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Bleg: Suggestions Wanted For Anti-Intellectualism Research

November 14, 2016

I request your suggestions in answering a question related to my research. I’m looking for new lines of thought. The inquiry:

In your estimation, what are the signal events and figures in anti-intellectualism, broadly conceived, by decade in U.S. history?

I realize this involves a certain amount of perception and judgment in terms of politics and culture, hence this request. On those perceptions, for example, one could cite the following from the 20th century:

– McCarthyism in the 1950s
– Countercultural antics in the 1960s
– Various popular culture fads in the 1970s and 1980s (i.e. TV shows and films)
– Certain popular televangelists from the 1970s to the present
– Climate change denial in the 1990s
– The antivaccination movement in the 2000s
– The elevation of simplicity and the common man in politics (e.g. Bush 43)
– The notion of “low-information voters” in the 2000s

Please do feel free to make suggestions regarding the 1800s and 1700s. – TL


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  1. Chris Schaefer permalink

    If we’re talking about earlier American history, the first things that come to mind are inter-religious conflicts.

    Both of the Great Awakenings were anti-intellectual in the sense that they involved a repudiation of more established Christian practice. A move away from ritual, ceremony, and hierarchy implicitly means moving away from the Ivy League educated ministers and the authority that came with their education.

    Then in the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, there was a similar rejection of scholars’ findings in favor of personal experience and the reading of the Bible.


    • Thanks Chris! These things are covered in Hofstadter’s classic on the topic, but most likely need some updating, of course.


  2. Joe Lanning permalink

    Tim, you mention McCarthyism, but would you consider the attacks on academics during the late 19th/early 20th century anti-intellectual as well? Those early firings and tenure denial that led to the formation of the AAUP, I mean. Distrust of outspoken leftist academics, universities controlling hiring practices over faculties, wealthy donors influencing academic pursuits/publications, and even religious criteria for applicants…

    I’m flipping through Novick’s That Noble Dream, pages 63-72.


    • Joe: Thanks for the comment. On your question, yes. Those attacks matter (esp. Stanford). And thanks for the reminder about Novick’s contribution to this narrative. – TL


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