Harvard & Yale: Places to Avoid, Buckley's Folly
Someone asked that individual, "Why do you only hire Ph.D.s from Harvard, Professor? You know there are some other good graduate schools."
The response, "Yes, I know that . . . but why take a chance?"
I mentioned in my last "Old Conservatism" piece that I'm less than enamored of Harvard and Yale, not to mention the rest of the group. I know there are some fine people who are graduates of Ivy League institutions, and I'm sure they swear by some of the professors at those schools.
Of the Ivies, I like Princeton best. The magnificent Bernard Lewis, perhaps the world's leading expert on the Middle East, taught there for many years. So did John Nash, the "wonderful mind" mathematician and business theorist, who won the Nobel Prize. The religion school has been a model of excellence and originality, as well as the main source of the New Standard Version of the Bible.
A graduate of Princeton's Middle East program who's just come out with a new book on America's role in the MidEast is Michael B. Oren, perhaps my favorite historian. He's a paratrooper veteran of the first Lebanese War and still serves as reserve major in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). His greatest achievement is Six Days of War, about Israel's battle in 1967 against many Arab nations.
If there's an exception to my generalizations about the Ivies, Princeton probably is it.
In the past year, Oren served as a visiting professor at BOTH Harvard and Yale. At those institutions he truly was one-of-kind. A warrior-scholar, a type rare at any institution, but especially so at the two "elite" universities. In many ways, Harvard and Yale have come to stand for smugness, self-absorption, and smarmy pacificism.
Frankly, when I heard the two New England insititutions had invited Oren to lecture, my thought was: "How dare they?" I see no signs that Harvard and Yale have any comprehension of -- or respect for -- the character of a man like Michael Oren. The only location where he would be more out-of-place would be a university in Teheran.
My view of Harvard's and Yale's place in the Warrior Nation is this they're exiles. Apparently, there's no principle so sacred that it's worthy of anything more than a white flag waving in the wind. If one ultimately believes in nothing, then one will never have to shed blood for one's views. Perhaps they might adopt that as their motto?
Academically, Yale and Harvard seem to be places where superior high school students go to learn how to be average. As one of my nephews (an Ivy grad) put it, "They assume if you get in you're an 'A' student, so it's easy to get "As."
In my recent piece on the Old Conservatism, Harvard and Yale played a minor role. The column dealt more with William F. Buckley, Jr. and the early days of The National Review.
After finishing that effort, I turned on Katie Couric -- well, SOMEBODY has to watch her -- and she was chatting on adoringly about one Duvall Patrick, whom I'd never heard of before. It turns out he's the new African-American governor of Massachusetts. Katie added, "And he's a graduate of Harvard no less!" Here, I knew almost nothing about Duvall Patrick and was already prepared to dislike him.
I turned off Katie in her mid-adoration of Duvall and began reading (for the first time) Buckley's Blackford Oakes novel titled Saving the Queen. Blackford, like Buckley went to Yale, and both joined the CIA.
One of Buckley's weaknesses is his continuing admiration for his alma mater. He's perhaps the most famous critic of Yale, but, paradoxically, he's one of its strongest promoters. Call it the triumph of sentimentality over sensibility.
In the first pages of Saving the Queen , Yale looms large. One of Blackford's fellows in the CIA, Anthony Trust, is talking about his days at good old Yale. The discussion deals with various ways to avoid paying bills in college.
Trust says, "'When I ran out of money at Yale' -- Trust had graduated a year earlier --'I bought a stamp: DECEASED. RETURN TO SENDER. It obviously didn't work at places like Mory's, where they would see me night after night -- for them it was just a post office error. But it did work with lots of odd-lot accounts. Yet, you see, Black[ford], that was a major deception, and that's all right. And besides,' he said, 'when I get money' -- this euphemism was standard for 'when my mother dies' -- 'I'll pay everyone back through a lawyer who will announce that young Trust, who died, while a student at Yale, is the posthumous beneficiary of a legacy, part of which has been reserved for paying bills outstanding at the time of his death."
Blackford's bills are all paid by his stepfather (should I add "of course").
At this point, I might ask: "Anyone for paying his own way through college, as I did, along with so many of my friends?" Also, "Anyone for actually paying his other bills?"
In general, Buckley LOVED Yale. However, if it was as anti-Christian and anti-capitalist as he indicated in "God and Man at Yale," then WHY did he love it? Why didn't he see it as a high-class sham and delusion, one harmful to all those young Blackford Oakes and Anthony Trusts drinking their way through college at someone else's expense?
Let me interject that I know Yale is the early 1950s was a different place from the Yale of 2007. For one thing, an education there now costs nearly $200,000, which seems at least $100,000 in excess for the education provided. Also, there's a kind of ethnic-diversity (e.g., many more Black students than the half-dozen or so probably present in 1950), along with less intellectual diversity than that of two generations ago.
I fear Bill Buckley in his earlier days saw Yale as place where the students stiffing the holders of all those holders of odd-lot accounts wait around for their inheritances, which Buckley himself got from his oilman dad.
Anthony Trust? Aha, Trust Fund! Every night at the predictable Mory's? Hey, it sure it beats having to study. Go to class? Why do something so tedious, when one is on his way to a Yale degree, which will itself translate into big bucks.
"And what private school did you go to, Steve?"
"You didn't? You went to public school? You poor fellow!"
"And the University of Rochester? What city is that in?"
In the prologue to Saving the Queen, three men are sitting around in the 1970s talking about a Senate investigation of the CIA. One is Anthony Trust ("Don't ever call me Tony!"), while the others are King Harman and Singer Callaway.
I fear that Buckley knew a lot of people at Yale with names like Anthony, King, and Singer. I also fear that all of them went to New England prep schools I never heard of until I was myself in college.
I recall my father once meeting someone named Heming Sehmsdorf, III. My father said, "Pleased to meet you, Henry." My dad didn't live in a world where people seriously had names like "Heming." Neither did I.
Buckley's sentimentalization of Yale is a weakness, and the Ivy League mentality was a deficiency, although not a major one, in "The Old Conservatism." For WFB, Jr., Yale and Harvard were America's Oxford and Cambridge, a dubious assumption.
I know Buckley isn't the snob he can seem whenever the subject of Yale arises. In fact, he demonstrates his basic decency throughout his life and writings. As an example, look at the compassion he demonstrates to crippled and disfigured people in his long piece on Lourdes, contained in Nearer, My God.
Harvard and Yale have endowments well up in the billions of dollars. I've always wondered who the captains of industry were that contributed millions of dollars to universities that, by and large, despised everything the donors stood for. Was it benevolence as a form of masochism? Which capitalist in his right mind -- a category that excludes George Soros -- would contribute a dime to such places?
Within recent weeks, an alumnus of Grove City College gave his alma mater a gift of $5 million. It was part an effort to raise $90 million for GCC, a figure that's little more than chump change for Harvard and Yale.
GCC loves America, its private enterprise system and its religious and intellectual diversity. Does "Harvard Hate America," as one author observed? Is man -- and not God -- the measure of all things at Yale, as WFB famously observed?
Contributors to universities need to ask such questions before they dole out money to institutions that are worthy neither of their interest nor their money. My advice is to send your loose dollars to GCC and other institutions like it. In short, contibute to institutions that not only invite people like Michael Oren, but also produce them.