Washington University — my alma mater, and also Phyllis Schlafly’s — is planning to award her an honorary doctorate. Predictably, the campus Left is outraged — and desperate to derail the accoldae.
I happen to think the practice of awarding honoring doctorates is ridiculous, but Schlafly is one of Wash U’s most famous alumnae and a woman who has accomplished a hell of a lot more than any of her critics. One doesn’t need to agree with her politics to acknowledge that she’s an historic, even iconic, figure. So far, most of the lefty malcontents have been expressing their hysteria by joining a Facebook group, while the university is standing firm.
There are pro-Schlafly Facebook groups too — at least two that I’ve joined. I hope other students, alumns, and supporters will sign-up and, more importantly, make sure that the university doesn’t capitulate. Abolish honorary doctorates if you don’t want to court controversy by awarding them, but if you’re going to have them, Phyllis Schlafly deserves one. It’s about time Wash U recognized her achievements — when I helped bring her to speak on campus way back when, she mentioned that it was the first time in decades that anyone at the university had extended an invitation. Frankly, it’s the university that will be doing itself the honor by giving Schlafly her due.
This Time article from Feb. 10, 1961 shows some of the best and worst traits of the early conservative student movement.
As Editor Peter Stuart of the Michigan Daily puts it: “The signs point to a revival of interest in individualism and decentralization of power—principles espoused by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and rekindled by Senator Barry Goldwater.” Items:
Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative is selling best at 200 college-town bookstores across the land.
Youngsters, not oldsters, were the most exuberant Goldwater boomleteers at the Republican presidential convention.
Harvard’s newly re-elected Student Council President Howard Phillips, 19, is a stern conservative on a campus brimming with Democrats on the faculty.
In last fall’s mock election at the University of Michigan, Nixon defeated Kennedy, though Kennedy easily carried the state. At Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State, Nixon won by 2 to 1.
Exodus Shrugged. The campus conservatives subdivide into roughly three groups. On the far right is a small fringe of shouting, demonstrating fanatics who admire the late Joe McCarthy, favor colonialism, back such causes as the “right” to exclude Negroes from certain neighborhoods, demand that students sign loyalty oaths, picket the movies Spartacus and Exodus because Dalton Trumbo (TIME, Jan. 2) wrote them. They take as their philosopher Novelist Ayn (Atlas Shrugged) Rand, who for a brooch wears a gold dollar sign to symbolize the values of selfcenteredness. On the other end of the spectrum are Kennedy supporters who find in the President’s appeal to duty (“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”) the essence of their conservatism.
In the middle of this stream runs the strongest current. Its members stand for the old verities, which they think the U.S. has forgotten. “Man has free will and reason,” says Victor Milione, 36, executive vice president of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. “Individual men should be their own agents in all things respecting their own lives.” These conservatives hold the right of private property as the best bulwark of freedom. They argue that unemployment should be alleviated by charity; that children should obey the Biblical command to honor parents by caring for them in their old age instead of leaving the responsibility to the Social Security Administration.
Read on. The book I always recommend on the history of the conservative youth movement (though it’s specifically about Young Americans for Freedom), is Gregory Schneider’s Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right. I’ve just loaned my copy of the organizer of Students for Ron Paul, in fact.
The youth element of the movement used to push the rather staid Republicans to the right. The young conservatives were among the first to agitate for Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to run for the Republican nomination. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the decades since the youth movement has been overtaken by the career-oriented College Republicans, the conservative movement as a whole has failed to produce another Goldwater or Reagan. But I think there are good odds that Ron Paul, who is galvanizing the youth and who loves speaking on campuses, is going to change that.
Brian Doherty argues that neoliberalism and (neo)conservatism aren’t nearly as dead as they ought to be.
Neoliberals by that name may be dead; neoliberalism reigns. Conservatism (especially minus libertarianism) may be out of ideas, but still commands enormous armies of dedicated voters—more than any other self-identified ideology.
To put it another way, the Soviet Union (to say nothing of Cuba and Red China) hung around long beyond Communism’s expiration date. The inertia of institutional power is nigh overwhelming in the short run.
I am encouraged for the future by the largley non-ideological bent of some of the brighter young people I know. There doesn’t seem to be much appetite among them for grand projects to reconstruct society or the world. On the other hand, I sometimes detect among them a hint of indifferentism and a certain naivete about the hardened political doctrines that still rule the day — I know one or two promising, post-ideological young conservatives or libertarians who seem to think that everybody likes them because, hey, what’s not to like? The answer to that is: just wait until you’re in a position where your words or actions matter to the establishment. You’ll find out very quickly why libertarians and paleoconservatives are so fractious and sometimes bitter. The establishment can tolerate plenty of dissent when it doesn’t matter; as soon as it does, the knives come out.
On a tangential note, the situation in universities seems to be gradually improving as well, not just with the continuing decline of political correctness (any is still too much, but this isn’t the late ’80s / early ’90s: speech codes, for example, are fewer and fewer) but more importantly with the regeneration of several worthy fields of scholarship. Classics is booming at several universities: when I was a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis at the beginning of this decade, there seemed to be about three times as much interest in classics among undergrads as there had been just a couple of years earlier, when I was an undergrad myself. I’ve heard of similar upswings at other campuses. In economics, not only has Keynesianism fallen to a low ebb, but Austrian and at any rate “post-neoclassical” scholarship appears to be flourishing, even if Samuelsonian neoclassical economics still rules the day. Whether these developments are just blips or a real turnaround, time will tell; but I’m cautiously optimistic.
