[PDF / Epub] ☄ Anti-Intellectualism in American Life By Richard Hofstadter – Dolove.info
Piety and Playfulness Forbidden It is difficult to believe that America was founded and organised by intellectuals For about a century, Puritan regard for scholarship and classical education dominated the colonial ethos Community leaders were primarily Oxford and Cambridge graduates who shared a vision of not just a theologically learned church but also a culturally and scientifically learned population Remarkably, only six years after the foundation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Harvard College had been established Shortly thereafter its degrees were considered to be equivalent to those in England by their former Oxbridge colleagues.Hofstadter gives Christianity its due in promoting the incipient American intellect But he also documents convincingly how, as American Christianity evolved, it smothered not just the germ of intellect but the reputation of thought itself The result has been aor less permanent national aversion to intellectual tradition in favour of professional commercialism and the cultivation of manipulative intelligence This aversion is demonstrated repeatedly from the mid eighteenth century First Great Awakening to the revivalist rallies of Donald Trump It is expressed persistently as a suspicion of reflective thought and resentment of those who practice it.Hofstadter s key distinction is that between intellect and intelligenceIntelligence will seize the immediate meaning in a situation and evaluate it Intellect evaluates evaluations, and looks for the meanings of situations as a whole Intelligence can be praised as a quality in animals intellect, being a unique manifestation of human dignity, is both praised and assailed as a quality in menThis distinction seems to capture exactly my own experience of the American mind in business and academia And it allows Hofstadter to conduct a profoundly revealing analysis of American society One has only to watch Trump in action and his audiences reactions to know Hofstadter has had a profound insight.The term intellectual originates in fin de si cle France and refers originally to the academic and literary defenders of Emil Dreyfus against his anti Semitic accusers So from its beginning the term has had a liberal or leftist political connotation And it still does A conservative thinker like William F Buckley would never have been referred to as an intellectual , but most likely as a conservative commentator Throughout the 20th century the term is used as one of opprobrium by right wing politicians, usually Republican, and evangelical Christians to suggest unAmerican, godless, and socially disruptive patterns of thought.And this intended slander is probably fairly accurate Intellectuals can appear to be unAmerican in the sense that their attitude toward knowledge and learning tends to bevocational in the religious sense and elitist rather than commercial and egalitarian They are also likely to question the historical validity and meaning of doctrinal religion And because they are usually not constrained by the thought limits imposed by faith or commercial necessity, they will not infrequently appear to stir up various simmering social pots Hofstadter identifies two characteristics which are typical of his idea of an intellectual piety and playfulness Piety demands a level of serious reverence and humility about one s intellectual endeavours Playfulness implies the urge to go beyond the solution to problems, in fact to search for the problems which solutions cause Both are somewhat seditious traits in American culture Anti Intellectualism in American Life, despite its obvious refinement and nuance in its historical interpretation, is of course a product of its time Originally published in 1963, much of it documents the effects of and the emergence from the intellectual persecution of the McCarthy era in the 1950 s But even the frequent references to McCarthy s tactics provide important insights that are relevant to understanding today s political situation For example, it is clear in Hofstadter s analysis that the focus of the Senator s efforts was not a grand Communist conspiracy, but the intellectual establishment itself Communism was a tool not a target of his and Richard Nixon s Congressional activities Just as religion has been a perennial tool not a social objective of American politicians throughout the country s history.In light of Hofstadter s analysis, political events today become muchcomprehensible For example, it is not simply Obama s race against which Americans reacted in their last elections it is just as likely to be an unfortunate legacy of his intellect Americans never have had much tolerance for reflective thought in their leaders Trump as the antithesis of the intellectual leader gives them respite They love his hip shooting, banal inanities and gaffes They want his ignorant, often patently incompetent political appointments They admire his intractability on factual matters like climate change and international tariffs It is both comforting and terrifying to realise how consistent American culture has been since the Revolution.Where Hofstadter got it wrong was in thinking, like many of us, that anti intellectualism was in decline in America, that Richard