Few strains run quite as deep in the American psyche as a pervasive anti-intellectualism that has somehow inverted the notion that all people are equal before the law and possessed of the same unalienable rights into the currently fashionable fake egalitarianism that lies at the heart of so much nonsense. There is a subset of Americans that reflexively recoils at “so-called experts” who “think they know more than we do.” Well I’m sorry, Goober, but lots of people know more than you do about a lot of things. And herewith, the latest example of how this idea metastasizes. From Dan Coats, the man appointed by the President to be his point man in assuring the confirmation of Harriet Miers:
“If great intellectual powerhouse is a qualification to be a member of the court and represent the American people and the wishes of the American people and to interpret the Constitution, then I think we have a court so skewed on the intellectual side that we may not be getting representation of America as a whole,” Mr. Coats said in a CNN interview.
Mr. Specter, asked about that remark, laughed and wondered if it was “another Hruska quote” – a reference to an oft-quoted comment by the late Roman Hruska, a Republican senator from Nebraska, who defended G. Harrold Carswell, a Supreme Court nominee who was rejected by the Senate. “Even if he is mediocre,” Mr. Hruska said, “there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”
Our Supreme Court justices are “skewed on the intellectual side”? Such imbecility is almost impossible to parody. What would you prefer, Mr. Coats, a Supreme Court that “looks like America”, maybe with a hairdresser, a steelworker and an accountant on it? The Hruska quote nails it perfectly. This anti-intellectualism is nothing more than how the mediocre make themselves feel better about their ignorance.
And the contradictions at the core of our culture make it all the more ridiculous. We crow constantly about how in America everyone has the right to better themselves through education, but if they become an expert in something by going all the way to their PhD, there is a huge segment of the population that immediately looks at them with a jaundiced eye. Suddenly they become a “pointy-headed intellectual” who may be “book smart” but surely must lack “common sense”, or at least that’s what they tell themselves.
In a legal sense, I am an egalitarian to the core. The rule of law must apply equally to the rich and the poor, the smart and the stupid, regardless of color, religious, sexual orientation, and any other irrelevant characteristic. Beyond that, I agree completely with William Henry when he wrote:
In the pursuit of egalitarianism, an ideal wrenched far beyond what the founding fathers took it to mean, we have willfully blinded ourselves to home truths those solons well understood, not least the simple fact that some people are better than others – smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace. Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal. Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study.
The American antipathy toward this idea is made manifest in a thousand different ways, from grade schools that refuse to give out failing grades for fear of damaging the student’s self-esteem to the ubiquity of karaoke machines, with their unspoken assumption that the average person is just a star waiting to be discovered. It has reached even into that bastion of elitism, the Ivy League, where a full two-thirds of students now graduate “with honors”. The more we descend into this lunacy, the closer we get to Garrison Keillor’s mythical land where “all the children are above average.”