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Exceptional AmericaWhat Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other$
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Mugambi Jouet

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520293298

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520293298.001.0001

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From the American Enlightenment to Anti-Intellectualism

From the American Enlightenment to Anti-Intellectualism

(p.43) Two From the American Enlightenment to Anti-Intellectualism
Exceptional America

Mugambi Jouet

University of California Press

Millions of Americans are extraordinarily uninformed. This problem is often blamed on the poor quality of public schools, yet it largely stems from a peculiar conception of education rooted in America’s exceptional history. The birth of modern democracy in America fostered a populist mindset equating education with elitism. Although the Founding Fathers were learned men of the American Enlightenment, many 18th and 19th century Americans became convinced that common sense and folk wisdom were sufficient to succeed. Anti-intellectualism became particularly influential in the South, the nation’s poorest region. Conversely, education has been less associated with elitism in France and other European countries. This helps explain why modern America is sharply polarized, as the U.S. political debate reached astonishing levels of demagogy, propaganda, and disinformation well before Trump’s rise. Spurred by the Tea Party, Republicans routinely made ludicrous claims about Obama’s fake birth certificate and Islamism, “socialized medicine,” “death panels,” the “hoax” of climate change, the federal government’s “tyranny,” and other conspiracy theories. Such political extremism thrives on the ignorance, irrationality, and gullibility promoted by anti-intellectualism. Extremism in contemporary Europe is far less mainstream and more focused on immigration, the main concern of nativist far-right European parties.

Keywords:   Anti-Intellectualism, Enlightenment, Founding Fathers, Far-Right Populism, Propaganda, Conspiracy Theories, Climate Change, Obamacare, Education, Birther movement

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