Nixon was a fallen star along with the entire constellation of evangelical Republicans, that the American educational system would re orient itself to promote greater intellectual competence rather than trade skills Nevertheless, even his mistaken presumptions about the future are enlightening I certainly feel less confused about American culture and politics than I did last week.. What are the roots of stupidity in America, and how did they grow so strong It s a question historian Richard Hofstadter raises and answers brilliantly and unforgettably in his 1964 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Anti Intellectualism in American Life Though the book was writtenthan three decades ago, it has lost none of its relevance to current life in America What a prescient book To read it is to attain a fuller understanding of the rise of modern political figures such as Sarah Palin, why our education system particularly our high schools are crumbling from the weight of lowered expectations and half assed education policy, and how and why those in power tolerate intellectual freedom and creativity only to a certain extent.Diving into religion, business, politics, psychology and higher education among other subjects Hofstadter shows that anti intellectualism very roughly put, the view that knowing how to correctly push the buttons on a dishwasher isimportant than knowing how to design or manufacture one, or to explain how one works is hardwired in American culture and life.In Hofstadter s book, for example, you learn about the key religious zealots in the country s history who disdained books and adamantly believed that science was putting people on the path toward bad behavior.You also learn about one hundred percenters, people who know all they need to know, people who don t want to hear or read another point of view, people who believe that all they need to know is what they glean from their own experience Hofstadter illuminates The one hundred percenter, who will tolerate no ambiguities, no equivocations, no reservations, and no criticism, considers his kind of committedness an evidence of toughness and masculinity Ring any bells Fox News The one hundred percenter s cable news wet dream George W Bush He doesn t read newspapers, cuz, heh heh, those are just filters Red State America Jesus rode dinosaurs, God loves guns and America can do no wrong.If you re as dismayed as I am at current American dogma and find yourself scratching your head over what went wrong then Hofstadter s book provides a deep way of getting your mind around the whys and hows of all the stupidity on display both in our public behavior and in our mass media.I m still thinking about the end of Hofstadter s book He is hopeful that liberal culture will endure despite various anti intellectual viruses attacking it I don t know I hope he s right In any case, I want to end my review with Hofstadter s hopeful outlook, because it is powerful and worth heeding as we move forward Dogmatic, apocalyptic predictions about the collapes of liberal culture or the disappearance of high culture may be right or wrong but one thing about them seems certain they arelikely to instill self pity and despair than the will to resist or the confidence to make the most of one s creative energies It is possible, of course, that under modern conditions the avenues of choice are being closed, and that the culture of the future will be dominated by single minded men of one persuasion or another It is possible but in so far as the weight of one s will is thrown onto the scales of history, one lives in the belief that it is not to be so. Hofstadter explores the development of the American bias against intellectuals The intellectual is seen as wordy, conceited, pretentious, addled by over examination of issues, contemptuous of practical men, a bleeding heart, and an outlier who defies faith, morality and egalitarianism Hofstadter distinguishes between being intellectual and just being intelligent Intelligent individuals place a higher value on useful and practical knowledge, they search for answers The intellectual turns answers intoquestions The intelligent person has clear goals that can easily be appreciated by anyone The intellectual is critical, creative and contemplative He examines, ponders, wonders, imagines whereas the intelligent man grasps, manipulates and creates order An animal can be intelligent, but intellect is human Hofstadter traces the evolution of this bias in four sources religion, politics, business and education RELIGION America was populated by religious dissidents who rejected the oppressiveness and decadence of European society Escaping from aristocracy and a highly educated strictly structured clergy, evangelicals became firmly established in America Primitivism, the favoring of intuition and faith over cultivated rationality, was seen as natural, intellectualism as artificial The evangelical spirit embraced emotion, the heart over the mind, getting the Bible directly over stilted interpretations By the 1720 s, traditional Congregational and Presbyterian religions were losing meaning for frontier people and the less educated The Great Awakening addressed this with revivalist preachers who emphasized the spirit over knowledge, the Bible over academic books Revivalists