Part I: Introduction
Chapter 1 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time
After twenty years of Democratic rule, during which the intellectual had been in the main understood and respected, business had come back into power, bringing with it “the vulgarization which has been the almost invariable consequence of business supremacy.”
“Anti- intellectualism,” Schlesinger remarked, “has long been the anti- Semitism of the businessman.… The intellectual… is on the run today in American society.” 1
The Sputnik was more than a shock to American national vanity: it brought an immense amount of attention to bear on the consequences of anti- intellectualism in the school system and in American life at large.
After assuming for some years that its main concern with teachers was to examine them for disloyalty, the nation now began to worry about their low salaries. Scientists, who had been saying for years that the growing obsession with security was demoralizing to research, suddenly found receptive listeners.
One reason anti- intellectualism has not even been clearly defined is that its very vagueness makes it more serviceable in controversy as an epithet. But, in any case, it does not yield very readily to definition. As an idea, it is not a single proposition but a complex of related propositions. As an attitude, it is not usually found in a pure form but in ambivalence— a pure and unalloyed dislike of intellect or intellectuals is uncommon.
It is the complex itself I am interested in— the complex of historical relations among a variety of attitudes and ideas that have many points of convergence. The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti- intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.
Egghead: A person of spurious intellectual pretensions, often a professor or the protégé of a professor. Fundamentally superficial. Over- emotional and feminine in reactions to any problem. Supercilious and surfeited with conceit and contempt for the experience of more sound and able men. Essentially confused in thought and immersed in mixture of sentimentality and violent evangelism. A doctrinaire supporter of Middle- European socialism as opposed to Greco- French- American ideas of democracy and liberalism. Subject to the old- fashioned philosophical morality of Nietzsche which frequently leads him into jail or disgrace. A self- conscious prig, so given to examining all sides of a question that he becomes thoroughly addled while remaining always in the same spot. An anemic bleeding heart.
It was a rather comforting thought to have this labor leader saying this, when we had so many wisecracking so- called intellectuals going around and showing how wrong was everybody who don’t happen to agree with them. By the way, I heard a definition of an intellectual that I thought was very interesting: a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows.
Doubts about Mr. Gluck’s preparation for the post he was to occupy led to the suggestion that he had been named because of his contribution to the Republican campaign.
Now, as to the man’s ignorance, this is the way he was appointed: he was selected from a group of men that were recommended highly by a number of people I respect. His business career was examined, the F.B.I. reports on him were all good. Of course, we knew he had never been to Ceylon, he wasn’t thoroughly familiar with it; but certainly he can learn if he is the kind of character and kind of man we believe him to be.
It is important to add that Mr. Gluck’s service in Ceylon was terminated after a year by his resignation.
This young man is constitutionally incapable of deference to social status.
survival of this tradition. These brief quotations are taken from the most successful evangelist of our time, Billy Graham, voted by the American public in a Gallup Poll of 1958 only after Eisenhower, Churchill, and Albert Schweitzer as “the most admired man in the world”:
Chapter 2 On the Unpopularity of Intellect
Intellect, on the other hand, is the critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind.
In our education, for example, it has never been doubted that the selection and development of intelligence is a goal of central importance; but the extent to which education should foster intellect has been a matter of the most heated controversy, and the opponents of intellect in most spheres of public education have exercised preponderant power.
We know that there is something about intellect, as opposed to professionally trained intelligence, which does not adhere to whole vocations but only to persons.
which characterizes both the zealot, who lives obsessively for a single idea, and the mental technician, whose mind is used not for free speculation
The goal here is external and not self- determined, whereas the intellectual life has a certain spontaneous character and inner determination.
But it is also true that intellectuals are properly more responsive to such values than others; and it is the historic glory of the intellectual class of the West in modern times that, of all the classes which could be called in any sense privileged, it has shown the largest and most consistent concern for the well- being of the classes which lie below it in the social scale. Behind the intellectual’s feeling
Veblen spoke often of the intellectual faculty as “idle curiosity”— but this is a misnomer in so far as the curiosity of the playful mind is inordinately restless and active.
This very restlessness and activity gives a distinctive cast to its view of truth and its discontent with dogmas.
To the zealot overcome by his piety and to the journeyman of ideas concerned only with his marketable mental skills, the beginning and end of ideas lies in their efficacy with respect to some goal external to intellectual processes.
Human beings are tissues of contradictions, and the life even of the intellectual is not logic, to borrow from Holmes, but experience.
We need not be surprised, then, if the intellectual’s position has rarely been comfortable in a country which is, above all others, the home of the democrat and the antinomian.
It is a part of the intellectual’s tragedy that the things he most values about himself and his work are quite unlike those society values in him.
His playfulness, in its various manifestations, is likely to seem to most men a perverse luxury; in the United States the play of the mind is perhaps the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender indulgence.
And neither quality is considered to contribute very much to the practical business of life.
He is the object of resentment because of an improvement, not a decline, in his fortunes.
Expertise in the social sciences, on the other hand, may be rejected as gratuitous and foolish, if not ominous.
