MASKO: Santorum and anti-anti-intellectualism

Rick Santorum scares a lot of people here. That much was clear when he was still running for president, and even clearer yesterday as he spoke to the YPU amid choruses of profanity and other kindergarten-appropriate responses. Santorum’s outspokenness on issues like gay rights and abortion gives his opponents ample license to bellyache about “insensitivity” and are always good for an indignant Facebook status or eye-roll.

While we have heard other controversial conservative speakers, Santorum seems particularly good at provoking Yalies’ ire. Through the campaign season, one of Santorum’s platform planks that most negatively reverberated around campus was his critique of elite academia, which he referred to as “indoctrination centers for the left.”

He also frequently criticized the Obama administration for its taxpayer-funded support of widespread college education. At the same time, Santorum was a well-learned holder of a law degree who liked to quote classic works of political philosophy offhand — it seemed a contradiction.

Interpreting his speeches as anti-intellectual, though, completely misses the point of Santorum’s critique. Rather than being a learned anti-intellectual (in other words, a hypocrite), Santorum is critiquing the tack that education in elite institutions has taken in recent years. While he may undermine his own argument by his conspiratorial tone, implying that American leftists set up academic institutions to indoctrinate students, his argument would be better served by a different justification: Academia, simply by its inherent egoism, is liberal and statist by nature.

Why does it seem so natural that elite institutions be liberal? They certainly haven’t always been. Conservatives like to scapegoat the licentiousness of the ’70s, but, as William F. Buckley brought to light, liberal bias in education far predated the victim studies era. The roots of this bias, rather, lie in the social sciences.

Now that we claim to understand the human psyche in our psychology classes and divine how they will behave in groups through political science, we the learned are privileged with a higher position in society than ever. Beyond an education in the classics, studying the conflicting great thoughts and leaders of the past, the social sciences give us the false assurance that we know all the answers and have a greater right to design our fellow citizens’ lives than ever before.

New disciplines like behavioral economics provide a forum for the socially learned to try out their inventions. Therefore, a social science-centered academy will always be, in the bigger government sense, liberal. The social sciences tell the ennobled they have both the right and the responsibility to lead where everyone else’s understanding falls short. Our modern academia will always demand a more centralized government power, because leaving so many daily decisions up to all the little people will seem irresponsible and a waste of time. Plus, it feels good to be important.

Modern conservatives and economic liberals have always staked out the opposite approach. Friedrich Hayek, in his “Road to Serfdom,” identified central planning as the greatest bugaboo of freedom and prosperity. This is the classic academic tradition — the desire for academic humility, for the realization that no matter how many right answers the ruling class may have, the free human spirit always loses something in the transfer.

Rick Santorum thinks “the purpose of government is to create an opportunity for people to be free.” No matter how smart one person or group may be, they are never smart enough. This is why, when Santorum accuses President Obama of trying to “remake Americans in his image” by trying to get more Americans college-educated, he may as well be attacking the academic desire for bigger government control, not education itself.

So many see inconsistency in Santorum’s stance because they fail to distinguish between leadership and control. They fail to see how it is not hypocrisy that a man with a law degree who talks about leadership while quoting Burke and Tocqueville simultaneously tells an audience that many American universities are centers of liberal indoctrination and that too many Americans go to college.

Santorum believes in the real liberal education, which values debate, experience and everyday life over formulas. We can argue all day about whether universities really are liberal indoctrination centers or whether Obama really wants to nationalize curricula. It is clear, though, that Santorum’s problem is not with intellectualism but with modern academia’s lack of diverse thought, and, though he may not say this directly, its slide toward the desire to control.

Santorum’s ideas of replacing government with a powerful social infrastructure, grounded in faith, family and, as he stated last night, a sense of shame, will never ring true to Yale or the rest of modern academia. This tone of Santorum’s made Yale so reflexively angry at his appearance. To Santorum, the educated class — that is, us — are a little less special than we think.

John Masko is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact him at john.masko@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Why does it seem so natural that elite institutions be liberal? They certainly haven’t always been.”

    I am six years old, circa 1950. My grandmother is walking me across the New Haven Green. We approach a group of Yale students and my grandmother says to me, “Stay away from them. They’re pinkos.”

    Of course I had no idea then what pinkos are but I reluctantly obey.

