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Anti-intellectualism is hostility to and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectualism commonly expressed as deprecation of education and philosophy, and the dismissal of art, literature, and science as impractical and even contemptible human pursuits. Anti-intellectuals present themselves and are perceived as champions of common folk—populists against political and academic elitism. They tend to see educated people as a status class detached from the concerns of most people, and feel that intellectuals dominate political discourse and control higher education.
Totalitarian governments manipulate and apply anti-intellectualism to repress political dissent. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and the following right-wing dictatorship (1939–1975) of General Francisco Franco, the reactionary repression of the White Terror (1936–1945) was notably anti-intellectual, with most of the 200,000 civilians killed being the Spanish intelligentsia, the politically active teachers and academics, artists and writers of the deposed Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939). In the Communist state of Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979), the Khmer Rouge régime of Pol Pot condemned most of the non–Communist intelligentsia to death in the Killing Fields.
- 1 Ideological anti-intellectualism
- 2 Academic anti-intellectualism
- 3 In Europe
- 4 In Asia
- 5 See also
- 6 Footnotes
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
In the 20th century, some societies have systematically removed intellectuals from power, sometimes assassinating them, to expediently end public political dissent. During the Cold War (1945–1991) in Eastern Europe, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1948–1990) ostracized the philosopher Václav Havel as a politically unreliable man unworthy of ordinary Czechs' trust; the post-communist Velvet Revolution (17 Nov. – 29 Dec. 1989) elected Havel president for ten years.
In the West, government anti-intellectualism includes nonviolent closures of public libraries and public schools, legalistic segregation of academic intellectuals to the Ivory Tower, and official medico-legal declarations that intellectuals tend to mental illness. Such political prostitution of the law facilitates psychiatric prosecution and imprisonment of intellectuals, usually as part of scapegoating the national intelligentsia for the dictatorship’s socioeconomic purposes, as in Fascist Italy.
In 1966, the anti-communist Argentine military dictatorship of Gen. Juan Carlos Onganía (1966–70) intervened to the University of Buenos Aires with The Night of the Long Batons to physically dislodge politically dangerous academics from five university faculties. That expulsion to exile of the academic intelligentsia became a national brain drain upon the society and economy of Argentina. In support of the military repression of free speech, the biochemist César Milstein said: "Our country would be put in order, as soon as all the intellectuals who were meddling in the region were expelled." In Brazil, the government banished the educator Paulo Freire for being an ignorant man, said the organizers of the current coup d’ État.
Ideologically extreme dictatorships who mean to recreate a society, such as the Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia (1975–79), pre-emptively killed potential political opponents, especially the educated middle-class and the intelligentsia. To realize the Year Zero of Cambodian history, Khmer Rouge social engineering restructured the economy by de-industrialization, and assassinated non-communist Cambodians suspected of "involvement in free-market activities", such as the urban professionals of society (physicians, attorneys, engineers, et al.) and people with political connections to foreign governments. The Maoist doctrine of Pol Pot identified the farmers as the true proletariat of Cambodia and the true representatives of the working class entitled to hold government power, hence, the anti-intellectual purges.
Anti-intellectualism is not always violent, because any social group can act anti-intellectually, and discount the humanist value to their society of intellect, intellectualism, and higher education. In Uruguay, the writer Jorge Majfud said that "this contempt, that arises from a power installed in the social institutions, and from the inferiority complex of its actors, is not a property of 'underdeveloped' countries. In fact, it is always the critical intellectuals, writers, or artists who head the top-ten lists of 'The Most Stupid of the Stupid' in the country."
In the U.S., conservative politicians, such as David Horowitz (David Horowitz Freedom Center), ex-education-secretary William Bennett, and paleoconservative activist Patrick Buchanan, criticize schools and universities as intellectualist places that teach individualist distrust of the authority of tradition.
In The Campus Wars (1971), the philosopher John Searle said that “the two most salient traits of the radical movement are its anti-intellectualism and its hostility to the university as an institution. . . . . Intellectuals, by definition, are people who take ideas seriously for their own sake. Whether or not a theory is true or false is important to them, independently of any practical applications it may have. [Intellectuals] have, as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, an attitude to ideas that is at once playful and pious. But, in the radical movement, the intellectual ideal of knowledge for its own sake is rejected. Knowledge is seen as valuable only as a basis for action, and it is not even very valuable there. Far more important than what one knows is how one feels.”
In Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972), the sociologist Stanislav Andreski advised laymen to distrust the intellectuals’ appeals to authority when they make questionable claims about resolving the problems of their society: "Do not be impressed by the imprint of a famous publishing house, or the volume of an author's publications. . . . Remember that the publishers want to keep the printing presses busy, and do not object to nonsense if it can be sold."
In Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science (1990), the epistemologist Larry Laudan said that the prevailing type of philosophy taught at university in the U.S. (Postmodernism and Poststructuralism) is anti-intellectual, because "the displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter, by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is — second only to American political campaigns — the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time."
In 1995, the academic and social critic Camille Paglia said that the university-educated "cultural élite" is "a parasitic class" who cannot fend for themselves in the real world, and that in a societal disaster, "the only thing holding this culture together will be [the] masculine men of the working class. The cultural elite—women and men—will be pleading for the plumbers and the construction workers" to rescue them from the material, not the social malfunctions of U.S. society.
In the Sokal Hoax (1996), at Duke University, the physicist Alan Sokal submitted to the culture-studies journal Social text a pseudo-scientific report — which postulated that the law of gravity is a social construct — in order to test if the magazine would "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense, if (a) it sounded good, and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions." Social Text published Sokal’s paper without checking the facts or correcting mathematical and scientific errors. When Social Text published the unverified article, Sokal said "my little experiment demonstrate[s], at the very least, that some fashionable sectors of the American academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy."
Distrust of intellectuals
In the U.S., the American economist Thomas Sowell argued for distinctions between unreasonable and reasonable wariness of intellectuals in their influence upon the institutions of a society. In defining intellectuals as "people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas", they are different from people whose work is the practical application of ideas. That cause for layman mistrust lies in the intellectuals’ incompetence outside their fields of expertise. Although possessed of great working knowledge in their specialist fields, when compared to other professions and occupations, the intellectuals of a society face little discouragement against speaking authoritatively beyond their field of formal expertise, and thus are unlikely to face responsibility for the social and practical consequences of their errors. Hence, a physician is judged competent by the effective treatment of the sickness of a patient, yet might face a medical malpractice lawsuit should the treatment harm the patient. In contrast, a tenured university professor is unlikely to be judged competent or incompetent by the effectiveness of his or her intellectualism (ideas), and thus not face responsibility for the social and practical consequences of the implementation of the ideas, e.g. the Chicago Boys and the Military dictatorship of Chile (1973–90).
In the book Intellectuals and Society (2009), Sowell said that:
By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way.
Hence, school teachers are part of the intelligentsia who recruit children in elementary school and teach them politics — to advocate for or to advocate against a public policy — as part of community-service projects; which political experience later assists them in earning admission to university. In that manner, the intellectuals of a society intervene and participate in social arenas of which they might not possess expert knowledge, and so unduly influence the formulation and realization of public policy. In the event, teaching political advocacy in elementary school encourages students to formulate opinions "without any intellectual training or prior knowledge of those issues, making constraints against falsity few or non-existent."
In Britain, the anti-intellectualism of the writer Paul Johnson derived from his close examination of twentieth-century history, which revealed to him that intellectuals have continually championed disastrous public policies for social welfare and public education, and warned the layman public to "beware [the] intellectuals. Not merely should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice." In that vein, “In the Land of the Rococo Marxists” (2000), the American writer Tom Wolfe characterized the intellectual as "a person knowledgeable in one field, who speaks out only in others."
In The Powring Out of the Seven Vials (1642), the Puritan John Cotton demonized intellectual men and women by noting that “the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee. . . . Take off the fond doting . . . upon the learning of the Jesuits, and the glorie of the Episcopacy, and the brave estates of the Prelates. I say bee not deceived by these pompes, empty shewes, and faire representations of goodly condition before the eyes of flesh and blood, bee not taken with the applause of these persons.” Yet, not every Puritan concurred with Cotton's religious contempt for secular education, some, such as John Harvard, founded a university.
In The Quest for Cosmic Justice (2001), the economist Thomas Sowell said that anti-intellectualism in the U.S. began in the early Colonial era, as an understandable wariness of the educated upper-classes, because the country mostly was built by people who had fled political and religious persecution by the social system of the educated upper classes. Moreover, there were few intellectuals who possessed the practical hands-on skills required to survive in the New World of North America, which absence from society lead to a deep-rooted, populist suspicion of men and women who specialize in "verbal virtuosity", rather than tangible, measurable products and services:
From its colonial beginnings, American society was a "decapitated" society—largely lacking the top-most social layers of European society. The highest elites and the titled aristocracies had little reason to risk their lives crossing the Atlantic, and then face the perils of pioneering. Most of the white population of colonial America arrived as indentured servants and the black population as slaves. Later waves of immigrants were disproportionately peasants and proletarians, even when they came from Western Europe . . . The rise of American society to pre-eminence, as an economic, political, and military power, was thus the triumph of the common man, and a slap across the face to the presumptions of the arrogant, whether an elite of blood or books.