competed with the established clergy and questioned the need for education, except to teach their particular religion The Great Awakening marked the end of the Puritan age and the beginning of the evangelical German Pietism and English Methodism were similar movements overseas.By the 1790 s Americans were widely dispersed and the vast majority did not belong to a church This provided fertile ground for preachers to establish new denominations that appealed to simple folk Success depended on skilled recruiting and religion that was readily accessible In early 19th century a second wave of evangelicalism changed Protestantism in America At the time of the Revolution, most Protestants belonged to one of three established religions Congregational, Presbyterian or Anglican By 1850 evangelical Baptists and Methodists accounted for 70% of Protestants The Methodists went from a few thousand American members in 1775 tothan a million and a half by 1855 becoming the largest single denomination Methodist circuit riders took the word to the people and converted them The Baptists less organized, less educated and somewhat less effective used similar tactics With industrialization and urbanization, revivalist preachers refined their pitch for large crowds, filling auditoriums and playing up to prominent business leaders for recognition and financing Dwight Moody led this movement in the late 19th century and Billy Sunday in the early 20th With modernism encroaching dramatically in the 1920 s the fundamentalist outcry went to new levels of passion The village Protestant individualist culture of the 19th century had to confront relativity in morals, open sexuality, racial equality, Darwinism, Freudianism, Marxism, and Keynesianism in the 20th POLITICS In politics egalitarianism worked to the detriment of intellectuals From Washington through the John Quincy Adams administration, men of learning and accomplishment were sought for government work But with Jackson, such criteria were anathema The common man was wanted with moral fiber being deemedimportant than knowledge In the minds of Jacksonians one excluded the other Party and personal loyalty became the singular criterion Congress became increasingly vitriolic and sharply divided Lincoln s administration was a brief exception From humble origins as President he selected learned men for his cabinet and his advisers After the war government quickly reverted to strict patronage The cultured class was out Intellectuals became reformers and as such were stigmatized as effeminate and incapable of dealing with the tough real world Not until TR would this image change His persona empowered progressives Highly educated and intellectually accomplished, he also was a big game hunter, a Rough Rider, a rancher, a man s man Thus he was popular and his reforms were taken seriously He brought in a host of talented educated men to his administration His successor, Taft, quickly dropped TR s reforms Wilson was an academic but still grounded in the Gilded Age As President he did not fully embrace progressive issues and their intellectual proponents He was a colonialist, opposed to minority and women s rights His objection to big business wasto help small business than the working man The Great Depression empowered FDR to fully embrace academia to solve the nation s problems However attacks on intellectuals steadily mounted through his administration interrupted by WWII Afterwards years of pent up resentment by the right wing exploded in the form of McCarthyism targeting not just communists and fellow travelers but all intellectuals, New Dealers and liberals The decisive defeat of Stevenson, a complete but likeable intellectual, and the election of Eisenhower, a connoisseur of Westerns, evidenced the change Subsequently JFK would restore the validity of academia in government This is where Hofstadter ends, his book published in 1963 BUSINESS The growth of business in America diminished the intellectual It extolled the practical man who solves real problems, not the flighty one who doesn t have to meet a payroll As business becamepowerful this perception gained strength It resulted in an emphasis on practical education and applied science rather than philosophy, literature and basic science At the bottom is the idea that our needs are better met by increased consumption than a fully developed mind.The self made man, a phrase first used by Henry Clay in 1832, was a popular 19th century concept Rarely true as most successful people started with considerable advantages This concept was areasonable notion when college education consisted of Greek, Latin and the classics and business practices were simple After America became industrialized and businesscomplex, higher education began offeringengineering, accounting and law Education became accepted as necessary for business, but traditional intellectual pursuits were still considered irrelevant EDUCATION Schools in America originally conformed to European standards as a way to prepare the upper classes for further academic studies But in early America ordinary citizens did not want to fund colleges for the rich Most communities would only pay the lowest possible salary for teachers for the most rudimentary education Through the 19th and into the 20th century schools became increasingly