The university is not a center for the display of adolescent tempers, nor yet a fulcrum for turning society upside down. It is simply this: a place for the cultivation of right reason and moral imagination…
Already the reaction is upon us. Political leaders, college presidents, and syndicated columnists join in condemnation of violence on the campus. Yesterday’s fashionable prattle about revolution in the university and revolution in the United States and revolution in the world is reproved piously by those very liberals who, such a short while ago, beamed upon the ferment of the rising generation. Mr. Irving Howe, editor of Dissent, wanders over the face of the land reproaching the more vehement dissenters and reminding them of the delightful benefits of Social Security. One thinks of Edward Gibbon, so progressive at the commencement of the French Revolution, observing from his Swiss retreat the course of that movement; reflecting, presently, that revolutionaries kill people like Edward Gibbon; and then promptly taking another tack.
For my part, however, I do not propose to deliver another sermon about the naughtiness of ungrateful undergraduates. Whatever the silliness of revolutionary slogans and methods, one does not deal with them by mere smug remonstrance. We need to address ourselves, rather, to the real causes of our present discontents in the university and in this nation; and my observations are of that character.
The principal cause of some people’s revolutionary mood is the decay of community—the decadence of academic community, and the decadence of urban community. In the phrase of Miss Hannah Arendt, “The rootless are always violent.” Until community is restored, certain students and considerable elements of our urban population will continue to detest the existing order.
Having been for two decades a mordant critic of what is foolishly called the higher learning in America, I confess to relishing somewhat, as Cassandra might have, the fulfillment of my predictions and the present plight of the educationist Establishment. I even own to a sneaking sympathy, after a fashion, with the campus revolutionaries. Consider, by way of illustration, the recent experience of Mr. John A. Hannah, president of Michigan State University, recently chosen to be director of the federal government’s foreign-aid program.
Called to relieve the miseries of Kerala and to improve the lot of Bolivia, President Hannah delivered his farewell address to the members of his faculty on February 10, 1969. In three decades as master of Michigan State, Dr. Hannah (the doctorate honorary, conferred by his own university on the day he became its president) had built up a student body now exceeding forty thousand, with the expectation of seventy thousand, or more, before from his eyes the streams of dotage flow. In the process, somehow Mr. Hannah himself had grown rich. On the branches of his university, the sun never sets: They flourish in Okinawa and in Nigeria. Doubtless President Hannah, on this day of leavetaking, felt that he deserved well of the rising generation. Certainly, he knew that he had done well out of the education business—having risen so far when his earned degree was that of bachelor of science in poultry husbandry—and he was determined that those national institutions which had facilitated his success should not perish from the earth.
True, he was departing from Michigan State in the nick of time. Having passed the retirement age set by himself, he was in an awkward situation when certain hostile trustees of the university hinted that he might not be altogether indispensable. The Attorney-General of Michigan had looked into charges that Dr. Hannah might have engaged in activities constituting “conflict of interest”; and though President Hannah himself was exonerated—more or less—his close associate, the chief financial officer of the university, with whose affairs those of Hannah were curiously plaited—had been discovered busy in certain enterprises very much in conflict of interest with the concerns of the university, and had found it prudent to retire from the scene. Moreover, some of the students (members of the biggest undergraduate body in the world, on one campus) were ungrateful.
As President Hannah addressed his professors for the last time, riot-police—gas-masks and all—stood guard in the auditorium. Several hundred students, a discharged instructor with a bullhorn, and a number of outsiders—among these, Carl Oglesby, of Students for a Democratic Society—were chanting unpleasantly outside the auditorium. It was found prudent to cancel the reception that had been scheduled to follow President Hannah’s speech.
“A small coterie,” the masterful chickenologist told his faculty, “has declared social revolution against America. America’s universities have been marked as the first fortress that must fall. We’ve been warned of the weapons to be used and the tactics to be employed.” He exhorted his professors to resist to the last blue-book these enemies of civilization. Then, meaning to do high deeds beside the Potomac, he departed from their midst.
