On Intellectualism and the Conservative Movement

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 3, 2011

I appreciate Glenn Reynolds’s dismissal of those who are “credentialed, not educated,” but it seems to me that one of his readers has it quite right with the following:

. . . I am always disturbed by conservative anti-intellectualism.

Particularly, what disturbs me, is that it equivocates intellectualism per se with a specific species of intellectualism (statism of various stripes.) Why have conservatives ceded the title of intellectual to their opponents, instead confidently putting their faith in their gut instincts, “common sense,” and other decidedly “non-intellectual” ways of deciding? While it may be superior to statism in this case, it doesn’t make it good.

So why not instead say “These intellectuals have failed. Our intellectuals have a better grasp of reality and how men must live in it”? Why a rejection of intellectualism per se? It troubles me, because I have a profound respect for rational thought and a systematic approach to the troubles humanity faces, and seeing people mock that because one crop of intellectuals chose their theoretical models over reality can’t bode well.

On a practical level, voters like to feel that the people they vote for are intelligent, thereby making voters feel intelligent by having voted for intelligent candidates. Again, I recognize that there is a difference between “intelligent” and “intellectual,” just as there is a difference between “educated” and “credentialed,” but many voters don’t recognize that difference, and believe that the intellectual is necessarily intelligent (and often times, vice versa). So I agree with Reynolds’s reader that the best thing for conservatives to do is to state that the other side’s intellectuals have failed, and that intellectuals on the Right have a better sense of what needs to be done to address the nation’s problems and challenges. Embracing intellectualism–fairly or unfairly–signals to voters that conservatives have a deep sense of respect for “rational thought and a systematic approach to the troubles humanity faces,” and makes it more difficult for pundits, commentators, and the Left to state that the Left is smarter than the Right, or that the Left has won the battle of ideas.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WGKURYWDNN5K5KI5Z5FTME7KPU pivots

    Sorry to disagree, but there is only one type of rational thought. Assumptions that do not contradict, along with empirical evidence, and changing assumptions based upon the evidence. See the new book, “Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living”. Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles.

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