Are nationalists ignorant or intellectual

There was a time when it was extremely uncomfortable to be branded "stupid" by others. The story of stupidity was still in order, and over the centuries it succeeded in linguistically distancing people who disagree or disagree in this way and thus marginalizing them socially. It is true that "stupidity" existed now as then only as a communicative construct, because decisions were made again and again about what was considered stupid and why - these could be unpleasant political positions, but also members of other peoples, workers, women and again and again "strangers" of any color. They all suffered for a long time from charges of stupidity. Today, however, the allegation of stupidity seems to simply roll off many people. Instead, they despise our knowledge base, which we believed to be well established, and display open hostility towards intellectuals. This behavior can be described as a "new stupidity" whose destructive social character should not be underestimated.

In the history of stupidity there is first of all the "old" stupidity, which by no means means stupid behavior, but which has always been the accusation of stupidity by the supposedly clever. This accusation traditionally made possible the exclusion of all supposedly ignorant and uneducated: Almost all "barbarians" that one hears about in world history were considered by others to be uneducated and uncultivated, and the more human knowledge grew, the clearer the dividing lines between them became drawn who could not benefit from this knowledge. For the educated there were henceforth the simple-minded and the laggards - the stupid. The philosophers provided the definitions: “Lack of understanding means stupidity in the true sense of the word,” explained Arthur Schopenhauer, and Immanuel Kant was already considered to be stupid “who cannot be used for business because he has no power of judgment”.

Because no one wanted to be labeled stupid in this regard, the stupidity charge could be so powerful in public spaces. Its power of social distancing is particularly effective in the political exclusion of women. Here the men succeeded in denying them the right to vote for a long time by means of accusations of stupidity: until the 19th century, women were hardly given the ability to perform mentally; Charles Darwin wrote in 1871: “The main difference in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown in the fact that the man attains a greater height in everything he begins than the woman can rise to, whether deep Thinking, being reason or imagination. ”An alleged female special anthropology made it possible to concede emotionality to women in addition to physical weakness, but at the same time deny them any rationality in addition to physical strength. The women's rights activist Hedwig Dohm could only helplessly state that "the woman and the idiot" found themselves in the same category when they were excluded from political rights.

These exclusion mechanisms also worked in other social discourses: the emerging social democracy and the criticism of capitalism had to put up with being called the slogans of the stupid fellows, and German Protestantism was so proud of its education that the Catholics were largely considered to be medieval, superstitious and were considered stupid. And most forms of nationalism always reveled in reproach of stupidity against other peoples. And in principle it could hit all countries and people: Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once described the French as a “stupid nation”. Above all, however, the Slavic neighbors were the subject of German disdain and were regarded by the Germans as simply uneducated and stupid; here the master human ideology of the “Third Reich” could easily tie in. Anti-Americanism, which is one of the tenacious national stereotypes in Germany, never got along without the cultural disdain of the “Americans”.

Anyone who wanted to defend themselves against the defamation had to make a long and arduous journey. Catholics, women or social democrats wanted to prove it to others. They did not want to be seen as irrational and “useless for business”. They graduated from schools and universities, excelled in science and even in politics in order to be recognized. This was a laborious process, which in many milieus is certainly still not completed. But those previously so defamed have largely achieved that they are no longer considered stupid.

This stage in the story of stupidity seems to be behind us, because today liberation from social stigma may no longer be necessary. The accusation of stupidity no longer hurts; it is no longer necessarily socially discrediting. On the contrary, it has long been possible to confidently equip yourself with precisely these attributes, or at least to flirt with them. By no means only in the so-called social networks and on private television is it a ticket to openly admit one's own lack of responsibility for a complex topic: “I'm not an expert, but…”, “I haven't read any clever books, but every child knows But, that ... ”Such attitudes introduce statements on complex topics: on climate protection and social policy, on military strategies or educational issues - accompanied by ridicule of the supposedly“ clever ”, the“ clever ”, the“ intellectual ”.

