Anti-intellectuals often perceive themselves as champions of the ordinary people and egalitarianism against elitism, especially academic elitism. These critics argue that highly educated people form an isolated social group that tends to dominate political discourse and higher education (academia).
Anti-intellectualism can also be used as a term to criticize an educational system if it seems to place minimal emphasis on academic and intellectual accomplishment, or if a government has a tendency to formulate policies without consulting academic and scholarly study.
It is more common for fundamentalist wings of a religion to harbor anti-intellectual sentiments, due to a tendency to reject that which runs contrary to their religious beliefs. However, it is important to note that this is not necessarily the case with all religious groups, and that many religious groups pride themselves on their scholarly, as well as religious, traditions. When religious doctrines include statements about natural or human history, the provenance of sacred texts (and other matters), such claims may be investigated by external scholarship. For example a claim about the age of a religious artifact may be scientifically tested, or a theodicy may be logically examined. If such an investigation is instigated, the outcome may therefore create conflict in relation to how an adherent to the doctrine perceives it as confirming or denying their belief.
However, religious anti-intellectualism is not confined to hostility against science: When movements such as bohemianism, avant-gardism and romanticism become major factors in the fine arts, religious believers may perceive these trends to be subversive of morality and call for censorship. This has been a fairly common theme in socio-cultural trends in the Americas and Europe since the time of the Reformation. Some would argue, however, that this is just moral conservatism, which is distinct from anti-intellectualism, though the two positions are allied in many cases.
The most extreme dictatorships, such as that of the Khmer Rouge, simply murdered anyone with more than a rudimentary education. Other expressions of anti-intellectualism range from the closure of public libraries and places of learning, to keeping intellectuals and scientists isolated from the world in an "ivory tower", to official declarations that intellectuals are prone to mental illness and enacting laws to have them placed under psychiatric care. In addition, intellectuals in countries ruled by authoritarian governments are often subject to popular condemnation and used as scapegoats to divert the anger of the public away from those in power. Anti-intellectualism is not necessarily violent, however, and not necessarily oppressive. Anti-intellectual attitudes can be held by any group, including non-violent ones, as well as by individuals who merely disfavor intellectualism and learning in general. According to Jorge Majfud, "this contempt that arises from a power installed in the social institutions and from the inferiority complex of its actors, is not a property of 'underdeveloped' countries. In fact, it is always the critical intellectuals, writers or artists who head the top-ten lists of the most stupid of the stupid in the country.
In a similar vein, the curiosity and objectivity of intellectuals about foreign countries and beliefs is portrayed as a lack of patriotism or moral clarity, and intellectuals are often held to be suspect of holding dangerously foreign, possibly subversive, opinions. An extreme form was embodied by Joseph McCarthy, the anti-Communist senator from Wisconsin.
The Frontline Special "Merchants of Cool(2/27/2001)" (script) suggests that advertising giants are creating an anti-intellectual, commodity-obsessed generation.
Generally, these criticisms are brought up against persons working within the field of the Humanities-especially a set of the Humanities falling under the large subdivision of the Social Sciences. Among the fields most contested are Women's Studies, Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies or Racial Studies. Whether such field-specific attention is deserved is, once again, the subject of much intense debate.
When the criticism of political bias is set in the context of American liberals vs. American conservatives, as it often is, the dialogue between the two sides can become rapidly polemical. One finds conservative critics called "anti-intellectuals" as they attempt to bring the charge of political bias against various liberals even as the accused liberals are charged with such things as "re-writing history" (Historical revisionism); the validity of each party's assertion must be recognized to vary from case to case.
The 19th century predominantly valued the self-reliant and "self-made man," schooled by society and by experience, over the intellectual whose learning was acquired through books and formal study. In 1843, Bayard R. Hall wrote of frontier Indiana, that "(w)e always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness." Still, there was a possibility for redemption if the "egghead" embraced common mores. A character of O. Henry noted that once a graduate of an East Coast college gets over being vain, he makes just as good a cowboy as any other young man.
The related stereotype of the slow-witted naïf with a heart of gold, which became popular in 19th century stage shows, still reappears in American culture, recently in the 1985 novel and 1994 motion picture Forrest Gump.
A more recent variant on this tendency is the so-called "academic freedom" movement, led by David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which claims the identity politics and left-wing views of certain academics are a means of indoctrinating university students with anti-American views.
Some Christians also object to what they perceive as "un-Christian" elements in public schools (K-12) and colleges and universities. Focal points for fundamentalist criticism are comprehensive sex education and evolution.
The anti-war movement also despised the highly educated and objective Washington technocrat, epitomized by Robert McNamara, who was not moved by subjective, irrational emotions. McNamara was alleged to make decisions solely on numbers and probabilities and could not see individual lives or deaths as anything but statistics. The Vietnam body count was offered as an example of this objectivity.
Theodor Adorno, himself a Marxist, sharply criticised this trend in the '60s Left, which he called "actionism," defined as the belief that actions such as protests and strikes could change the political structure by themselves without being supported by solid theory and an organized program or party.
