Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Are Elites Anti Intellectual?

Are elites anti-intellectual? I will admit that this view may be a bit of a reach and involves drawing a couple of perhaps unrelated ideas together. I do not think there is any serious debate that legal education is controlled by the privileged. And clearly there is no question that law professors view themselves as liberals. (Not left. Very few that are lefties. I mean this perverse form of liberalism that is really not liberal in a literal sense at all.) And, although it is more debatable, my experience is that law faculties are generally anti intellectual. By that I mean there are certain views and hypotheses that cannot be tested. For example, an intellectual would engage in research or discussion and report whatever that research or discussion concluded. The anti intellectual looks ahead to see where things might end up and if that end point would be politically unacceptable, the avenue cannot be explored at all. Or, if it is explored and the answer is not “correct” the results are never reported.

Are there reasons why elites in particular should be anti intellectual. I can think of two. First, as I have repeatedly noted in this column and elsewhere, I am puzzled by what elite undergraduate and law schools are teaching. For them most part an elite education – at least in the last several years – seems to produce one-dimensional, flat, unimaginative people. Maybe it is not the schools but the people they tend to attract or something else. Maybe it is because law schools prepare students for a profession and not necessary to engage in scholarship.Basically, I find my students more intellectual diverse and curious than many law professors. Somehow an elite education seems to deaden many people. Second, a sense of entitlement means, at one level, a lack of a need to be introspective. This comes from having spent a lifetime of being over affirmed. In short, you are right because of your status and years of parents and teachers telling you that you are special. This means there is no need to reexamine basic premises and seriously to entertain the ideas of those who opposed your own.

When the willingness or ability to reason and research in a ways that create internal dissonance are absent, it is replaced by slogans, labels, and tried and true methods of avoidance as in “that is uncollegial” or “I am offended.”

So are elites anti intellectual? Not necessarily but they are generally conditioned not to entertain doubt and doubt is a necessary part of having an open mind.

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