John Hannah had been a brick-and-mortar president. His university has become an intellectual cafeteria, or rather a vocational cafeteria, offering every serious discipline from fly-casting (for physical-education majors) to Afro-American studies (after all, he had been chairman of the Civil Rights Commission, even if in his early years in office the only African American employee of Michigan State had been the president’s own errand-boy). Unceasingly, he had recruited students, qualified or unqualified, telling them and their parents that a college graduate earns much more money in his lifetime than does a barbarian of the outer darkness. He had offered students the nexus of cash payment—and what else is there to a university, after all?
Yet the gentry of the New Left remained unappreciative. One of them, James Ridgeway, has published a book containing lively references to Dr. Hannah: The Closed Corporation—American Universities in Crisis. Here we must content ourselves with one passage:
From 1950 to 1958, more than $900,000 in MSU construction contracts went to the Vandenburg Construction Company. The president of this firm was Hannah’s brother-in-law, who subsequently went out of business and turned up as construction superintendent at MSU. Hannah was quoted as saying at the trustees’ meeting, ‘It’s true that Vandenburg is my brother-in-law, but I didn’t know he was employed by the university.’ He also said, ‘As far as I know he never did a job for this institution. I was surprised by the figure…. I smell what’s coming on. This is an attempt at discrediting the university by discrediting me.’
Really? Or is it the Hannahs of our time who have discredited the university, and so raised up a turbulent generation of students, at once ignorant and passionate, who still sense somehow that Hannah’s idea of a university is not quite John Henry Newman’s idea of a university? Having established academic collectivism, having overwhelmed academic community, having severed the intellectual and moral roots of the higher learning, people like John Hannah are chagrined to discover that the proles are restless.
No less a public figure than Miss Joan Baez remarked recently that if one desires to be a revolutionary, the campus is an unlikely place to commence; that she is disgusted with the antics of campus radicals; and that she will have no more to do with them. One wishes that certain professors might share her wisdom. But they will, eventually—they will: for revolutions devour their children, and also their fathers.
Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, the psychologist, who has had unpleasant personal experience with revolutions, says that the crowd of campus revolutionaries—the violent folk, he means—are paranoiacs, though led by shrewd ideologues intent upon personal power. Paranoiacs may belong in an institution, but that institution is not the university; ideologues have no stopping-place short of heaven or hell, and so they ought not to be permitted to convert the university into a staging-ground. We need to recall the principal purpose of a university. The university is not a center for the display of adolescent tempers, nor yet a fulcrum for turning society upside down. It is simply this: a place for the cultivation of right reason and moral imagination.
From its beginnings, the university has been a conservative power. The principal schools of Athens, particularly the Academy and the Stoa, had for their end the recovery of order in the soul and order in the commonwealth. The medieval university was intended to impart wisdom and temperance to a violent age. My own higher studies were undertaken at St. Andrews, a university founded by the inquisitor of heretical pravity in Scotland, expressly to confute the errors of Lollardry.
So it is not in the nature of a university to nurture political fanaticism and utopian designs. The professor rarely is a neoterist, and one cannot expect the university to harvest a crop of exotic flowers annually. Dr. Robert Hutchins observes, with only a little exaggeration, that few of the Great Books were written by professors. If one would be a mover and shaker in his own hour, the forum is preferable to the grove of Academe. In a small way, I have done some moving and shaking myself; but I found myself much freer and more effective once I had withdrawn from the shadow of the Ivory Tower.
Only in our century, indeed, has the plague of ideological passion descended upon the quadrangle and the campus. To some degree, in previous times, all universities ordinarily were, after the fashion of Oxford, sanctuaries of lost causes: conservative to a fault, if you will. So far as they aspired to influence the bustling world, it was to tug at the check-rein, not to use the spur: of ungoverned will and appetite, the average sensual man in the civil social order needs no larger endowment. The university tried to teach the rising generation how to rise superior to will and appetite.
