A Word to the Unwise

by John Hood

The spectacular self-destruction of Newt Gingrich should have surprised no one. It fits with his personality and history. He is a smart man, but not a wise one. You can see it in both his public career and his private life.

Intelligence and wisdom are very different things. For example, a smart person may want to be the smartest person in the room, but a wise person wants to be in the room with the smartest people. A smart person may spend a great deal of time developing sweeping, elaborate, and internally consistent ideas, but a wise person spends his time identifying a few simple ideas and practicing how to deliver them persuasively. A smart person may place a great value on self-actualization, but a wise person reserves a higher place for self-discipline.

While there is nothing wrong with attracting smart people into the ranks of political leadership, wisdom is a far more important trait. A leader can hire highly intelligent people to fill key roles, give him ideas, and carry out his directives. But if he is unwise himself, it is unlikely that he will successfully hire for wisdom — or listen to it.

President Obama is another person who exhibits far more intelligence than wisdom. He is the ideal candidate of the academic Left, for whom verbal acuity and abstract thinking are markers of status. Gingrich has a far different ideology, obviously, but he is also essentially a man of the intelligentsia. You listen to such people. You learn from them. You honor their intellectual accomplishments. But you don’t put them in charge of anything.