December 12, 2004

Not Just Anti-Intellectualism

In response to the accusation that the Republican party has a strain of anti-intellectualism coursing through its veins, Stephen Bainbridge replies:
In other words, conservatives are stupid. Wrong again. As I also pointed out in my TCS column, Data from the widely used General Social Survey (GSS) consistently show that Republicans are better educated than Democrats (on average, they have more than half a year more education and hold a higher final degree). In addition, Republicans score better than Democrats on two tests included in the GSS. As for Chait's argument that conservatives are anti-intellectual, how about all those fine public intellectuals who write for opinion journals like Policy Review, Commentary, or First Things, to name a few? Or how about all those policy wonks working at places like AEI or Heritage?
As Henry Farrell points out, quite the non-sequitur—no one's saying that conservatives are stupid, merely anti-intellectual. But Bainbridge then clarifies, insisting that his data in fact proves that: "There are a lot smart conservatives out there interested in intellectual matters and the life of the mind." But his data shows nothing of the sort.

Having a college degree, in itself, does not necessarily indicate any interest in the "life of the mind". It could just as easily mean that Republicans value the instrumental aspect of education -- that it helps one earn money or influence people or whatever -- quite apart from any "interest[] in intellectual matters". The fact that a lot of conservatives work at AEI or Heritage (moreso Heritage) proves that a lot conservatives are very smart and want to use their brains in pursuit of some political end. It does not mean these folks value knowledge for its own sake, or that they would be happy to engage in a little disinterested reflection about the world and its funny ways. But the latter, it seems, is what academics ought to enjoy—a dose of irrelevant intellection from time to time. Even in a perfect world, without liberal bias or any other hiring discriminations, I imagine that the vast majority of people working at Heritage now would still work at Heritage. They're different worlds—and not different like soccer and football are different; it's the difference between playing in an orchestra and writing ad jingles. Each attracts widely different types. Any argument otherwise would have to summon up considerably more relevant data than anything Professor Bainbridge has given us.
-- Brad Plumer 6:25 PM || ||