Robert Nisbet once told this story to a group of grad students. I do not recall if the story was first hand or second hand.
A professor was sitting at a table in the student center. Around him were graduate students, hanging on his every word. At another table, a colleague remarked: “There is a fake giant surrounded by real pygmies.”
I wish I had said that.
In every field, there are giants and pygmies. Most giants are fake. All pygmies are pygmies.
If you want to make an impression in any field, you must first identify the real giants and the fake ones. Associate yourself with the real ones. When you get a chance, expose the fakes.
In the field of economics, Paul Krugman is a fake giant. He is fair game. It never hurts to take a shot at Paul Krugman. Take two.
Thomas Sowell is a real giant. Learn what you can, and don’t dismiss the rest. If you challenge him, do so where he is weak, such as foreign policy. Leave him alone on the economics of national groups.
My first book was on Karl Marx. He was a fake giant. I made a mistake. I was somewhat more respectful than I should have been. I was merciless, but not contemptuous. Big mistake. Murray Rothbard would never have made that mistake.
Marx was surrounded by an army of real pygmies. He had his acolytes. But a few of them were giants. In the field of history, Christoper Hill was a master of English Puritanism. He kept his Marxism well in the background. It would have been unwise to treat him as a pygmy.
Lesson: you must recognize the intellectual status of your target. Do not confuse fake with real.
A STRATEGY FOR OUTSIDERS
If you are an outsider, you must do double service. You must be better than the common man in the ranks. You must be better than those one rank above you. Two would be better. You must also abide by forms. You must eventually break the unofficial rules. You can organize a revolution within the firm. But if you wish to persuade those inside the ranks, you must abide by forms.
Sometimes, it is better to break ranks. Be a true outsider. Do an end run around the ranks. Run a guerilla campaign from outside. But if you are determined to change the minds of existing lieutenants, and run a long-term campaign to see your disciples advance into high positions, then abide by the forms.
In keeping with the military analogy, let me identify a serious player: Col. Billy Mitchell, U.S. Army Air Corps.
The popular Colonel Mitchell was facing a court-martial for his controversial remarks to the press on September 5 , blasting two military disasters: a bungled flight during which three Navy seaplanes failed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii; and the crash of the Navy airship USS Shenandoah while flying over the Midwest on an ill-advised public relations tour. “These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments,” Mitchell stated. “The bodies of my former companions in the air moulder under the soil in America, and Asia, Europe and Africa, many, yes a great many, sent there directly by official stupidity.”
He was convicted by the Army. He was removed from command.
Fifteen years later, the Army Air Corps named the B-25 bomber “the Mitchell.” He broke ranks. He lost his case, but won the battle. He was an insider who was kicked out.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)