The life of the lost mind
Academe welcomes all manner of thought except the Founders’
Looking back through the years, I have seen it all coming: the militant ignorance strutting across our college campuses today, the authoritarian style of the administrators, the mediocrity of the professors, the sheer goofiness of the students. It all came out of the late 1960s. Most of my fellow 1960s graduates went on to careers in the professions, commerce, and industry. But some remained on campus, becoming profs and administrators, and increasingly, as the years went on, swamis of identity politics. They established women’s studies programs, black studies programs, gay studies (or is it queer studies?) programs. Now I assume there are studies programs for people with eating disorders, transgendered people who transgendered once again, people who only eat dirt.
Yes, I can see it. There really are people who eat dirt living in different places around the country, usually in the South. They tend to be rural. Why should they not band together? Establish a kind of sub-civilization in society. Study their way of life. What better place to do it than at one of our great universities? They could begin their studies by publishing cookbooks and biographies of famous dirt eaters, dirt eaters whose lives have been ignored by our infamous dead white males. Yale University might be an ideal place for the establishment of a Dirt Eaters’ Studies Program. Yale already has Black Studies and Women’s Studies and much much more. Just the other day a coterie of self-appointed students published a poorly worded bull ordering the university to expunge the names of such dead white males as William Shakespeare and John Milton from the bibliographies of Yale’s English Department. Doing so would help to “decolonize” the curriculum.
We treat the deranged differently today than in the past. Nowadays, we send them to universities. Bernie Sanders wants to make them tuition-free. Why not? My only caveat would be that we make it difficult for persons who have spent an undue amount of time on campus to return to mainstream society. Perhaps they would have to take a test.
Now, my way of dealing with the fantasticos of university life is admittedly a bit extreme. There are other ways. In fact, there are patriots and philanthropists who take the academics at their word. They believe the academics when they say they are for the life of the mind and that their universities are open forums for the free play of ideas. Many of these philanthropists endow chairs and scholarships, and establish libraries and research institutes. Though in the university environment today such generosity is usually greeted with suspicion.
Just the other day there was a laborious full-page report in The Washington Post on the generosity of Charles Koch toward universities throughout the country. Over the years he has donated more than $200 million to bring his libertarian ideas to campus. After reading the great philosophers and building a world-class business, namely Koch Industries, he has set out to endow universities while also practicing the philanthropists’ art in medical research, creating hospitals and endowing the arts.
His giving may reflect his personal beliefs, but these libertarian beliefs are also perfectly mainstream American, to wit, the belief in free markets, limited government and personal freedom. In sum, they reflect the beliefs of the Founding Fathers and of millions of Americans alive today. His critics accuse him of trying to influence intellectual debate, but what is wrong with that? As long as his ideas have merit and he allows other ideas to exist unmolested, he believes students and professors can decide for themselves. But many of the profs and administrators want to “un-Koch” academe. That is to say, they want to end his philanthropy in the universities. They, apparently, do not believe others can think for themselves.
Not everyone shares this authoritarian streak. As a matter of fact, a prof from old Yale has spoken out against those who would “un-Koch” the campuses. He is Robert Shiller, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and president of the American Economic Association. He told The Post, “As long as [the Kochs] don’t censor research, as long as they publish the results honestly, it’s OK to have a biased source” funding programs. And he went on to observe, “You couldn’t get the government to support Darwin …” because he was too controversial. “But somebody believed in him,” Mr. Shiller continued, “some smart person, who made money.” That would be Charles Koch and his brother, David.
By the way, speaking of smart people who have made money, how much has the leftist billionaire George Soros spent on the life of the mind? R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor-in-chief of The American Spectator. He is author of “The Death of Liberalism,” published by Thomas Nelson Inc.