I've seen the charge thrown around that our side is anti-intellectual. We hate intellect and those who possess it! We're just a bunch of rubes.
Well, perhaps we are guilty of anti-intellectualism. But before I am found guilty, I think quaintly that my rights as a citizen give me the opportunity to speak in my own defense.
So, let's look at what we mean by anti-intellectualism. I think, in fact, that both our critics and some of our supporters often conflate two different kinds of anti-intellectualism.
There is one kind of anti-intellectualism that stems from a considered doubtfulness of any specialist’s ability to micro-manage extremely complicated, intractable problems.
There is another sort of anti-intellectualism that is suspicious of anything that is complex itself out of a kind of fear that such complexity is a tool being used to pull the wool over our eyes.
Let us regard these phenomena in turn together.
The first kind of anti-intellectualism has been given popular expression through Bill Buckley’s “Boston Phonebook” dictum and Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. These statements are more urgent than, but draw their power from, far deeper arguments found in the trenchant philosophical stances of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the skepticism of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, in the humility of Christian theology, in the self-examination of man by Montaigne, in the wisdom of the market found in Smith, and in the prudent statecraft of Edmund Burke and our Founders.
This anti-intellectualism wonders at and loves the complexity of man and the world. It observes carefully, analytically, notes the subtle gradations between man's motivations and the permanency of his nature. It has slow eyes, and slow hands. It looks to a program which can improve man and his estate but which regards perfection as impossible. It is therefore skeptical of the imaginings of some of the best and brightest that they have all the answers to all the problems, and need only be given the authority to implement perfect solutions. Its highest exemplars look down upon this kind of conceit, because from their height, seeing farther, they note the problems that the public intellectual is too clumsy to see. But, loving the best and brightest, especially in their youth, it speaks to them in an attempt to convert them to its way of thinking.
But there is another kind of anti-intellectualism, and this one stems from different sources, and comes to different conclusions. Herein, I would include the hearty, gut reaction, populist sentiment anti-intellectualism that says “that’s some sleight of hand, sonny. I’m being sold a bill of goods and I don’t buy it.” It has its roots in practical experience, and draws its strength from the practice of the Christian virtue of humility. It rebukes those who think themselves the best and brightest, it rejects them as foolhardy idealists and their studies as a time better spent on more practical things.
This anti-intellectualism is possessed of a firm faith in a few simple truths about the world that work. It is unaware, perhaps, that these truths may contradict one another, or at least it is unconcerned if they should. It is impatient with forms of thinking and argumentation that require extended periods of long reflection, practice, and learning, because it feels they get too caught up in things that have no immediate bearing on the world. It knows the truth already and longs for someone, anyone, who will just speak it loudly and plainly.
These two forms of anti-intellectualism do not fit together philosophically. They are often at odds temperamentally. It is a mistake to conflate them.
But they are permanent, and they are akin to two different musical chords which can be harmonized in a polity. They are both needed, I say, in their own way.
So, jurors, am I guilty?