One often hears intellectuals adopting anti-intellectual positions. Academics routinely deride the “Ivory Tower,” for instance, and highly educated theologians insist on the superior insights of the people in the pews. There’s apparently just something about reading and thinking a lot that makes some people crave contact with the “grass roots.”
I’ve tended to understand this as a form of self-hatred stemming from an anti-intellectual culture, but lately I’ve begun to wonder if there might not be another factor at work. Maybe the intellectuals who are so enamored of plain folk just enjoy being the smartest person in the room. Maybe they’re tired of arguments, tired of proving themselves — and they just want to settle down in a social location where everyone will recognize that they’re right. They side with the people over against the elitist intellectuals because that is the way for them to secure their elite status. They deride other intellectuals as divisive bullies, as intolerable snobs, in order to innoculate their group from seeking another intellectual leader.
In other words, the anti-intellectualism of the intellectuals is an attempt to convert intellect directly into power and authority. Thus in a sense, they’re right to distinguish themselves from the “Ivory Tower,” that mythical land where people argue in good faith and accept criticism and correction, where people don’t take the recommendation of another book as an insult and welcome input from people who know more than them. Where’s the payoff in that?