This morning we conclude our celebration of the twentieth year of the second coming of the Claremont Review of Books. Its new (Fall) issue is in the mail. The magazine has moved to a sleekly redesigned site with a new URL (claremontreviewofbooks.com). The editors have made the new issue freely accessible for the next few days. This is the last of my previews. Each of the four pieces previewed here will remain accessible after the issue is placed behind a paywall this week (subscribe or renew here and get a 2020 calendar illustrated by Elliot Banfield thrown in).
The brilliant novelist Mark Helprin is senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and contributes CRB’s regular Parthian Shot column. In the new issue Helprin also contributes the “Pride and prejudice at Harvard” (“an essay and reminiscence”). Helprin looks back at his own education at Harvard and provides an assessment of the current scene. He leavens his review of the current scene with a biting wit:
A persistent mistake of human nature is to attribute power, wealth, and fame to the workings of high intellect, when as often as not in an aristocracy they are merely inherited, and in a democracy they accrue to those who can please the lowest common denominator. Especially in a conformist environment, the appearance of intelligence can be simulated by adherence to orthodoxies in political belief and how one lives, and the adoption of mandated styles of speaking and argumentation. Thanks to the approximately 4 zillion public-radio call signs, it is almost impossible to escape the astoundingly mannered and self-conscious way of speaking that I call NPR- or Ivy-speak, which, like a self-basting chicken, continuously bathes itself in its wonderful reasonableness. A good example of this is Barack Obama, who, even if he doesn’t know the difference between a subjective and objective pronoun and thinks it is possible to lead from behind, walks the walk and talks the talk in a spectacular victory (for some) of style over substance. Intellectuals would rather be caught dead than failing to pirouette their intelligence or admitting that they don’t know or haven’t read something. At a cocktail party, refer to Durkstein’s Adductive Paradox and see how no one will ask what it is, even though it isn’t. The greatest proof of this lies in the vast tundras of modern academic prose, in which with unintentional hilarity, if one may borrow sentence structure from Winston Churchill, never have so many over-credentialed idiots attempted to conceal such utter nonsense behind so much anaesthetizing jargon.
Unquestionably, Harvard is a nexus of wealth, power, fame, and prestige. Although none of these is necessarily correlated with intelligence, certainly among its many thousands of students and faculty it possesses brilliance, some might say, and they might be right, unrivaled anywhere on the planet. This is not about them. It is about those who hold the power, make the policy, enforce the rules, and set the tone, although it is also about the compliant sheep—designing resistance, building coalitions—who fiercely lap it up. What is one to conclude about the breathtakingly stupid administration of a place renowned for its intelligence?
Take for example the aforementioned [Harvard Law School Professor Ronald] Sullivan affair. Unremarked in the press is the significance of the title he had to relinquish: residential dean, which used to be house master, or, after Harvard became co-ed, it was, I believe, sometimes house mistress—until someone complained that this was redolent of slavery. Many words are redolent of slavery, such as “slavery.” Or “chains,” “subjugation,” “ownership,” “manumission,” “auction,” “block,” “middle,” and “passage.” “Master” predates slavery in America and has many other meanings and connotations. The failure of Harvard’s governors lies not only in analysis and etymology but in taking a word that has numerous applications and rejecting its employment in one because it is objectionable in another. Shall we now have the tortured equivalents of a residential-dean key, a residential-dean switch, a residential-dean piece, a residential dean of arts degree? Should Patrick O’Brian have retitled his book Residential Dean and Commander, or Casals have taught a residential-dean class, or Julia Child have written Residential-Deaning the Art of French Cooking?
Is it not astounding that in the universities, where one would expect historians, linguists, philologists, lawyers, and philosophers, among others, to define terms closely, the words “hate,” “diversity,” “equity,” “inclusion,” “aggression,” “rape,” “survivor,” “racist,” “privilege,” etc., are bandied about like badminton shuttlecocks and pushed into Orwellian servitude? The trick in using language as a political weapon is to make it as flexible as Kirsten Gillibrand, vaguer than Beto O’Rourke, and more emotional than Cory Booker. One need only consult Humpty Dumpty, for apparently when Harvard encounters a word, it means just what Harvard chooses it to mean. And Harvard’s answer as to how it can do this is that the real question is who is to be master—that’s all.