Yet temporarily, at least, throughout the world, many a campus has fallen into the clutch of ideology, ours being a time of ideological infatuation. What the university used to offer was freedom; what some zealots seek there, just now, is power. Freedom and power are in eternal opposition. To demand that the university devote itself to the libido dominandi is to demand that the university commit intellectual and moral suicide.
A good many entering freshmen tell me that they desire to be on a campus “where the action is.” But of action, we all have plenty in the course of life. A university is a place not for action, but for leisure—that is, for reading and good talk, for dialogue between scholar and student, and for a reflective preparation. Few people ever find again, after they enter upon the hurly-burly of the world, time enough to study and to think. The four or five or seven years of college and university life are precious, then; they are a period of self-discipline and self-examination; and, as Socrates put it, the unexamined life is not worth living.
Even a young person who aspires to turn the civil social order inside out is foolish if he occupies his university years in “activism.” Marching, demonstrating, shouting, sitting-in, he squanders the time he might have used to prepare himself for effective action after graduation. He could have been a member of an academic community; instead, he has chosen to become a face in an academic mob; and in later years, intellectually undisciplined, he must be virtually worthless as a partisan of radical reform. The systematic Marxist, incidentally, is well aware of this difficulty; and though he may make use of the anarchic student for the immediate purposes of his movement, mere perpetual activism scarcely is the course he commends to the initiates of a Marxist study group. The labors of Marx were accomplished in the British Museum, not in Trafalgar Square.
All this said, nevertheless, I think I apprehend the causes of the New Left mentality on the campus, and in part sympathize with the mood of rebellion. For two decades, I have been declaring that most colleges and universities are sunk in decadence. Against that decadence, the confused outcries of the New Left people are a reaction. For a university, as for the human body, the power of reaction is a necessity, and often a sign of latent health: The body that no longer can react is a corpse.
Against what does the radical student rebel? Against a crass and boring and “oppressive” society, he declares; but more immediately, he rebels against what James Ridgeway calls “the closed corporation”: the university that has decayed into a vast impersonal computer, serving big government and big industry, neglecting wisdom for isolated facts and skills, routinely conferring degrees that are mere certificates of introduction or employability, at best; the university that has forgotten quality in the appetite for quantity, that exalts “service”—which is to say, the gratification of the whims and material desires of the hour—above learning; the university that has made some professors affluent, and some administrators more than affluent, but which leaves the typical undergraduate intellectually and morally impoverished.
Were I to indulge my taste for Jeremiads, indeed I might succeed in out-lamenting the New Left people at the Ivory Tower’s wailing-wall. Though they might not use precisely these words, in effect the New Left zealots are proclaiming that today’s university offers next to nothing for mind and conscience. Amen to that. I am not sorry that the radicals have fluttered academic hencoops like Dr. Hannah’s, for I have long been endeavoring to do precisely that myself.
What I do regret is the proclivity of the New Left to pull down. Demolition is simple enough, but the craft of the architect is something else. The university, and the modern world, require the torch: not the arsonist’s torch, however, but the torch of learning. “Revolution” means violent and catastrophic change. Of catastrophe, we have experience enough already in this century. Revolution—political and technological and moral and demographic—is upon us in this century, whether we like it or not; we have no need to flog the galloping horses of the four specters of the Apocalypse. Reconstruction, renewal, reinvigoration, are the real necessities of this hour; we require creative imagination—which the university is supposed to cultivate—not the sapper’s petard, that so frequently hoists its pioneer.