The expert appears as a threat to dominate or destroy the ordinary individual, but the ideologist is widely believed to have already destroyed a cherished American society.
At least from the Progressive era onward, the political commitment of the majority of the intellectual leadership in the United States has been to causes that might be variously described as liberal (in the American use of that word), progressive, or radical.
And it has drawn the continuing and implacable resentment of the right, which has always liked to blur the distinction between the moderate progressive and the revolutionary.
The truth is that the right- winger needs his Communists badly, and is pathetically reluctant to give them up.
What was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to socialism, and socialism to Communism.
Protestant individualist culture still so widely observable before the First World War was repeatedly shocked by change. It had to confront modernism in religion, literature, and art, relativity in morals, racial equality as a principle of ethics and public law, and the endless sexual titillation of our mass communications.
What is it that has taken root in the world, if it is not the spirit of American activism, the belief that life can be made better,
But the persistent strength of the Soviet Union, capped by the Sputnik and other triumphs in space, has given a rude shock to this confidence, for the United States is now confronted by a material power strong enough to pose a perpetual and indestructible challenge. What is more, this material power has unmistakably grown up under the stimulus of one of those fatal foreign isms.
In a certain sense the suspicious Tories and militant philistines are right: intellect is dangerous. Left free, there is nothing it will not reconsider, analyze, throw into question.
But intellect is always on the move against something: some oppression, fraud, illusion, dogma, or interest is constantly falling under the scrutiny of the intellectual class and becoming the object of exposure, indignation, or ridicule.
Neither in the development of the individual character nor in the course of history are problems posed in such a simple or abstract fashion.
Primitivism has had its links on one side with Christianity and on another with paganism; and perhaps some of its pervasive appeal may be attributed to the fact that through primitivism one may be a Christian and enjoy the luxury of a touch of paganism; or, contrarywise, that the basically pagan mind may find in primitivism a consoling element of faith.
In various guises primitivism has been a constantly recurring force in Western history and in our own national experience. It is likely to become evident wherever men of the intellectual class itself are disappointed with or grow suspicious of the human yield of a rationally ordered life or when they seek to break away from the routine or apathy or refinement that arise with civilization.
But there was more to it than this: business in America at its highest levels appealed not merely to greed and the lust for power but to the imagination; alluring to the builder, the gamester, and the ruler in men, it offered more sport than hunting and more power than politics.
Both our religion and our business have been touched by the pervasive and aggressive egalitarianism of American life, but the egalitarian spirit is still more effective in politics and education.
Part II: The Religion of the Heart
Chapter 3 The Evangelical Spirit
Since some tension between the mind and the heart, between emotion and intellect, is everywhere a persistent feature of Christian experience, it would be a mistake to suggest that there is anything distinctively American in religious anti-
It is to certain peculiarities of American religious life— above all to its lack of firm institutional establishments hospitable to intellectuals and to the competitive sectarianism of its evangelical denominations— that American anti- intellectualism owes much of its strength and pervasiveness.
They felt toward intellectual instruments as they did toward aesthetic forms: whereas the established churches thought of art and music as leading the mind upward toward the divine, enthusiasts commonly felt them to be at best intrusions and at worst barriers to the pure and direct action of the heart—
Whitefield, who, David Garrick said, could send an audience into paroxysms by pronouncing “Mesopotamia,” met with a wildly enthusiastic response to his preaching in America.
It must be added, however, that the effect of the Awakening was to subordinate education to religious factionalism and to consolidate the tradition of sectarian control of colleges.
The burning of books and the baiting of colleges, to be sure, were examples not of the characteristic behavior of the awakeners, but of their excesses.
There can be little doubt that the conventional judgment is right: by achieving a religious style congenial to the common man and giving him an alternative to the establishments run by and largely for the comfortable classes, the Awakening quickened the democratic spirit in America; by telling the people that they had a right to hear the kind of preachers they liked and understood, even under some circumstances a right to preach themselves, the revivalists broke the hold of the establishments and heightened that assertiveness and self- sufficiency which visitor after visitor from abroad was later to find characteristic of the American people.
In the South, despite the activity of such a distinguished Presbyterian preacher as Samuel Davies, later to be president of Princeton, a major part was played by Baptists and later by Methodists, groups less committed than the Presbyterians and Congregationalists to a learned ministry.
But the head of the family must be shiftless indeed, and void of all backwoods’ skill and enterprise, who could not make a table for family use.
It was a society of courage and character, of endurance and practical cunning, but it was not a society likely to produce poets or artists or savants.
Chapter 4 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists
The essence of American denominationalism is that churches became voluntary organizations.
“This is an age of freedom,” wrote the distinguished evangelical Presbyterian, Albert Barnes, in 1844, “and men will be free. The religion of forms is the stereotyped wisdom or folly of the past, and does not adapt itself to the free movements, the enlarged views, the varying plans of this age.” 3
Note – Page 83
Same should go for governments
In a society so mobile and fluid, with so many unchurched persons to be gained for the faith, the basic purpose of the denominations, to which all other purposes and commitments were subordinated, was that of gaining converts.
Revivalism succeeded where traditionalism had failed.
