Anti-intellectualism is the expression of hostility or mistrust towards academics and their educational pursuits. Critics of higher education tend to view academics as people who are divorced from the pragmatic realities of life and are too preoccupied with intellectual discourse to be of any real value to society. They question the merits of education, especially where literature, history, and philosophy are concerned, but they can be suspicious of scientists and mathematicians as well. The fear seems to be that academics are capable of levying a sort of intellectual blackmail against ordinary people.
Anti-intellectuals frequently see themselves as the champions of ordinary citizens. Educated people, they believe, form a separate social class with disproportionate powers and influences based on intellectual elitism. They point to the political world as an example of this, claiming that political leaders are able to force suspect systems and ideas on a whole population through sophistry and intellectualism. Ordinary citizens with more practical ideas are shut out of decision making because they are deemed to be less knowledgeable about the long-term implications and global effects of local judgments.
In countries where anti-intellectual politics has taken a hold, however, the social effects tend to be devastating. The governments of such countries are inevitably authoritarian, and their fear of intellectuals causes them to lead by dictatorship, ensuring that no one will question the status quo. Intellectuals, they believe, tend to be too caught up in ethical questions and their interfering proposals can stifle business. Authoritarian governments want to avoid being hampered by social issues, and frequently resort to persecution, imprisonment, and intimidation as a way to protect their regime against criticism by intellectuals.
Dictatorships are often quite successful in convincing a poorly educated populace of the need for a pragmatic approach to life. Education, they claim, should be seen as an apprenticeship for work, and its value should be determined only in terms of its ability to train someone for a practical occupation. Costly higher education, the arts, music, literature, and so on, are a waste of time, and those who promote such pursuits are unpatriotic and subversive tricksters. General education of the people suffers greatly under authoritarian regimes, and a poorly-educated people is less able to progress as a civilized and democratic nation.
Apart from politics, anti-intellectualism is most often found in organized religion. Although most of the great religions of the world have rich intellectual traditions, they are often hampered by large groups of fundamentalists who are opposed to an intellectual approach to their faith. These groups tend to be bogged down in a world of mindless religious belief, rejecting secular critical traditions, and unwilling to consider any deep intellectual approach to the substance of their beliefs. Many fundamentalist consider progressive religious intellectuals to be heretics and infidels and they seem to be beyond any persuasion attempted by intellectual discourse.
Anti-intellectual critics, whether political or religious, may well have some valid points to make, especially regarding their view that all opinions and suggestions need to be taken into account during a decision-making process. Advanced academic education is not needed to make intelligent decisions at a pragmatic, down-to-earth level, and a basic formal education may be quite sufficient for an individual to form intelligent opinions. It is a mistake, however, to condemn advanced academic and intellectual pursuits as irrelevant and impractical. Academics are essential to the advancement of civilized societies, and they must be supported and encouraged as much as possible.