Our Founding Fathers designed a mode of government that requires an enlightened citizenry in order to be effective. Have you ever read the Federalist Papers? These essays were published in three New York papers over a period of time and so it must have been expected that the average newspaper-reading citizen would be able to comprehend them. Many of those who decry elitism while deifying the Founding Fathers fail to see the irony.
Certainly we need politicians who are in touch with the needs of the middle and lower classes but that doesn’t mean we have to elect candidates who eschew the importance of an extensive and broad-based education in favor of being able to “relate to everyday people” as Marco Rubio recently said in comments to a conservative women’s group. But as Steve Benen wrote in the Washington Monthly:
Other than politics, there’s hardly any aspect of modern life where this would be considered credible. If someone’s car breaks down, they don’t usually think, “Who needs an ‘expert’? What I want is someone who can relate to everyday people.”
If someone needs medical attention, they don’t usually think, “All these doctors with their highfalutin science; who needs ’em?”
If someone needs to fly from one airport to another, they don’t usually think, “I don’t care if the pilot has years of training; I care if he/she is in touch with my values.”
In my research for this post I first searched “anti-intellectualism in America” and was inundated with articles, books, essays, etc. I then searched “anti-intellectualism in France”. The first page of hits included five sources which were actually about this phenomenon in America. There was, however, an interesting blog post about French President Sarkozy:
Sarkozy does not read and does not even pretend that he is in the least interested in literature or arts, which constitutes yet another break with the tradition of French presidents. He is the son of an immigrant from Central Europe who made it to the top of French politics without studying in the elitist Grandes Ecoles. These features should have earned him the sympathy of the French people as they like to back the underdog. However, Sarko has squandered this opportunity: his ostentatious nouveau riche profile and his courtship of the mega-rich have put off the whole nation.
In the end, Sarkozy may fail to substantially Americanize France if the French people find the political resources to defeat his neoliberal rampages through the economy. In the meantime, the country is run by a president who, like George W. Bush, thinks that the world is divided between “good” and “bad people”, that intellectuals are sissies and, last but not least, that it is alright to be not so educated, filthy rich and brag about it.”
One of the more interesting things I read (*article no longer available) was about a group of “more than 20,000 French artists, thinkers, film-makers, scientists, lawyers, doctors and academics (who) have signed a petition accusing the centre-right government of “waging war on intelligence” and instituting “a new state (of) anti-intellectualism”. As the author of the article points out, in France, thinkers are afforded the sort of respect usually reserved for rock stars in other countries. I find that rather refreshing.
I don’t mean to imply that everyone needs to pursue an Ivy League education, or even that everyone needs a college degree of any sort. There is equal value in the tradesman who keeps our cars, appliances, plumbing and electrical systems functioning. Or the self-taught computer guru. Or the stay-at-home mom nurturing the next generation. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t write off intellectuals as “elitists” and discount their value in society and in our government. And I also think it would be nice if ordinary people occasionally had conversations about art, literature, or history in addition to chatting about the latest episode of Jersey Shore or which team they are rooting for this weekend. Just sayin’. 😉
Note: An interesting look at this topic:
“Lisa and American Anti-intellectualism” by Aeon J. Skoble