In return for their rhetorical services, so this theory goes, intellectuals are rewarded with the power to set themselves up as the social betters of the proletariat and are given a measure of control over how normal people live their lives. In addition, when government actions go awry, intellectuals provide rulers with a convenient scapegoat - those who were paid to promote the policy can easily be blamed for creating it.
Although not a leftist thinker, Eric Hoffer is closely associated with this view of intellectuals. He compared them to the scribes that directed the construction of the pyramids - seemingly authoritative figures, who were in reality servants to the Pharaoh.
Conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh commonly argue that conservative politicians, particularly Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have been attacked by media as being "incompetent" - this can be understood as an accusation of intellectual snobbery by the media. O'Reilly in particular is well known for having a hostile attitude towards what he calls the "Ivy League Elite." The word "intellectual" itself has been used as an insult by many on the right.
Both O'Reilly and Limbaugh, as well as other conservative hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough are frequently accused of having anti-intellectual atmospheres on their shows, evidenced by their frequent interruption of guests who try to put forward complex arguments. Scarborough once commented that, "If my guest is allowed to speak uninterrupted for more than 15 seconds, then I'm not doing my job."
Some analysts feel the lack of intellectual content is representative of the media's propensity, in the service of higher ratings, to promote argument and spectacle rather than informed debate. Among those analysts, scholars such as Noam Chomsky believe that this soundbite atmosphere of the media inherently promotes pro-establishment views and aids in the manufacture of consent.
There is a strong feeling on both sides of the political divide that corporate news focuses too much on soundbites and headlines, and not enough on in-depth reporting. Researchers have noticed a trend in the amount of coverage newspapers and broadcast networks devote to various subjects: World events and political coverage are receiving a declining percentage of print space and airtime, while crimes, sex scandals, and celebrity intrigue take up more and more space.. See also: Junk food news.
This trend is clearly visible on cable television as well. For example, The Learning Channel has shifted from airing purely documentary and informational content to devoting a large portion of its programming to makeover specials, home-remodeling shows, and programs focused on muscle cars and motorcycles.. See also: Criticisms of Oprah Winfrey.
Later on, the Soviet government came to see education as important and dedicated great resources to literacy on the one hand, and higher and professional education on the other. However, as a matter of social policy, the government sought to promote the working class over an intellectual elite. Accordingly, industrial workers often received greater salaries than university-trained professionals such as teachers, doctors, and engineers. Moreover, workers were covertly inculcated with the notion that only the manual labor creates real value in the economy, whereas the educated people just sit around writing papers.
It must be stressed, however, that the anti-intellectualism of the Soviet political elite was closely associated with the fact that the Russian academic milieu, as a part of the tzarist state apparatus, had been hostile to the 1917 Bolshevik takeover almost by definition; however, when dealing with practical issues such as economic and scientific management, the early Soviet regime had to resort to such "bourgeois experts", therefore the tense relationship between the Communist Party elite and non-Party educated people. It was only during the early 1930s that Stalin attempted to replace the old intelligentsia with a new, Party-approved group. Such favouring of partinost - that is to say, a partisan stance towards all matters intellectual - over formal scholarship, no matter how crude such partisan stance happened to be - in the end amounted to a clear anti-intellectual stance.
The Soviet treatment of science is an example of anti-intellectualism - the triumph of Lysenkoism in Soviet Russia was a result of political bullying of scientists and the punishment of dissenters rather than the normal scientific process of publishing one's findings.
Asian anti-intellectualism has deep roots. Even the Tao Te Ching advises rulers to keep their subjects with a "full belly and an empty mind" and that "ignorance is better than knowledge" among the people. Additionally, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, even was one of the most prominent to show anti-intellectualism by distrusting scholars and forcing the educated into labor, and burning texts written by historians or by Confucian scholars.
A number of Asian countries have experienced degrees of anti-intellectualism in the 20th century.
In Cambodia, a country where few people have access to formal education (the literacy rate is about 50% as of 2004), the Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979) was generally disdainful of intellectuals and saw many as enemies or traitors (see also: Democratic Kampuchea). In some sectors, anyone who wore glasses was shot by Khmer guards, as glasses were seen as a mark of education and intellectualism.
The revolutionary regime in the newly established Islamic Republic of Iran also displayed a streak of anti-intellectualism in its policies. Besides the emigration of many well-educated, western-trained, intellectuals in the wake of the revolution (Brain drain), the government decreed in 1980 that all universities are to be closed until the curricula are "purified" from the corrupt Pahlavi legacy. The ban on secular high education persisted until 1982. Also, the repressive attitude of the regime toward Iranian intelligentsia is well known (a highly publicized case of intellectual repression was the execution of the poet Said Soltanpour in 1981).
However, rulers in the ancient and classical worlds were generally intolerant of anyone who disagreed with them. Anti-intellectualism as hostility by self-identified "common" people, or those that claim to speak for them, against a perceived class of cultural elites is generally considered a modern phenomenon.
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