Persecuted Intellectuals

Some communities regard all intellectuals as suspicious at best, and a danger to society at worst. This kind of prejudice sometimes crops up in isolated rural areas where most people lack a formal education and intellectuals are outsiders by default. Other times, such an attitude is the hallmark of a totalitarian dictatorship. If knowledge is power, then all that book-learning could pose a threat to the regime — better to keep the people ignorant and complacent. In a speculative fiction setting, the government might fear that scientists or other scholars are dangerously close to uncovering the truth behind The Masquerade, and must be suppressed at all costs.

Sometimes, the fear and hatred of intellectuals stems from a past disaster: if half the world was destroyed in the Great Robot War of 3052, for example, the survivors may be wary of mechanical engineers. More often than not, however, the educated are merely a convenient scapegoat. After all, nobody likes a know-it-all. That jerk with his fancy college degree thinks he's better than you! Like other forms of institutionalized prejudice, this can be a brutally effective tool for directing the public's anger away from the government.

An Up to Eleven situation of this trope (mainly in SF) happens when the intellectuals lean so much on the side of ‹bermensch that they seem to form a new species to any "normal" human. Expect Torches and Pitchforks, maybe also Humans Are the Real Monsters.

See also Book Burning, which often accompanies the persecution of academics, and Tall Poppy Syndrome, where any sort of specialness is equally dangerous. Compare and contrast Evil Luddite and Intelligence Equals Isolation. For works that portray intelligent or learned people in a negative light, see Dumb Is Good and Science Is Bad.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, in Robin's backstory, the scholars of Ohara got annihilated by the Marines because they pursued forbidden knowledge. Specifically, they sought the history of the "Void Century" which the World Government keeps hidden at all costs. Since Robin was affiliated with them and managed to escape, she became a wanted criminal at the age of 8.
  • In Attack on Titan, this is the true purpose of the Military Garrison's 1st battalion. They are charged with brutally persecuting scientists, inventors, explorers, and anyone who tries to find out too much about the outside world.

    Audio Plays 
  • In a flashback in the Blake's 7 audio "Solitary", Federation troops march into a school, round up the students and the teachers and then execute the teachers for the crime of "agitation". The children are sent off to factories.

    Comic Books 
  • The DC Comics series The Atomic Knights featured a post-Atomic War setting where scientists were blamed for creating the superweapons that destroyed civilization and made the world a radioactive wasteland. The Knights wore their concealing helmets partially to obscure the fact that some of them were scientists, and thus Acceptable Targets for the mob.

  • At the end of the Spanish movie La lengua de las mariposas (or Butterfly, as it was called in English-speaking countries), the wise and kindly old teacher is rounded up after the Falangists take over.

  • In Soviet Russia, cops move in threes: one to ask questions and write them down, one to read what the other wrote, and the third to keep an eye on these dangerous intellectuals.

  • In 1984, those who are too openly intelligent are quietly eliminated, both from the Party ranks and the proletariat. This happens to Winston's friend Syme — even though he's a vociferous supporter of the regime, he "sees too clearly and speaks too plainly", and simply disappears one day.
  • In Anathem, mathematicians (called "Avout") are confined to monasteries (called "Maths"), and only allowed contact with the outside world once per year, decade, century or millennium. On three occasions the Maths were invaded because the Avout invented technologies considered too dangerous ("new matter", genetic engineering, and magic).
    • There are lesser schools within the Maths, where outsiders can go for a limited amount of time (not more than a month) to learn needed skills, but the more advanced orders are shut off from the rest of society for the most part.
  • In A Canticle for Leibowitz, this is part of the aftermath of global nuclear war. After the enraged survivors slaughter the scientists who developed the bombs, they begin to target other scientists ... and then other scholars ... and then anyone with a formal education. The ultimate result is a society where it's dangerous to admit that you know how to read.
  • The reason for the existence of the Firefighters in Fahrenheit 451.
  • Solzhenitsyn's novel The First Circle dramatises Stalin's imprisonment of scientific intellectuals. The paradox, as noted in may of Solzhenitsyn's novels, is that intellectuals are actually freer in the Gulag, where the worst has largely already happened to them, than they would be in the Soviet Union outside. Their bodies might be imprisoned, they might be on a poor diet, but their minds are free to interact and think and speak heresy.
  • In Hard to Be a God, intellectuals of all kinds (derisively dubbed "book-readers") are persecuted by the Evil Chancellor Don Reba and his stormtroopers, to better prepare the country for annexation by an Enlightenment-hating theocracy.
  • In the H.I.V.E. Series, this is how Dr. Nero sells the Alpha program to the scared first-years who have just been kidnapped and told they will not be able to go outside for the foreseeable future: that had they stayed in the outside world, they would be treated as outcasts for their intelligence.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Becker, Becker is called to jury duty but keeps getting rejected. He believes that lawyers don't want him because they believe as a doctor he is too intelligent. At one point he almost gets accepted on a jury until he mentions he was reading a book. Meanwhile his ditzy assistant Linda is quickly put on a jury and made foreman.
  • Discussed in the Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey episode "Hiding in the Light", which depicts the Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars that took place in the Qin dynasty. Neil deGrasse Tyson points to this as one of the great dangers to science and human achievement.
  • Several episodes of The Twilight Zone deal with this:
    • In "Time Enough at Last", everyone looks down on and picks on Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) for being a reader.
    • In "The Obsolete Man", Romney Wordsworth, the librarian (also played by Burgess Meredith) is considered obsolete, as books have been banned.
    • In the '80s revival episode "Examination Day", the government exterminates anyone who scores too high on a mandatory examination at a young age.
  • In the miniseries V, the Visitors begin persecuting and rounding up scientists and getting humanity to go along with it, because scientists had readily identified that the Visitors were actually reptilian aliens with a nefarious agenda.

