What have you to recommend? I answer at once, Nothing. The whole current of thought and feeling, the whole stream of human affairs, is setting with irresistible force in that direction. The old ways of living, many of which were just as bad in their time as any of our devices are in ours, are breaking down all over Europe, and are floating this way and that like haycocks in a flood. Nor do I see why any wise man should expend much thought or trouble on trying to save their wrecks. The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.
—FitzJames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, 1873.
61 years ago, the young William F. Buckley Jr. launched what would become a splendiferous career as celebrity commentator and public intellectual by publishing not long after his graduation from Yale a scathing critique of his alma mater, titled God and Man at Yale.
God and Man at Yale represented Buckley’s first major effort at “standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!,’” and we may now read with a certain poignancy the report of Nathan Harden, Sex and God at Yale, compiled at a posting station considerably farther along the road to Hell in a handbasket, demonstrating just how little either History or Yale was listening.
The youthful naysayer of 1951, Buckley, was a classic version of the privileged insider. Buckley was rich, handsome, and stylish, educated at elite preparatory schools in Britain and the United States. At Yale, he was the kind of celebrity undergraduate BMOC that basically ceased to exist after coeducation: Captain of the Debating Team, Chairman of the Daily News, and—of course—member of Skull and Bones.
The contrast between Buckley and Harden could scarcely be more extreme. Nathan Harden was home-schooled, knows what manual labor is like, and grew up in a family that was short of cash living all over the Southern United States. Harden was turned down by Yale initially, attended one of the Claremont Colleges, then got into a one-term visiting student program at Yale, tried transferring and was turned down again, and finally re-applied and was accepted. He was 22 years old and already married by the time he started college in California, so he must have been 24 (and still married) by the time he finally got to Yale as a degree candidate. Harden did his junior year abroad in Rome and, though he speaks with some familiarity of Political Union debates, he clearly never became any kind of BMOC and obviously did not get into Bones.
Nathan Harden came to Yale with the ability to appreciate the richness of her centuries of history and tradition. He speaks openly of the intense pleasure to be found in exploring Yale’s incomparably rich academic offerings served up by some of the greatest living minds while living in the midst of a community of the most spectacularly talented people of one’s own generation sharing the same Arcadian existence. He also understands exactly why Yale is superior to Harvard.
But… like any representative of ordinary America studying at one of America’s most elite universities today, Nathan Harden was also frequently shocked by the estrangement from, and hostility toward, the America he came from of his alma mater, and appalled by the strange gods of Multiculturalism and Political Correctness who have ousted the Congregationalist Jehovah from that ancient university’s temple.
For Nathan Harden, Sex Week at Yale (which we learn from him recently constituted an eleven-day biennial Saturnalia of Smut in which all of the university’s best known lecture halls (!) were turned over to demonstrators of sex toys, porn stars, and dirty film moguls to dispense technical instruction and even career advice to the Yale undergraduate community) serves as a crucial synecdoche for the moral crisis at the heart of American university education generally and particularly at Yale.
Harden argues that “For God, For Country, and For Yale,” Yale’s motto, has become not so much a series of aspirative ends ranked in hierarchical order but rather an accurate historical description of Yale’s own primary locus of value.
Yale was founded as a college, intended to serve God by educating Congregationalist clergymen to fill the pulpits of the Colony of Connecticut. Over time it evolved into a national institution educating an elite group of leaders in business, the military, politics, the arts, and the sciences for the United States. Today Yale is decidedly a hotbed of infidelity to both Christianity and the United States. Secular Progressivism has thoroughly replaced Congregationalism and Christianity, and loyalty to an international elite community of fashion has supplanted any particularist sentiment in favor of the United States. The Yale Administration operates neither to serve God nor Country, but instead directs its efforts entirely toward forwarding its own goals and enhancing its own prestige.
Armed with an almost-unequaled cash endowment and an equally impressive historical legacy and accumulation of multi-generational glory and therefore a concomitant ability to attract talent and additional funding, the Yale Administration is formidably equipped to mold, educate, and inform in any direction it wishes, but as Nathan Harden explains, the problem that is increasingly evident is the practical inability of the University Administration to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, or up from down in the complex contemporary world of conflicting claims.
