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.


Examples

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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.
  • 2000 AD: The short strip Danger! Genius At Work! features a society where intelligent people are persecuted because Individuality Is Illegal. Literally; all the men and women look exactly the same, are respectively named Terry or June, and anyone who tries to create progress by getting ideas for new inventions is forcibly put into the Equalizer, a machine that turns a person into a Terry or June. However, at the end one of the police officers who arrests intelligent people is shown getting struck by the spark of creativity himself.

     Film 
  • 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.

     Jokes 
  • 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.

     Literature 
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, 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.
  • In Emprise, the first novel in the Trigon Disunity trilogy by Michael P. Kube-Mc Dowell society has mostly collapsed and backslid technologically after an ambitious effort to improve the world horribly backfired resulting in laws against intellectuals and Kangaroo jury executions. The astronomer who sets off the efforts by the leader of India to change things after revealing an alien spaceship is coming is executed by the American Redneck court for the trumped up charge that he had wasted resources on such nonsense as studying the stars instead of turning over his solar panels for 'proper' use by the community.

     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.
  • Farscape: The Peacekeepers are implied to be somewhat anti-intellectual, with rank-and-file soldiers looking down on and oppressing the "techs" and also showing suspicion of Gammak Bases and the "Science-Military" based there. On the other hand, the officers in command of Gammak Bases, like Scorpius, are full-fledged scientists whose rank still commands respect.

     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!

     Theatre 
  • 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.
  • In Tropico, intellectuals can be cowed into submission via Book Burning or become a banned faction altogether.

     Western Animation 
  • Cow and Chicken. The episode, "Black Sheep of the Family," invokes and lampshades this. Because Cousin Black Sheep is actually a very articulate sheep, and the rest of this universe is a Cloud Cuckooland, other characters take Black Sheep's big words as insults, to the point that even Red Guy, who is Officer O'Fannihee, deems Black Sheep as a wanted criminal.
  • Used several times as throwaway gags on The Simpsons to illustrate how much of a Crapsack World the town is (at least once to the point that even the corrupt mayor gets sick). Torches and Pitchforks are a common sight.
    • Seymour Skinner saying that the Earth rotates around the Sun almost has him torched on the stake once.
      Grampa: Burn him!
      [A reporter takes a picture of him]
      Grampa: You've stolen my soul!
    • When tests of a mysterious skeleton fail to prove that it was the remains of an angel, the citizens of Springfield become enraged at science. The resulting riot culminates in the local research laboratories being bombed with Molotov cocktails and the museums being thrashed.
    • In the episode "HOMR", Homer becoming incredibly smart for a short time leads to his temporarily becoming a pariah. In a parody of a Drunken Montage, he even wanders past signs saying "Dum-Dum Club" and "Smart People Not Welcome".
    • In "Bart's Comet", when the titular comet almost destroys Springfield, the first reaction of the Springfeldians is to set the local observatory on fire "to prevent it from happening again."
  • An episode of My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Adam convinces the school two switch their grading system from picture stickers to competitive letter grades. Due to the animals' natural instincts to destroy all they declare a threat, Adam, as well Phineas Porpoise and his "Spiffy" gang, gets persecuted for being smart.

    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 doctrine promulgated by an obscure agronomist named Trofim Lysenko that believed Lamarck was right. For ideological reasons the regime favored Lamarck/Lysenko over the then-new synthesis of Darwin/Mendel. note  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.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte fancied himself as an intellectual and usually made a show of giving rewards and sinecures to important scientists and artists. But in practise, the likes of Madame de Stael were driven in exile, the media was policed and subject to strict control. He also had Marquis de Sade imprisoned in Charenton for the rest of his life, solely because he read his works and found them disgusting. Far less well known, but not in Germany, is the time he ordered the execution of Johann Philipp Palm of Nuremberg, a publisher of a pamphlet criticizing the French Occupation.
  • This even happens in major democracies on occassion:
    • In the 1790s, the English government in fear of The French Revolution taking root in England passed laws of sedition driven to suppress dissent and pro-French support within England. English rioters burned down the house of pro-French scientist reformer Joseph Priestley and Thomas Paine found himself driven away from England to France. Within their colonies, the English, proclaimers of democracy and rationality, often arrested intellectuals who criticized the government on charges of sedition and passed many draconian laws of censorship.
    • France during the Terror was not shy of using the guillotine against anyone they felt were threats to the state or who had shady political pasts.Of course as a rule, they did not persecute people solely because they were intellectuals but in practise they did claim populist ideas and subscribed to Guilt by Association and show trials. Prominent victims include chemist Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier was guillotined because of his past as a tax collector, Thomas Paine and Marquis de Condorcet, both of them imprisoned for their connections to the Girondins, with Condorcet committing suicide in captivity. Likewise, Marquis de Sade was confined because his son defected to the enemy and he was an ex-aristocrat, who as judge of the local Revolutionary tribunal let many people escape the guillotine.
    • In America, during the Red Scare, there were the Palmer Raids which deported many suspected intellectuals, local and international, out of America. During The Thirties there was the Dies Committee which investigated the Federal Theatre Works committee and accused Christopher Marlowe and Euripides of being communists and even argued that art was inherently subversive of American values. During the era of McCarthyism, you had the Blacklist where many Hollywood film-makers, screenwriters and actors were forced out of work and into exile because of suspected and actual communist sympathies and affiliations. Similar persecution existed during the Civil Rights Movement and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was notorious for wire-tapping and building files on many artists who they suspected of being subversive.
    • India despite being The Largest Democracy has draconian censorship policies and tends to have a poor record in upholding freedom of speech under threats. Famously and ironically, India was the first nation that banned The Satanic Verses despite being a secular democracy with a Hindu majority, and that its author Salman Rushdie was British-Indian. Likewise, books critical of certain public and historical figures will lead to riots. And lets leave it at that.
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