seen as a way to learn skills necessary to make a livelihood and participate in democracy, while support foracademic education continued to erode.By the end of WWII still only 4 in 10 graduated from high school Many education experts felt that 60% of students could not benefit from an academic or even a high level vocational education This was the advent of the Life adjustment movement among educators and saw the introduction of socially oriented classes aimed at everyday living activities Relying on interpretations of tests and IQ that were highly questionable, these educators determined that the minds of 60% of the people could not be developed beyond a minimal level The author attributes much of this movement to a bias against intellectualism, the perception that it was not egalitarian and thus un American, that somehow it was wrong for the average person to try to raise himself above his peers in intellectual pursuits In the 1950 s this movement lost steam as parents becamehighly educated themselves and wantedfor their children Parents saw the world demandingcomplex skills The Sputnik scare helped CONCLUSION Intellectualism declined sharply in stature after its heyday in the early American Republic The country s founders were largely well educated men of ideas that led the nation into its bold experiment After the 1820 s intellectuals lost power, became self absorbed and reverted to their traditional role in the leisure class engendering distrust by the general population Progressive politics in 1890 changed the intellectual They began espousing the democratic values that were the basis for their own disdain putting themselves in an awkward situation During times in the 20th century when intellectuals were accepted, at least tolerated, many felt uncomfortable at no longer being alienated Intellectuals are nonconformists often seen as aberrant as is the case of many great writers, scientists and artists But it is these exceptional minds that offer us unique perspectives Today, the discrediting of intellectuals by so many in America is everstrident Unfortunately this is at a time when we have never been inneed of the critical examination of thought and the new ideas that intellectuals provide. The book was largely a historical overview on the systematic repression suppression of intellectual thought in America And I m using overview in a very poor way it was excruciatingly detailed However, it is strikingly relevant for application in our current society Covering topics ranging from religion which by its nature, must strangle intellectual thought to ensure the masses follow blindly , to education where the humanities are losing funding to the strict business applicable sciences The detailed historical insight was rather dense and frankly overbearing But I certainly appreciate its necessity America has long, deep rooted traditions that downplay and push away intellectual thought, something that in Europe is, at least,appreciated in an overall sense The final chapter is nearly a call to arms, for American intellectuals to counteract the ignorance that exists within our country, and not stand for being conformed into the current American society Unfortunately, I m afraid this is relatively impossible, given that America is so tightly focused on the practical as opposed to the theoretical The American Dream, after all, is economically focused, not intellectually focused And while I want economic success just as much as the next person, our fundamental purpose in life must strive to be something greater than simple economic fulfilment. Essential reading that has not aged at all There was so much here commentary, history, and well written analysis of current events Though the current events are now history, it was still totally relevant This is a must read. This book is not nearly as snotty as the title makes it sound It s full of amazing unknown social history of early America and draws a startling line showing many of the ways that the unique American character was formed from the early 1600 s on And it does so largely without judgement, even though the overall thrust of the book is an argument that the disapproval of education and knowledge for their own sake tend to undermine our social structures and retard our advancement as a nation It s a very well written, highly readable if sometimes dense book and it will alter forever your perceptions of America If that s what you re into. Finished this a while back been meaning to write the review It is excellent and in depth and sadly much of it is still perfectly relevant Also great for anyone interested in US history Hofstadter s examination of religion and its role in American society is fascinating It is by no means simple, there have been multiple factions in the religious sphere here, some were forces for enlightenment reason knowledge and others were anti intellectual forces that cudgeled people with blind dogmatism and preached constant and full submission to authority These forces waxed and waned, sometimes one gaining the upperhand over the other in the political sphere, each exerting different levels of power in various regions There is also an interesting class angle that is intermixed within all this, the main one that comes to mind is the elite New England uppercrust religious