Stupid is the new smartbut it wasn’t always so
Popular culture has divorced itself from the life of the mind. Who has time for great books or deep thought when there is Jersey Shore to watch, a txt 2 respond 2, and World of Warcraft to play?
At the same time, those who pursue the life of the mind have insulated themselves from popular culture. Speaking in insider jargon and writing unread books, intellectuals have locked themselves away in a ghetto of their own creation.
- It wasn’t always so. Blue Collar Intellectuals vividly captures a time in the twentieth century when the everyman aspired to high culture and when intellectuals descended from the ivory tower to speak to the everyman. Author Daniel J. Flynn profiles thinkers from working-class backgrounds who played a prominent role in American life by addressing their intellectual work to a mass audience. Blue Collar Intellectuals tells the fascinating story of:he unschooled hobo who migrated from skid row anonymity to White House chats with the president and prime-time TV specials.
- he scandalous teacher-student romance that spawned a half-century labor of love in writing the history of the world.
- he Ivy League Ph.D. who held neither a high school nor college degree, and fittingly launched a renaissance in reading the great books outside of formal schools.
- The scholarship student who experienced the free market firsthand waiting tables and peddling socks, and who became one of capitalism’s most influential exponents.
- The impoverished outcast who became the poet of the pulps, elevating millions of readers along with heretofore marginal genres.
Guiding us through a world now vanished, Flynn causes us to look anew at our own digital age and its nostrums: Video gaming is just a new form of literacy, Reality shows . . . Challenge our emotional intelligence, and Who cares if Johnny can’t read? The value of books is overstated. Blue Collar Intellectuals shows us how much everyone intellectual and everyman alike has suffered from mass culture’s crowding out of higher things and the elite’s failure to engage the masses.
Praise for Blue Collar Intellectuals
“This book is not only an exciting story; it also corrects a terrible cultural mistakethe mistake of treating high culture, Great Books, and other canon-making visions of tradition as exploitative and spurious. Previous generations of intellectuals believed that our great cultural inheritance belonged to everyone, rich and poor, black and white and brown. Daniel Flynn’s profiles revive that belief, and they mark a vital alternative to the complacent relativism of contemporary cultural stewards.”
Mark Bauerlein, best-selling author of The Dumbest Generation
“Flynn’s case histories of a wonderfuland uniquely Americantradition of bringing learning to the masses offers us a morality tale in these times of spiraling tuition, esoteric publication, and an insular academia mostly cut off from wider society. The fascinating portraits here remind us how not so long ago an interest in making knowledge known beyond the campus was not antithetical to learning but the very essence of the true intellectual.”
Victor Davis Hanson, coauthor of Who Killed Homer? and The Bonfire of the Humanities
“Back in the middle decades of the twentieth century, millions of Americans supped at the table of high culture, learning history, philosophy, and economics from intellectual entrepreneurs like Will and Ariel Durant, Mortimer Adler, and Eric Hoffer. Daniel Flynn tells their story inBlue Collar Intellectualsand tells us why we miss them today.”
Michael Barone, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics
“Blue Collar Intellectuals powerfully evokes the lost era when the ‘everyman’ aspired to higher things and the defenders of high culture spoke and wrote in clear, accessible language. Flynn’s deft historical profiles remind us that popular culture and the life of the mind need not be adversaries.”
Brian C. Anderson, editor of City Journal and author of South Park Conservatives
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About the Author
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left and Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas. A popular radio guest and frequent speaker on college campuses, he writes a weekly column for HumanEvents.com and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children.
Table of Contents
Blue Collar Intellectuals 1
1 The Apostate Historians
How an Excommunicated "Cradle Robber" and His Anarchist Child Bride Made History 15
2 The People's Professor
How a High School Dropout Launched the Great Books Movement 37
3 Free-Market Evangelist
How a New Dealer-Turned-Libertarian Taught the Everyman Economics 67
4 The Longshoreman Philosopher
How an Unschooled Hobo Became a Favorite of Presidents and Prime Time 99
5 Poet of the Pulps
How a Down-and-Out Outcast Wrote His Way into the In-Crowd 129
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have neither the patience nor the political wonkism to view C-SPAN on a regular basis, but I am a frequent viewer of their cultural programming called BOOKTV on CSPAN2 weekends. It was there that I saw Daniel J. Flynn lecture on the topic of his enlightening book, Blue Collar Intellectuals. Inspired, I acquired the book and was not disappointed with his stories of five intellectuals, outsiders with uncommon backgrounds, who reached out to "blue collar" people everywhere.I first encountered one of the five intellectuals included in Flynn's book during my teen years reading science fiction. One of my favorite authors was Ray Bradbury and his tales, especially those of Humans and Martians collected in The Martian Chronicles. Flynn tells of Bradbury's impoverished family background as he grew up in the 1920s and his early reading of Edgar Allan Poe (also a favorite of mine since my pre-teen years) and others like Edgar Rice Burroughs. Even after he became famous for his own fantastic stories Bradbury was considered an outsider in traditional publishing circles, but maintained popularity with everyday folk. Time magazine labelled Bradbury "poet of the pulps" that seemed to sum up the cognoscenti's opinion of him. My next encounter with the intellectuals that Daniel Flynn depicts did not begin until I was on my way to college at the University of Wisconsin in the summer of 1967. Required reading for all incoming freshmen was a short book by Eric Hoffer, The True Believer. This was my introduction to one of Flynn's "Blue Collar Intellectuals" and to a book that is as relevant today as it was forty-five years ago. While distant from Hoffer in his political philosophy, Milton Friedman shared similar blue collar background and an ability to explain complex ideas of economics to the readership of Newsweek magazine and also to the viewers of PBS through his multi-part series "Free to Choose". In that same year of 1967 as a freshman student in "Honors Economics" I read Friedman's most famous book, Capitalism and Freedom, and in it found some of the principles that I hold dear to this day. These two experiences with blue-collar intellectuals belie somewhat Flynn's claim that these writers were all completely excluded from the realms of the cognoscenti, but they do not deflate his claim that they all had a special ability to communicate with the common man. Also included in the book are sections on Will Durant, who went from anarchist speaker to become a popularizer of history both of philosophy and civilization, and while I have not read the eleven volumes of Will & Ariel Durants' History of Civilization from cover to cover, I have dipped in to sections of the books from time to time. Finally, he tells the story of Mortimer Adler who founded the "Great Books" movement and wrote many books explaining the ideas in those books. I, too, was inspired by the lure of great books and have spent more than twenty years of my adult life reading them in the Basic Program of Liberal Education at the University of Chicago. These form the foundation for my reading and my participation in the search (see The Moviegoer by Walker Percy).In his book Daniel Flynn is able to clearly and succinctly elucidate the inspirational achievements of these blue collar intellectuals and how they shaped an era in which popular culture included a significant place for serious ideas. One of the most important lessons imparted by the lives of these intellectuals is how they inspired readers like myself to continue to read and learn and love the search for ideas in books.