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Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

af Richard Hofstadter

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
1,1441312,765 (4.11)37
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 society.

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Viser 1-5 af 13 (næste | vis alle)
Having lived through the last 4 years of the Trump presidency, I can't help but wonder what the hell had happened to the United States. According to the polls, half the country blindly supported him, regardless of what he said or did, regardless of any institutional norms he managed to destroy. His speeches (or, really, rambling rants stinking with the filth of racism, sexism, jingoism...) managed to make no difference in his followers' undying loyalty. Coming from 8 years prior with an intellectual president, Barack Obama, it was a complete 180 in the direction many thought the country would head to. If you were paying attention, then you were trying to search for answers as to why an anti-intellectual imbecile was voted to the highest office in the land.

My personal search brought me to Richard Hofstadter and to this very well researched work. He tackles the underlying theme of anti-intellectualism that has been prevalent in four major pillars of American society: the religious, political, educational and business institutions. He offers a broad look of history, jumping in between pre-Revolutionary times until the mid 20th century. Within all of these, it seems that practicality was deemed more important than being educated in a classroom. Here are some examples I remember:

1. In religion, it was said that the one true book anyone ever needed to read was the Bible, and to dive into other works was foolish and unnecessary. A learned preacher was looked at with suspicion, and his sermons were thought of as being too intellectual for the simple man to follow, too difficult to understand. As one group of evangelical workers had put it: "It is more difficult to labour with educated men, with cultivated minds and moreover predisposed to skepticism, than with the uneducated."

2. Politics suffered from the same accusations. A man who tilled the land and worked with his hands knew more about how to run a government, how to speak to the layman; the "egghead" with his face shoved in books couldn't possibly understand any of this.

3. Colleges were looked at with dubiety as well. It was believed that only the rich and educated could send their kids there; the son of the farmer had no chance of being accepted. Not to mention that taxes had to be paid to support these institutions of higher learning, and that didn't jive well with the common people.

4. Practicality and business went hand in hand in the early 18th century. As industrialism began to grow, it became apparent that the need of college-educated men was needed to tackle the increasingly complicated workings of a growing economy, and international commerce was beginning to become a thing. Regardless, intellectualism was still being attacked.

In our current times, anti-intellectualism is still alive and well. In media, the scientist is still portrayed as a wily-eyed, wild-haired maniac who's esoteric dialogues only aim to confuse. The educated were looked at as effeminate -- real men worked with their hands and were not leisurely lounging around with their heads clouded in reverie. How many movies depict the 'nerd' being bullied around by the athlete? Whenever the 'nerd' speaks about the wonders of the universe or the complexity of biology, what to make of the looks of disgust and the eye-rolls they are given?

If you are wondering how we in America got here, this would be a great place to begin. ( )
  ProfessorEX | Apr 15, 2021 |
The most interesting parts were in the historical observations. The fifth part on anti-intellectualism in education, particularly concerning the state of secondary education seemed irrelevant; at least my experience as in the late 1980s, early 1990s followed the college prep structure Hofstadter advocated. I was raised Catholic so the part on religion, essentially American Protestantism, was also quite interesting. ( )
  encephalical | Feb 2, 2020 |
Classic by Pulitzer Prize winning author, actually a better book than the prize winner Age of Reform. Hofstadter discusses the tendency of American's to ignore science and education, and to marginalize it's intellectuals for lacking cultural ideal. Very thoughtful read, and a must have in the American History library. ( )
  atufft | Jul 14, 2019 |
  Mandyshu | May 21, 2019 |
A classic work on the dismissal of intellectual practices in America, differentiated from similar (but less prominent) movements in other parts of the world. The work was written during the Kennedy administration, when intellectualism was slightly in the ascendancy, so his viewpoint about the people who would not take over the world could have seemed valid at that time...there had been several periods where intellectuals were, if not truly valued, at least seen as useful. Since that time, however, it has all been a downhill slide, and the book could easily be written today without too much amendment (just cut and paste some of the chapters on the early 20th century into the early 21st century, update the names, and voila!). It is a vital corrective for anyone who thinks that the current period is somehow unique in American history and just arose out of the blue or even recently. It is the culmination of a thread of anti-intellectualism that has been present in the country since the beginning - before the founders, even. The main complaints are with the length - there is a lot of redundancy that could be shaved out, and that would make it a slightly easier read for people who do not read 400+ page books but could benefit from reading this one. The main other complaint is that books written during this period share a common fallacy - the idea that people were men, and that there were only a few women scattered through history who made contributions. Even in 1963, this was a bit outdated of a worldview, and it grates. Otherwise, a well written, well researched, and important work. ( )
  Devil_llama | Jun 28, 2018 |
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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 society.

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