Founder and editor of National Review magazine, William Buckley, Jr. wrote his first book “God and Man at Yale” shortly after graduating from Yale University. The book was released in 1951, shortly after the Second World War ended and in the early years of the McCarthy-era. The divide between the East and West was hardening as their respective philosophies on man, capital and government duked it out.
In the United States, the East’s (e.g., U.S.S.R. most notably) biggest supporters had just enjoyed significant influence in government under FDR and his New Deal agenda. Many would find their way out of government and into academia. While many of their collectivist leanings were just as dangerous philosophically as the leaders in Moscow and Beijing, these individuals were treated as the best and brightest our country had to offer. Likely, this had a lot to do with where they were standing (here instead of Moscow).
But Yale was supposed to be different. It was a private college that had a long history of promoting individualism, critical thinking and of course, strong religious (predominantly Christian) values. These ideals were imprinted on its students and alumni, written into its charter and frequently used to embody the university and its faculty’s mission statement.
Buckley’s thesis was that, in fact, Yale had deviated from their mission statement and betrayed their founding ideals. By 1950, through faculty members, assigned textbooks and campus atmosphere, Yale was effectively preaching religious skepticism and political statism. Naturally, the reaction to Buckley’s book was unfriendly. He received enormous push back from Yale’s faculty who were under attack, an administration worried about their reputation and funding and also, the media that generally supported the teaching of collectivist/statist ideology. Indeed, one observer, Dwight MacDonald, amusingly commented that Yale’s authorities “reacted with all the grace and agility of an elephant cornered by a mouse.”
Over the first few chapters, Buckley lays out his case for why he believes atheism and collectivism have been granted a favored role in the Yale curriculum and among lectures given by the faculty. He goes in to significant detail to highlight the textbooks used and the dearth of faculty members who would consider themselves proponents of the private sector/capitalism and religion’s role in understanding the world.
Buckley’s case is quite persuasive as he discusses the range of classes and material that students would face as they go about meeting their pre-requisite courses. And while the education is delivered under a shroud of “academic freedom” – another subject that Buckley spends a good deal of time discussing – it is undeniable that the open hostility of the vast majority of faculty members toward capitalism/democracy and faith/piety greatly influence the impressionable minds of their students.
For Buckley, a stalwart of conservatism, individualism and Christian values, this is a travesty. Not merely because of the indoctrination of views contrary to his own but more importantly, because the views being taught are anathema to the founding principles and mission statement of the university and our country. Furthermore, this institution – likely representative of the education in many of the best schools around the country at that time – was producing the country’s future business leaders, judges, diplomats and political leaders.
Buckley’s fear was that the university was headed down a dangerous path that damaged the institution and failed its students. On a deeper level, though, I believe Buckley was expressing his concern for the academic direction our country was heading in as a whole. For he thought, as goes the graduates of Yale, Harvard and Berkeley, so go – to an extent – the future of our country’s government and business leaders.
In my view, his concerns were quite prescient. The academic freedom movement quickly morphed into the cultural relativism and political correctness that has done such great damage to our educational institutions and broader culture in the last 50 years. (For more on this subject, Alan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind” is a must read.)
Buckley was also right about the gradual upheaval of the individualist mindset among today’s faculties across the country. Because although communism had been discredited utterly and completely after the fall of the USSR, its younger sibling, socialism remains alive and well. Now does socialism pose the same threat as communism? No. At least not in the short term. But does its fundamental objective rely on collectivist philosophy which also underpins communism? Absolutely. This philosophy posits that an imposing, well-funded government – a group of elected politicians and unelected bureaucrats – is necessary to protect regular citizens from the evils of the free market system. It is premised on the idea that the government is better suited to make decisions for the individual than is the individual. For the government can spend the individual’s money better than he is able to spend it himself. And on and on.
At its core, collectivism looks to the redistribution of wealth to accomplish its ends. Reminiscent of the famous Marxian slogan, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” collectivism is the tie that binds socialism and communism together. Under socialism, though, its muted enough so it doesn’t offend the sensibilities of the average American as much. In this sense, it is allowed to exist and continue to permeate our culture and ideas.
As a close, I would highly endorse this book for readers interested in a thorough examination of the perilous road our academic institutions have taken us down by advocating for religious skepticism, collectivism and cultural relativism.