Larry Summers is resigning (under faculty fire) as president of Harvard. He had been brought in by the Corporation, in the Spring of 2001, as a representative of Clintonian Democratic Party centrism, with the goal of wresting that university’s management and destiny out of the hands of representatives of the aberrant culture of leftwing radicalism which has flourished in post-1960s academic institutions the way kudzu flourishes beside Southern highways. Summers was given a vote of no confidence by the faculty of Arts and Sciences last March as punishment for a mild remark speculating on the possibility of intrinsic gender differences playing some partial role in the smaller numbers of females working as professionally as mathematicians, scientists, and engineers.
In the 18th century, tyrannical presidents of the great American colleges first ruthlessly purged faculties and student bodies of New Light deviationists from Congregationalist Orthodoxy, then later when the Great Awakening prospered, also purged the Old Light survivors of earlier efforts at uniformity.
Summers’ defeat deserves to be viewed as a modern repetition of the ancient struggles at Harvard and Yale over the fine points of theology. Summers represented the worldly and optimistic party of affirmative Democratic governance, adaptable to post-Reagan changes in the national agenda, reconciled to the necessities of the free market, and committed to technocratic pragmatism. He is being driven out by a consensus loyal to a culture of conformity in thrall to leftist extremism, committed to the politics of ressentiment, the apocalyptic condemnation of Euro-American history, and to the rejection of market capitalism.
When Summers dared to criticize Afro-American studies professor Cornell West and suggested that popular notions of feminine victimhood might possibly be exaggerated, the result was much as if one of his 17th century predecessors had ventured upon criticism of Predestination, and expressed doubts concerning some of the articles of the Augsburg Confession. Summers’ defeat represents indubitably the triumph of a reactionary orthodoxy at Harvard, and an explicit rejection of the idea of a reconciliation between the academic community and the diurnal political reality of America in the 21st Century.