How can we not be anti-intellectual?

It’s harder than I thought, at least if Russell Jacoby’s critique of the Right has any merit.  Why does Jacoby say that we’re anti-intellectual?  It’s because we blame things we don’t like about society on the influence of ideas like individualism and feminism rather than on impersonal economic forces.  Thus, we always end up pointing fingers at intellectuals for promoting ideas we don’t like.

This is really baffling.  I thought that focusing on ideas, and especially engaging rival ideological systems, was what intellectuals were supposed to do.  One might even say, in Marxist fashion, that focusing on ideas to the exclusion of economic forces is the characteristic mistake of intellectuals.  I’ve never heard it said before that this sort of thing is anti-intellectual.  What, one wonders, would be pro-intellectual?  Perhaps we should look at the majority of Jacoby’s liberal colleagues, who while remaining complacently ignorant of the conservative intellectual tradition feel free to dismiss conservatives for being a bunch of dumb inbred rednecks.  This, you see, is pro-intellectual, even though it’s nothing but rank unthinking prejudice, because it keeps the hostility directed at those not deemed to be part of the intellectual elite.

Then there’s this:  “Compare William Kristol and John Podhoretz on the right to David Bell, Michael Kazin, and Sean Wilentz on the left….In brief, the former are ideologues; the latter serious writers and thinkers.”  Oh, yeah?  Two can play that game, buddy.  If I said “Compare Michael Moore and Lady Gaga on the left to Jim Kalb, Paul Gottfried, and Roger Scruton on the right…In brief, the former are ideologues; the latter are serious writers and thinkers.”, would that be a fair comparison?  No?  Well, then, leave the neocon hacks out of this.

13 thoughts on “How can we not be anti-intellectual?

  1. One thing I am fairly sure about – if the religious Right tries to be intellectually impressive, it will soon move to the Left.

    • This is true, and it is the background to some of the remarks about First Things and Front Porch Republic in the comment thread following Bonald’s previous post. I’m most familiar with FT, but they are a perfect example of conservatives-who-wish-to-be-invited-to-the-next-cocktail-party. They draw attention to themselves by expressing mildly daring opinions on safe subjects, but always respect the sacred cows of liberalism. If they didn’t do this, they would be dismissed as “crazy,” “disgusting,” and “dangerous;” when they do do this, they come across as inconsistent and unintellectual.

      • FT once tried to be daring, with its End of Democracy? symposium. It got smacked down fast.

  2. Intellectuals of any political stripe do not have the moral authority to give
    advice to humanity. And that’s what many of them think their ‘expertise’ in whatever field of inquiry gives them licence to do.

  3. Some day, somebody will do a statistical study about all the pain that has been caused by the half-baked ideas of intellectuals. Millions of deaths, endless oppression to the human race.

    It’s not that intellectuals are mean-spirited. It is that they overestimate their solutions. The world is chaotic and nice clean-cut solutions do not work. It’s the syndrome of the blank page. Only because something is beautiful in theory does not mean that it will work in a messy, fallen world.

    Intellectuals are guilty of the sin of pride. The pride of the left hemisphere, as it called by “the Master and its Emissary” book. But the worse thing is that society pays attention to them and tries to implement their solutions with disastrous results.

    • It’s not that intellectuals are mean-spirited.

      Are you sure? Lenin and Trotsky were intellectuals, and they were pretty damn mean-spirited. Paul Johnson wrote a nifty book, _Intellectuals_, which takes up exactly the question of whether leftist intellectuals are wicked or merely confused. He comes down rather strongly on the side of wicked.

  4. Thus, we always end up pointing fingers at intellectuals for promoting ideas we don’t like.

    Another thing we are frequently accused of is anti-elitism. But there is a per se / per accidens distinction being missed in both cases. I revile modern American intellectuals. I revile the modern American elite. I think, with Bill Buckley, that the first thousand names in the Boston phone book would make a better ruling class than the faculty of Harvard. Yet, I am a pro-intellectual elitist.

    Consider that “the current elite sucks” just is not the same statement as “elites suck” or “elitism sucks.” Naturally, while we are on the outs, it might at some point be convenient to ally ourselves with mindless anti-intellectuals and populists, later to betray them. It might even be convenient to make widespread use of mental reservations in our rhetoric in service of such a strategy. But that does not make us the same as our (potential, future) allies.

    Tom Piatak was good on this distinction. Does he still write?

  5. The most noble purpose of an elite is to prevent a much worse one from taking power. There will always be an elite, no matter what the system. I agree, the problem with our present elite is that it sucks, not the brute fact that it is an elite.

  6. The most vocal conservatives (in the mainstream) are the ones who are least intelligent. I don’t find it surprising that people have this view. However, it does illustrate the need for more blogs like yours to present a different view than the neocons.

  7. Pingback: Father Knows Best: Live Bait Edition « Patriactionary

  8. Pingback: Those Evil, Evil Intellectuals | Plot Configuration Parameters

  9. Pingback: Reasons to be Fed Up – Anti-intellectualism | Thoughts for Growth


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