Joe Carter weighs in at First Things with a set of challenging reservations about the relevance of Matt Crawford’s arguments for a more general audience. He rightly notes that it’s an argument made by an egghead largely read by eggheads. It’s well worth reading and considering alongside the postings here on FPR this week. (Personal aside: I was a bit irked by Joe’s parenthetical exclamation point after he notes that FPR is devoting a week of postings to a discussion of the book. This either means that he thinks the book can’t bear this level of sustained scrutiny – which is a conclusion one might make, though I’d think only after the week is done; or, that an online outfit like this is a bit out of its mind to do so. I am very glad that we’re able to do this, particularly in contrast to the brief attention span and often superficial flitting that characterizes so much of this medium. It doesn’t have to be this way, and I’m happy that we can swim a bit against that current).
Also well worth reading is a response to Joe’s post by our own Caleb Stegall:
Joe, I have a great deal of sympathy with what you say here, as should be clear to anyone who is familiar with my participation in various of these discussions (i.e., at Crunchy Con on NRO, at FPR, etc.).
I do live in that “small rural town” (pop. 900) but didn’t move here from Manhattan, it’s my home that I just never left. I live and move in and among these “manual laborors” (what an awful phrase) quite easily, and also live and move between them and that “other” world of intellectual (and wealth and power) pursuits.
Which raises several interesting points in my mind. First, the reification of the “intellectual” is mostly a self-fashioning game of “patting each other on the back” (as Lawler is fond of saying) which is a smarmy cover for the real goods being pursued which are wealth, influence, and power. Please let’s not pretend that outfits like First Things and Front Porch Republic are doing anything other than jockeying for position in the world of opinion mongering, status seeking, and influence peddling. The real contemplative life is being romanticized every bit as much and as often as is the “agrarian” life.
Second, you are right that my folks don’t “talk like that.” They would mostly just say that you guys (or us guys as the case may be) are pampered, air-conditioned nancy-boys and panty-waists who wouldn’t last an hour in the “real world.” By this they mean that “intellectuals” lack the most basic and necessary skills of care for themselves, their world, and their people. For the most part, this judgment is correct. And it is wrong to suggest that this anti-intellectualism comes from jealosy or resentment. By and large, it doesn’t. It comes from a certain kind of contempt and disgust for people who are less than free because they are so dependent on others.
That, to me, is where all this discussion should properly head (and to be fair, I haven’t read Crawford’s book, though I did read the original essay). There is a virtuous anti-intellectualism, and it would be healthy to explore its true motives, sources, and advantages, and to discover, as I suspect Crawford has, that such anti-intellectualism is in fact a better foundation and growth bed for the flourishing of the true contemplative, the true ground of existence for a human intellect.