October 13, 2011

GROWING? HOW COULD WE GET ANY MORE ANTI-INTELLECTUAL?:

America's growing anti-intellectualism (Paul Rosenberg, 12 Oct 2011, Al Jazeera)

America has always had a critical thinking deficit, in that it has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. This is particularly perverse, maddening and contradictory, since America's Founders were the most intellectual group that ever founded any nation we know of, and the desire to foster free and critical thinking, both in government and in the society at large, was one of their notable goals, as a direct consequence of the Enlightenment heritage on which America's Founders depended.

This philosophy prized individual critical inquiry, as well as institutions-formal and informal-which enabled individual efforts to be joined together into a far more powerful whole. This outlook was crucially important to the creation of a new nation on a new hemisphere, confident enough to establish itself on a new political foundation with some ancient roots, but fashioned with its own original design. Mere imitation of the past was rejected as a guiding principal. So, too, was blind reliance on the fantasy of individual political genius. Instead, the spirit and process of critical inquiry was crucial to how the new nation was conceived.

The basic architecture of "separation of powers", for example, was intended to prevent the accumulation of all power into the hands of any unaccountable group or faction - and thus to put a premium on the process of advancing ideas that could pass the muster of critical examination by the widest possible range of parties involved. Similarly, steps were taken to insulating of government from dogmatic religious influence. Religious tests for public office were banned in the Constitution itself, and separation of church and state was formalised in the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom, which similarly guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press - all intimately connected to the individual and collective exercise of critical reason.

And yet, despite all this, there was always an anti-Enlightenment, anti-intellectual side of America as well.

The Founders, of course, explicitly rejected intellectualism in the Declaration and Constitution, basing America on faith instead.  But what would you expect from the English, whose entire history of philosophy consists of repudiating the Enlightenment?

Posted by at October 13, 2011 7:00 PM
  

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