Our present discontents in the Academy, I repeat, are not difficult to describe. Foremost among their practical causes is the problem of scale. Behemoth University is too big; it has been inundated by, or has lured in, an academic crowd; and a crowd easily is converted into a mob. When community dies, collectivism succeeds, in the university or in the state. No man rejoices at finding himself merely an IBM number. At the institution where I spent my undergraduate years—Michigan State—a great many new graduates complain that they cannot obtain job-recommendations from any professor, because they never have met a real professor, in four years of course-taking: Their converse was not with Mark Hopkins, but (at best) with an obscure teaching-assistant, who meanwhile has proceeded to greener pastures. At the early medieval universities, the student was an acolyte; now he has become a cipher.
Nowadays, the typical student is bored. Mankind can endure anything but boredom. It is by boredom, actually, that the student is oppressed—not by “the administration” or “the establishment.” Revolution always is attractive to the man intensely bored: anything for a change. But of revolution inspired by boredom, one must say what Bierce said of suicide: a door out of the prison-house of life. It opens upon the jail-yard. Undoubtedly, the domination of King Log was boring. Yet as for the new regime of King Stork—why, exiled students from the University of Havana, many of them Fidelistas once, may attest to that.
Why bored? Why, on the typical campus nowadays, the majority of students don’t know why they have enrolled, and probably never should have enrolled at all. Nearly eight years ago, Mr. Christopher Jenks—who later investigated, for the regent of the University of California, the background of the first Berkeley riots—published in Harper’s an article entitled “The Next Thirty Years in the Colleges,” in which he said what he could in defense of the higher learning in this land. He then estimated that on the typical campus, one percent of the students desire a serious scholarly or scientific training; two percent seek a more general intellectual education; perhaps five percent want an introduction to upper-middle-brow culture and upper-middle-class conviviality; twenty percent are after technical training; another twenty percent desire merely certification as ambitious and respectable potential employees. That leaves more than half of the students; and, as Mr. Jenks put it, the majority don’t know what they desire from college, and never take degrees. What with the added inducement of postponing or escaping military service, and increased recruiting by universities and colleges, matters are somewhat worse now, eight years later.
Bored students, quite aimless in the university, will embrace any university rag for diversion from the dreary routine of classes; and no inconsiderable part of the “revolutionary” students are merely idle young people, looking for a moment’s excitement not to be obtained from folios. But also a good many of the more genuine students—say those in Mr. Jenks’s uppermost eight percent—are no less bored than are the fun-and-games undergraduates, and considerably more indignant.
“Irrelevance” is their battle-cry; and there is some substance in their protest, even though most of them possess only a dim notion of what really is relevant to the higher learning. I cannot digress here concerning Relevance; I remark merely that the grievances of these better students are concerned with the curriculum and the administration of the university itself, really, though their dissent may take the form of a general denunciation of modern society. Although I am not unresponsive even to this latter distaste for the dominations and powers, the fads and foibles, of the moment, I venture to observe that the assault by students upon American institutions scarcely is so relevant as is the uprising of Czech or Yugoslav students against the grim regimes by which they are ruled.
Now add to this mood the personal grievances of most undergraduates and graduate students against military conscription; add to it the burning discontent of the proletariat of Academe—that is, the overworked and underpaid graduate assistants and teaching fellows. Add to it the resentment and bewilderment of Black Power students, impelled to “do their thing”—even though, as Tocqueville said of the French Revolution, “halfway down the stairs we threw ourselves out of the window to reach the ground more quickly.” With these conditions in mind, one does not wonder that an impulse to pull down is at work upon the typical campus.
People with real grievances, but ignorant of political theory and institutions, are the natural prey of the ideologue. The terrible simplifiers appear, and an energumen with a tawdry set of yesteryear’s anarchist or Marxist slogans can find some following on any campus. Those slogans are even less relevant to the present difficulties of the American university, or of American society, than are the dreary courses of study to which the radical students so vehemently object, but any ideology will serve as an apology and a focus for an academic mob. Parallels with Nazi and Fascist and Communist student movements, more than a generation ago, are ignored by the more violent student activists, sure of their own virtue and vision.
