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, &c.) 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 can 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 politics—and not even a very sophisticated politics, but a base 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.
Very similar to their awe for ideological violence is the liberal respect for consistently leftist liars like Michael Moore. Moore was made of, by, and for liberals, and he remains a celebrity to liberals despite the fact that there is probably no more recklessly anti-intellectual a figure in America today (with the possible exception of the moronic liberal darling Cornell West). He has contempt for anything approaching a truthful description of reality or a reasonable theory of politics or economics. His work is a set of cheap thrills for those with a knee-jerk hostility to the free market. Yet those thrills don’t even add up to anything like a sensible plot. His lies and distortions are well documented, and even turn off some thoughtful liberals. Yet he is still admired by a great many others, who are more committed to the party than to the basic facts. If that isn’t anti-intellectualism, I don’t know what is.
What about the “Bush lied, people died” meme? No serious person can believe that the Bush Administration consciously lied about the intelligence on Iraq in order to trump up a war to seize Iraqi oil. Yet tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people believe this, and proudly say so on the bumpers of their cars. Is this the intellectualism of the Democratic party?
Many rank and file liberals believe a whole host of basic untruths, and do not bother themselves with examining their beliefs any farther than their emotional prejudices allow them. Consider the environmentalists, who believe in a wide variety of panicky flasehoods about the state of the earth. Al Gore made a film riddled with misleading or half-true claims. Did the left correct him or urge him to be more intellectually honest? No, they gave him an Oscar.
It doesn’t get much better when you move to the more moderate liberals, either. Liberals believe that government can efficiently allocate resources, and run, say, a health care system for hundreds of millions of people, despite the basic failures of such systems in other countries. And they believe this, not because they disagree with the discoveries of economists like Friedrich Hayek, or have an answer to the problem of rent-seeking, a term which most Democrats have probably never heard. No, they believe this because of their emotional commitment to wealth-redistribution, a commitment based on a moral premise—that the wealthy should pay the bills of the poor because poverty is “unfair”—which they rarely even bother to defend. Ask why your earnings should be taken from you by the state and given to someone else, and you will rarely get an intellectual answer. I’ve certainly never been given one. I’ve heard a lot of emoting, and a lot of accusations of nefarious corporate meanness, and a lot of heart-rending stories about how hard it is to be poor. But an intellectual defense of redistributive government? That’s a rarity.
The leadership of the American left appeals not to ideas but to emotion—envy, usually, or panic—to move party members to embrace empty promises of material prosperity through government manipulation, promises no competent economist can fail to see through. The left is fond of violence and power, and the romanticism and iconography of thugs who are transformed into celebrities among leftist intellectuals. Liberals are this country’s leading practitioners of race and gender politics. Barack Obama exploits the power of crowds to chant empty slogans promising that the laws of economics can be magically suspended if we just have enough faith (“Yes, we can!”)…. And yet this is not the party of anti-intellectuals and populists?
Update: Welcome LGF readers! (I've cleaned up some of my overhasty prose.)