Phi Beta Cons

This Would Be Offensive If It Weren’t So Absurd

I refer to a big essay in the July 20 Chronicle Review by Russell Jacoby entitled “Dreaming of a World With No Intellectuals.”

Leftists seem to need to keep reminding themselves that they’re smart and those of us who disagree with them are “the stupid party.” Hence essays like this one, arguing that conservatives (and I suppose Jacoby would include libertarians) are at heart “anti-intellectual.” He writes, referring to William F. Buckley Jr., “Buckley was hardly alone in deriding intellectuals as out-of-touch elitists, an attitude that can easily slide into a wholesale denunciation of knowledge and education itself. What does schooling bring aside from an undermining of Christian truths?”

Jacoby, a history professor at UCLA, fails to make the obvious distinction between being against intellectuals per se (and you might find a few conservative-minded people who share George C. Wallace’s disdain for “pointed-headed intellectuals”) and being against letting certain intellectuals dominate society through their influence on government. Buckley was not against the Harvard faculty (he got on well with John Kenneth Galbraith, for one) — he just didn’t want to be ruled by it (famously preferring to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book).

If conservatives are anti-intellectual, why did so many read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom after Glenn Beck mentioned it last year? Why is there any market for books by people like Richard Epstein? Why would Forbes publish intellectual-rich content like this piece by Professor Art Carden?

Yes, Professor Jacoby, conservative politicians have been known to appeal to ideas you regard as primitive (such as creationism) to win votes, but it’s just as easy to point to leftist politicians who do the same thing with ideas that are just as primitive (like the notion that government spending stimulates the economy). Chronicle Review often runs screedy pieces like this. I wonder if the editors ever tell writers like Jacoby, “No, running that would be embarrassing.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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