Consider an eminent ideologue of New Leftism on the campus—Mr. Tom Hayden, with whom I have debated. Hayden, principal founder of Students for a Democratic Society, yearns to ride the whirlwind and direct the storm; for painstaking reform, he has only contempt; practical remedies he disdains. His rhetoric—and his program, so far as he possesses one—are those of Jack London’s pseudo-proletarian romance The Iron Heel. He would organize the poor and the uprooted, whom he would have rise in righteous wrath to turn the rascals out, forever. What happens when the revolution is consummated, Hayden does not inform us. Actually, when any old order has fallen, persons like Hayden—rebels by nature against any regime, craggy and impractical—promptly are disposed of by persons like Stalin and Mao and Castro. (The anarchists of Cuba are dead or imprisoned.)
When first I shared a platform with Tom Hayden, that evangel of Pull Down was organizing the poor of Newark. He spoke from a platform at the University of Michigan; and I happened to comment upon the causes and conditions of social decay and poverty in Corktown, the old Irish district of Detroit. Now Tom Hayden had been editor of the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Michigan, and had held in Michigan the first convention of Students for a Democratic Society. Yet Hayden then confessed that he never heard of Corktown, though for years he had lived about twenty-five miles distant from that slum.
It is so dull to brighten the corner where you are; so pleasant, initially, to carry a secular gospel to the gentiles of Newark, say. But presently Newark is aflame; alarmed, one seeks less perilous centers for the revolution—the ivied halls of Columbia University, say; or one flies to Hanoi, to Dar-es-Salaam, anywhere the funds of the movement will carry one for a well-publicized conference or interview. One impedes political conventions in Chicago; one taunts police; one mocks at everybody in either regular political party; one utters obscenities, complacently, at a Congressional hearing. What a charming vision of the future, chums—a revolution led by the sullen perpetual adolescent, unable to govern, unable even to dream any dreams except Londonian nightmares of violence! While the novelty endures, before the inevitable public reaction sets in, such a career is not at all unpleasant for those who like that sort of thing. But as a means to the reform of the university, or to the reform of the civil social order—why, one need not labor this point.
Some months ago I saw a painting, rather in the manner of Daumier, by Renee Radell. It is called “Doing Their Thing.” In the foreground stand two young men bearing placards, barring the way. On the placards is no inscription at all. The young men are grinning; and their mirth is the laughter of hyenas, for they are smug and well-fed and well-dressed nihilists. They bar the way to everything traditional and everything decent.
Renee Radell has caught perfectly the tone and temper of certain youthful anarchists, protesting against the affluent society that produced them. Their schooling, one gathers, has been costly and bad; their suburban environment has kept them from real knowledge of the world. Such sneering “revolutionaries” merely play a disagreeable game when they do their thing, and from them cannot conceivably come the intellectual and moral regeneration of the university, let alone the revitalizing of the civil social order. They are merely one side of the academic coin which bears the visage of John Hannah on its other face.
There exists a moral order, says Edmund Burke, to which we are bound, willing or not—the “contract of eternal society” joining the dead, the living, and those yet unborn. There exist certain conventions and institutions that we must accept if the civil social order is not to dissolve into the dust and powder of individuality, where every man’s hand would be against every other man’s. For very survival, in any society, in any age, we must submit to the traditions of civility, if you will. “But if that which is only submission to necessity should be made the object of choice, the law is broken; nature is disobeyed; and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.”
Into that antagonist world, the terrible simplifiers, the frantic ideologues, would cast us; and by revolution, they would make reform impossible. Stir the molten bronze in the cauldron, with Danton, and presently you slip and are consumed in one agonizing moment.
Yet even if one cannot resist the temptation to stir the cauldron—even if the young revolutionary cries that one crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name—still the university is a curious place to play at being a revolutionary. The perennial university student, the swaggering university instructor who cries havoc from the sanctuary of the Ivory Tower, the intemperate professor who hankers after power rather than freedom—these are shabby and self-regarding revolutionaries, deserving of Joan Baez’s scorn. “He that lives in a college,” wrote the young-Burke, “after his mind is sufficiently stocked with learning, is like a man, who having built and rigged and victualled a ship, should lock her up in a dry dock.” Those who mean to direct the world must enter the world.
