The Corner

Harvard Cheats Itself

Who loses when conservatives are shut out of the modern university? Everyone. John Stuart Mill’s unsurpassed case for this view in On Liberty puts the liberalism of today’s academy to shame:

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. . . . The rational position for him would be suspension of judgement, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers. . . . He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. . . . Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. . . . If opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skillful devil’s advocate can conjure up.

Today, in the third and final installment of my series on the campus fossil-fuel divestment movement, I examine the debate at Harvard University prior to the decisive student-body divestment vote last November. It is a case-study in the illiberalism of the modern university.

Yet there is an exception that proves the rule. In a January 2013 op-ed in the Harvard Crimson, Nicole Levin, reconsidered her vote for divestment. A Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Robert Bryce criticizing the student referendum gave her pause. Reading Bryce, Levin realized that she had never seriously considered her vote for divestment to begin with:

I saw “fossil fuel” and I voted as any student who recycles when convenient has been conditioned to: in favor of divestment . . . . I did not think twice about the consequences of my vote or if divestment was even possible. I trusted that since I voted against evil, against fossil fuels, I had done right. Supporting environmentalism, the green movement, and divestment has become the norm, a social law that we obey at the risk of destroying the planet and upsetting Prius owners. We support them because we are supposed to, because green is good, oil is bad, four legs good and two legs bad. We are programmed to support the green movement without thinking.

It took only a single informed expression of contrary opinion to make Levin realize that she did not in any proper sense know the doctrine that she herself professed, that she had been led by authority and inclination rather than understanding. It is to her university’s shame that, although there is no need to invent genuine opponents of fossil-fuel divestment, none were present at Harvard. Or is it that none felt able to speak openly in the face of Harvard’s intellectually corrupting support for a politicized sustainability bureaucracy? Levin’s once taken-for-granted views on oil-company evil and her sense of having been programmed to hold certain opinions without thinking are the fruits of her university’s corruption.

David French’s apt remarks on the Crimson’s recent editorial chiding conservatives who criticize the university’s one-sided intellectual atmosphere come to mind here. Maybe the Crimson ought to be asking instead why conservatives so often leave Cambridge feeling that intellectual interchange at Harvard has been compromised. They might want to read On Liberty.

Nicole Levin has begun to know what she does not know. That is the most important step of all. She didn’t know that, according to some informed critics of divestment, alternative-energy sources can never keep pace with current world demand. And here’s something else Levin didn’t know. The sponsors of the divestment movement, Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, understand Bryce’s point quite well, even if they’d rather not tout it to their student followers. The divestment movement’s sponsors don’t want our energy supplies to keep pace with current demand. They want an end to modernity as we’ve known it instead.

Everyone loses when opposing views are shut out, not only because they fail to understand the doctrines that they themselves profess, but because the triumph of flawed and unexamined doctrines forces all of us to live with the consequences.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Most Popular


Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

The American flag’s place in our culture is beginning to look less unassailable. The symbol itself is under attack, as we’ve seen with Nike dumping a shoe design featuring an early American flag, Megan Rapinoe defending her national-anthem protests (she says she will never sing the song again), and ... Read More

The Plot against Kavanaugh

Justice on Trial, by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery,  256 pp., $28.99) The nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the political event of 2018, though not for the reasons anyone expected. All High Court confirmations these days are fraught with emotion and tumult ... Read More
Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference. Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More

The ‘Squad’ Gives a Gift to Donald Trump

On Sunday, Donald Trump gave the Democrats a gift -- comments that indicate he thinks native-born congresswomen he detests should “go back” to the countries of their ancestors. On Monday, the four congresswomen handed Trump a gift in return, managing to respond to the president’s insults in some of the most ... Read More