college_graduates

Henry Oliner 2106 01 19

Richard Hofstadter’s Anti- Intellectualism in America is often used by liberals to explain why conservatives vote as they do.  Hofstadter was motivated to expand on the subject by the rejection of Adlai Stevenson to the candidacy of Dwight Eisenhower for president. Stevenson was the darling candidate of the intellectuals and intellectuals chose to lament the choice the voters made as rejection of their intellectual values.

Perhaps the voters decided to elect the general because he possessed a skill and experience set they valued more highly in the atmosphere of the cold war.  Just because an intellectual was not chosen for president should not necessarily mean that they oppose intellectual thought; it was just not the most important trait considered in their decision.

For some any conservative is anti- intellectual and the claim is more of an effort to marginalize opposition though some sort of pathological explanation than to address the differences logically. There are clearly many anti-intellectual elements of our nation, but I do not know of a nation that is driven by dominantly intellectual concerns. They are important in many areas but politics is more driven by power and compromise.

Hofstadter noted that even though colleges and universities were increasing in enrollment this was being driven by the pragmatic application to growing business interests and that this was not true to the intellectual tradition of older institutions.  He explained the idea of intellectualism as the playing of ideas and the pursuit of ideas for their own truth or beauty without practical considerations.  I would paraphrase him to object to the use of college as a trade school, which is largely what it has become today.

But college used to train graduates for a roll in the administrative state was less troubling, although he acknowledged his hypocrisy.   The Progressive movement championed the rise of the administrative state ruled by educated and credentialed professionals, disinterested by politics. The Progressives naively thought this was a nonpolitical function because they assumed a unity of will that simply did not exist.  This myth of the unified will was the tragic flaw of central planning noted by Frederick Hayek in his post WW II work The Road to Serfdom.

College as a political trade school created a self-reinforcing loop of values and policies. It would not be surprising that student training for government positions would lean more toward solutions that required government actions.  There was a bias against free market solution, notwithstanding the output from the Chicago School and other free market thinkers.

Nor is it surprising that Bernie Sanders would propose free college for all to spread the further indoctrination of students in a political trade school. When you have only one customer to satisfy, the government, then you have only one customer your curriculum is accountable to.

College is in the midst of a structural shift brought about by new technology and ideas. Nothing would stifle this change more than having the state usurp control of higher education.  We should not create a system that will use the taxes paid by welders and carpenters to fund students to major in art history.

Not only do we need to elevate the trades but we need to stop the bifurcation of an education system. We should encourage the combination of the liberal arts and the trades. Welders and tradesmen also need to know economics, politics, culture and history.  There is no reason that intellectual values cannot be appreciated by a larger segment of our population.  There is no reason that intellectual values should be limited to a small segment of the academic elite. But to have a true development of academic virtues, higher education should be independent of both commercial and political interests.  The only thing worse than the expense of higher education in its pursuit of intellectual independence would be to make it free.

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