About the alleged decline of America’s brainpower, you probably already know.
The dumber you are, or it so often seems, the better chance you have of getting a multimillion dollar deal on a reality TV show. Talk radio seems to grow coarser by the day, popular music more vulgar, our students’ basic grasp of language, math, science and history less sure. The alarm bells about this sort of thing have been sounded in recent books such as “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free,” and “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.”
But in a new book released just in time for the summer reading season, Carlin Romano offers a different view. In “America The Philosophical,” Romano argues that America’s intellectual marketplace is more vibrant than ever.
Romano doesn’t contend that we’re all sitting around reading Plato and Aristotle. But if philosophy is defined on a more practical level — as a continuing contest of ideas — then America could be viewed as a better home for philosophical debate than ancient Greece, the celebrated cradle of Western thought.
That’s Romano’s premise, at least. “In the early years of the twenty-first century,” he tells readers, “America is to philosophy what Italy is to art, or Norway to skiing: a perfectly designed environment for the practice.”
Romano offers a largely hopeful view of America’s future. “Our country is not ‘Idiot America,’ ” he contends, but “a place where the battle between dogma and doggedness in seeking answers never ends, from sea to shining sea.”
Romano’s view strikes us as a bit rosy; just look at the quality of contemporary political debate for evidence that people seem to be doing less thinking, and more shouting. Even so, the fact that Romano’s 672-page book on the state of American philosophy could attract a commercial publisher — and a prominent review in The New York Times — suggests that Americans are more receptive to thoughtful reflection than we give ourselves credit for.