Democratic Underground

The Rejection of the Eggheads

April 5, 2005
By E. P. Harmon

We have a two-party political system in America, so conservatives hope we'll take their next logical leap and compress the wide range of contemporary intellectual thought into two primary worldviews - conservative and liberal.

For if conservatives succeed in framing the free exchange of ideas inspired by our constitution into a dichotomy having two equal perspectives, one right and one left, they can feel encouraged in their demand for an equitable fair share of the teaching and research slots in America's institutions of higher education.

But even if one felt an obligation to divide the universe of knowledge and opinion into two opposing sides (one doesn't) it would make more sense to label the two approaches "closed-minded" and "open-minded," or perhaps, "conservative" and "all the rest."

Although political conservatism is well-financed and influential in America, within the scope of contemporary intellectual thought conservatism has the status and weight of a fringe cult - because while there are innumerable ways to be a liberal thinker, there are only a handful of ways to be a conservative.

The dictionary definition of "liberal" is: Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

The dictionary definition of "conservative" is: Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

Conservatives hope that Americans will ignore the minor nonsense-correlation evident between two statistical factoids: one, that most of our nation's well-informed, well-educated, and broadly-experienced professorial "experts" identify themselves as "liberal;" and two, that these same pointy-headed experts are the very ones we need to bring their knowledge, complexity, and sophistication - i.e., "expertise" - to contemporary American problems.

Just as lifetimes spent inquiring into the significant body of evidence, experimentation, and thought we call "science" generally lead scholars to conclude that evolution is a broad, reliable, predictive scientific theory explaining the history and biology of life on earth, so, too, do smart, well-educated, well-informed, and open-minded investigators into today's broad universe of knowledge (unsurprisingly referred to as "the liberal arts") generally draw logically-connected, broad-based liberal conclusions about the way the world works.

Too many Americans, unfortunately so ill-educated as to distrust fancy-talking experts as "others" and "outsiders," elect legislators and presidents who themselves distrust experts, with the unsurprising result that we get bumbling, inexpert political decision-makers who create truly bad foreign, domestic, environmental, monetary, and defense policy.

The last thing conservatives want, though, is our nation's acknowledged, highly-respected collegiate experts - who've spent their lives studying history and culture and policy and education and diplomacy and economics and science and all the other fields of knowledge - mucking around in their administration's policy-making.

Because the conservative mind is, by definition, closed to all new views.

Because the conservative worldview was already made up, once upon a long long time ago in a land far far away.

E. P. Harmon offers political and cultural commentary on breaking news, along with art, spirituality, and humor on her blog, She can be contacted at

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