American Intellectuals : Their Politics and Status
Seymour Martin Lipset
This analysis of the sources of contemporary anti‐ intellectualism, and of the dominant politics of American intellectuals, has produced some curious paradoxes. I have argued that anti-intellectualism has been particularly widespread among conservatives because intellectuals have not been distributed more or less equally among the different political parties and tendencies. American intellectuals have accepted the equalitarian ideology of the United States, and this has both eliminated conservatism as a real alternative for them and also led many of them to regard themselves as underprivileged because they do not receive the overt deference that the more class‐ bound European societies give their Continental colleagues. The very success of the liberal ideology which most American intellectuals espouse reinforces their feelings of deprivation, which then become an additional source of their reformist zeal; and that zeal in turn stimulates political attacks on intellectuals by conservatives, and furnishes further support for the intellectuals' left-of-center political tendencies. 1
However, this self-supporting cycle, which would keep American intellectuals on the left and right‐ wing groups on the offensive against them indefinitely, has shown some signs of breaking down in the last few years. American intellectuals as a group seem to have shifted toward the center, although most of them probably remain to the left of that imaginary line; and a significant minority have become conservative in their thinking. Many circumstances underlie this shift. Clearly one of the most important is the social consequences of prolonged
postwar prosperity. Another is the reaction of liberal leftist intellectuals in America, as elsewhere, to the rise of Communism as the main threat to freedom. Faced with a society far worse than the one which now exists in the West but one which claims to be fulfilling the values of the American and French revolutions, such intellectuals, including many of the socialists among them, now have for the first time in history a conservative ideology which allows them to defend an existing or past society against those who argue for a future utopia. Like Burke, they have come to look for sources of stability rather than of change. The very social classes which the intellectual reformer saw as the carriers of the good society— the lower classes, especially the workers—back the new despotism, and not only the despotism of the left, but, as McCarthyism and Peronism showed, often of the "radical right." 2 Furthermore, the very success of moderate forms of leftism—the New Deal in this country, democratic Socialism in the British Commonwealth and Scandinavia—has removed programs for economic reform from the category of a utopia to that of a reality with imperfections and inconsistencies.
And while changing political events have everywhere destroyed the utopias of the democratic left, prolonged prosperity, with its concomitant improvement of the relative positions of workers and intellectuals, has reduced the visible reasons for an intense concern with economic reform. The political issue of the 1950s has become freedom versus Communism, and in that struggle many socialist and liberal intellectuals find themselves identifying with established institutions. This identification comes hard to intellectuals who feel called upon to reject conventional stupidities, and results in a feeling of malaise which takes the form of complaining that everyone, including the intellectuals, is too conformist. Many American liberal intellectuals in the____________________