In U.S. history, the advocacy and acceptability of anti-intellectualism varied, because in the 19th-century most people lived a rural life of manual labour and agricultural work, therefore, an academic education in the Græco–Roman classics, was perceived as of impractical value; the bookish man is unprofitable. Yet, in general, Americans were a literate people who read Shakespeare for intellectual pleasure and the Christian Bible for emotional succor; thus, the ideal American Man was a literate and technically-skilled man who was successful in his trade, ergo a productive member of society. Culturally, the ideal American was the self-made man whose knowledge derived from life-experience, not an intellectual man whose knowledge of the real world derived from books, formal education, and academic study; thus, the justified anti-intellectualism reported in The New Purchase, or Seven and a Half Years in the Far West (1843), the Rev. Bayard R. Hall, A.M., said about frontier Indiana:
We always preferred an ignorant, bad man to a talented one, and, hence, attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since, unhappily, smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and [like-wise] incompetence and goodness.
Yet, in the society of the U.S., the “real-life” redemption of the egghead intellectual was possible if he embraced the mores of mainstream society; thus, in the fiction of O. Henry, a character noted that once an East Coast university graduate “gets over” his intellectual vanity — he no longer thinks himself better than other men — he makes just as good a cowboy as any other young man, despite his common-man counterpart being the slow-witted naïf of good heart, a pop culture stereotype from stage shows.
Political polarization in the U.S. favoured the use of anti-intellectualism by each political party (Republican and Democratic) to undermine the credibility of the other party with the middle class. In Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) the historian Richard Hofstadter said that anti-intellectualism is a social-class response, by the middle-class “mob”, against the privileges of the political élites. As the middle class developed political power, they exercised their belief that the ideal candidate to office was the “self-made man”, not the well-educated man born to wealth. The self-made man, from the middle class, could be trusted to act in the best interest of his fellow citizens. In Americans and Chinese: Passages to Differences (1980), Francis Hsu said that American egalitarianism is stronger in the U.S. than in Europe, e.g. in England,
English individualism developed hand in hand with legal equality. American self-reliance, on the other hand, has been inseparable from an insistence upon economic and social as well as political equality. The result is that a qualified individualism, with a qualified equality, has prevailed in England, but what has been considered the unalienable right of every American is unrestricted self-reliance and, at least ideally, unrestricted equality. The English, therefore, tend to respect class-based distinctions in birth, wealth, status, manners, and speech, while Americans resent them.
Such social resentment characterises contemporary political discussions about the socio-political functions of mass-communication media and science; that is, scientific facts, generally accepted by educated people throughout the world, are misrepresented as opinions in the U.S., specifically about climate science and global warming. In 1912, the New Jersey governor, Woodrow Wilson, described the battles of anti-intellectualism:
What I fear is a government of experts. God forbid that, in a democratic country, we should resign the task and give the government over to experts. What are we for if we are to be scientifically taken care of by a small number of gentlemen who are the only men who understand the job?
An uneducated society
American society tends to deny the factual reality of climate change; as such, 25 per cent of the U.S. population believe in a geocentric solar system, that the sun orbits planet Earth,  and, in 2014, 35 per cent of Americans could not name any branch of the U.S. government. Regarding the quality of educational instruction, the U.S. is ranked 52nd out of 139 nations in the world, and is ranked 12th in the number of university-educated adults. At the universities, student anti-intellectualism has resulted in the social acceptability of cheating-as-schoolwork, especially in the business schools, which is a manifestation of ethically expedient cognitive dissonance rather than of academic critical thinking.
The American Council on Science and Health said that denialism of the facts of climate science and of climate change, means to misrepresent verifiable data and information as political opinion. In that vein, anti-intellectualism puts scientists in the public view and so forces them to align with either a liberal or a conservative political stance. One third of Americans believe that climate scientists know about climate change, while fewer than one third believe that scientists know how to end global climate change. Moreover, 53 per cent of Republican politicians in the U.S. House of Representatives and 74 percent of Republican senators deny the scientific facts and the occurrence of climate change.