intellectuals who held a lot of power and sway in that region and often times at the federal level They helped establish many of the original higher level education institutions Some fascinating dynamics between them and anti establishment anti elitist populist dogmatists who preached against reason and science because it didn t conform to their world views But they also hated the elitist New England brahmins because of their outsized power and their monopolization of the educational resources in this country One particularly interesting fact that Hofstadter hits sometimes the greatest anti intellectuals emanate from the intellectual sphere, reactionary intellectuals who might be perfectly intellectual within a broad array of subjects but in certain arenas are completely blind and retrograde It was an interesting point and I think very true, I consider them the most pernicious because they leverage their credentials and operate from a larger platform from which they push their wacky anti intellectual arguments They are insiders who sometimes revel in torpedoing the knowledge establishment and colleagues from the inside I imagine this is generally done in good faith, but sometimes I have to imagine there is jealousy or anger towards colleagues or the intellectual establishment that prompts this sort of thing I don t know We can all be blind to our biases, even the highest level experts and intellectuals but these people can end up doing a lot of damage, the public seizes upon their arguments to confirm their conspiracies or push their anti intellectual agenda Highly recommend this book Hofstader is a great writer and historian imo The scope of this book is broad but there is a lot of nuance and in depth examination It is not a book you read in one sitting though, best to read in slow morsels, digest, think about Maybe it will be a grinding read for some but I found it completely spell binding as it really got me thinking and I think helped me learn quite a bit of US history as well Also a great examination on the philosophy of education, the US education system, attitudes towards education and knowledge, and how these have all evolved Education and knowledge are not not very high up on the totem pole as compared to sports and entertainment and worship of power and money The fact that the word intellectual is still a dirty word here in this country is very telling We face many of the same problems now that we did 50 years ago when this was written, which is really a mind bogglingly sad fact Maybe we face a new dark age I have no idea The paradox is that we have access toinformation than ever before but it seems like we only consume and accept what will reinforce narratives we already believe in in pointing this out I m not saying I m immune to this myself haha but I try to recognize and fight my tendencies but it is certainly not easy That s why a proper approach to education and instilling critical thinking and curiosity via the education system but also via family and community is so important imo, it takes resources and a lot of trial and error, but we are going down the wrong path that is for sure Anti intellectualism is not only an American thing But we have a rich history of it, and its influence in our culture matters a lot given our power and influence in the world But if we can t invest in our education system and instill curiosity, love of learning, valuing of knowledge, and an ability to appreciate and practice a certain level of critical thinking within our populace we will gradually lose power in the world That s how I see it We ve managed to stay on top for a long time, even when our education system wasn t the best because we had a nice brain drain going for us along with a lot of fantastic fundamentals like a wealth of natural resources With current policies we might end up reversing the brain drain which we have relied upon for so long, it has masked the flaws in our education system and its classist fundamentals If this happens the flaws of our education system will likely be magnified beyond belief, and we will all bear the economic repercussions which are already being felt but will only get worse. I first read this book in my Intellectual History of the United States class when I was in college a hundred years ago and I ve felt the need to revisit it about every decade In light of the level of what constitutes political, social, and cultural discourse in the United States today and out of total frustration with my college students who have emerged from schools that want them to feel good about themselves and have both lowered expectations and inflated grades, it was time to pull it off the bookshelf, dust it off, and give it a reread Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer Prize in History for this book in 1964 and much of what he says is true today He highlights a thread of resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it and traces that thread from early American history to the period in which he was writing Hofstadter demonstrates that some social movements in the U.S have divorced intellect from other human virtues and treated it as if it is a vice and in doing so he sees much of American history in education, politics, business, and religion as a pitting of intellect against emotion, character, practicality, and