Of all the nasty names that one might hurl at a political opponent, none is quite so annoying as “anti-intellectual.” The term implies hostility to the intellectual process itself, evoking an image of rubes in John Deere ball caps pulling suspenders away from their beer bellies as they spit tobacco and rail against those pointy-headed perfessers back east, but it usually means nothing more than dissent from the consensus of elite academic opinion. Any true intellectual would concede that over the centuries the consensus of elite academic opinion has often proved catastrophically wrong, while history has just as fr equently vindicated the views of the beer-bellied and tobacco-spitting rubes, but for some reason “anti-intellectual” remains a term of opprobrium.
The point was brought to mind by a recent editorial in Harvard University’s student newspaper, The Crimson, in which the authors take two Harvard-educated Republican politicians and a social conservative news commentator to task for daring to criticize their alma mater. Attributed to “the staff,” the editorial damns the trio as apostates, class traitors, and of course “anti-intellectual.” Anyone unwilling to toe the Harvard Line for the rest of their days, the editorialists say, should matriculate elsewhere.
Although we are not regular readers of The Crimson, the editorial was so widely ridiculed in the conservative media that we could not resist taking a look at it for ourselves. Sure enough, it’s quite ridiculous. The authors ooze self-righteous condescension, lamenting that they could not have met a “young, wide-eyed Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, or Bill O’Reilly” and shown them the error of their error of their narrow-minded ways, and they adhere to the stereotype of Ivy League snootiness so faithfully that their work reads more like a parody from the Harvard Lampoon than an earnest editorial. Despite their archly ironic tone, the writers charge that conservatives are intolerant and thus not be tolerated on the Harvard campus, and they argue that anyone who independently reaches conclusions that differ from what he has been taught by his supposed betters is anti-intellectual, and they don’t seem to notice any irony there.
The editorialists are presumably undergraduates at Harvard, and perhaps should therefore be forgiven the characteristic arrogance of youth, but too many of the people who are graduated from the elite colleges and universities carry the same presumption of intellectual superiority through public life. Such hubris always brings about a downfall, just as the Greek philosophers warned, but apparently today’s Harvard students are spending their time on more modern texts such as the Marxist clap-trap that the editorialists seem to seem to cherish. There’s no reason that more sensible sorts should be cowed by the ivy-covered credentials of such snot-nosed brats, though, and if these are the intellectuals there is no shame in being against them.
— Bud Norman