We are incessantly assured by our comforters that the great bulk of American students do not participate, even on the most radical of campuses, in massive demonstrations or radical organizations—and doubtless this is true. But apathy and indifference are no reasons for a society to congratulate itself. The passive average student does not assault his university; yet neither does he defend it against the revolutionary zealots. Time was when every university served as a locus of affections, and then—not long ago, either—the typical student would have dealt summarily with any Comus’s rout of eccentrics—many of them “street people” not members at all of the academic community—that might have ventured to invade the quadrangle and interrupt—perhaps by arson—the university’s ways. Today, on many a campus, the average student shrugs and watches indifferently: pull devil, pull baker. Clearly, an institution that can command no more loyalty than this is far gone in decadence. It remains little more than a dull apparatus for conferring meaningless certificates upon the lonely and faceless crowd of pesudoscholars. When loyalty has trickled away, when the concept of a community of scholars is forgotten, the energumen and the fantastic may play what games they will.
Ideologues’ pranks may injure a university irreparably, though they cannot improve it. In Egypt, in India, in much of Latin America, the universities have been unable to recover from the damage inflicted by student fanatics, whose concept of “student rights” is chiefly the right to be idle. Stifling free discussion, intimidating all opposition, abolishing standards of scholarship, the triumphant radical students in those lands have put an end to academic freedom and to academic attainment. In post-war Japan, the student political factions have so blighted scholarship that any intelligent young Japanese really desiring to learn something of his own culture must enroll at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, or at the Oriental schools of Harvard or Princeton or some other still-reputable American university. The logical culmination of such “progress” occurred a few years ago in Burma, when the army used heavy artillery against the University of Rangoon, leveling the campus to the ground that it might no longer shelter the Communist apparatus.
“Revolution” within the universities of Egypt, India, Latin America, Japan, and Burma has not overthrown the governments of those countries; it has only overthrown right reason and moral imagination within the universities; it has only given the death-blow to the academic community; it has only invited retaliation by the state; it has only injured those real students who know that the university is a place for reflection and preparation, not for theatrical violence. The results of play-revolution within American universities—even were the zealous minority of radicals to prevail on many a campus—would be no less disastrous for the intellect, and no more agreeable to the rebels.
For the American civil social order, with all its faults, is broad at its base, prosperous, and still strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of its citizens. It cannot be overthrown by any cabal of radical utopians. If sufficiently irritated, the American public is quite capable of taking steps to terminate indefinitely the play-acting of campus radicals. And such steps might postpone for a great while, or prevent permanently, those reforms of the American college and university so urgently needed.
In a democratic age, dissidents must endeavor to win public opinion to their side; if they cannot persuade—if they alienate public opinion by their extreme measures—they must be crushed by general disapproval. In any society, organized protest must employ one of two methods. On the one hand, the dissenters may demonstrate and petition with the object of informing those in power (or the responsible public) that injustice or bad policy exists—thus, in effect, pleading visibly for a redress of practical grievances. Or on the other hand, the dissidents may endeavor to mount a massive revolt—beginning with civil disobedience, perhaps, but soon growing incivil—meant to overthrow the existing powers; this method presupposes that the great mass of the public dimly sympathizes with the dissidents, or at least will remain inactive.
The latter undertaking would be absurd, in America today; five or ten percent of a student body cannot permanently capture a university (though they may disrupt it for some time), let alone capture the American nation. There remains the first approach, that of calling attention, through peaceable means, to justified discontents. But for a petition of grievances to be heeded, the petitioners must be sensible in their requests and decent in their methods. In that, most of the student radicals have failed. Most of all, they have failed in shallow talk of “revolution,” when what they really require—and all they can possibly get, with luck—is prudent reform.
