Reasonable men may debate whether we need another book testifying to the dumbing down of America. On my bookshelf I find several titles addressing the topic from both sides of the aisle: Jacques Barzun’s House of Intellect, Dwight Macdonald’s Against the American Grain, Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-intellectualism in American Life, the more recent Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. Their lure is strong and undeniable.
As is the promise of discovering some new evidence of or insights into our culture’s alleged hostility toward intellectual pursuits. Just don’t expect to find any in Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason.
“American is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism,” Ms. Jacoby asserts. I’ll go along with that, though it’s not like this strain is a new discovery.
Ralph W. Emerson remarked upon it in 1837, when, in “The American Scholar” he observed that, “The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.” In his study of Celtic folkways in the Old South, Grady McWhiney tells how northern and European visitors to the southern states were amazed at that culture’s disdain of Victorian morality, the WASP work ethic, and, especially, book learning.
Arguably the cultural battle between elite, lettered Yankees and rowdy southern crackers commenced when Andrew Jackson challenged John Quincy Adams for the presidency in 1828 and won.
As Michael Graham notes in Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War, despite temporary setbacks in the War of Northern Aggression and Civil Rights Movement, the hillbillies have been winning ever since.
JACOBY’S TESTIMONY that Americans are hostile to intellectual pursuits includes their denial of global warming (I mean global “climate change”), the teaching of intelligent design, the prosecution of the Iraq War, (though not the Afghanistan War) and a general disdain for the word “intellectual.”
You see the thread here. These are items long atop the conservative agenda. That’s because for Jacoby anti-intellectualism in American Life is synonymous not with — as McWhiney or Hofstadter would have it — the southern cracker culture, but with conservatism.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?