Simple people were brought back to faith with simple ideas, voiced by forceful preachers who were capable of getting away from the complexities and pressing upon them the simplest of alternatives: the choice of heaven or hell.
For the layman the pragmatic test in religion was the experience of conversion; for the clergyman, it was the ability to induce this experience.
The churches, whatever their denominational form or plan of organization, tended in varying degrees to move in the direction of a kind of congregationalism or localism.
The ministers, in turn, unable to rely as much as in the Old World upon the authority of their churches and their own positions, became, when they were most successful, gifted politicians in church affairs, well versed in the secular arts of manipulation.
Moreover, there was a premium upon ministers capable of a mixed kind of religious and nationalistic statecraft, whose object was to reform the country and win the West for Christianity.
The “star” system prevailed in religion before it reached the theater.
In considerable measure the churches withdrew from intellectual encounters with the secular world, gave up the idea that religion is a part of the whole life of intellectual experience, and often abandoned the field of rational studies on the assumption that they were the natural province of science alone.
Some of them, like the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutherans, were unaffected except in external ways by the currents of evangelicalism; others, like the Episcopalian, were affected in varying degrees from place to place; others, like the Presbyterian and Congregational, were internally divided by the evangelical movement.
The Episcopal Church had fallen to eighth place— a significant token of its inability, as an upper- class conservative church, to hold its own in the American environment.
The Presbyterians were often fiercely doctrinaire. Appealing to the enterprising and business classes as they did, they also became the elite church among the untraditional denominations.
the Old School found the New School altogether too sympathetic to interdenominational missionary societies, and in a lesser measure objected to abolitionist sympathizers and agitators, who were strong in New School ranks.
Finney was gifted with a big voice and a flair for pulpit drama. But his greatest physical asset was his intense, fixating, electrifying, madly prophetic eyes, the most impressive eyes— except perhaps for John C. Calhoun’s— in the portrait gallery of nineteenth- century America.
Finney was against all forms of elegance, literary or otherwise.
“There’s nobody out tonight but crows and Methodist preachers.”)
“It is more difficult to labour with educated men, with cultivated minds and moreover predisposed to skepticism, than with the uneducated.”
Baptists opposed missions in good part because they opposed the centralization of authority. Any concession to central church organization, they felt, would be a step toward “the Pope of Rome and the Mother of Harlots.”
Moody was quite unlike Finney. Whereas Finney overwhelmed audiences with an almost frightening power, Moody was a benign and lovable man, much happier holding out the promise of heaven than warning of the torments of hell.
Like Grant, Moody was inordinately simple, yet of powerful will; and his sieges of souls showed some of the same determined capacity for organization that went into the siege of Vicksburg.
Like Grant, he hid his intensity behind an unpretentious façade.
Whereas Finney had been a radical on at least one major social issue, that of slavery, Moody was consistently conservative; the union between the evangelical and the business mind which was to characterize subsequent popular revivalists was, to a great extent, his work.
His conservatism was a reflection of his pre- millennialist beliefs, which in him engendered a thoroughgoing social pessimism. Man was naturally and thoroughly bad, and nothing was to be expected of him on earth.
Decorum— of a sort— was to be kept; and there must be no distractions from the performance of the star.
Although the conditions of city evangelism demanded restraint in audiences, they seem to have released the preachers.
Surely the greatest image in the history of American preaching was Jonathan Edwards’s image of the soul as a spider held over the fire in the kitchen stove, suspended by a silken thread at the mercy of God.
“Half of the literary preachers in this town are A.B.’ s, Ph.D’s, D.D.’ s, LL.D.’ s, and A.S.S.’ s.” “If anyone thinks he can’t stand the truth rubbed in a little thicker and faster than he ever had it before, he’d better get out of here.” 3 It was this note, and not Moody’s, that was to be imitated by Billy Sunday.
“Jesus could go some; Jesus Christ could go like a six- cylinder engine, and if you think Jesus couldn’t, you’re dead wrong.” He felt it important also to establish the point that Jesus “was no dough- faced, lick- spittle proposition. Jesus was the greatest scrapper that ever lived.”
Chapter 5 The Revolt against Modernity
Moreover, the expanding education and the mobility of the whole country, and the development of a nationwide market in ideas, made it increasingly difficult for the secular, liberated thought of the intelligentsia and the scriptural faith of the fundamentalists to continue to move in separate grooves. So long as secularism in its various manifestations was an elite affair, fundamentalists could either ignore it or look upon it as a convenient scapegoat for militant sermons. But now the two were thrown into immediate and constant combat— this was the first consequence for religion of the development of a mass culture, and of its being thrown into contact with high culture.
Religion, for many individuals or groups, may be an expression of serene belief, personal peace, and charity of mind. But for more militant spirits it may also be a source or an outlet for animosities.
The one- hundred percenter, who will tolerate no ambiguities, no equivocations, no reservations, and no criticism, considers his kind of committedness an evidence of toughness and masculinity.