Presidents Angell, Seymour, and Griswold would have had no difficulty at all in understanding why the University ought not to lend the principal lecture halls in Linsley-Chittenden, W.L. Harkness, and Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Halls for porn stars to demonstrate sexual techniques or heads of pornography studios to proffer career advice. Richard Levin obviously does not understand why Sex Week at Yale is inappropriate (to say the least), any more than he understands why Yale should not be devoting 10% of its undergraduate places to foreigners, or why Yale should not be renting out its name and reputation to Third World governments.
Harden understands the problem and, though he has very recently graduated, he’d be a lot more qualified to run Yale than the current administration.
Yale… enjoys a strong tradition of educating American political leaders. Over the course of its first two hundred years, as Yale’s spiritual mission faded slowly into the background, a political purpose emerged as a new defining agenda. Serving country became a proxy for serving God. A patriotic purpose replaced a spiritual one. It was assumed for a long time that the interests of America were, by extension, Yale’s interests as well. A large percentage of Yale graduates enrolled in the military immediately following graduation. And, of course, many went on to hold high political office.
The diversity that came to Yale in the sixties was a good thing. Other changes were less positive. In the late 1960s, Yale’s patriotic ethos disintegrated in the face of pressures from the radical new left. The old-guard liberals, who had long governed the university, were replaced by a new, younger set. The old-guard liberals were in the mold of Jack Kennedy—they were New Deal liberals who were sympathetic to religion and proud of their country. They were traditionalists. The new leftists, on the other hand, wanted radical social transformation. They wanted to challenge the old moral assumptions and revolutionize the economic system. Empowered by the backlash against the Vietnam War, and a sanctimonious belief in the justness of their cause, students rose up and violently took over the agenda of the American left. ... About this same time, the patriotic purpose that had defined the university for two hundred years disappeared. The faculty had voted the year before to revoke academic credit for ROTC courses. Later, Yale moved to restrict military recruiters’ access to students. With the destruction of Yale’s patriotic ethos, the last remaining sense of Yale having any higher educational purpose in service of the nation went out the door.
That isn’t to say that Yale ceased being political. But from that point onward, Yale’s political agenda was no longer tied to American interests. In fact, Yale’s political climate came to be defined more and more by anti-Americanism. Economic theories in opposition to free markets became prevalent. Identity politics and interest-group politics began to take over academic life, endangering free speech in the name of cultural sensitivity, and ushering in a new era of suffocating political correctness.
The shift happened quickly. Only a couple of decades before, during World War II, faculty sentiment had been united against America’s enemies in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Now, if the topic of international affairs happened to be raised in the faculty lounge, it had become fashionable to speak of America as the bad guy. Saying nice things about America’s enemies became a mark of intellectual sophistication—of rising above mindless nationalism-Patriotism, like religion, had become a mark of low intelligence, an anachronism. ...
Yale is a place where one can find people expressing almost every imaginable viewpoint and belief system. But here is the unanswerable question: How does a secular university judge between the competing moral claims of its members when those claims breach the private sphere and enter the public realm? ...
Nihilism is, ultimately, where Yale is headed. Yale was built in order to nurture ideas that would elevate the soul and advance human understanding, but it now has no governing moral principle-As a result, the knowledge generated there is divorced from any larger human purpose. Apart from a kind of vague appreciation or certain concepts like tolerance and diversity, Yale is a moral vacuum. Therefore, almost anything goes. Yale is among a dwindling number of institutions that provide a classical liberal education, focusing on the great books of the Western canon—topped off with porn in HD. As I observed, within its walls, images of women being beaten and humiliated for no other reason than the pleasure and profit of others, I became aware that I was witnessing much more than the decline of a great university. I was witnessing nothing less than a prophetic vision of America’s descent into an abyss of moral aimlessness, at the hands of those now charged with educating its future leaders.