California Journal, Part II

Claremont McKenna’s Living Room, at dusk (Photo:
Sticking (and stubbing) a toe on campus

Editor’s Note: Jay Nordlinger began this journal yesterday. For Part I, go here.

On this campus, there is a carillon — or should I say “bell tower”? Is there a difference? I suppose there is. In any event, I think a carillon, or bell tower, should be a staple of campuses, like a football field.

‐My hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., had a carillon (and has). And a football field. (You may have heard of the latter.)

‐I have said “On this campus.” But in Part I of this journal, I mentioned that the Claremont consortium has five colleges, plus two graduate schools. Which campus am I on now? Which one has the bell tower? As an ingénu — can you say that? — I don’t know.

‐There is a baseball diamond. Dreamy. Ideal. Bordered by cypresses — unless I’ve missed the arboreal mark. I’m not an expert. Anyway, the kind of tree you see in Leonardo’s paintings. I’m so glad that soccer hasn’t taken over altogether …

‐I see a Peter Drucker School of Management. He was a big deal when I was coming of age. I used to confuse him with another Peter, relating to business: J. Peter Grace. He of the Grace Commission.

‐Get a load of this: “They only are loyal to this college who, departing, bear their added riches in trust for mankind.”

Doesn’t it make your heart leap? Doesn’t it seem like a sentiment, or a principle, or a conviction, from a thousand years ago? It is inscribed in a gate. Uttered by James Arnold Blaisdell, a minister who was a president of Pomona College.

‐Got another one for you: “This building is a symbol of a house not made with hands wherein shall dwell the spirit of truth, justice, and comradeship.”

That’s Ellen Browning Scripps, the newspaper dynamo who founded Scripps College. She is from a different planet — a lovely, great planet.

‐Get a load of this: “Confident of a future beyond their span of life,” some people donated land. These words are on a plaque. The idea is terribly unmodern — which is a high compliment, certainly from me, certainly in this instance.

I was reading not long ago about people who, sometime in the 19th century, I believe, planted what would become an allée. They wouldn’t see it. The next generation wouldn’t see it. But the one after that would (if I recall correctly).

Do people still do that? I hope so.

‐I buy a cap with an animal on it. A mascot. What is it? The clerk doesn’t know. But another one does. It is a sage hen. It’s the symbol of Pomona and Pitzer colleges, which combine in sports, it seems.

What’s a sage hen? Google tells me it’s a sage grouse. What’s a sage grouse? Well, a wise grouse, I suppose.

‐When he was a young professor — the only kind of professor he ever was — Henry Kissinger ran a summer seminar on politics. Or international relations. I can’t remember, exactly. Anyway, this was at Harvard.

One of Kissinger’s guests was William F. Buckley Jr. Kissinger, WFB would later say, wanted to introduce the kids to exotic specimens in the American political zoo.

Here at Claremont, I sit in on a class taught by Jon Shields, a professor of government. He is a dream of a professor — by which I mean this: He assigns readings from Left and Right, on topics of importance. Who does that? Doesn’t everyone have his thumb on the scale, or his whole, jumping body? Not Shields.

‐As a rule, I find it enjoyable to be around college students. But they sometimes pick up the strangest notions. And they are so sure of them.

I have to remember, I picked up some strange notions, too. (Some people contend I still have them.) And I’m sure I was very sure about them.

Which makes me wince.

‐In recent days, there has been some excitement here at Claremont. It happened when Heather Mac Donald came to town. I wrote about it here, in a blogpost. In brief: Heather (an exemplary scholar and writer, and a friend of mine) was subject to mob action. The chanting, howling, ignorant, hateful mob prevented her from speaking. Or rather, it prevented people from entering the building — the Athenaeum — to hear her speak.

Some people were inside the hall already, as I understand it. She spoke to them.

If you and I prevent someone from hearing a speaker, I think we should be expelled. We should be expelled before the sun sets. Or if the sun has set already, we should be expelled before it rises again.

Illiberalism should not be allowed to gain a foothold on a college campus. Instead, of course, it dominates many a campus.

‐I, too, will speak at the Athenaeum. By the way, how do you pronounce that word? What do you do about “ae”? I say “ee” — as in Ath-uh-NEE-um. But people at Claremont, and most places in America, I think, say “Ath-uh-NAY-um.”

Nobody, anywhere, says “aljay.” They say “algee” (for “algae”). Also, nobody orders a Little Sayzer’s pizza.

Anyway, end of language note.

‐My talk is titled “Politics on Campus: Yes and No.” (For the most part, I say no.) This title was chosen several months ago. The timing of the talk seems right, however.

‐Before the formalities begin, there is dinner — a lovely Indian dinner. Actually, the dinner has a formality, in this respect: The food is served buffet-style, and the evening’s speaker, by tradition, is first in line. I find this a bit awkward. But you don’t have to twist my arm too much.

The food is Indian, I should say, at my request. And my hosts at Claremont are superb. Priya Junnar, the director at the Athenaeum, sets a gold standard.

I sit at a table with students, who ask me what I plan to say on the platform. I reply that I’ll give a kind of plea for relief from politics. Not everything need be political. I mention that, when I was in college, there was a slogan: “The personal is the political.” This, I rejected, emphatically.

Indeed, I think it’s an indication of a totalitarian mindset — the mindset that blights, and straitjackets, unfortunate countries the world over.

Students at my table disagree: For them, the personal is the political. Music, sports, the whole nine yards. Politics is inseparable from life. It permeates the air, 24/7. It is a constant, and to think it can be otherwise is naïve.


‐There is no mob at this talk. No chanting, no blocking. I’m almost insulted. What am I, conservative chopped liver?

‐My talk is essentially straight liberalism — at least liberalism of the old school. It is a plea for toleration and pluralism. What we used to call “liberal values” — including diversity, chiefly diversity of thought.

I’m an awfully political guy, as I tell the students. More political than is healthful. I’m a political journalist, a political junkie, a political this and that. Peter Collier’s biography of Jeane Kirkpatrick is called “Political Woman.” To a degree — too large a one, I think — I’m a political man.

But I also know that politics is not the be-all, end-all. In fact, that’s one reason I’m a conservative. I believe there ought to be areas of life free from politics. I don’t believe that politics should be allowed to taint everything — friendship, for example.

I also think that students should be able to experience college relatively unbedeviled, and unconsumed, by politics. At least politics of a partisan variety, to say nothing of a tribal one. College is a time for learning: for reading widely, for discovery, for being exposed to everything, for soaking things up, for building a foundation, for maturing. There’ll be time enough for politics later on (believe me).

Plus — this is something you can’t say to students — what do you really know, when you’re in college? You’re barely out of the gates. You may think that you’re Montesquieu, but you’re more like … well, Montesquieu’s college-aged kid (without the benefit of having sat at papa’s knee).

Anyway, I would have thought that my talk was uncontroversial, unobjectionable — tame and bland, even. A bunch of liberal platitudes. But what is innocuously liberal to you and me might be offensively right-wing, or something, to others.

I’ll continue tomorrow. Thanks and see you.


A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

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