In my first post on this topic, I talked about two long enduring anti-intellectual attitudes: the populist resentment of the upwardly mobile scholar and the ruling class dislike of such new men. I now want to look in a historical way at a different form of anti-intellectualism touched on in dr ngos original article. This, expressed in slogans such as trust your instincts, look into your own heart and decide etc, might be broadly seen as a hippy/New Age anti-intellectual philosophy (and associated with liberal or left-wing social views). As far as I know, this is a Western attitude without obvious parallels to non-Western movements. What Im interested is in thinking to what extent such views are a recent (1960s) phenomenon or whether the ideas have deeper roots. (Im not looking here at populist left-wing anti-intellectualism, as seen e.g. in the Cultural Revolution or some strands of working-class socialism)
New Age and hippy thought, of course, has many roots, drawing eclectically on many spiritual traditions from Celtic druidry and Buddhism to Native American religions. But I dont think these are the main sources for its modern Western anti-intellectual content. Some of these traditions are opposed to (or at least sceptical of) the conventional education of their culture, but they all (as far as I know) stress the importance of spiritual training. Witchcraft, shamanism, Buddhism, druid lore, the dream quest etc all seem to me to be gnostic in its original sense: they involve the search for a hidden spiritual knowledge (gnosis) that is only slowly (and often painfully) revealed to the searcher after years of striving. It seems to me that the more superficial aspects of New Age thought are imposed on it by the modern West rather than inherent in the underlying spiritual traditions.
A different route for a more general Western hippy/liberal/left-wing anti-intellectualism seems more plausible. My current view (though Im open to correction, as usual) is that its roots are in eighteenth and nineteenth century Romanticism. This period seems to me to mark the development of three new concepts that are key to this modern anti-intellectualism: a non-religious hostility to science, the development of progressive education, and the Romantic cult of the genius.
Religious hostility to scientific thought has been a characteristic of some strands of Christian and Islamic thought since the later Middle Ages, and tends to be based on a contrast between the true knowledge found in holy books and the false knowledge of scientists, which is seen as either contradictory to this or superfluous. In contrast, non-religious hostility to science is normally based on the opposition of natural/artificial (an idea that has a lot of traction in the Green movement). Although this contrast of the natural and the artificial is an age-old literary trope (as well a Western tradition of pastoral poetry which dates back to the Greeks, theres also a Chinese one), this contrast of nature and science seems to me only to take off in the Romantic period. This is actually several centuries after the scientific revolution began, which fits with the fact that it wasnt generally aesthetic concerns about the unweaving of the rainbow that really alarmed the Romantics (after all, Goethe studied colour theory and you cant get more Romantic than him). It was the technology of the Industrial Revolution, whether the factory system and its dark satanic mills or the fantasy of creating artificial life that alarmed them. In a similar way, liberal anti-science thought in the 1960s focused on the atom bomb and pesticides, and its current concerns include GM crops and carcinogens, while religious anti-science has its key focus on scientific theories such as evolution. (This leads to such paradoxes as right-wing opponents of science who are happy to use advanced technological methods to spread their message, and left-wingers who insist on the need to reject much of modern technology, but who dont doubt the science of global warming.)
But I dont think this anti-technology stance on its own leads to anti-intellectualism: instead its more likely to lead to a call for a more humanistic education, not a rejection of intellectual culture. Two more ingredients are needed to create the current forms of leftist anti-intellectualism. One is the development of progressive educational ideas, which is also a new phenomenon of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. I associate these ideas as originating with the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (although Id appreciate comments from those better informed on the history of education) and they are obviously influenced by more general ideas of the natural (child) as good and the artificial (adult) as bad.
