Question: Why is intellectualism met with suspicion
here in the U.S.?
Ian Buruma: I think it may have
something to do with the myth... or at least the ideal of egalitarianism
that it’s better to be a regular guy with sort of good standing in the
community, good character and so on than to be an egghead. Eggheads are
suspected and that is not just American culture. I think that was true
traditionally in Britain as well and there is something to be said for
it. I mean there are many unpleasant effects of that kind of
philistinism. But the good thing is that ideas can be dangerous.
Intellectuals are dangerous when you give them too much power because
they tend to take ideas to their extreme, and they’re not practical
people on the whole. And it’s good I think to be a little suspicious of
taking any idea to its extreme and it is probably better to have people
in power who are more practical and who know the art of compromise.
What would de Tocqueville say if he could see us now?
Buruma: Well I think he would be on the hand probably shocked
because some of his... possibly some of his worst, his most pessimistic
predictions would seem to have come true in that he was on the one hand
in favor of democracy and he admired American democracy, but he was
frightened of the possible consequences. He thought it could lead to
tremendous vulgarity and so on and I think he probably would see that.
He would also see a much less conformist population probably than the
one he saw, depending on where he would travel of course. And I think he
probably would be rather shocked by the tone of the public figures, of
the politicians who are probably less, little less high minded than the
ones he encountered when he was there.
Recorded April 21, 2010