A few fortunate persons really are ahead in almost every intellectual category, and a few unfortunate ones deficient.  Whether there exists a single quality we should call general intelligence – rather than a large collection of very different intellectual qualities – is an altogether different matter. 

In fact, an awful lot of what we call general intelligence is merely having certain very narrow intellectual traits that are admired or considered unusual.  For example, persons who are good at mathematics or scholarship are generally regarded as “smart,” and persons who are good at building cabinets aren’t usually given that label.  But a fellow who can build a cabinet may be good at lots of things, including learning how to do other things -- and a genius at manipulating abstractions or writing research articles might be a dope in every other way.  Mind you, I am not dismissing mathematical genius or scholarly excellence.  I admire them.  But they are special, not general, mental traits.

It also seems that a great many supposed differences in intelligence are really differences in personality.  Consider innovators.  We suppose that a person who often does something original has more of some hypothetical intellectual quality called “originality,” and perhaps he does, but I am not convinced that any such quality exists.  Perhaps he is just more easily bored by doing the same old thing, or less afraid of being mocked for following a different path, or more persistent at explaining to other people why the odd thing that he’s doing ought to interest them too.

Finally, intelligence isn’t the same as wisdom, which is not a kind of intelligence but an intellectual virtue.  One would expect the two to go together.  After all, if you haven't the equipment for forming good judgments or for readily drawing inferences from premises, you may have a hard time perceiving the shape of things or grasping how to live.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  Innovators are often so obsessed that they can do something that they fail to ask whether it should be done.  Intellectuals are more likely than others to be arrogant.  Persons who live badly, or who deceive themselves, may bend each of their substantial intellectual talents to maintaining their self-deceptions, rather than seeking the truth.

On the other hand, a person who is not very clever himself, but who has the moral virtues, may possess among other good qualities the old-fashioned intellectual virtue called “docility to counsel,” enabling him to exercise good judgment about who he should listen to, and who he shouldn’t, concerning matters that he understands poorly.  Wisdom comes in degrees, more and less, but in all its degrees, it is more about having a rightly ordered intellect than a big one.

None of this is an excuse for anti-intellectualism.  It does oppose a certain kind of meritocracy.  We ought to be ruled by wisdom, not by the particular sort of intellectual talent that happens to be admired in our circle.