In the rural U.S., anti-intellectualism is an essential feature of the religious culture of Christian fundamentalism. Some Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church have directly published their collective support for political action to counter climate change; whereas Southern Baptists and Evangelicals have denounced belief in climate change as a sin, and have dismissed scientists as intellectuals attempting to create "Neo-nature paganism". Hence, the sociological reports about scientific denialism being a common denominator among religious communities; people of fundamentalist religious belief tend to report not seeing evidence of global warming.
Corporate mass media
The reportage of corporate mass-communications media appealed to societal anti-intellectualism by misrepresenting university life in the U.S., where the students’ pursuit of book learning (intellectualism) was secondary to the after-school social life. That the reactionary ideology communicated in mass-media reportage misrepresented the liberal political activism and social protest of students as frivolous, social activities thematically unrelated to the academic curriculum, which is the purpose of attending university. In Anti-intellectualism in American Media (2004), Dane Clausen identified the contemporary anti-intellectualist bent of manufactured consent that is inherent to commodified information:
The effects of mass media on attitudes toward intellect are certainly multiple and ambiguous. On the one hand, mass communications greatly expand the sheer volume of information available for public consumption. On the other hand, much of this information comes pre-interpreted for easy digestion and laden with hidden assumption, saving consumers the work of having to interpret it for themselves. Commodified information naturally tends to reflect the assumptions and interests of those who produce it, and its producers are not driven entirely by a passion to promote critical reflection.
The editorial perspective of the corporate mass-media misrepresented intellectualism as a profession that is separate and apart from the jobs and occupations of regular folk. In presenting academically successful students as social failures, an undesirable social status for the average young man and young woman, corporate media established to the U.S. mainstream their opinion that the intellectualism of book-learning is a form of mental deviancy, thus, most people would shun intellectuals as friends, lest they risk social ridicule and ostracism. Hence, the popular acceptance of anti-intellectualism lead to populist rejection of the intelligentsia for resolving the problems of society. Moreover, in the book Inventing the Egghead: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture (2013), Aaron Lecklider indicated that the contemporary ideological dismissal of the intelligentsia derived from the corporate media’s reactionary misrepresentations of intellectual men and women as lacking the common-sense of regular folk.
In the field of psychology, confirmation bias is the mental phenomenon that confirms the validity of a person's self-accepted beliefs, ideals, and values, to create emotional hostility (anti-intellectualism) towards and mistrust of other beliefs, ideals, and value systems to which the anti-intellectual person has not been exposed; thus, confirmation bias is a symptom of anti-intellectualism. The writer Isaac Asimov, said that “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ ”
In the first decade after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks suspected the Tsarist intelligentsia as potentially traitorous of the proletariat, thus, the initial Soviet government comprised men and women without much formal education. Moreover, the deposed propertied classes were termed Lishentsy ("the disenfranchised"), whose children were excluded from education; eventually, some 200 Tsarist intellectuals such as writers, philosophers, scientists, and engineers were deported to Germany on Philosophers' ships in 1922; others were deported to Latvia and to Turkey in 1923.
During the revolutionary period, the pragmatic Bolsheviks employed "bourgeois experts" to manage the economy, industry, and agriculture, and so learn from them. After the Russian Civil War (1917–22), to achieve socialism, the USSR (1922–91) emphasised literacy and education in service to modernising the country via an educated working class intelligentsia, rather than an Ivory Tower intelligentsia. During the 1930s and the 1950s, Joseph Stalin replaced Lenin's intelligentsia with a "communist" intelligentsia, loyal to him and with a specifically Soviet world view, thereby for a while producing the worst examples of Soviet anti-intellectualism — the pseudoscientific theories of Lysenkoism and Japhetic theory, most damaging to biology and linguistics in that country.
The idealist philosopher Giovanni Gentile established the intellectual basis of Fascist ideology with the autoctisi (self-realisation) via concrete thinking that distinguished between the good (active) intellectual and the bad (passive) intellectual:
Fascism combats ... not intelligence, but intellectualism... which is... a sickness of the intellect... not a consequence of its abuse, because the intellect cannot be used too much... it derives from the false belief that one can segregate oneself from life.— Giovanni Gentile, addressing a Congress of Fascist Culture, Bologna, 30 March 1925
To counter the "passive intellectual" who used his or her intellect abstractly, and therefore was "decadent", he proposed the "concrete thinking" of the active intellectual who applied intellect as praxis—a "man of action", like Fascist Benito Mussolini, versus the decadent Communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci. The passive intellectual stagnates intellect by objectifying ideas, thus establishing them as objects. Hence the Fascist rejection of materialist logic, because it relies upon a priori principles improperly counter-changed with a posteriori ones that are irrelevant to the matter-in-hand in deciding whether or not to act.