    My grandmother, bless her heart, lived two blocks from Yale in a third floor walk-up ghetto apartment with no hot water.

    She was a dignified lady and in her Rebekah gown (her only luxury) she looked like Lady Churchill, tall, high cheekbones, white hair, and elbow length white gloves (another luxury).

    My grandmother had a sixth grade education.

    All her life she would be the unwitting victim of the propaganda of another Yale graduate and former Yale Daily News editor, Henry Luce, whose Life magazine and its burgeoning journalistic empire, spewed anti-communist rhetoric to its sixth grade mentality readers through ‘cold war years.’

    My grandmother, bless her soul, was also a bigot.

    She would NOT have attended Rick Santorum’s lecture last night even though it was easy walking distance at two blocks, and even though she might have agreed with his ideas,

    She would not have attended because he was Roman Catholic——-sin of sins —- and she worshiped at one of thee WASP temples on the Green.

    Thus cometh The Anti-Yale.

    PK

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Paul-Keane-Independent/355332381206168

    • basho

      wow – article totally wasn’t about you

    • LtwLimulus90

      …speaking of people who aren’t as special as they think…

  • ms2676

    I attended last nights event, you are right, he is a scary man.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “wow – article totally wasn’t about you”

    **Absolutely incorrect. It is about the
    “liberal” Yale which molded me as a townie—–: the Yale of my garndmother’s superstition, the Yale of townfolks’ misperception. This is the Yale of which I am EMBLEMATIC, and which readers like you ignore when it is thrust infront of your faces.
    C’est la vie.
    PK**

  • kit

    This article fails to address the functional purposes of higher education, which are to foster upward social mobility and secure jobs. Also, I honestly think it would benefit a place like Yale (among others), if some of the lower classes got into the mix and revealed our incredible arrogance. And college doesn’t just teach us how to manage other people’s lives. It teaches us how to manage our own. There’s a reason studies have proven that people with more education avoid common pitfalls like poor money management and child planning. These things are valuable, and intellectualism translates more to everyday life than you would think. The problem is when you overintellectualize everything, but not everyone falls into that trap.

    tl;dr: More people reading literature: is it such a bad thing?

  • The Anti-Yale

    “the functional purposes of higher education, which are to foster upward social mobility and secure jobs.”

    **Who cooked up this humbug?
    A liberal arts education has absolutely nothing to do with “functionality”, “social mobility” and/or “secure jobs”. These are the utilitarian notions of Bill and Melinda Gradgrind. You may join The Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation at http://gradgrindfoundation.blogspot.com

    PK

    PS

    When I first moved to Vermont in 1986 I had not yet earned my third master’s degree.
    I wound up pumping gas at Texaco in White River Junction for $3.25 an hour fourteen hours a day. That humbling time turned out to be the best experience in my liberal arts life.**

    • penny_lane

      You’re conflating “liberal arts” and “higher.”

      Functional higher education is where I go to community college and get my degree in health sciences so I can be a medical assistant. A liberal arts education is when I go to college complete requirements in a broad spectrum of fields and earn a degree designed to be a stepping stone between high school and a post-baccalaureate degree. The term “liberal arts” implies learning for its own sake, the word “functional” does not.

  • penny_lane

    >Now that we claim to understand the human psyche in our psychology classes and divine how they will behave in groups through political science, we the learned are privileged with a higher position in society than ever.

    Who ever claimed to understand the human psyche? Most (good) psychology courses are basically a litany of what we don’t know and what various people have learned that might give us a direction. Mostly we psychologists are rowing a boat in the dark.

    Be careful of disdain. It’s the weak link in your argument and it’s what makes it hard to take your article seriously. Considering the crux of your argument (which you don’t prove) is the attitude students of social sciences naturally derive from their knowledge, your poor understanding of the social sciences is where your train of thought jumps the track.

    Anyway, all of that aside, you’re giving Santorum too much credit. You’ll find a lot of liberals (raises hand) also believe too many Americans are going to college. I happen to believe my plumber doesn’t need a BS in Piping Sciences to do a good job and live a happy life providing for his family. This is not Santorum’s concern. What Santorum is worried about is that people might start to believe in science that is contrary to what is printed in his Bible. For instance, they might start to think that global warming exists, or realize that there’s no magical pregnancy barrier for “real” rape. They also might develop critical thinking skills, and so start to care about the rights of women or gay people or racial/ethnic minorities. Where would our great nation be if that happened?

