Who’s the Anti-Intellectual?

Timothy Sandefur has an interesting post on the anti-intellectualism of the left.

Liberals have lately been making much of the purported anti-intellectualism of conservatives in the late election. No doubt they’re right. But I must say I find it laughable that this charge would come from liberals of all people. The left in this country has had a long and dismal history of embracing a wide variety of anti-intellectual credos.

Start with the most obvious: the left has long been the welcoming home of fashionable postmodern nonsense like deconstructivism and moral and cultural relativism. Under these doctrines there are supposed to be different kinds of “logics” (male logic, female logic, &.) and none is more valid than the other. All of them are simply clever masks for a brutal competition for wealth and power. This is a profoundly anti-intellectual strain of pseudo-thought which avoids the need to take any arguments seriously, because such ideas simply be accused of corruption. When Sandra Harding called Newton’s Principia a “rape manual,” she did so from the left, not from the right. And the cultural relativists who demand that we treat the dismal productions of barbaric cultures as the intellectual equivalents of Shakespeare and Homer—and tars as “racist” anyone who suggests that some cultures and their mores are better than others—are fundamentally, even proudly anti-intellectual.

These ideologies masquerade, unconvincingly, as intellectual movements, but they are simply attempts to ignore ideas, or to shoot them down with reactionary appeals to political dogmas. They treat the world of thought with the same contempt as a street thug, except that they phrase his appeal to violence in more clever terminology. In the end it is the same: power over thought, force over reason. Goebbels said that when he heard the word culture, he reached for his gun, but many of the so-called “radical” intellectuals of today avoid the challenge of thought altogether by interpreting it in terms of base politics—and not even a very sophisticated politics, but a politics centered entirely around the tribal: around racial and gender conflicts over land and money.

“Radical chic” is a leftist phenomenon, not a conservative one. It was, and is, liberals who accord street thugs and petty vandals the respectability of academic honors. The terrorist Bill Ayers? Or the terrorist Angela Davis, winner of the Lenin Peace Prize of the U.S.S.R.? She’s presidential chair at U.C. Santa Cruz. It was liberals who not only gave the anti-intellectual thug Norman Mailer pop icon status, but handed him the mantle of a respectable intellectual. The Jack Abbott case was a curiosity to them, and a source of gossip. When he stabbed his wife with a penknife at a dinner party, almost killing her in 1960, was that the end of his run as a leftist intellectual? Hardly. The left respects its anti-intellectual thugs.

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