinkers fear that “the life of the mind” is being crowded out by the current explosion of scientific information and technological innovation. “We are living in an increasingly post-idea world,” warns Neal Gabler, in a New York Times op-ed essay mourning the loss of an era when “Marx pointed out the relationship between the means of production and our social and political systems [and] Freud taught us to explore our minds.”
But in what sense is this a loss? Freud discovered nothing and cured nobody. Marx was a hypocrite whose theories failed in about as hideously spectacular a way as can be imagined.
What is fading, it seems to me, is not the world of ideas but the celebration of big, pretentious ideas untethered to facts. That world has fallen out of favor because fact-starved ideas, when put into practice, produced indefensible amounts of human suffering, and because we today know a lot more facts than was the case back when a Freud could be ranked with an Einstein.