“There is a hell and when the Bible says so don’t you be so black- hearted, low- down, and degenerate as to say you don’t believe it, you big fool!” Again: “Thousands of college graduates are going as fast as they can straight to hell. If I had a million dollars I’d give $ 999,999 to the church and $ 1 to education.” “When the word of God says one thing and scholarship says another, scholarship can go to hell!” 9
The feeling that rationalism and modernism could no longer be answered in debate led to frantic efforts to overwhelm them by sheer violence of rhetoric and finally by efforts at suppression and intimidation which reached a climax in the anti- evolution crusade of the 1920’ s.
The older, rural and small- town America, now fully embattled against the encroachments of modern life, made its most determined stand against cosmopolitanism, Romanism, and the skepticism and moral experimentalism of the intelligentsia.
The Klan does not believe that the fact that it is emotional and instinctive, rather than coldly intellectual, is a weakness.
By the 1920’ s, however, the teaching of evolution, moving down the educational ladder, had overtaken high schools, and the high schools had begun to reach the people.
To the fundamentalists of Tennessee and elsewhere, the effort to stop the teaching of evolution represented an effort to save the religion of their children— indeed, to save all the family pieties— from the ravages of the evolutionists, the intellectuals, the cosmopolitans. 6 If the fundamentalists deserve any sympathy— and I think they do— it must be on this count. A good deal of their ferocity is understandable if one realizes that they saw (and still see) the controversy as a defense of their homes and families.
In his mind, faith and democracy converged in a common anti- intellectualist rationale.
Here is the crux of the matter: the juncture between populistic democracy and old- fashioned religion. Since the affairs of the heart are the affairs of the common man, and since the common man’s intuition in such matters is as good as— indeed better than— that of the intellectuals, his judgment in matters of religion should rule.
As Walter Lippmann observed, the religious doctrine that all men will at last stand equal before the throne of God was somehow transmuted in Bryan’s mind into the idea that all men were equally good biologists before the ballot box of Tennessee.
The fundamentalism of the cross was now supplemented by a fundamentalism of the flag. Since the 1930’ s, fundamentalism has been a significant component in the extreme right in American politics, whose cast of thought often shows strong fundamentalist filiations.
is not mere opportunism that causes the politically minded fundamentalist to gravitate toward the far right.
There seems to be such a thing as the generically prejudiced mind.
Studies of political intolerance and ethnic prejudice have shown that zealous church- going and rigid religious faith are among the important correlates of political and ethnic animosity. 3
The political climate of the post- war era has given the fundamentalist type powerful new allies among other one- hundred percenters: rich men, some of them still loyal to a fundamentalist upbringing, stung by the income tax and still militant against the social reforms of the New Deal; isolationist groups and militant nationalists; Catholic fundamentalists, ready for the first time to unite with their former persecutors on the issue of “Godless Communism”; and Southern reactionaries newly animated by the fight over desegregation.
The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this: it is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities.
It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism.
The issues of the actual world are hence transformed into a spiritual Armageddon, an ultimate reality, in which any reference to day- by- day actualities has the character of an allegorical illustration, and not of the empirical evidence that ordinary men offer for ordinary conclusions.
Instead, American Catholicism has devoted itself alternately to denouncing the aspects of American life it could not approve and imitating more acceptable aspects in order to surmount its minority complex and “Americanize” itself.
“self- imposed ghetto mentality.”
Catholicism was, moreover, the religion of the immigrant. 6
But both Catholic educators and non- Catholic friends like Robert M. Hutchins have been dismayed to see Catholic schools commonly reproducing the vocationalism, athleticism, and anti- intellectualism which prevails so widely in American higher education as a whole.
Part III: The Politics of Democracy
Chapter 6 The Decline of the Gentleman
The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics, and law to solve the exigent problems of their time. No subsequent era in our history has produced so many men of knowledge among its political leaders as the age of John Adams, John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, James Wilson, and George Wythe. One might have expected that such men, whose political achievements were part of the very fabric of the nation, would have stood as permanent and overwhelming testimonial to the truth that men of learning and intellect need not be bootless and impractical as political leaders.
The generation which wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution also wrote the Alien and Sedition Acts. Its eminent leaders lost their solidarity, and their standards declined.
The assault on Jefferson is immensely instructive because it indicates the qualities his enemies thought could be used to discredit him and establishes a precedent for subsequent anti- intellectualist imagery in our politics.
Smith hit upon a device that was to become standard among the critics of intellect in politics— portraying the curiosity of the active mind as too trivial and ridiculous for important affairs.
There was the notion that military ability is a test of the kind of character which is good for political leadership.
It was assumed that a major part of civic character resides in military virtue; even today an intellectual in politics can sometimes counteract the handicap of intellect by pointing to a record of military service.
The campaign against Jefferson became at the same time an attempt to establish as evil and dangerous the qualities of the speculative mind.
The implication seemed clear: the young confederacy must learn to keep men of intellectual genius out of practical affairs.
The popular parties themselves eventually became the vehicles of a kind of primitivist and anti- intellectualist populism hostile to the specialist, the expert, the gentleman, and the scholar.
At the heart of Manning’s philosophy was a profound suspicion of the learned and property- holding classes. Their education, their free time, and the nature of their vocations made it possible, he saw, for the merchants, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and executive and judicial officers of state to act together in pursuit of their ends, as the laboring man could not. Among these classes there is, he thought, a general dislike of free government: they constantly seek to destroy it because it thwarts their selfish interests.