This attitude stands in the tradition of anti-intellectual hostility, which was particularly evident at the beginning of the 20th century in its aggressive form: the intellectual became a figure of excitement and hatred, especially for every type of political totalitarianism. If communists executed other communists in the Soviet sphere of influence, they had been defamed often enough beforehand as intellectuals. And above all National Socialism attacked every form of actual and supposed intellectuality not only in politics but also in culture: the defamation of a “degenerate art” was inseparable from the accusation of an allegedly “unnatural” intellectuality incapable of true creative achievement connected. Often these attacks were colored anti-Semitic at the same time. The “spirit” of the intellectuals made the Nazis and all fascists mad - they contrasted it with the diffuse “feeling” and the “belief”. Instead of the knowledge of the intellect, the feeling of "healthy people's feeling" should prevail, the twin of which is "common sense".

This legacy of the “Third Reich” for the history of stupidity should not be underestimated. The high degree of enmity towards the intelligentsia has remained, and with it, incidentally, not only the deep affection for "common sense", but also the skepticism towards science, especially the humanities. The "New Stupidity" follows on from this, it shows a latently aggressive attitude towards science and intellectuals, which also has consequences for political culture. By displaying an undisguised hatred of a caricature of the “elites” who supposedly impose their will on the majority of the people - the “real” people - it is an integral part of modern populism. It is well known that this is always anti-democratic, and that is also the “new stupidity”. Because it also calls into question the institutions of the separation of powers and their competencies - not only parliaments, but increasingly also the independent courts. She insists on the non-recognition of knowledge and decisions. Established political actors also use this stance for their own purposes; The statements made by the Federal Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer, in view of incorrect calculations of the limit values ​​in the exhaust gases of diesel vehicles are an example of this: Previous and still valid findings about the health hazards caused by pollutant emissions from cars have been shaken, many people are no longer sure about strict measurement procedures and driving bans are actually appropriate. Once again, a body of knowledge is attacked for political reasons.

US President Donald Trump is one of the spokesmen for the “new stupidity”. If he simply does not recognize the climate change provoked by humans, he gives the anti-intellectual battering ram for other will-o'-the-wisps such as the President of the International Ski Federation FIS, who recently refused to acknowledge climate change because there is so much snow everywhere. It is obvious that many people feel encouraged to participate in the negation of even overt scientific knowledge and in no way feel excluded. Attacks on unpleasant sciences are also made easier: In addition to global warming, dealing with gender studies is an impressive example. They are attacked as politically unpopular not only in Hungary, where hostility towards a free science can run wild at the moment, but also in this country: In Germany, the AfD is calling for state funding to be withdrawn from gender research. Behind this is the claim that this is not a science at all - that is not true, but not politically ineffective. The fact that scientists from different disciplines are now increasingly the target of outrage and aggression has led some to the regrettable deliberations of whether they should publish their research results anonymously.

Just as populist currents give the “new stupidity” a natural political home, so any religious fundamentalism can be their belief. The main thing is that belief takes precedence over knowledge. The Christians do not even need to point a finger at any “sect” or “the” Islamism; they themselves have a long and ominous tradition of self-confidently denying the knowledge of this world in the service of an authority on the other side. The so-called “creationists” with their rejection of the theory of evolution are, as evangelical remnants, an irritating example, and esoteric currents willingly hook themselves with religious fundamentalists: whoever believes no longer needs to know.

There is nothing cute about the “new stupidity”, characterized by their self-confidence, their hostility towards knowledge and the intellectuals as well as their basic anti-democratic attitude. And it does not serve to amuse the supposedly smart ones. It can hardly be overestimated as a politically and socially destabilizing factor because political action is deprived of the fundamentals: Diesel vehicles are dangerous to health? Human misconduct contributes to global warming? Do gender studies make a contemporary contribution to the perception of social reality? Those who ignore such facts act differently - but not rationally.

But we are not powerless in the face of this phenomenon: The "new stupidity" conquers as much mental space as society allows it. Our attitude towards our knowledge, our commitment to free science and research, our appreciation of teachers and our standing up for intellectuals, artists and journalists will determine whether our democratic communities will survive the new attacks.

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