Associated with this ideal of progressive education in the late eighteenth century was a condemnation of current forms of education as oppressive. I dont think that its a coincidence that such ideas arose at the same time as the first attempts at mass education in the west (such as Joseph Lancasters assembly-line style monitorial system and the Sunday School movement). It is only when access to education becomes less of a right and more of a privilege that it makes sense to complain that its harmful in its current form. Ten centuries or more of learning through beating (standard in the West in medieval and early modern period) had raised little more opposition than the occasional legend of teachers killed by their pupils. Educational violence was implicitly or explicitly seen as compensated for by the advancement education gained one. To be suspicious about how the ruling classes might want to control education also wasnt paranoid in the period: there were many attempts in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain (and France) to ensure that the poor were only taught suitable things and to root out dangerous radicalism in them.
Progressive education (and the condemnation of current education) has had a peculiar relationship to anti-intellectualism ever since its origins. On the one hand it tends to condemn certain forms of learning as either socially irrelevant or not equally available to all in society (the classic example would be the study of Latin). Thus when it is anti-intellectual, it is so for specifically anti-elitist reasons. (It is ironic that while the main right-wing complaint in the US is of liberal elitists, in the UK it is of anti-elite liberals). Equally, however, progressive education is always based on the idea that everyone in society should be fully educated and thus tends to exalt some forms of learning.
Progressive education and the exaltation of nature by themselves, then dont encourage the rejection of education; instead they argue for changing its form. They needed combining with the Romantic cult of genius to achieve their full anti-intellectual impact.
The cult of the genius is best seen as a Renaissance phenomenon, but the Renaissance genius is not socially marginalised. In Vaseris Lives of the Artists, for example (one of the key works for developing the idea of the artist as genius) boys with exceptional talent are nevertheless shown as undergoing an apprenticeship in the normal way and receiving success and rewards for their talent. In contrast, the Romantic genius was a tormented and unappreciated outsider and might also, for the first time, be untaught/self-taught. Paradoxically, it was the expansion of education in the eighteenth century that allowed the rise of the untaught genius, who needed no education, or whose talent was even harmed by training. (Again, an exaltation of the natural is visible here). The peasant poet, for example, is very much a late eighteenth century phenomenon in the UK (Robert Bloomfield, Robert Burns, John Clare). It was only then that such men could learn to write without acquiring a formal education and yet have their output appreciated (at least by some). There are parallels to such non-classical artists as Samuel Palmer and William Blake.
It was also in this period that there is the first influential cult of the artist as transgressive outsider (with Lord Byron), thus demonstrating how the prosperous might be able to feel unappreciated and oppressed as well. This cult of the Romantic genius has sustained millions of the untalented ever since (via the false syllogism: The untaught genius of X was unappreciated in his/her time. I am untaught and unappreciated. I am therefore a genius). If the cult of nature and progressive education carried with them the implication that many of the educated could not be trusted, because they misused education, the cult of the Romantic genius allowed the more radical view that education was not really necessary.
Im not suggesting here a specific genealogy connecting (say) Rousseau and Shelley to the hippies, more that similar reactions across time are visible to persistent characteristics of the modern industrial-capitalist state. Liberal anti-intellectualism thus seems to me far more specifically tied to the modern West than populist anti-intellectualism: those in the Third World who have been most vocal about the Western use of knowledge as oppression, for example, are often precisely the products of Western or Western-style higher education.
Theres one other characteristic of the modern world that has also assisted the spread of liberal anti-intellectualism, and thats paradoxically, the market. Once entrepreneurs realised there was a market (even if a niche market) for left-wing anti-intellectualism, whether it was for the Lyrical Ballads, Montessori education, modern art, rock and roll or New Age paraphernalia, then the market was willing to supply this (for a price). As much as liberal anti-intellectualism rejects the modern world, it simultaneously depends on it. It cannot gain the simple coherence of popular anti-intellectualism, because its supporters are almost always deeply embedded in the system itself, while simultaneously claiming to be outsiders. It thus has intrinsically ludicrous tendencies (in a way that populist anti-intellectualism doesnt), but its also a much less coherent and dangerous political force.