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Today’s Times and Memories of ’69

Professor Donald Kagan (left) and Professor Thomas Sowell (Jay Nordlinger / YouTube screengrab via The Rubin Report)

The term “neoconservative” is in bad odor on the right at present, but it was not always so, and I hope, one day, it will not be so again. (The neocons have always been in bad odor on the left.) They were great, the neoconservatives: intelligent and brave. Many of us learned a lot from them, and were inspired by their example.

Today, I am thinking of Allan Bloom, Walter Berns, Allan Sindler, Thomas Sowell, Donald Kagan . . . Why? Well, all of those men were at Cornell in 1969, when violent student protest erupted. And they watched the administration capitulate to it. This experience marked them, and they all left Cornell over it. (All except Sowell, who had already decided to leave.)

Bloom, by the way, went on to write for WFB and National Review. Indeed, his now-classic Closing of the American Mind began as an essay for NR.

Why am I thinking about all this? Because of what is going on at the New York Times, and other institutions as well. Armed violence? No. But consider this Twitter thread from Bari Weiss, a Timeswoman. She begins,

The civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes and the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country. The dynamic is always the same.

She continues,

The Old Guard lives by a set of principles we can broadly call civil libertarianism. They assumed they shared that worldview with the young people they hired who called themselves liberals and progressives. But it was an incorrect assumption.

Another one:

The New Guard has a different worldview, one articulated best by @JonHaidt and @glukianoff. They call it “safetyism,” in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.

One more:

I’ve been mocked by many people over the past few years for writing about the campus culture wars. They told me it was a sideshow. But this was always why it mattered: The people who graduated from those campuses would rise to power inside key institutions and transform them.

The New York Times is a great newspaper, despite what you may hear from some of us. WFB once said that to go without it would be like going without arms and legs. (That was a preface to a criticism.) There is chaff along with the wheat, dross along with the gold. You have to pick and choose.

Would anyone fall over dead to hear that the same is true of some conservative publications?

A funny memory: About 15 years ago, Rob Long said something about my Impromptus column, and I said, “I’m afraid it’s basically ‘Jay Nordlinger reads the New York Times and reacts’” — to which Rob said, “And what’s wrong with that?”

Today, as always, the Times has great and seasoned political reporters, foreign correspondents, columnists, editors, obit writers, critics . . . What must they think of the wokistas, who are evidently intent on turning the Times into, say, the Bennington student paper? Will they sit around and let it happen? Is Times management like the Cornell administration?

I’m singling out the Times — the topic du jour — but, as Bari says, the “civil war” is “raging inside other publications and companies across the country.”

Let me close my little post with the obituary of Walter Berns that the Times published in January 2015 — an obit written by the superb Sam Roberts:

After the Cornell protest, one demonstrator, Thomas Jones, sent Professor Berns an apology, but he never responded . . .

Mr. Jones acknowledged the other day, though, that years later, after he became the president of TIAA-CREF, a financial services company and provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields, he received a sardonic congratulatory note from his former professor.

“First you wanted to kill me,” the note from Professor Berns said. “Now you want to take care of me in my retirement.”

P.S. In 2004, I wrote a piece called “Going Timesless: Who dares give up the ‘newspaper of record’?” Robert Bork told me he had given up everything but the obit section. That, he did not want to live without. (I understand.)

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