Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley's Attacks on Academic Freedom

The death of William F. Buckley is sparking tributes to the man. But when it comes to academic freedom, his impact was strictly evil. One of the products of the anti-Communist crusade in the universities was William F. Buckley's 1952 book, God and Man at Yale, a book still widely admired in conservative circles. Buckley attacked Yale University because he believed it had failed to enforce a conservative ideology on its faculty and students. Buckley complained, for example, that the Religion Department did not have "a remarkably pro-religious bias."(Buckley, 9) He attacked the presence of an atheist professor because students might become "full of suspicions and doubts about religion"(13) and a sociology professor who "subverted the faith" of students.(17) Most horrifying of all, Buckley reported that "several atheists and agnostics" were used as ushers at chapel.(Buckley, 29)

Religion was not the only faith which Buckley felt was inadequately indoctrinated. Buckley criticized the American Studies department because it did not follow a major donor's demands for it to support "the preservation of our System of Free Enterprise" and be "opposed to a system of State Socialism, Communism and Totalitarianism"(Buckley, 101). Buckley adds about the Economics department, "of the nine full professors in the department, only four are forthright defenders of individualism."(Buckley, 99) Buckley believed that Yale would not be set right until every economist defended "individualism" against mainstream Keynesian theories of economics.

But individuals, he said, do not have academic freedom, except the freedom to quit: "no freedom has been abridged so long as he is at liberty to quit his job"(Buckley, 187) and can "seek employment at a college that was interested in propagating socialism."(Buckley, 189) Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today), so Buckley was effectively supporting a blacklist of "socialist" thinkers from universities. As Buckley bluntly put it, "the attitudes of the faculty ought to conform to the university's."(Buckley, 181)

Buckley supported strong measures to remove "the predominance of leftism"(Buckley, 112) at Yale. He complained about President Seymour (who in 1937 urged a return to Christian values and who also refused to knowingly hire a Communist) because Seymour did not "exorcise the extreme secularism" at Yale by getting rid of liberal faculty.(Buckley, 43, 225)

Christopher Lucas, in his 1967 doctoral dissertation, noted that Buckley’s God and Man at Yale “helped smooth the way” for repression in academia.

Buckley's criticisms of Yale bear a remarkable similarity to today's attacks on political correctness. The complaint of "too many radicals" is frequently heard, with the accompanying fear that students might not learn the proper patriotic values and will instead be corrupted by feminism, Marxism, and the other evils of academia. For Buckley, the dangers were Keynesianism and liberal religion, but his attack on radicalism is echoed in the current opposition to multiculturalism. Lipset (1976) noted, “conservatives like William Buckley, Ronald Reagan, and others have argued the need for political balance, that is, for more conservative professors to reduce the predominant liberal-left dominance within liberal arts faculties in major universities.”(p. 209)

Remarkably, Buckley's Yale of the 1950s, where liberals supposedly dominated and "many students manage to cruise through without learning very much"(Buckley, 32) has now been reinterpreted into a Golden Age of higher education, while Buckley's hope for a purge of leftist professors by conservative trustees and administrators continues to be the guiding philosophy of some conservatives who want to take over colleges and universities.


Anonymous said...

Wow, but you seem to have pushed the buttons of "anonymous"!

I agree with your take on Buckley, by the way, and challenge "anonymous" to give examples of where you "advocate for repression and censorship."

You and I may not agree all the time, but you never had tried to stop me from speaking.

Michael said...

"Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today)"


So your argument basically is, by advocating more of his point of view on campus, and expecting the theologians to actually have some faith, Buckley was suppressing freedom?

The freedom to keep the debate one-sided, maybe.

Anonymous said...

Irony eludes you, my friend. You use the language and rhetoric of campus socialism to argue that Buckley, a classic liberal, advocated thought repression.

Three thoughts occur.

First, learn to have, and exhibit, some basic human dignity. Rushing to duplicate Ceaucescu's experience is not the way to go.

Second, learn to acknowledge those who knew more, and wrote better, than you.

Third, try at some point in your life to open your mind. Dogma is a terrible thing.

Anonymous said...

The core of academic freedom is the right of critique. Buckley's book was a powerful critique of academia at the time. If you take his efforts as repressive then so, too, must be your critique of Buckley.

If you want to criticize, have at it. But when your attempts at critique devolve into mere polemics, your attempt has failed to leave any lasting mark.

