Intellectual error is not necessarily bad. It is sometimes the price of imagination and bold thinking. But it may also be the result of sloppy reasoning, wishful thinking, or the venal desire to sell copy. So it is not necessarily good, either.
Few subjects have been more fruitful of intellectual error in recent times than that of America’s prospective decline. In the late 1980s, several books purported to have spotted harbingers of this dispensation, thus bringing welcome relief to those who could not bear the triumphalism they found in Ronald Reagan’s successful policies. In 1988, the New York Times devoted a Sunday magazine essay to exalting the new declinists, calling them “a small but growing cadre of intellectuals who are wielding considerable political influence [and] have sparked a rousing dialogue . . . that threatens to shake Reagan’s America from a decade of rose-colored, Ike-revivalist torpor.”