Anti-intellectualism at the Heart of British National Identity

[…] no people has ever despised and distrusted the intellect and intellectuals more than the British.

— Leonard Woolf, 1959. G. E. Moore. Encounter 12, 68–69 (p. 68).

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3 Responses

  1.' Karl says:

    Enjoyed this article. Perhaps there is something deeper here though? A fool perhaps doesnt have the capacity to deceive? Is it an evolutionary advantage to distrust those with knowledge we ourselves do not possess? Is the stereotype of the ‘nutty professor’ or ‘absent-minded genius’ found in many of our stories a modern cultural creation or a societal bond that reassures us that we can contribute to the group whatever our intellect? Is there some truth in it, or at least some benefit? Many questions raised here.

  2. Simon Coll says:

    Intriguing – I hadn’t really considered it from a longer-term, evolutionary point of view, but yes, it could definitely work as a social adhesive of sorts. The idea that everyone needs to feel able to contribute to the group is an important one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what gives anti-intellectualism some of its association with democracy – the populist backlash against technocratic government over the last decade, and the like.

    In any event, you’re certainly right that it’s a more widespread attitude than I’ve suggested here; British anti-intellectualism is one manifestation among many, for better or worse. That seems to be one of the signature features of nationalism in general, in fact: claiming near-universal traits as uniquely and inherently ‘ours’!

    Anyhow, very glad you liked the article – and many thanks indeed for the comment!

  3.' Karl says:

    Haha! Yes, theres clearly a strong link between anti-intellectualism and nationalism, or they’re part of a greater (or worser) whole maybe? If so, is a focus on ‘British’ anti-intellectulism nationalistic? Its getting a bit meta in here.

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