Anonymous said...

Buckley leaves a legacy, what, exactly will you leave? In fact, who the hell are you again?

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. Here's John K. Wilson (on his Obama blog) lamenting the unfairness being shown toward his leftist idol.

"Today's Boston Globe has another hit piece on Obama obviously planted by the Clinton opposition research center. It's another example of the media bias against Obama."

Anonymous said...

If Wilson's comments have any basis in truth, why does a liberal like Joe Lieberman refer to Bill Buckley as a loving human being?

Anonymous said...

"Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today)"

Funniest, most ignorant statement -evar-. That was comedy -gold-.


Anonymous said...

"Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today)"


(Not the previous anonymous. Your Identity Verification is as moronic as your politics.)

El Duderino said...

"Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today)".
To paraphrase Buckley himself, I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just wrote.
Other than North Korea, Cuba and few other garden spots, the only place left of the planet that ascribes to the tired tropes of socialism is academia. If you can't see this, you are either a socialist yourself or none too bright. Of course if you are a socialist you're probably none too bright as well, but to each his own.

Anonymous said...

You speak ill of the dead to describe William Buckley as a Torquemada of the academy. Yet every paragraph cites an unfortunate but utter failure to beat back campus leftism. Christopher Lucas wrote in his dissertation that God and Man at Yale “helped smooth the way” for “repression in academia.” What repression, and why, for goodness’ sake, didn’t Buckley’s repressive ilk smother him in his doctoral crib if they had the chance?
That self-indulgent invective wasn’t true in 1967. In the 40 years hence his colleagues have established a near total, crushing, closed-club dominance of left-wing college faculty, and have revised curriculum accordingly.
That kind of victory wasn’t had by a disadvantaged start, honest debate, or consideration of the values of students, parents and alumni. It was achieved by kicking out, shouting down, threatening, and blackballing from position or tenure anyone brave, stupid or intellectually curious enough to be caught reading National Review in the quad. Buckley argued to keep intellectual space for tradition, faith and traditional liberalism in academia. You and yours… disagreed.
You won, and yet you write this tripe in memoriam. Awfully “evil” of you.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the person claiming that I advocate censorship and death camps for anyone who disagrees with me is just a lunatic. However, there are some serious points made deserving a response.

A number of people object to my claim that "Of course, no college was propagating socialism in the 1950s (nor are any today)." I’m referring here to the formal purpose and mission of a college. No American college was or is a self-proclaimed “socialist college.” Therefore, when Buckley said that socialist faculty should be fired by Yale and other colleges, it was a call for a blacklist because there was no “socialist” college where they could go teach. The “liberty to quit” is a pure mockery of the concept of academic freedom.

Buckley was doing far more than “advocating more of his point of view on campus” as one comment claimed. He was advocating not allowing faculty to teach who failed to share his point of view.

Another comment: “Buckley's book was a powerful critique of academia at the time. If you take his efforts as repressive then so, too, must be your critique of Buckley.” This misunderstands the nature of critique vs. repression. Buckley was perfectly free to critique professors for their views. But when he called for getting rid of faculty for their views, he was urging repression. By contrast, my critique of Buckley included no repression, and I never would have demanded that he should be fired from a college or banned from speaking at a campus.

Finally, there is this rather odd statement: “If Wilson's comments have any basis in truth, why does a liberal like Joe Lieberman refer to Bill Buckley as a loving human being?” Joe Lieberman isn’t a liberal (hence his role in the founding of ACTA). And even if a liberal (such as Rick Perlstein) did say nice things about Buckley, and Buckley deserved them, it would still be no excuse for Buckley’s ideas. That’s an ad hominem argument, to say that Buckley’s repressive ideas against academic freedom should be excused because he was a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wilson,

Your logic is so flawed that I pray you are not a professor with young minds in your charge. You seem to saying that the only places that socialism could be taught are schools where the "self-proclaimed" "purpose and mission" is to teach socialism. Nice try with the bait and switch.

By that standard, the only schools where black studies could be taught are at black colleges; or the only schools where free-market economics could be taught are at institutions that "self-proclaim" such a discipline to be their "purpose and mission." You can't be serious.

You know very well that colleges, including Yale, have been "propagating" socialism since the beginning of the 20th century without renaming themselves "Socialist State University." If you deny this, you are either a liar or a fool. (And pull out a dictionary, bub. "Propagating" does not mean "institutionalize" or "found" but, in this context, "promote" or "publicize.")

