Right wing anti-intellectualism

Russel Jacoby argues in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the right (in America, at least), has increasingly become anti-intellectual and has embraced a reductive narrative of blame that boils down to, “the academics did it”:

Or consider feminism. Have women entered the work force and—as some conservatives say—abandoned the family? Does that have to do with the realities of war, say, in which men leave their jobs and women replace them? Or with the imperative of supporting a family when one paycheck no longer suffices? “A superficial explanation through economic changes is to be avoided,” wrote Richard M. Weaver in one of the ur-texts of American conservatism. “The economic cause is a cause that has a cause,” he declared in his 1948 book, Ideas Have Consequences. “The ultimate reason lies in the world picture, for once woman has been degraded in that picture—and putting her on a level with the male is more truly a degradation than an elevation—she is more at the mercy of economic circumstances.”

To their suspicion of economic analyses of social issues, American conservatives add a suspicion of intellectuals as elitists. The aristocratic Buckley famously remarked that he would prefer to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. To Buckley, a random collection of Bostonians would prove wiser than liberal, overeducated professors. This position drew upon several features of an American ethos that prizes equality, no-nonsense religion, business, practicality, and self-help, all of which Richard Hofstadter analyzed in his classic work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963).

Buckley was hardly alone in deriding intellectuals as out-of-touch elitists, an attitude that can easily slide into a wholesale denunciation of knowledge and education itself. What does schooling bring aside from an undermining of Christian truths?

(full article here)

Some thoughts:

– Economic explanations matter; material forces, the effects of capitalism etc. do influence how we view things like the family, marriage, etc. However, human action can’t just be reduced to economic motives; ideas do matter.

– Yours truly also has a dislike of anti-intellectualism, and thinks the university has the potential to be a valuable source of learning. Having said that, I have to admit that some of the stuff going on over the course of my undergrad came across as a parody of what conservatives accuse higher education as being. A good amount of the problem boils down to the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of learning about things going on, but not a lot of learning how to think. Philosophy, logic, etc. are no longer mandatory and as a result we’ve got a lot of young people who know a fair amount, but still are in thrall to ideologues and stupid ideas in general.

– Going back a little further, the moral life of kids growing up these days doesn’t extend much beyond “do well in school and don’t do drugs”. Beyond that, the general consensus is that it’s up to the kids to figure out for themselves what’s right and wrong. But, as Aristotle noted, ethics, as a practical science, can only be properly theorized about once we’ve already had some good practical experience in it. As with music, the theorizing and composing comes after the discipline and self-mastery. As a result, young people have trouble making good moral choices because their experience of the virtues is so impoverished, and they’re viewing the world through that lens.

– I’ve gotta get ready for work, so perhaps more on this later.

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About Josh W

A Catholic; an occasional writer.
This entry was posted in fragments of culture, higher education, Stuff other people said. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Right wing anti-intellectualism

  1. Pingback: Left wing anti-intellectualism | Res Studiorum et Ludorum

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