Political Hay

Illiterates and Intellectuals

They have one thing in common: a blind faith in the Democratic Party.

By 11.29.04

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Democrats, according to pollsters, receive votes from the least educated and the most educated, from grade school dropouts to college presidents. This suggests parallels between the undereducated and the overeducated that most professors don't wish to entertain. Illiterates and intellectuals form the odd couple of the Democratic Party. How did it happen? One explanation is that both groups are drawn to the party's emotional demagoguery. Having lost contact with common sense through a skeptical distrust of reason, postmodernist professors more or less decide their politics on raw emotion -- the same passions that stir their uneducated fellow Democrats.

In a mid-November piece titled "Republicans Outnumbered in Academia" that attracted the attention of George Will and others, the New York Times's John Tierney asked a U.C. Berkeley professor why Democrats predominate at universities. "Unlike conservatives," he replied, "they believe in working for the public good and social justice..." In other words, professors care more and so naturally vote for the Democrats. Apart from its comic presumption, the comment reveals the unintellectual character of modern intellectuals: they speak more loudly about their hearts than their minds even as their compassionate conceits do harm to the people they purport to help.

Tierney collected another revealing quote, but this one from a professor exhausted with academia's resemblance to a base camp for the Democratic Party. "Our colleges have become less marketplaces of ideas than churches in which you have to be a true believer to get a seat in the pews," said Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars. "We've drifted to a secular version of 19th-century denominational colleges, in which the university's mission is to crusade against sin and make the country a morally better place."

The moral relativism professors teach in the classroom doesn't shake their confidence in the morality of the Democratic Party. Why isn't the morality of the Democrats subject to the usual academic contention that morality is unknowable? Because academics are practicing a kind of secular fideism, the idea that reason is irrelevant to faith and even if it contradicts faith, so what? The secular fideists on campus faculties can't square their customary skepticism and relativism with their fervent faith in the Democratic Party's policies, but no matter. If reason is irrelevant to academic life -- read academic reviews and most professors hesitate to say that man's reason can give a certain account of anything and more or less say academic life consists of opining and spinning unverifiable theories -- why shouldn't it be irrelevant to political life as well? A feeling for "social justice" is enough for them.

What then appears contradictory -- that Kerry commanded support from the least educated and the most educated -- isn't. Academics chose Kerry on the same nonrational criteria Michael Moore's rabble did -- on mere feelings and unreasoning hatred of Bush. Not scholars but activists, professors got so emotionally carried away they gave money to Kerry in embarrassing abundance, according to Tierney.

"Professors at Berkeley and other universities provided unprecedented financial support for the Democratic Party this election. For the first time, universities were at the top of the list of organizations ranked by their employees' contributions to a presidential candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group," he writes. "In first and second place, ahead of Time Warner, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft, were the University of California system and Harvard, whose employees contributed $602,000 and $340,000 respectively, to Senator John Kerry. At both universities, employees gave about $19 to the Kerry campaign for every dollar for the Bush campaign."

But unlike Socrates who generated in his students a lively interest in the political order by teaching truths to them, American academics, judging by the anemic youth turnout for Kerry, went to the polls for the Democrats largely alone, apparently unable to inspire their students with the wan and absurd theories they substitute for classical political philosophy. And when the election didn't turn out as they had hoped, Garry Wills and other intellectuals blamed the uneducated mob for the results, even though the polls indicated that professors hewed to the same voting patterns as the subliterate. "The ratio of Democratic to Republican professors ranged," writes Tierney, "30 to 1 among anthropologists." The proponents of unintelligent design voted for Kerry en masse, which may explain Garry Wills' random pout that Bush's victory raises the question, "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened Nation?" The question Wills won't ask is: Can academics who turn their minds, hearts, and pocketbooks over to the Democratic Party be considered enlightened?

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.