democracy This anti intellectualism has had a long history and staying power It has been used to disparage individuals throughout our history such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Adlai Stevenson And, in Hofstadter s view, it has fostered an unshakable belief in the superiority of inborn, intuitive, folkish, wisdom over the cultivated, oversophisticated, and self interested knowledge of the literati And these attitudes have consequences Hofstadter believes that an intellectual approach to life accepts the premise that conflict is a constant and there is a need for spirited discussion and an openness to compromise But, again in his view, the anti intellectual bias has produced a society that looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and, accordingly, it scorns compromise who would compromise with Satan and can tolerate no ambiguities Sadly, this conclusion seems as current in 21st century America as it has been in our past. Anti Intellectualism In American Life Was Awarded ThePulitzer Prize In Non Fiction It Is A Book Which Throws Light On Many Features Of The American Character Its Concern Is Not Merely To Portray The Scorners Of Intellect In American Life, But To Say Something About What The Intellectual Is, And Can Be, As A Force In A Democratic SocietyHofstadter Set Out To Trace The Social Movements That Altered The Role Of Intellect In American Society From A Virtue To A Vice In So Doing, He Explored Questions Regarding The Purpose Of Education And Whether The Democratization Of Education Altered That Purpose And Reshaped Its FormIn Considering The Historic Tension Between Access To Education And Excellence In Education, Hofstadter Argued That Both Anti Intellectualism And Utilitarianism Were Consequences, In Part, Of The Democratization Of KnowledgeMoreover, He Saw These Themes As Historically Embedded In America S National Fabric, An Outcome Of Her Colonial European And Evangelical Protestant Heritage Anti Intellectualism And Utilitarianism Were Functions Of American Cultural Heritage, Not Necessarily Of Democracy So the question isn t where did the current anti intellectualism come from It s where did it go for a few decades Hofstadter s mission is to explain how we ended up here One reason why the political intelligence of our time is so incredulous and uncomprehending in the presence of the right wing mind is that it does not reckon fully with the essentially theological concern that underlies right wing views of the world Characteristically, the political intelligence, if it is to operate at all as a kind of civic force rather than as a mere set of maneuvers to advance this or that special interest, must have its own way of handling the facts of life and of forming strategies It accepts conflict as a central and enduring reality and understands human society as a form of equipoise based upon the continuing process of compromise It shuns ultimate showdowns and looks upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with which it is familiar It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in degrees It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time circumspect and humane.The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this it is essentially Manichean it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises who would compromise with Satan and can tolerate no ambiguities It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothingthan a variant of Communism which, as everyone knows, is atheism.This elegantly states what we all complain about But how did we get here Hofstadter provides the background, the development of the various strains of both intellectuals and antis at work I most enjoyed the first half or two thirds, which was a historical overview There is much good material on the New England Puritan clergy well spring, and the counter force of the evangelical preacher This section rolls on through Progressivism, the New Deal brain trust, and ends with McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson, Eisenhower, and a ray of hope in Kennedy It discusses how business ended up in the anti intellectual camp, as opposed to, say, the closer relationship between business and intellectual life in Tory England.Then there is a long, I think outdated, tirade about the disastrous impact of John Dewey s writing on the US education system You can skim it the Sputnik era changed things enough to need a new assessment He finishes with an analysis of the estrangement of the contemporary 1963 intellectual The identity of the intellectual, he argues, has become to be estranged Whereas the proper identity of the intellectual is to reason oneself into objective positions from which you may become estranged from society through criticism of the status quo He also presents the choice intellectuals feel themselves facing 1 to have power within the system, now that former standard intellectual roles are obsolete, by working for the big organizations, and making the necessary compromises, or 2 to keep one s integrity by working on the fringes and resign oneself to suffering in impotence.My advice is read the first half to two thirds, which build the foundation of the quote at the beginning of this review, and skim the rest But it s definitely well worth it.