As Manning saw it, the schoolmaster ought to become what in fact he did become in America— an inexpensive hired laborer of very low status.
The place of education, in this controversy between the few and the many, is a perfect paradigm of the place of high culture in American politics. Education was caught between a comfortable class only imperfectly able to nourish it, and a powerful, upsurging, egalitarian public chiefly interested in leveling status distinctions and in stripping the privileged of the instruments of privilege.
Its exponents meant to diminish, if possible to get rid of, status differences in American life, to subordinate educated as well as propertied leadership. If the people were to rule, if they aspired to get along with as little leadership as possible from the educated and propertied classes, whence would their guidance come?
The competitive two- party system guaranteed that an irresistible appeal to the voters would not long remain in the hands of one side, for it would be copied.
Chapter 7 The Fate of the Reformer
It was the “national character” which was at stake. The principles of freedom and competitive superiority which they had learned in their college courses in classical economics and had applied to the tariff question ought to be applied to public office: open competition on the basis of merit should be the civil- service analogue of fair competition in industry.
The professionals denounced the idea of a civil service based upon examinations and providing secure tenure as aristocratic and imitative of British, Prussian, and Chinese bureaucracies; as deferential to monarchical institutions, and a threat to republicanism; and as militaristic because it took as one of its models the examination requirements that had been instituted in the armed services. From the first, the distrust of
In vain did reformers protest that there was nothing undemocratic about tests open equally to all applicants, especially since the American educational system itself was so democratic, even at the upper levels.
In the attacks made by the reformers on the professional politicians, one finds a few essential words recurring: ignorant, vulgar, selfish, corrupt.
practically a test of masculinity. To be active in politics was a man’s business, whereas to be engaged in reform movements (at least in America) meant constant association with aggressive, reforming, moralizing women— witness
If women invaded politics, they would become masculine, just as men became feminine when they espoused reform.
The old byword for reformers—“ long- haired men and short- haired women”— aptly expressed this popular feeling.
In Roosevelt one finds the archetype of what has become a common American political image: the aspiring politician, suspected of having too gentle an upbringing, too much idealism, or too many intellectual interests, can pass muster if he can point to a record of active military service; if that is lacking, having made the football team may do.
Chapter 8 The Rise of the Expert
yearning to apply to social problems the principles of Christian morality which had always characterized its creed but too rarely its behavior.
To control and humanize and moralize the great powers that had accumulated in the hands of industrialists and political bosses, it would be necessary to purify politics and build up the
administrative state to the point at which it could subject the American economy to a measure of control.
This distaste was felt above all by business interests, which arraigned governmental meddling, complained of the costs of reform, and attempted to arouse the public against reformers with a variety of appeals, among them anti- intellectualism.
His mind is like a light which destroys the outlines of what it plays upon; there is much illumination, but you see very little.”
The bad press Tugwell got became worse when his ardent sponsorship of pure food and drug legislation caused such influential advertisers as the proprietary drug houses to mobilize the press against him.
Are we so silly, so supine as to permit amateur, self- confessed experimentalists to take our social and business fabric apart to see if they cannot reconstruct it in a pattern that is more to their liking?… laboratory experiments on the life, liberty and industry of America.… There is a vast difference between an experiment made in a test tube and one made on a living nation.
No answer, not even an answer couched more moderately than Mitchell’s, could assuage their basic fear, which was not a fear of the brain trust or the expert, but of the collapse of the world in which they had put their faith.
After twenty years of Democratic rule, the time for a change in the parties was overdue, if the two- party system was to have any meaning.
Part IV: The Practical Culture
Chapter 9 Business and Intellect
In times of prosperity, when the intellectual community has not been deeply engaged with political conflict, it is content to portray businessmen as philistines. In times of political or economic discontent, the conflict deepens, and the businessmen become ruthless exploiters as well.
The businessman is everywhere; he fills the coffers of the political parties; he owns or controls the influential press and the agencies of mass culture; he sits on university boards of trustees and on local school boards; he mobilizes and finances cultural vigilantes; his voice dominates the rooms in which the real decisions are made.
The contemporary businessman, who is disposed to think of himself as a man of practical achievement and a national benefactor, shouldering enormous responsibilities and suffering from the hostility of flighty men who have never met a payroll, finds it hard to take seriously the notion that he always gets his way.
In fact, the prestige of the businessman has been destroyed largely by his own achievements: it was he who created the giant corporation, an impersonal agency that overshadows his reputation as it disciplines his career; it was his own incessant propaganda about the American Way of Life and Free Enterprise that made these spongy abstractions into public generalities which soak up and assimilate the reputations of individual enterprisers.
Once great men created fortunes; today a great system creates fortunate men.
The freedom of intellect and art is inevitably the freedom to criticize and disparage, to destroy and re- create; but the daily necessity of the intellectual and the artist is to be an employee, a protégé, a beneficiary— or a man of business. This ambiguous relationship affects businessmen as well. Sensitive of their reputation, fearful and resentful of criticism, often arrogant in their power, they can hardly help but be aware that the patronage of learning and art will add to their repute.
