Over at Ricochet, Peter Robinson broaches the oft asked question about intellectuals and their disdain and rage against capitalism. Robinson unearthed Robert Nozick’s, “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Nozick declared,
The schools, too, exhibited and thereby taught the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit. To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.
The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?
The entire essay is thoughtful and worth the read and it reminded me of some of my own observations of life at Ole Miss, my own Alma Mater. Much of what Nozick explains in the essay may be magnified at a school that has a similar cultural makeup as that one. The University of Mississippi or Ole Miss, at least from my own experience, is a very solid public university. There are some excellent professors in residence, especially within the college of liberal arts. For a public university, especially when it comes to capitalism and cultural norms, the student body is relatively conservative. I would say though from my own experience, however, it isn’t a place of grand academic probing or curiosity for most students. How many colleges genuinely can claim that characteristic today, though? That is not to say students are less intelligent or thoughtful than elsewhere.
A deep intellectual curiosity among the student body, in most cases, would not ingratiate you towards your peers and it certainly did you little favor in the social scene. I immediately noticed a tension between some of the academics and a large portion of the student body. Social development, popularity, networking, and the general social scene was all the rage for many students. Whether it was through popular fraternities and sororities and social gatherings, those activities and influences took precedence over the academy and academic pursuits.
A lot students came from financially successful families and many of those families were popular in Mississippi. They had little interest in repudiating their background, upbringing, and many of the cultural norms that surrounded them. While some academics on campus wanted the students to at least in part, to repudiate some of those values and norms. And many of those same students – who might be described as not “academic” or “intellectual” – were masters of the social scene, where often financial success comes in life, especially in the field of business and entrepreneurial enterprise. The resentment of some in academic circles was palpable. They felt betrayed by the wider culture – no beautiful woman at their side, no expensive sport utility vehicle, and little popularity. Thus there was a feeling that the system is rigged and unfair. I suspect in many of the the more traditional campus settings, feelings like this are especially common.
There has been a lot written on the topic of the academy’s rants and raging against the free market. Certainly much of it has to do with the deep perception that some professors aren’t rewarded to a greater degree than those that are less academic but maybe more socially astute in life and business.
Perhaps the best examples today are the professors in SEC schools who carry impressive academic degrees and credentials but are dwarfed in salary by football coaches with motorcades bigger than the state governor, and a support staff greater than entire academic departments on campus. They are a visible reminder of the popular jock who got the girl, while simultaneously, being the most admired figure on campus. Is capitalism or the free market really to blame though?