“The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,” Coleridge wrote, “slaves by their own compulsion.” The neglect of right reason and moral imagination on the typical campus may account for the unreasoning and violent character of much student protest; but also that decay makes it impossible for students themselves to plan a real improvement of the Academy—until they first emancipate themselves from the oppression of the sensual and the dark. “In God’s name,” said Demosthenes to the Athenians, “I beg of you to think.” Strange though it may seem, the American university is supposed to be a center for thought. Though lacking, among administrators, professors, and students, there remain only two possibilities: the dreary domination of people like John Hannah, or the destructive antics of people like Carl Oglesby. Neither can succeed in restoring academic community and academic vigor—for, as Talleyrand put it, you can do everything with bayonets except sit upon them.
In American society at large, it is the uprooted and dispossessed who turn to violence: As Governor George Romney pointed out (somewhat tardily), the primary cause of the Detroit riots was the federal bulldozer—the dislodging of hundreds of thousands of people by an urban “renewal” which created urban desolation. Those dispossessed cannot work an urban revolution, let alone a national revolution; yet they can make a city dangerous and miserable. True community shattered, men cannot live in security and peace.
So it is with the academic community. Revolution cannot mend it; only patient labor and the employment of imagination can restore its loyalties. Frivolous “revolutionary” gestures by students will have no other effect than diminishing the serious voice in a university’s affairs that responsible students ought to have. At Indiana University, very recently, a mock election was held to nominate a chancellor for the Bloomington campus. (Actually, the post is appointive, being under the jurisdiction of the regents, of course; but this election was to be an expression of students’ concern.) And what candidates were nominated? Why, Paul Boutelle of the Socialist Workers Party, Staughton Lynd the militant pacifist, and William Dennis, the Black Power revolutionary. (One conservative student placed his own name in nomination, justly feeling himself no less qualified than these gentlemen.) What sensible undergraduate reformers!
I do not mean to express contempt for all the suggestions of the New Left people, where university reform is concerned. Some of them recommend, for instance, that the alumni be given a much larger power in the university’s affairs; and I agree that it would be well to interest the alumni in something besides season tickets for the football games. But this scarcely is “revolution”; indeed, it is one of the most conservative features of the old British universities, where much authority reposes in the “university court,” or similar body, in which all alumni may vote annually if they bother to attend. I am surprised that the New Left folk do not seem to have thought of proposing for American universities a kind of students’ tribune, after the fashion of the rector (elected by the students, as representative of their interests) at each of the Scottish universities. (At three of the four ancient Scottish universities, I confess, the students usually choose some mountebank or passing [and absentee] celebrity as rector; but at least they have the chance to be heard in the university’s deliberations.)
The revolutions of our time have not brought liberty and peace: From Moscow to Peiping, from Accra to Jakarta, they have conferred power upon squalid oligarchs—to be overthrown in turn, perhaps, by military juntas. Revolution has not brought security to Nigeria, nor fraternity to Columbia. At best, revolutions have brought such a hard master as would be anathema to intransigent professors and students. Revolution in America (per impossible), within the university or without it, would hideously disillusion the very utopians who talk sanguinely and sanguinarily, of such possibilities.
To recognize at last that something is amiss with the higher learning in America, and with American society, is some considerable gain—worth, perhaps, the price we have paid for this knowledge through disruption. This tardy awareness may impel us to humanize the university again. Yet the university is not the Bastille, to be taken by frantic storm and razed to the ground; nor ought we to massacre the Invalides, dull dogs though some professors may be. The university is not a prison or a fortress, but a community of scholars—and not a community of one generation only. If you would reform it, understand its past greatness and its surviving promise—and, to quote Joan Baez one last time (her words in the first turbulence at Berkeley), “Do it with love.”
Books by Russell Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with the gracious permission from the Intercollegiate Review (Winter 1969).The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.