    Also, Rick Santorum can’t talk when it comes to “designing our fellow citizens’ lives.” He wants to make everyone live like Catholics–and not just any Catholics, but ultra-conservative Catholics. He wants to impose abortion laws and laws against gay marriage and reinstate enforcement of sodomy laws. Liberals want to regulate hand-guns so the US can stop having the highest gun violence rates; conservatives like Santorum want to regulate private acts between consenting adults. I see a huge difference there.

    • ldffly

      Is not modern economic (meaning post 1800) theory instrumental? Aren’t the bureaucrats and politicians using economic theory to predict and shape economic life?

      • penny_lane

        This is true on both sides of the aisle, and thus a moot point.

    • LtwLimulus90

      1) This is an Op-Ed, not a political science article. The statement the author made about social sciences doesn’t have to be based on a large-scale empirical data-mining study to be valuable. It is based on a perception he has of an attitude (that many, on both sides of the aisle would also acknowledge) the tacitly liberal students at colleges like Yale have about their roles in society. Speak to most students here and they will likely say that they, being highly educated, know better than most people about what is good for them. How many students here to you think support Bloomberg’s soda ban? How many do you think support banning incandescent lightbulbs? The list goes on, and what’s funniest is that most of the students supporting these bans haven’t done the studies themselves or have even read them.

      2) How exactly does Mr. Masko fail to understand the social sciences? You don’t explain.

      Why don’t you prove his disdain, or actually grapple with the arguments he makes, rather than defending yourself and other liberals against accusations neither he, nor Senator Santorum actually made?

      • penny_lane

        1) All I really expect by way of meeting a burden of proof here is that each point in his argument follow logically. Instead, what he’s done is painted the social sciences as laughable disciplines and used that to create an ad hominem attack against people who study them, who collectively are a straw-man horde of “elitist liberals” we all love to hate. None of these is a legitimate form of logic. I can’t respond meaningfully to the argument because, well, it falls apart when examined.

        2) As I demonstrated above, the author’s grasp of what psychology is and does is a stereotype. There are so many questions psychology tries to answer (When can infants distinguish between similar colors on the spectrum? What is depression? Why do we laugh?) and we honestly don’t have a clue, which is why the field is so exciting. Yet the author implies (and perhaps he even believes) that psychologists claim to understand the human psyche, which is laughable. The same could be said of poli sci: if we know all the answers, why are we still studying? Why is there so much debate even within the field itself? Furthermore, why are liberal and conservative economists always arguing, especially in an election year, about the best way to ameliorate a crappy economy?

        In order to prove that the straw-man Elitist Liberal thinks himself godlike in his knowledge of what’s best for humanity, the author ought to have addressed the facts I present above about the realities of the fields he suggests provides liberals with false certainties that they know things that as yet can’t be known.

        Now, let’s see, proving disdain. I’ll just copy-paste: “…we the learned are privileged with a higher position in society than ever.” “…the ennobled…”

        Those two quotations are an example of a rhetorical device known as irony. Irony rarely, if ever, connotes respect, and in this case certainly implies disdain. Also, the term “victim studies” is just plain vitriolic. I’m as much concerned about the rigor of interdisciplinary fields as the next person, but why not include, say, gender and sexuality as a concentration in the context of a major field, e.g., psychology, history, literature, or even biology?

        So, I’ll admit that being an alumna, I was not at Santorum’s recent talk. However, I’ve read about him to have a pretty solid understanding of his platform. Here, I shall quote him: “[Libertarians] have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world, and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone…”

        Yeah, talk about a man in support of small government and limited regulation!

  • The Anti-Yale

    **The exact wording : “the functional purposes of higher education.”
    Your definition of ” go to community college and get my degree in health sciences so I can be a medical assistant” is not “higher education” in my book. It is post secondary education. It is a pale attempt to give academic credentials to an apprenticeship system. This country would be a lot better off if it had a robust apprenticeship system instead of the post secondary training you describe.
    PK
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Paul-Keane-Independent/355332381206168**

  • ohno

    Sorry, you lost me at “victim studies.” Try to condescend less

  • RexMottram08

    Paul Keane = Ignatius J Reilly