Anti-intellectualsim in society

Who’s your favorite philosopher who was also known for his contributions to historical analysis

  • Voltaire
  • Hume
  • Marx
  • Hegel
  • Other
0 voters

After some recent reading on Anti-intellectualism, most noteably Richard Hofstadter’s book Anti-intellectualsim in American Life and a fairly good article on the subject, The Renaissance of Anti-intellectualism by Todd Gutlin which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (12-8-00), I have become interested in what comtemplative philosophical types have to say about the subject. From Hofstadter’s book, I have come to the conclusion that throughout American history and especially today, most people in Ameircan society have such a diffcult time relating to intellectuals and a life the mind, hence our entire culture has dismissed the value of a solid liberal arts education which centers on philosophical understanding. Although I was a history major in college, from the philosophy courses I took, I gleaned that much of philosophy is about critiquing one’s own culture in an effort to better understand the human condition. I suppose my main question for those in the forum is, how pervasive is Anti-intellectualism in our culture? As I am on the verge of entering a Master’s of Liberal Studies program, I wonder all the time about how isolated a life of the mind will ultimately become in our culture.

Bravo! The American intellectual although not faced with the economic problems of some other countries, is nevertheless, culturally construed in an adverse manner. I am so frequently misunderstood that i have come to expect it.
Nigel Stated:

— When you do that in America, or even compare America with the rest of the World you will be misunderstood or even derided by scores of people. Two examples suffice.(1) At work i was in a conversation with an individual about slavery. The only person this individual could recall that was instrumental to the abolition of slavery was Abraham Lincoln, conveniently ignoring the French revolution and a host of freedom fighters around the World.(2) I was eating late at night in a restaurant and talking to my wife about the historical atlas i was planning to buy. I mentioned that the Chinese language was by itself (on a chart that shows the forks and bifurcations into different languages). One person at a nearby table attempted to negate this statement by mentioning Japanese, Vietnamese, etc., once again, conveniently ignoring (or blissfully unaware) that Chinese had little contact with other languages and that it still retains the numerous symbols characteristic of the original pictographic languages. Ignorance is one thing; ignorance masquerading as knowledge is deadly.
— As an aside, do you know of anyone that would be useful in studying a philosophy of history?; or any historian that draws useful meaningful premises, Arnold Toynbee comes to mind, but i really know nothing in this field. Ancient history is what i really wish to look at.

Can anyone really say that anti-intellectualism is a unique feature of American culture? I mean, yeah, I look at Dubya and want to commit suicide just as much as the next guy, but it seems that there are blissfully ignorant people EVERYWHERE, not just in the US. And I don’t think that it’s a new phenomenon either. As far back as Socrates, the common schlub has been ignorant about a lot of things. It’s a fact of life, no matter what pretensions people have had about so-called “Ages of Reason” and whatnot.

…and in the spirit of Marshall McDaniel’s last post, I’d like to share my own experience with mind-numbing stupidity: In my Advanced Comp. class, the one English education major in the class proudly informed us that he was saddened when he was once forced to visit the campus library to write a paper. Why? Because when he first came to college, he actually made it his goal never to visit the library.
Two questions:

  1. Why are education majors so dumb?
  2. Why do people make it a goal not to go to the campus library?


— I can only relate experiences from my surrounding environment which happens to be the US, i suppose these things go on everywhere. If you wanted to prove the supposition that it is particular to the USA, i guess you could look at international test scores or something. It is just that in America, indoctrination, rather than force, is the societal controlling motif. Very few people overcome that. Very few people look at the big picture.

it seems whenever intellectuals (especially scientists concerned with Global Warming and teaching kids real science (like evolution)) say anything, Americans immediately stop listening and accuse them of “not having a consensus”. Americans really need to grow up intellectually (I am American teenager by the way).

I’m from the UK, so therefore am in the perfect position to criticise people from America.


Remember that every so often the intelligentsia publish a book about the decline in standards, anti-intellectual culture, mass ignorance and so on. Why? For a few reasons:

  1. It enables them to blame other people for their own disciplines not being interesting enough to stand on their own
  2. It further reinforces the distinction between high and mass culture, on which their authority and therefore research grants depend
  3. It makes them personally feel better, superior, finer
  4. It’s a signpost to try to make their disciplines look like they are really more interesting than they really look, if you see what I mean. Basically, it’s an advert. In the face of mass media, vast marketing budgets and short-term, imagination-sapping popular culture, they resort to the lowest possible strategy - imitating the enemy and coming up with a pretentious and baffling load of codswallop to try to make out that they aren’t.

Call me cynical, but if intellectuals actually wanted to have more widespread appeal and wanted to foster more interest in their subjects then slapping the salami in their ivory towers and whinging and moaning about the things that many people take to be dear (pop culture) is a bloody stupid strategy. Like I say, I think that the opposite is true, they actually like the existence of pop culture because it enables them to feel better about themselves and maintain their budgets.

As far as I’m aware, there is nothing that is inherently or overtly anti-intellectual. There are just a lot of stupid and ignorant people. Everywhere. Especially in universities.

That’s what ILP is great for - regardless of what you post, someone will argue with you. Someone (often more than one) will offer a response, something else to consider, a suggestion of something else to learn and so on. The internet is a revolution in intellectual life just waiting to happen. Universities are a tragedy waiting to happen.


Not that this signifies all Americans by any means, but one of the people my girlfriend shares a house with in an American guy, who is staying in the UK for 6 months or so, and when asked he said he’d never heard of Guantanamo Bay. An American. One who has actually managed to leave America for a bit and realise that there’s a world outside. Hadn’t heard of Guantanamo Bay. Make of that what you will.

Smithigans wake,

  1. People in general are dumb. I took philosophy for the large part of my degree but most people on that course were unspeakably dumb. In fact, some of them were so stupid that I was left wondering how in the hell they even found their way home after lectures. I remember one first year mind/language lecture where we were learning about Saul Kripke and the notion of Multiple realisability and one thick-lipped piece of white trash slumbered out of his stupor long enough to utter, ‘Is this guy for real?’

I almost walked out of the lecture there and then. Most of them hadn’t the slightest concern for learning a damn thing.

  1. People trying to be cool. Why work hard and get a First class degree when you can do little work and just about scrape a 2:1? That’s the attitude of about half of all British university students that I’ve met. Some people work their nuts off and get a 2:1 because of bureaucratic nonsense and poor marking that they don’t have the confidence to challenge. Some people don’t work at all and get a first simply because the standards expected are hysterically low.

However, what the non-library-going student does prove is that you don’t have to be particularly bright or informed to get a good degree. Most graduates are no more informed or intelligent than their non-degree-holding counterparts.