Practical vigor is a virtue; what has been spiritually crippling in our history is the tendency to make a mystique of practicality.
The main reason for stressing anti- intellectualism in business is not that business is demonstrably more anti- intellectual or more philistine than other major sections of American society, but simply that business is the most powerful and pervasive interest in American life.
America has been the country of those who fled from the past.
With their minds fixed on the future, Americans found themselves surrounded with ample land and resources and beset by a shortage of labor and skills. They set a premium upon technical knowledge and inventiveness which would unlock the riches of the country and open the door to the opulent future.
Technology, skill— everything that is suggested by the significant Americanism, “know- how”— was in demand.
Among other things, the American attitude represented a republican and egalitarian protest against monarchy and aristocracy and the callous exploitation of the people; it represented a rationalistic protest against superstition; an energetic and forward- looking protest against the passivity and pessimism of the Old World; it revealed a dynamic, vital, and originative mentality.
This view of human affairs lent itself too readily to the proposition that the sum and substance of life lies in the business of practical improvement; it encouraged the complacent notion that there is only one defensible way of life, the American way, and that this way had been willfully spurned or abandoned by peoples elsewhere.
In the main, America took its stand with utility, with improvement and invention, money and comfort. It was clearly understood that the advance of the machine was destroying old inertias, discomforts, and brutalities, but it was not so commonly understood that the machine was creating new discomforts and brutalities, undermining traditions and ideals, sentiments and loyalties, esthetic sensitivities.
In a somewhat similar spirit, the conservative classicist and Orientalist, Tayler Lewis, objected that America boasted of its individualism while encouraging “mediocre sameness” in its utilitarian education.
The early nineteenth century inherited this ideal of the man of business as a civilized man and a civilizing agent.
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Men and materials could move faster than institutions and culture.
The money- making faculty is alone cultivated.
As business became the dominant motif in American life and as a vast material empire rose in the New World, business increasingly looked for legitimation in a purely material and internal criterion— the wealth it produced.
American business, once defended on the ground that it produced a high standard of culture, was now defended mainly on the ground that it produced a high standard of living.
Few businessmen would have hesitated to say that the advancement of material prosperity, if not itself a kind of moral ideal, was at least the presupposition of all other moral ideals.
Almost a century and a half after Franklin had considered the material foundations of cultural progress to have been established, the necessity of the material prerequisites was thus being asserted with greater confidence than ever.
Chapter 10 Self-Help and Spiritual Technology
Modern students of social mobility have made it incontestably clear that the legendary American rags- to- riches story, despite the spectacular instances that adorn our business annals, was more important as a myth and a symbol than as a statistical actuality.
The topmost positions in American industry, even in the most hectic days of nineteenth- century expansion, were held for the most part by men who had begun life with decided advantages.
The Self- Made Man in America, points out that the literature of self- help was not a literature of business methods or techniques; it did not deal with production, accounting, engineering, advertising, or investments; it dealt with the development of character, and nowhere were its Protestant origins more manifest.
for I am mediocre. But… business and life are built upon successful mediocrity; and victory comes to companies not through the employment of brilliant men, but through knowing how to get the most out of ordinary folks.… I am sorry to forego the company of [brilliant] men in my rather dingy building here in the wholesale grocery district. But I comfort myself with the thought that Cromwell built the finest army in Europe out of dull but enthusiastic yeomen; and that the greatest organization in human history was twelve humble men, picked up along the shores of an inland lake.
In the ranks of business, opinion on free common schools was divided between those who felt that such schools would create a more efficient and disciplined working class and those who balked at taxes or believed that education would only make workers discontented. 8
On two matters there was almost no disagreement: education should be more “practical”; and higher education, as least as it was conceived in the old- time American classical college, was useless as a background for business.
Although these figures show that the once cherished model of the self- made man was being relinquished, they cannot be taken as showing a rise in esteem for the liberal arts.
The colleges themselves, under the elective system, became more vocational.
A sign of the increasing vocational character of American higher education was the emergence of both undergraduate and graduate schools of business.
Within the universities, business schools were often non- intellectual and at times anti- intellectual centers dedicated to a rigidly conservative set of ideas.
He may be cherished as a mythological figure useful in the primitive propaganda battles of politics, but every sensible businessman knows that in the actual recruitment and training of big business personnel it is the bureaucratic career that matters. Yet in this recruitment and training the tradition of business anti- intellectualism, quickened by the self- made ideal, remains very much alive.
The preference for vocationalism is linked to a preference for character— or personality— over mind, and for conformity and manipulative facility over individuality and talent.
“No geniuses here; just a bunch of average Americans working together”;
Later, the Puritan doctrine of the calling suggested another more positive relationship: diligence in business was one of the ways of serving God.
The distinction between service to God and service to self broke down.
American theology which “tends to define religion in terms of adjustment to divine reality for the sake of gaining power rather than in terms of revelation which subjects the recipient to the criticism of that which is revealed.”
The consequence is that “man remains the center of religion and God is his aid rather than his judge and redeemer.”
