I’m working on a paper with Tom Brock at the moment in which we’re trying to unpack the contemporary meaning that ‘intelligence’ holds in political and economic discourse. ‘Intelligence’ is something invoked in the same way that ‘merit’ and ‘will’ have been previously. For instance, see this extract from Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success pg 5:
In 1914 preacher/ author William Woodbridge posed the question of the day: “What is it that the upper ten possesses that the under ten thousand does not possess?” His book, That Something, revolved around an encounter between a fictional beggar and a financier who gives the beggar his business card and says the beggar doesn’t need food but rather “that something” that all successful men have. Inspired, the young beggar discovers the value of “Faith, Confidence, Power, Ambition…” and, finally, the power of his own will, which is “the talisman of success.” It is the will of the soul, writes Woodbridge, that explains why a few men are destined to be carried “on our muscle” like men upon horses.
What these concepts have in common is that they are explanations masquerading as descriptions. They impute characteristics to the successful which implicitly explain their success but in a vacuously circular way. They are overloaded because they reduce a complex interplay of factors to a singular characteristic that explains someone’s ‘success’: in doing so they become cultural placeholders that stitch together an ultimately untenable individualistic world view. These explanations of success can only work by imbuing quasi-magical capacities, something which we are arguing can be seen in their representation on film and TV.
As the author above notes, these overloaded concepts often get invoked by elites to explain (and thus justify their status). From pg 5-6:
While the masses sought to divine the secrets of success—willpower? personality? faith? confidence?—some at the top came to believe their success was either divinely distributed or a matter of superior morals. John D. Rockefeller claimed, “God gave me my money.” When J. P. Morgan was questioned about his empire, which was built in large measure through stock manipulation, he said its source was “character.”