Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Anti-intellectualism? Yep.

Over at that there WWWW, Maximos responds to James Poulos of The American Scene, sniping at Christopher Orlet's review of a book by a Susan Jacoby. (I love the web.) In reply to Maximos, I submit:

While a doctorate in archeology earned in the study of Proto-Phoenician Basket Weaving does little to prepare one to make arguments on abortion or climatology, the mistake is not that such a learned person has the temerity to make the argument, but that anyone imputes to his argument any weight because of who he is in the first place. It takes no small helping of arrogance to do that for oneself.

Let arguments stand or fall as they are able.

We can toss Jacoby's faith in her received Truths into the same bin she tosses ours, pour on the EVOO, and light the pyre. "Intellectual" has always had both negative and positive connotations, because it carries innately a description of a person who doesn't do honest work.

There are at least two aspects of the anti-intellectualism to bring out. Jeff discusses the Chomsky syndrome, in which a man important in his own field has the hubris to assert relevance in another.

But the second is the tendency of the modern liberal to believe he must speak out on every issue. This derives, I think, from a view of integrity that defines it as constancy in liberalism. How often we hear huge liars and adulterers, not here named, described as people of "integrity". We shake our heads in disbelief, and wonder at the blinders the person must be wearing to make that claim. But it is that odd definition of integrity which is meant.

And so the liberal intellectual is compelled by a sense of integrity to speak out on every issue, else lose credibility to tu quoque. Ironically, the person loses credibility when doing so, not only from speaking on issues on which they are not fully expert, but from taking a uniformly partisan, unbalanced, or uncritical view of them.

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