In the praxis of Gentile's concrete thinking criteria, such consideration of the a priori toward the properly a posteriori constitutes impractical, decadent intellectualism. Moreover, this fascist philosophy occurred parallel to Actual Idealism, his philosophic system; he opposed intellectualism for its being disconnected from the active intelligence that gets things done, i.e. thought is killed when its constituent parts are labelled, and thus rendered as discrete entities.
Related to this, is the confrontation between the Spanish franquist General, Millán Astray, and the writer Miguel de Unamuno during the Dia de la Raza celebration at the University of Salamanca, in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. The General exclaimed: ¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte! ("Death to intelligence! Long live death!"); the Falangists applauded.
Qin Shi Huang (246–210 BC), the first Emperor of unified China, consolidated political thought, and power, by suppressing freedom of speech at the suggestion of Chancellor Li Si, who justified such anti-intellectualism by accusing the intelligentsia of falsely praising the emperor, and of dissenting through libel. From 213 to 206 BC, it was generally thought that the works of the Hundred Schools of Thought were incinerated, especially the Shi Jing (Classic of Poetry, c. 1000 BC) and the Shujing (Classic of History, c. 6th century BC). The exceptions were books by Qin historians, and books of Legalism, an early type of totalitarianism—and the Chancellor's philosophic school (see the Burning of books and burying of scholars). However, upon further inspection of Chinese historical annals such as the Shi Ji and the Han Shu, this was found not to be the case. The Qin Empire privately kept one copy of each of these books in the Imperial Library but it publicly ordered that the books should be banned. Those who owned copies were ordered to surrender the books to be burned; those who refused were executed. This eventually led to the loss of most ancient works of literature and philosophy when Xiang Yu burned down the Qin palace in 208BC.
People's Republic of China
The Cultural Revolution was a politically violent decade (1966–76) of wide-ranging social engineering of the People's Republic of China by its leader Chairman Mao. After several national policy crises, Mao, to regain public prestige and control of the Communist Party of China (CPC), on 16 May 1966, announced that the Party and Chinese society were permeated with liberal bourgeois elements who meant to restore capitalism to China, and that said people could only be removed with post–revolutionary class struggle. To that effect, China's youth nationally organised into Red Guards, hunting the liberal bourgeois elements subverting the CCP and Chinese society. The Red Guards acted nationally, purging the country, the military, urban workers, and the leaders of the CCP. The Red Guards were particularly aggressive in attacking their teachers and professors, causing most schools and universities to be shut down once the Cultural Revolution began. Three years later, in 1969, Mao declared the Cultural Revolution ended; yet the political intrigues continued until 1976, concluding with the arrest of the Gang of Four, the de facto end of the Cultural Revolution.
When the Communist Party of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge (1951–81), established their regime as Democratic Kampuchea (1975–1979) in Cambodia, their anti-intellectualism which idealised the country and demonised the cities was immediately imposed on the country in order to establish agrarian socialism, thus, they emptied cities in order to purge the Khmer nation of every traitor, enemy of the state, and intellectual, often symbolised by eyeglasses (see the Killing Fields).
In the early stages of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, around 2,300 Armenian intellectuals were deported from Constantinople (Istanbul) and subsequently mostly murdered by the Ottoman government. The event has been described by historians as a decapitation strike, which intended to deprive the Armenian population of an intellectual leadership and a chance of resistance.
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...the decapitation of the Armenian nation with the series of mass arrests that began on 24 April...
- Sahаkian, T. A. (2002). "Արևմտահայ մտավորականության սպանդի արտացոլումը հայ մամուլում 1915-1916 թթ. [The interpretation of the fact of extermination of the Armenian intelligentsia in the Armenian press in 1915-1916]". Lraber Hasarakakan Gitutyunneri (in Armenian) (1): 89.
Դրանով թուրքական կառավարությունը ձգտում էր արևմտահայությանը գլխատել, նրան զրկել ղեկավար ուժից, բողոքի հնարավորությունից:
- Dane S. Claussen (2004). Anti-Intellectualism in American Media. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. ISBN 978-0820457215.
- Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, and Christian Parenti, "'Action Will be Taken': Left Anti-Intellectualism and its Discontents," Left Business Observer.
- William Hinton, Hundred Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University. New York: New York University Press, 1972.
- Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963. online
- Aaron Lecklider (2013). Inventing the Egghead: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4486-1.
- Elvin T. Lim (2008). The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199898091.
- "Anti-Intellectualism and the "Dumbing Down" of America". psychology today. 2014.
There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.
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