From Russell Kirk’s Academic Freedom, 1955. (“Crawley” was a professor of medieval studies, and a good one, who’d had Communist ties. He disavowed them and swore he’d teach only the American Way of Life.)
…Professor Crawley never taught The American Way of Life in his classes. He did not know what The American Way of Life is, and neither do I. And even if he had believed in some dim ideology of Americanism, he would have been false to his trust as a servant of truth if as he had endeavored to indoctrinate students … in this dim ideology. He would have been as false to his trust as if he had taught The Marxist Way of Life. Professor Crawley, as a genuine scholar, always rose superior to indoctrination; in that he was worthy of academic freedom. But he ceased to be worthy of academic freedom, at least for the moment, when he agreed to pretend that he had been a propagandist for One Hundred Per Cent Americanism.
Not that it ever was. Here's Jesse Walker on the right-wing variety:
The neocon activist David Horowitz even toyed with the idea of "adding the categories of political and religious affiliation to Title IX and other existing legislation," thus making conservatives an officially protected class. He eventually gave up on that notion, but he's still pushing an "Academic Bill of Rights" that would let students lodge official complaints against professors for the topics they choose to explore in the classroom.
There's much more; read the whole piece.
I recall recently reading somewhere about a Republican state legislator complaining about classroom bias and insisting that "both sides" should be represented. It didn't seem to occur to him — why would it? — that there might be more than two sides to any question, or that sensible people might not be eager to take "sides" at all.
Not that right-wing political correctness is anything new. In American Conservatism: An Encylclopedia the entry on "academic freedom" has to begin by noting the irony of conservatives casting themselves as champions of academic freedom. William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale was precisely a call to silence or dismiss professors teaching un-Christian and socialistic doctrines. And the first mass-membership conservative youth arm, before Young Americans for Freedom, was a group called the Student Committee for the Loyalty Oath.
Of course, Buckley was writing about a private institution, Yale, which ought to be able to hire and fire whomever it pleases, for whatever reason. And it shouldn't be taken for granted that agents of a foreign power — which is what the Communist Party, USA was representing, after all — must be allowed to hold jobs at state universities at taxpayer expense. Even with state universities, however, I'd rather see the university itself make the decisions about hiring and firing on ideological grounds, subject to public pressure perhaps but free from direct state or federal interference. If we're going to have state univerisities at all, as well as research grants and federal student loans and other subsidies to private universities, they should nonetheless remain as insulated from politics as possible.
At least a few old-guard conservatives rejected the litmus tests that many of the Cold Warriors demanded. Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet both wrote books — Academic Freedom and The Degradation of Academic Dogma respectively — defending a broad interpretation of academic freedom, in Kirk's case in direct opposition to Buckley.
Ron Paul on what David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights really means:
Instead of fostering open dialogue and wide-raging intellectual inquiry, the main effect of the "Academic Bill of Rights" will be to further stifle debate about controversial topics. This is because many administrators will order their professors not to discuss contentious and divisive subjects, in order to avoid a possible confrontation with the federal government. Those who doubt this should remember that many TV and radio stations minimized political programming in the 1960s and 1970s in order to avoid running afoul of the federal "fairness doctrine."
I am convinced some promoters of the "Academic Bill of Rights" would be perfectly happy if, instead of fostering greater debate, this bill silences discussion of certain topics. Scan the websites of some of the organizations promoting the "Academic Bill of Rights" and you will find calls for silencing critics of the Iraq war and other aspects of American foreign policy.
See also Jesse Walker's look at Horowitz's project. He too finds in it an instrument that warhawks will use to crush dissent on campus:
why might I worry that the rules would be so misused? Because I've looked at the rest of the Students for Academic Freedom website. The group's university "case studies" offer very few examples of conservative students or instructors being penalized for their views, preferring mostly to grouse that leftist views are present on campus in the first place. Two reports—one from Cornell, one from Southern Illinois University—direct their complaints not at bias in the classrooms but at bias in antiwar teach-ins. A dispatch from Holy Cross notes tartly that there had been "five recent campus presentations opposing the use of force against Saddam, and none favoring it." I think the reporter means officially sponsored presentations—the well-known hawk Daniel Pipes spoke there in February, after all—in which case he has proven, at most, that the administration tends to lean left on matters of foreign policy but puts no barriers in the way of those who'd like to offer other viewpoints. Whatever else that may constitute, it is hardly a violation of "academic freedom."
Walker is also rightly skeptical of Horowitz's claim that the ABOR won't amount to affirmative action for Republicans. Horowitz says that the bill is not meant to establish quotas, but as Walker reminds us, "backers of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made the exact same promise; Hubert Humphrey famously declared that 'nothing in the bill would permit any official or court to require any employer or labor union to give preferential treatment to any minority group.'"