No, Anti-Intellectualism is Not Suddenly Taking Over the United States
An intervention: I’ve been watching this 2.5 year old piece, from May 2012, recirculate over the past week. I find the article annoyingly alarmist.
First, there’s the scary, over-generalized title. Anti-intellectualism is not suddenly taking over the U.S. Extrapolating national trends from Arizona, of all places, is a hazardous business. That state has been a hotbed of reactionary, odd politics for fifty-plus years since Goldwater.
Second, one should never generalize about anti-intellectualism at large from our political discourse. American politicians and would-be activists are famous for uttering crowd-pleasing, nonsensical, and offensive things.
Third, Americans have been arguing about school curricula, in public settings since, well, public schools were created. Those arguments became more heated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, becoming especially hot in the 1930s and through the 1950s.
Fourth, our public libraries have been targets of would-be censors since public libraries became a wider presence in the early twentieth century.
Fifth and finally (for now), on concerns about higher edu curricula, scholarship, and professorial utterances, well, David Horowitz has been raising the the alarm on those topics since the 1980s. Nothing particularly alarming on higher education anti-intellectualism has occurred over the past five years.
In sum, let’s not get scared about a 2.5 year old article by a Columbia law professor, published in a British periodical, underscoring historical trends that have seen higher heat levels in the last century. Americans have been and should always be aware of our special brand of anti-intellectualism. But I was more worried in 2008 than I am now or was in 2012. – TL