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I Double Dare You! To Dare to Do It

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Why Americans Are Anti-Intellectual

by Christopher Chantrill
December 11, 2004 at 7:00 pm

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“WHY IS the US so anti-intellectual?” asked a Kerry-voting friend a month after the recent presidential election.  “Don’t answer right now, but I’d like to hear your response.”

It’s right for Kerry supporters to be asking a question or two now that they are emerging from denial.  They might learn something.  They might learn why the American people just aren’t too enamored of America’s educated, intellectual elite these days.  But why should this be?  Why should Americans reject the people who have done so much for them, bringing them public schools, women’s suffrage, labor laws, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, environmental protection, civil rights for blacks, women, gays, consumers, and support for the traditionally marginalized? 

The answer is that the experience of living under the rule of America’s enlightened elite has not been quite the bed of roses that liberal Whig history likes to portray.  The governance of America’s intellectual elite has been good for the elite, that is for sure.  But it has not always been good for the rest of us.  Let us take a look at a few examples.

The jewel in the crown of intellectual America is supposed to be the common school system that was enacted in the 1840s.  Yet before Horace Mann had returned glowing from his tour of Prussian schools Americans were already about 90 percent literate.  Almost everyone got at least 3-4 years of schooling in the mixture of academies, urban schools, and rural “old-field” schools that flourished in the early nineteenth century.  In those days parents could select the school of their choice.  Today, after a century and a half of schooling directed by the intellectual elite, average parents have little or no choice in schooling for their children.  And about 30 percent of Americans have trouble reading a bus schedule.  Should they be grateful for this?

About 70 years ago the intellectual elite grandly presented the American people with Social Security, a pay-as-you-go system in which beneficiaries have no property rights.  But college professors, teachers, and many government employees enjoy fully funded retirement programs that are legally the property of the beneficiaries.  Should the American people be grateful for this?

Let’s talk about crime.  The intellectual elite told us that crime was a result of “root causes” such as poverty and lack of education.  We shouldn’t blame the underprivileged youth that committed the crimes and just lock them up, for incarceration only dealt with symptoms.  Only a program that attacked the root causes could reduce crime.  In England, of course, they went a step further and actually convicted householders of the crime of resisting burglars.  It has made householders “confused” and burglars “confident” according to the London Daily Telegraph.  In New York, in the teeth of opposition from the intellectual class, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bratton tried the “broken window” policy proposed by neoconservative thinkers.  They arrested young punks for public drinking, loitering, and turnstile-jumping.  And crime rates went down.  Today in New York, criminals feel “confused” and upright citizens feel “confident” about crime.  And the dirty little secret is that 6 percent of men commit over 50 percent of crimes.  Lock up the 6 percent, and the crime rate will plummet.  Should the American people elect the candidate of the intellectual elite to power after the success of this little social experiment?

Then there’s the family.  To free women from servitude to unwanted children and unhappy marriages, our intellectual elites have championed unrestricted abortion and no-fault divorce.  They wanted women to have the right to live public lives and enjoy fulfilling creative careers just like men.  Today American children yearn for the brothers and sisters they will never have, and they live in terror of their parents splitting up.  But is the “creativity” of fulfilling work really a greater good than the act of creation and raising a family?  Many Americans don’t think so.  As David Brooks has written, many natalists and Patio-men have fled the cities and their elite mores for the ex-urbs where they can have big families and get them out of the nest before the intellectual elite notices.  Should they be grateful that they had to hide in the boondocks to have the right to create the environment they wanted for their children?

Nobody doubts that our intellectual elites are highly evolved, profoundly tolerant of diversity, and environmentally sensitive.  Understandably, they have used their cultural and political power to bring their concerns to the fore, concerns that are good and noble.  But other Americans are not particularly attracted to their lofty goals.  Most Americans are fully challenged by keeping a job, finding a home in a nice safe neighborhood, paying the mortgage, and finding a good school for the kids.  That’s why they once voted for an “amiable dunce” and now for President Moron.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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