American society, as most modern studies of the subject show, is still fluid; but the conditions of success have changed: success now seems more intimately related to the ability to seize upon formal training than it does to the peculiar constellation of character traits that figured so prominently in the old self- help books.
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What the inspirational writers mean when they say you can accomplish whatever you wish by taking thought is that you can will your goals and mobilize God to help you release fabulous energies.
The confusion between religion and self- advancement is perhaps most aptly embodied in the title of Henry C. Link’s remarkable book, The Return to Religion, a best- seller from 1936 to 1941. I do not think that this singular work could be regarded as entirely representative of inspirational literature, but it deserves special notice here, for it is possibly the most consummate manual of philistinism and conformity ever written in America.
The author feels obliged to wage a running battle against both individuality and mind in the interests of the will to conformity.
Introversion, which involves withdrawal, self- examination, individuality, and reflection, is bad. It is in fact merely selfish. For the Socratic maxim, “Know thyself,” Link would substitute the injunction, “Behave yourself,” because “a good personality or character is achieved by practice, not by introspection.” On the other hand, extroversion, which involves sociability, amiability, and service to others, is unselfish and good. Jesus was a great extrovert.
Link goes to church, he reports, “because I hate to go and because I know that it will do me good.” Church attendance builds better personalities. So do bridge- playing and dancing and salesmanship— they bring the individual into contact with others whom he must please.
The important thing for the individual is to get away from self- analysis and do work which will give him power over things. This, in turn, will lead to power over people, which will heighten self-
For all these purposes, the critical mind is a liability.
Reason is not an end in itself but a tool for the individual to use in adjusting himself to the values and purposes of living which are beyond reason. Just as the teeth are intended to chew with, not to chew themselves, so the mind is intended to think with, not to worry about. The mind is an instrument to live with, not to live for.
In America there is an unfortunate national tendency to introversion, which, among other things, causes people to shirk their responsibility for the unemployed and to imagine that the federal government should do something about them.
Chapter 11 Variations on a Theme
The American farmer, untraditional though he was about land speculation, about moving from place to place, or about adopting new machinery, was ultra- conservative about agricultural education or the application of science to farming.
The various experiments in agricultural colleges that were made in the United States before the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862 were chiefly the work of small, dedicated groups of agricultural reformers— which no doubt accounts in some part for the fact that in a nation overwhelmingly agricultural and desperately in need of agricultural skills4 so little was done until the federal government intervened.
However, whereas socialism may have taught such men the possibilities of a labor movement, the labor movement itself, once established, taught them the impossibility of socialism in America.
The intellectuals tended to look upon the labor movement as a means to a larger end— to socialism or some other kind of social reconstruction.
Inevitably, the attempt of socialist intellectuals, often from solid middle- class and sometimes from wealthy backgrounds, 1 to declass themselves spiritually and to accommodate to the proletarian ideals of Marxism led to a certain self- depreciation and self- alienation.
The Communist Party itself, keenly aware of the usefulness of its intellectual converts and at the same time of the danger that might be posed to its discipline by an influx of independent minds, adopted the strategy of exploiting the guilt and self- hatred of intellectuals as a means of keeping them in line.
Many writers had entered the movement in the belief that the revolt against the bourgeois world would be, for them at least, a revolt against its disrespect for culture.
Part V: Education in a Democracy
Chapter 12 The School and the Teacher
At times the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of the mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud.
That this literature should have been one of complaint is not in itself surprising, for complaint is the burden of anyone who aims at improvement; but there is a constant undercurrent of something close to despair.
education was a creature of ward politics; ignorant politicians hired ignorant teachers; teaching was an uninspired thing of repetitive drill. 9
They understood that the most irresistible way to “sell” education was to stress its role not in achieving a high culture but in forging an acceptable form of democratic society.
They adopted and fixed upon the American mind the idea that under popular government popular education is an absolute necessity.
That the development of intellectual power was not a central concern seems clear, but there is also some evidence that the anti- intellectualism I have already characterized in religion, politics, and business found its way into school practice.
The concept of culture presented in his readers had prepared him for “a life devoted to the pursuit of material success and a perfected character, but a life in which intellectual and artistic achievements would seem important only when they could be made to subserve some useful purpose.”
The function of education in inculcating usable skills and in broadening social opportunities was always clear. The value of developing the mind for intellectual or imaginative achievement or even contemplative enjoyment was considerably less clear and less subject to common agreement.
The figure of the schoolteacher may well be taken as a central symbol in any modern society.
Like other Americans, teachers live better in absolute terms than their European counterparts, but their annual salaries, relative to the per capita income of their country, have been lower than those of teachers in every country of the Western world, except Canada.
But the important fact is that American adolescents have more sympathy than admiration for their teachers.
They know that their teachers are ill- paid and they are quick to agree that teachers should be better paid. The more ambitious and able among them also conclude that schoolteaching is not for them.
What helped American education to break out of the vicious circle was the development of the graded primary school and the emergence of the woman teacher.
that “in our efforts to supply enough teachers for the public schools we have sacrificed quality for quantity.”
