Anti-intellectualism has been used by totalitarian dictatorships to oppress political dissent. Economist Thomas Sowell argues for distinctions between unreasonable and reasonable wariness of intellectuals, when working in their fields of expertise, intellectuals have increased knowledge. However, when compared to other careers, Sowell suggests intellectuals have few disincentives for speaking outside their expertise, for example, a physician is judged by effective treatment, yet might face malpractice lawsuits if he harms a patient. In this manner, intellectuals participate in areas where they may possess no prior knowledge at all in order to influence public policy issues. Similar arguments have been made by others, historian Paul Johnson argued that a close examination of 20th-century history reveals that intellectuals have championed innumerable disastrous public policies, writing, beware intellectuals. Not merely should they be well away from the levers of power. Journalist Tom Wolfe described an intellectual as a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others, in Brazil, the educator Paulo Freire was banished for being ignorant, according to the organizers of the coup d’ État of the moment. Extreme ideological dictatorships, such as the Khmer Rouge regime in Kampuchea, in achieving their Year Zero social engineering of Cambodia, they assassinated anyone suspected of involvement in free-market activities. The suspected Cambodian populace included professionals and almost every educated man and woman, city-dwellers, doctrinally, the Khmer Rouge designated the farmers as the true proletariat, as the true representatives of the working class, hence the anti-intellectual purge. Moreover, anti-intellectualism is neither always violent, nor oppressive, because most any social group can exercise contempt for intellect, intellectualism, and education. In fact, it is always the critical intellectuals, writers, intellectuals by definition are people who take ideas seriously for their own sake. Whether or not a theory is true or false is important to them independently of any practical applications it may have, have, as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, an attitude to ideas that is at once playful and pious. But in the movement, the intellectual ideal of knowledge for its own sake is rejected. Knowledge is seen as only as a basis for action. Far more important than what one knows is how one feels, remember that the publishers want to keep the printing presses busy and do not object to nonsense if it can be sold. The cultural elite—women and men—will be pleading for the plumbers and the construction workers, in The Powring Out of the Seven Vials, the Puritan John Cotton wrote that the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee. Upon the learning of the Jesuits, and the glorie of the Episcopacy, I say bee not deceived by these pompes, empty shewes, and faire representations of goodly condition before the eyes of flesh and blood, bee not taken with the applause of these persons. Not every Puritan concurred with Cottons contempt for secular education, some founded universities such as Harvard, Yale, the highest elites and the titled aristocracies had little reason to risk their lives crossing the Atlantic and then face the perils of pioneering
Intellectual and anti-intellectual: Political cartoonist Thomas Nast contrasts the reedy scholar with the bovine boxer, epitomizing the populist view of reading and study as antithetical to sport and athleticism. Note the disproportionate heads and bodies, with the size of the head representing "mental" ability and intelligence, and the size of the body representing kinesthetic talent and "physical" ability.
In “The Night of the Long Batons” (29 July 1966), the federal police physically purged politically-incorrect academics, from five faculties of the University of Buenos Aires, who opposed the right-wing military dictatorship in Argentina of Juan Carlos Onganía (1966–70).
David Horowitz considers the intelligentsia the source of Western discontents.
In the book The Powring Out of the Seven Vials (1642), the protestant minister John Cotton equated education and intellectualism with atheist service to the supernatural.