SUMMARY: American culture has a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. Consequently, few people understand or appreciate the role intellectuals can — and often do — play in a society. In fact, many intellectuals can be seen as similar to cartographers in that they create ideas that can be used as guides to reality. When they do so conscientiously and accurately, the whole society can benefit.
(About a 6 minute read)
It is a truism among people who study such things that American culture has, almost since the founding of the Republic, harbored a virulent anti-intellectual streak. But the founders themselves were anything but anti-intellectual.
Franklin, for instance, was the leading American intellectual of their day, and Washington — possibly the most prominent non-intellectual of the era — often made efforts to improve himself in that department, for he did not think himself an equal to the others unless he could muster at least a passing familiarity with the great ideas of the time.
But almost with the deaths on the same day of Adams and Jefferson, American culture developed a marked anti-intellectual streak. Some people have attributed that streak to the democratic suspicion of anyone who might appear to be smarter than oneself. But while that might sustain American anti-intellectualism, anti-intellectualism seems to have gotten its start in religion.