State of the American Mind

16 Leading Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism

Edited by Mark Bauerlein Adam Bellow

In 1987, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was published; a wildly popular book that drew attention to the shift in American culture away from the tenets that made America—and Americans—unique. Bloom focused on a breakdown in the American curriculum, but many sensed that the issue affected more than education. The very essence of what it meant to be an American was disappearing.

That was over twenty years ago. Since then, the United States has experienced unprecedented wealth, more youth enrolling in higher education than ever before, and technology advancements far beyond what many in the 1980s dreamed possible. And yet, the state of the American mind seems to have deteriorated further. Benjamin Franklin’s “self-made man” has become a man dependent on the state. Independence has turned into self-absorption. Liberty has been curtailed in the defense of multiculturalism. 

In order to fully grasp the underpinnings of this shift away from the self-reliant, well-informed American, editors Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow have brought together a group of cultural and educational experts to discuss the root causes of the decline of the American mind. The writers of these fifteen original essays include E. D. Hirsch, Nicholas Eberstadt, and Dennis Prager, as well as Daniel Dreisbach, Gerald Graff, Richard Arum, Robert Whitaker, David T. Z. Mindich, Maggie Jackson, Jean Twenge, Jonathan Kay, Ilya Somin, Steve Wasserman, Greg Lukianoff, and R. R. Reno. Their essays are compiled into three main categories:

  • States of Mind: Indicators of Intellectual and Cognitive Decline

These essays broach specific mental deficiencies among the population, including lagging cultural IQ, low Biblical literacy, poor writing skills, and over-medication.

  • Personal and Cognitive Habits/Interests

These essays turn to specific mental behaviors and interests, including avoidance of the news, short attention spans, narcissism, and conspiracy obsessions. 

  • National Consequences

These essays examine broader trends affecting populations and institutions, including rates of entitlement claims, voting habits, and a low-performing higher education system.

The State of the American Mind is both an assessment of our current state as well as a warning, foretelling what we may yet become. For anyone interested in the intellectual fate of America, The State of the American Mind offers an accessible and critical look at life in America and how our collective mind is faring. 

For more information on the book, visit stateoftheamericanmind.com.

For more information on our contest related to this book, visit soamcontest.com.

Foreword—America: Are We Losing Our Mind? 
Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow / vii

Introduction—The Knowledge Requirement: What Every American Needs to Know 
E. D. Hirsch Jr. / 1

Part One—States of Mind: Indicators of Intellectual and Cognitive Decline

1 The Troubling Trend of Cultural IQ / 19 
Mark Bauerlein

2 Biblical Literacy Matters / 33 
Daniel L. Dreisbach

3 Why Johnny and Joanie Can’t Write, Revisited / 49 
Gerald Graff

4 College Graduates: Satisfied, but Adrift / 65 
Richard Arum

5 Anatomy of an Epidemic / 77 
Robert Whitaker

Part Two—Personal and Cognitive Habits/Interests

6 A Wired Nation Tunes Out the News / 97 
David T. Z. Mindich

7 Catching Our Eye: The Alluring Fallacy of Knowing at a Glance / 111 
Maggie Jackson

8 The Rise of the Self and the Decline of Intellectual and Civic Interest / 123 
Jean M. Twenge

9 Has Internet-Fueled Conspiracy-Mongering Crested? / 137 
Jonathan Kay

Part Three—National Consequences

10 Dependency in America: American Exceptionalism and the Entitlement State / 153 
Nicholas Eberstadt

11 Political Ignorance in America / 163 
Ilya Somin

12 In Defense of Difficulty: How the Decline of the Ideal of Seriousness Has Dulled Democracy in the Name of a Phony Populism ‘ 175 
Steve Wasserman

13 We Live in the Age of Feelings / 189 
Dennis Prager

14 How Colleges Create the “Expectation of Confirmation” / 205 
Greg Lukianoff

15 The New Antinomian Attitude / 217 
R. R. Reno

Afterword 
Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow / 231

Contributors / 243

Index / 247

This rich and powerful set of essays, from a team of distinguished contributors, fearlessly trains a searchlight on the whole range of our national failings in ways that should undermine any shred of complacency in its readers and convince them of the urgent need for reform. As such, it is a quintessential act of tough love, for a country that stands badly in need of it.

Wilfred M. McClay, G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma

Laments against the decay and corruption of the times are at least as old as Juvenal's 3rd Satire. But the impulse to contrast a disordered and adrift present with a nostalgically invoked past is a perennial one, and its revival in this volume is particular bracing and salutary, given the prominence and sharp-eyed acuity of the assembled authors. It is always a melancholy pleasure to find eminent cultural observers confirming the belief of all old-timers (and I am certainly one of those) that we're going to hell in a hand-basket.

Stanley Fish, Davidson Kahn University Professor and Professor of Law at Florida International University and Distinguished Visiting Floersheimer Professor of Law at the Cardozo School of Law

The truth hurts, but the passion and conviction that the contributors bring to their truth-telling can also inspire. This is must-read for anyone trying to make sense of the American mind circa 2015.

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute

This book exposes the cultural underpinnings of our political polarization. American exceptionalism is at war with a new cultural ethos, and the battlefield is money, sex, God, knowledge, and more. An indispensable report on the struggle.

Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Publishers Weekly- June 1, 2015

"This anthology will be a distressing but worthwhile read for those who believe traditional American values are endangered and must be preserved."

Publishers Weekly

The Washington Times-June 15, 2015

"Mr. Bellow and Mr. Bauerlein expertly collect contributors who collectively present a compelling case that the dominance of anti-intellectualism is not just a curmudgeonly nostalgia for the old days... an important volume, which shapes the current state of our morals and our manners."

Gerald J Rusello

The National Review- July 6, 2015

"Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow have edited a superb collection of essays on different aspects of American culture and life that extends, deepens, and updates Hofstadter’s critique of the naïve and feckless naturalism of John Dewey that now pervades and eviscerates our culture."

M. D. Aeschliman

The Weekly Standard- Jun 29, 2015

"With the American mind in such disarray, with the passionate partisans calling each other names and the more responsible afraid to criticize lest they be thought judgmental, Bauerlein and Bellow advance their book as a set of critical judgments of the horribles in our schools, personal habits, and political behavior."

Thomas L. Jeffers

What Would the Founders Think- July 19, 2015

"The essays in this book cover a great deal of territory and all are essential reading for anyone struggling to understand what has happened to America."

Marcia

Foreword Reviews- August 19, 2015

"In The State of the American Mind: 16 Leading Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, editors Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow assemble an outstanding collection of essays that discuss the decline in knowledge, political awareness, self-reliance, and civic engagement among American citizens and the consequences this dearth portends for the American system of self-government, which depends on an informed and involved citizenry. Comprehensive and convincing, the collection offers both diagnostic and prognostic analysis from a variety of voices, including intellectuals, academics, social thinkers, writers, and commentators. The causes and conclusions are distressing—all is not well in the state of the American Mind—yet the collection offers an optimistic view that improvement is possible.

Written in straightforward prose and eschewing divisive ideology and histrionics, the essays inform and inspire contemplation. Yet their aim is to call out Americans’ mental laziness, overblown belief in self, and indifference to political awareness, and each echoes the conclusion that the deterioration of intellectual and civic interest threatens American democracy."

Amy O’Loughlin

National Review

"Excellent collection."

Graham Hillard