The prevailing assumption was that everyone should get a common- school education, and on the whole this was realized, outside the South.
The United States is the only country in the Westernized world that has put its elementary education almost exclusively in the hands of women and its secondary education largely so.
In 1953 this country stood almost alone among the nations of the world in the feminization of its teaching: women constituted ninety- three per cent of its primary teachers and sixty per cent of its secondary teachers.
The American masculine conviction that education and culture are feminine concerns is thus confirmed, and no doubt partly shaped, by the experiences of boys in school.
In a certain constricted sense, the male teacher may be respected, but he is not “one of the boys.”
The more adequate the rewards become in the upper echelons of education— in the colleges and junior colleges— and the higher the proportion of the young population that attends such institutions, the greater their capacity becomes to pull talent out of the lower levels of the system. It remains difficult to find enough trained talent to educate large masses in a society that does not make teaching attractive.
Chapter 13 The Road to Life Adjustment
In Europe children are generally schooled together only until the age of ten or eleven; after that they go separate ways in specialized schools, or at least in specialized curricula.
time. It is more universal, more democratic, more leisurely in pace, less rigorous. It is also more wasteful: class- oriented systems are prodigal of the talents of the underprivileged; American education tends to be prodigal of talent generally.
The disparity between the country’s moral commitment to educational democracy and its heavy reliance upon private schools for secondary education did not escape the attention of educational critics.
As early as the 1830’ s the academies were denounced as exclusive, aristocratic, and un- American.
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The great change which has affected the high school is that, whereas once it was altogether voluntary, and for this reason quite selective, it is now, at least for those sixteen and under, compulsory and unselective.
During the very years when the high school began its most phenomenal growth, the Progressives and trade unionists were assailing the old industrial evil of child labor. One of the most effective devices to counteract this practice was raising the terminal age for compulsory schooling.
The welfare state and the powerful trade union, moreover, saw to it that these laws were increasingly enforced. The young had to be protected from exploitation; and their elders had to be protected by keeping the young out of the labor market.
Now, in an increasing measure, secondary- school pupils were not merely unselected but also unwilling; they were in high school not because they wanted further study but because the law forced them to go.
But as soon as public education included secondary education, it began to be more doubtful that everyone could be educated, and quite certain that not everyone could be educated in the same way.
The problem of numbers had hardly made its appearance before a movement began in professional education to exalt numbers over quality and the alleged demands of utility over intellectual development.
American educators entered upon a crusade to exalt the academically uninterested or ungifted child into a kind of culture- hero.
The committee recognized that it would be desirable to find a larger place for music and art in the high schools, but it apparently found these of secondary importance and proposed to leave decisions about them to local initiative.
The high schools, they insisted, were meant to educate citizens in their public responsibilities and to train workers for industry, not to supply the colleges with freshmen. The high schools should be looked upon as “people’s colleges” and not as the colleges’ preparatory schools.
The colleges themselves were so numerous, so competitive, so heterogeneous in quality that in their hunger for more students they were far from vigilant in upholding the admissions standards of the past.
The task of the high school, the Committee of Nine argued, “was to lay the foundations of good citizenship and to help in the wise choice of a vocation,” but it should also develop unique and special individual gifts, which was “quite as important as the development of the common elements of culture.”
Immigrant parents, unfamiliar with American ways, were inadequate guides to what their children needed to know, and the schools were now thrust into the parental role.
The common complaint that the modern school tries to assume too many of the functions of other social agencies, including the family, derives in good measure from the response of educators to this problem.
The American mind seems extremely vulnerable to the belief that any alleged knowledge which can be expressed in figures is in fact as final and exact as the figures in which it is expressed.
Although such overconfident interpretations of these tests were never without sharp critics— among them John Dewey— the misuse of tests seems to be a recurrent factor in American education.
But it was more than this: it was an attempt on the part of educational leaders and the United States Office of Education to make completely dominant the values of the crusade against intellectualism that had been going on since 1910.
The important thing, then, is not to teach pupils how to generalize, but to supply them directly with the information they need for daily living— for example, to teach them, not physiology, but how to keep physically fit. The traditional curriculum consists simply
(The teaching of such subjects as languages and algebra had the function, one must believe, not of educating anyone, but simply of acting as hurdles that would trip up weaker pupils before they got to college.)
did not substantiate their views. Their misuse of experimental evidence, in fact, constitutes a major scandal in the history of educational thought.
Politically the older education was conservative, in that it accepted the existing order of society and called upon the child to assert himself within its framework— which was largely that of nineteenth- century individualism.
They accepted his world as being, in the first instance, largely definitive for them, and were content to guide his thinking within its terms, however parochial in place and time, and however flat in depth.
in short, to adapt gracefully to the passive and hedonistic style summed up in the significant term adjustment.
Chapter 14 The Child and the World
In the first instance, Dewey was trying to devise a theory of education— of the development of intelligence and the role of knowledge— which would be wholly consistent with Darwinism.
It will be apparent that the new education was presented to the world not simply as an instrumentality but as a creed, which went beyond the hope of this or that strictly educational result to promise some kind of ultimate salvation for individuals or for the race.