3.8 Intelligence versus understanding

Intelligence is unrelated to the difference between authoritarians and libertarians. In Stenner’s words: “authoritarians are not endeavoring to avoid complex thinking so much as a complex world” {Stenner:2009ul}. Authoritarians are just as intelligent as libertarians, and might value intelligence even higher than libertarians do. This is not because libertarians value intelligence less, but because they value understanding and creativity higher.


The authoritarian preference for intelligence is unsurprising because intelligence as measured by an IQ-test reflects one’s ability to reliably produce expected and desired answers in response to problems formulated by others (as acting authorities). IQ measures therefore intellectual compliance and conformity, which are typical authoritarian values. So it is to be expected that authoritarians judge a high IQ — as successful intellectual compliance — as highly desirable. However in complex times of change and uncertainty authoritarians judge behavioral compliance — obedience, even if it defies logic — as even more desirable. And they do not seem to be aware of this.


Where intelligence leads to particular context-deprived standard solutions, understanding leads to situationally adapted, context-aware, unique solutions that are always in flux because they are in continual pursuit of optimality. With mere intelligence one can improve a bad situation to a standard situation (which may or may not be optimal), but mere intelligence is equally able to reduce excellence to the same standard situation. With understanding it is possible to track optimality because it allows for a continual broadly shared autonomous optimization process. Without understanding one cannot see nor evaluate the opportunities for long-term optimization, which entails that the creative diversity necessary to pursue optimality is interpreted as unnecessary and unwanted complexity.

Authoritarianism as intelligence without understanding

Authoritarians live, conform Table Child rearing qualities, in a world of which they understand many aspects only shallowly: they know the rules, protocols, and norms of normal behavior, they adhere to ideologies and religions, they know many examples of how to respond to particular situations, and know what to say and who to obey, but they have no pervasive understanding of why and how things happen and how the world is interconnected. In addition they are definitely unable to think and decide for themselves, follow their own conscience, and accept the responsibility for their own actions. Authoritarians obey their authorities and these are therefore responsible for their actions. Basically they only take responsibility of their own actions if they do not obey their authorities. This entails that authoritarians cannot oversee the long- (or even mid-)term consequences of their own and other’s behavior and they offload the responsibility for that to authorities. And if these have no idea about the long term consequences or even if they have opposing goals than their stated goals, the authoritarian neither cares about nor understands the consequences of his behavior.

Our current educational system, which favors IQ and specialization over pervasive understanding, is conducive for the development of authoritarians. In fact it seems that Einstein was referring to the authoritarian disposition when he described the goals of education:

The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgment should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowledge. Otherwise he – with his specialized knowledge – more closely resembles a well trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. Albert Einstein (1954)

The well-trained dog resemblance is a direct reference to intelligence — as intellectual compliance — resulting from specialist education without the benefits of the pervasive understanding that allows for independent thinking and judgment. The well-trained dog comparison is an effective analogy of authoritarians who exhibit desired behavior while neither understanding the larger context nor the consequences of their compliance. On top of that it is also the ideal personality type for the organizational ideal they envision.