Buckley's basic point that an American Studies department should not be inherently and aggressively anti-American seems rather uncontroversial to me. So is his desire to get a few instructors in the Religious Studies department who actually know something about and honor religion. You seem to think academic freedom means letting atheists dominate the Religious Studies departments. Would you feel that letting white racists teach black studies would also reflect such open-minded freedom?

I think it's just best of you to apologize -- for your crude manner and faulty logic -- and move on with your life's work (which I hope does not require much brain power.)

Anonymous said...

We hear leftist whine all of the time that colleges and universities should provide an opportunity for the free exchange of ideas.

As it turns out, by "free exchange of ideas" they mean only the ideas that they agree with.

Like white men are bad. And religion is bad. And capitalism is bad. And that morals and social mores, along with truth, should be relative and based on one's individual experiences - not on some grand, historic tradition.

Stray from this, or speak out against it, as WFB did, and you are labelled as "repressive".

I believe our colleges and univerities could use some of Buckley's so-called "repression"!

Anonymous said...

Utter foolishness.

Unknown said...

Mr. Wilson:

First of all, you might want to look at the many obituaries Mr. Buckley wrote about his political enemies before using phrases like "strictly evil." Even if you disagree with him, now isn't really the time to attack the man in such a fashion. Of course, that doesn't excuse the violent response of the first commenter.

Second, how is it "evil" to expect a religious school to promote religion? If you and I were committed atheists, and I were to tell you that I was opening a college for atheists and ask you for money towards its endowment, then I stocked the faculty with fundamentalist Christians, wouldn't you feel at least betrayed, if not defrauded? Yale is not a public school. It is a private school founded by Congregationalist ministers to train future ministers. Check Wikipedia if you don't believe me. Doesn't Yale have a responsibility to its alumni and donors to be true to its mission?



Captain America said...


At long last, sir, have you now shame?

WFB founded a movement that challenged the prevailing Leftist dogmas on campuses. Clearly, YOU are a creature of the Left, and would prefer no one attacked the Left's nesting grounds on college campuses and the Hollywood hills. But to cherry-pick and bowdlerize quotes to trample on a man's memory, one has to lack more than intellect. They have to lack class. Dignity. Maybe even a soul.

The irony of this blog is the title "College Freedom." Having, myself, experienced academia, I can assure you that it is not the Right that has undermined academic freedom. It is not conservatives who imposed speech codes, and confined those with dissenting views to "free speech zones." It is not conservatives who charged professors and students alike with hate speech and sexual harassment for expressing views out of step with the dominant orthodoxies on campuses today. It is not conservatives who shouted down the Minutemen and embraced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man with delusions of Hitlerian ability. It is not conservatives who have physically assaulted speakers at campuses, under the guise of "pie-ing."

The academic freedom you claim to value is under assault, Mr. Wilson. Sadly, though, it is YOUR allies, your co-ideologues, who are doing so.

Bill Buckley just tried to encourage open discussion and less institutionalized hostility toward America and faith. Your allies have sought to silence dissent. I'll take Buckley's vision any day.

Rod said...

John, may I first say that your post on Buckley has not offended me, as it seems to have done to some who have commented. I would have to add, however, that at least one of your arguments against Buckley's position seems to proceed from an insufficiently critical characterization of "political correctness."

You say: "Buckley's criticisms ...bear a remarkable similarity to today's attacks on political correctness...." Now, while it is true that many will attack PC on substantive grounds (they disagree with some or all tenets of feminism, Marxism, etc.), but I think most criticisms of PC are concerned about PC intolerance of free speech, contrary views, etc.--and an all too frequent inclination to levy sanctions against "hate" speech, which sometimes is nothing more than disagreement with their PC tenets. Me, I'd say that a better criticism of Buckley, at least early Buckley, was that he seemed to be taking a PC stance. A different PC, to be sure, but his idea of political correctness in any case.

So, shouldn't you be very, *very* highly critical of PC faculty activists--whose not inconsiderable presence and influence in academia you will surely acknowledge (e.g., Duke's shameful pile-on in the Lacrosse "rape" debacle)--for the same reasons that you are critical of Buckley's I-know-the-truth stance and actions?

Rod Bell