Perspectives on Politics

Anti-Intellectualism in the Modern Presidency: A Republican Populism

Colleen J.  Shogan  a1
a1 George Mason University, E-mail:

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Due to the amplified importance of forging an intimate connection with the American public, modern presidents must adjust their political personalities and leadership. To combat allegations of elitism, recent Republican presidents have adopted anti-intellectualism as a conservative form of populism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as disparagement of the complexity associated with intellectual pursuits, and a rejection of the elitism and self-aware attitude of distinction that is commonly associated with intellectual life. This article focuses on the benefits and costs of anti-intellectualism as a strategic response to the plebiscitary demands of contemporary presidential politics. a


a Colleen J. Shogan is a member of the Affiliate Research Faculty at George Mason University ( She is a full-time employee of the United States Senate, and the author of The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents (Texas A&M Press, 2006). Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Miller Center of Public Affairs Colloquia Series on Politics and History and Notre Dame's Program in American Democracy Speaker Series. She would like to thank Sidney Milkis, Brian Balogh, Jennifer Hochschild, Peri Arnold, Bruce Miroff, Eileen Hunt-Botting, Christina Wolbrecht, David Adesnik, and several anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and institutional support.