Is anti-intellectualism a sin

context: speculator philosophy

A host of strange ghosts are currently haunting the NZZ's feature pages. An author named N.N. Taleb, presented as a philosopher, and the column editor R. Scheu conjure up sinister figures. These are called “the well-informed” or the “intellectual idiots” (N.N. Taleb) or “American peer intellectuals” (R. Scheu). Sometimes they are introduced to the public as “government officials”, sometimes as “insider journalists”, occasionally as “arrogant, semi-intellectual experts”, as “class” or as “academic bureaucrats”. Occasionally, Paul Krugman is cited as an example. Inquiries about specific people, however, the said Taleb rejects with the assurance that everything is not so serious, only "a small minority" is meant. What is certain, however, is that these schemes have great, dangerous power, because they can «dictate to us 1) what we should do, 2) what we should eat, 3) how we should talk, 4) how we should think ..., and 5) whom we should choose. " (Taleb, NZZ November 15, 2016). The main sin of this depraved species is that it considers the successes of Trump, Le Pen, Blocher and the like to be unpleasant and in need of explanation. R. Scheu complained: "Since then (since Trump's election, FS), intellectuals have talked about the frustrated, losers, racists, sexists and xenophobes." (NZZ, November 15, 2016)

Take the skin to the market

So we are in the tradition of anti-intellectualism. Oswald Spengler, a literary eater, laid the massive foundation for this dark storyline. He determined that books should be measured against the great "deed". Of course, what couch potatoes write is always found to be too easy. N.N. Taleb also demands that it be “skin in the game”. Everything else is shirking. "Vivere pericolosamente!" Was this demand in the language of the Italian fascists. At Taleb, however, history no longer repeats itself as a farce, but as a cheap joke. “Having a beer with a non-white taxi driver”, “that would be skin in the game,” he says. Modest, the man.

Taleb sees “worldwide, from India to Great Britain to the United States”, a “rebellion” against “the clique of the bare-skin-not-put-at-risk-government officials (skin in the game)”. Nobody can blame him for not wearing his own skin to the market. The “International Biographical Archive Munzinger” reports that before he matured into a philosopher, he made a career as a stock exchange trader for clients such as BNP Paribas, UBS etc. on Wall Street. He is said to have earned a lot of money "through betting". The "Handelsblatt" (August 14, 2010) speaks of US $ 35 to 40 million and notes that Taleb continues to work as a trader while working on his books, including setting up a hedge fund. In the professional world, one would speak of secured risk if Taleb philosophized and polemicized. He is said to have described his winnings as “Fuck-You-Money” (“WELT”, 29.9.2008). It's easy to talk.

Criticism is "hate speech"

Anyone who has ever opened a history book knows that the people are beasts at times. Perhaps one can recall the Jewish experience in this context. Anti-intellectualism has always served as a defense against critical analysis. René Scheu defamed attempts to analyze Trump's mass base as “hate speech”. Full of indignation, he stated: "It has become socially acceptable to question the citizenship of citizenship and to demand qualifications for democratic participation."

“The brain is a wrong path”, Gottfried Benn already knew (“Ithaka”, 1914). Just that Gottfried Benn, who cheered in 1933: "The new state arose against the intellectuals." (Gottfried Benn: The new state and the intellectuals. Stuttgart 1933). Against the intellectuals, the brown literature claims "instinct security" for itself (on this Ernst Loewy: Literatur unterm Hakenkreuz. Frankfurt am Main 1969, p. 43ff). Taleb goes one better. Instinct is not enough for him, he needs primordial instincts - whatever that may be, maybe something like the Auer ox: «Who wants to blame people for thinking about their own primordial instincts and preferring to their grandmother ( or Montaigne and similar instances that have been tried and tested over centuries) listen to these political fools. " One would like to know which of the three is responsible for Trump's election victory: Ur-Instinct, Grosi or Montaigne?

New anti-intellectualism

I'm afraid that in these years we are witnessing the emergence of new forms of rule that have a lot in common with the old fascist ones and yet are completely different in many respects. Regarding the differences: the right and, paradoxically, even nationalism have become internationalized. And the Putins, Erdogans, Le Pens have a different relationship to democracy than the leaders of the 1930s. You use democracy. They can use intellectuals like Taleb, Scheu, Somm or Köppel for their plebiscitary and manipulative endeavors. Accordingly, the function of anti-intellectualism has changed.

One only needs to make a comparison with the Federal Republic of the 1960s. The CDU-CSU government stubbornly refused to recognize the post-war realities. It recognized neither Poland's western border nor the second German state. Writers like Hochhuth, Grass, Jens and others attacked the government. These intellectuals were part of the opposition. They even called for the election of the SPD. For this they received strong waddles from Chancellor Erhart: he called them "pinschers", "banausen" and "non-experts". "There is a certain intellectualism that turns into idiocy," said the Chancellor. And Group 47 heard from the CDU that it was a "secret Reichsschrifttumskammer" (cf. Lothar Baier: Down with the writers! "WoZ" January 21, 1993). Anti-intellectualism was then a weapon of the rulers against rebellion from below.

With Taleb, Scheu et al., Anti-intellectualism is a weapon against the government, against the «establishment». It is used to form and format majorities for the extreme right. He gives the angry citizen tinder, but directs his aggressions in ways that do not fundamentally change the existing power relations. Anti-intellectualism is useful for this business precisely because "the" intellectuals are so vaguely defined as ghosts.

Additional information

Subject-related interests of the author

Felix Schneider: Born in Basel in 1948. Studied German, French, history. By profession teacher in the second education pathway and journalist, most recently editor at SRF 2 Kultur. Has lived in Frankfurt am Main for the longest time, is half a "Schwob".

  • An external group of authors writes about the media and politics under “context”. It takes up contributions from the media and contradicts for political, journalistic, content or linguistic reasons. The group includes Bernhard Bonjour, Rudolf Bussmann, Mathias Knauer, Guy Krneta, Corina Lanfranchi, Alfred Schlienger, Felix Schneider, Ariane Tanner, Heini Vogler, Rudolf Walther.