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Coalition States in Rifts promote this trope to their general population, to the extent that Rogue Scholars and Rogue Scientists are playable character classes. This is hypocrisy however, as the CS is ruled by an elite class of educated technocrats. CS Propaganda teaches that only government-trained scientists are safe. Which is ironic because their foremost think tank, the Lone Star Genetic Research Complex, is staffed by a raging pack of Mad Scientists whose leader considers himself a god!

  • In Henry VI Part 2, Dick The Butcher says "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Although this is often interpreted as a standard Evil Lawyer Joke, the implication is that without lawyers, there would be nobody who knows any law to get in the way of Jack Cade's autocratic rule.
  • Parade: The violently anti-Semitic people of rural Georgia are already suspicious of Leo Frank because he is Jewish, but the fact that he is one of the few men in town with a college degree doesn't help matters. Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, milking the Simple Country Lawyer persona for all it's worth, even cites Leo's "big fancy talk" as evidence that he can't be trusted.

     Video Games 
  • A Vox Populi rebel in Bioshock Infinite tells his comrades to kill anyone they see wearing glasses, probably in reference to the Khmer Rouge doing the same. The Vox are not specifically anti-science or anti-intellectual, but as the poorest and most oppressed citizens of Columbia they oppose anything that represents the upper classes.
  • In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the planet Bryyo's backstory involves a war between the intellectual Lords of Science and the traditional Primals, which eventually ended with the Primals hunting down and killing any of intellectuals that remained after the war.

     Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The association between this trope and totalitarian dictatorships is very much Truth in Television:
    • Anti-intellectualism is a common motif in fascist rhetoric, and such persecution was rampant in both Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain.
    • Intellectuals were targeted as part of Stalin's "Great Purge". The primary example was persecution of biologists who disagreed with "Lysenkoism", a crackpot theory proposed by an uneducated plant breeder that Lamarck was right. For ideological reasons the regime favored Lamarck over Darwin/Mendel. Persecution of dissidents from Lysenkoism went on into the 1950s, helping to cause the Soviet famines as its methods were painfully disproven and setting back genetic science in the country by decades. To a lesser extent, astronomers began to disappear when sunspot research was deemed "un-Marxist", linguists who disagreed with Stalin's preferred pseudoscientific "Japhetic theory" were killed or imprisoned, and the Meteorological Office was purged for failing to predict weather harmful to crops.
    • One extreme example is the massacre of academics under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge In Cambodia, who would kill people for merely wearing eyeglasses (as it suggested literacy).
    • China's Cultural Revolution included a war against academia, with many scholars, teachers, scientists and especially historians (a major goal was to abolish old traditions) beaten up, foreclosed on, killed or drafted for menial labor.
    • During the Qin Dynasty in China, intellectual discourse was suppressed in order to consolidate power in the hands of the emperor. Known as the "burning of books and burying of scholars," this period in time saw the murder of many intellectuals and the destruction of their works in an attempt to eliminate dissenting political opinions.