Freddie deBoer: Let's Kill the 'Cult of Smart' and Legacy Media

A third-generation Marxist critiques the contemporary left and discusses what progressives and libertarians might have in common.


Born in 1981, Freddie deBoer is an English Ph.D., the author of The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice, and the proprietor of one of the liveliest, most provocative, and most controversial publications at Substack.

He is also a third-generation Marxist who believes that individuals are innately different from one another (probably due to inherited differences in intelligence and physical capacity) and that many of his fellow Bernie Sanders-loving, progressive inhabitants of Brooklyn are hurting the poor when they insist that all K-12 students take college prep classes and have access to higher education. "Education is not a weapon against inequality; it is an engine of inequality," he writes, sounding like Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe when it comes to promoting well-paying but low-status trade jobs. What deBoer calls "the cult of smart"—the valorization of test-taking and a belief that all of us are blank slates who can be remediated through the right sort of instruction and environment—not only marginalizes the poor and "untalented," it ultimately blames them for their own condition.

His take on legacy media is equally acid, as when he tells critics of Substack, the controversial newsletter platform that has given a financially rewarding home to him and other writers who either left or never gained purchase at traditional journalistic outlets, "You don't like the writing that gets sold on Substack, cool, write better shit and sell it to more people."

Nick Gillespie talks with deBoer about his critiques of education, the mainstream media, and the contemporary left. They also wrangle over deBoer's call for "revolution, not evolution" and an end to capitalism, what it means to "want to live outside of exchange," and the surprising overlap between Marxists and libertarians when it comes to a range of current policy issues.