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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Roberts and conservatism at Harvard...

The NYTs today has an interesting article speculating about the ideological origins of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. In order to do this, the article tries to give some idea of the political dynamics at Harvard College and Law in the early 70s. A fascinating read not only for those interested in politics at Harvard, but also for those interested in understanding ideological development:
"There was a 'Boy Named Sue' quality to being a libertarian or conservative at Harvard," said Mr. [Grover] Norquist, referring to the Johnny Cash song and Shel Silverstein poem ("Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,/ My fist got hard and my wits got keen.") Conservatives at Harvard, he suggested, learned to be "tougher than anyone else.(more in expanded post)
Unlike students on the left, he said, they were constantly being challenged. There was this cowardice of the center to criticize the left," Mr. Norquist said. "Somebody would make some left-wing comment and no one would challenge it, whereas if you made some right-wing comment, you'd get 20 questions. We grew up and we built tougher, smarter, better advocates on the right than the left did. You see this all the time: The left gets frustrated if somebody asks a second question."
I don't think this is necessarily true any more. I think the dynamic is more that there is a mass of "liberal" establishment that rejects out of hand anything that challenges the facade of a tolerant, idyllic university and a well-intentioned, if inept, Democratic party as the clear moral force for good. Now, as opposed to in the early 70s when SDS had become the political "vanguard," both challenging leftists (non-status quo liberals and radicals) and conservatives are dismissed in the way conservatives were in the 70s. Does this mean they will develop stronger, more persuasive and more ideological positions for the future?


At 9:11 PM, Anonymous paloma said...

What passes for "mainstream liberal" ideas at Harvard often hews closer to neo-socialism than to the progressive ideals that mainstream liberals would identify as their own. The idea that this atmosphere will breed a stronger radical vanguard is far from true-- if anything it will build a navel-gazing culture, looking always inward. This kind of community has the implicit consent of the majority in re their moral superiority, and thus rather than developing intellectual tenets focuses on developing ideological orthodoxy and purity, i.e. on being the most progressive, the most liberal. Ideological purity is proven through emotional and demonstrated fervor (like the shameful debacle at the government careers recruiting panel)--further taking the atmosphere away from both reality and the principles that inspired the belief.

Or at least that's my two cents.

At 9:51 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I'm a little confused by your comment. First of all, it shows your ignorance about the current strand of radical and anti-status quo liberalsim that exists at Harvard. The Puke debacle really has nothing at all to do with the leftist community at Harvard and doesn't reflect the institutions of that community at all. In fact, while I agree with your disdain for unpragmatic and navel gazing ideologues, that's not the majority of Harvard's leftist community and it's not the direction it's been moving at all. If anything, I think the Harvard leftist community is developing an extremely pragmatic, humble and radical ideology that has to do with understanding our own privileged situation (i.e., the opposite of the "moral superiority" you accuse us of harboring but which you yourself are guilty of) and of acting WITH communities that are disempowered toward goals that they determine. This is the ideology of HPAG, of PSLM and of those on the left who's work is based at PBHA. As opposed to the New Left of the late 60s and early 70s at Harvard, the current Harvard left is much better at understanding and not falling into exactly the problems you accuse us of. So, no, I don't think there will be a radical vanguard here at Harvard. But I do think the fact that people like you and people like the current anti-change liberals who call themselves Democrats constantly and ignorantly attacking us will make us better at being persuasive, at understanding what motivates us and why, and at broadening our coalition. We're not there now, and I spend a lot of time pissing people off by pointing that out, but like with Roberts in the early 70s, it's either sink or swim when everyone's against you.

At 2:47 AM, Anonymous paloma said...

Yeah, the strain I was referring to was the HSF-- which most Left and liberal groups are a member of anyway--and whose involvement in the puke debacle is a matter divided along partisan lines.

I'd be happy to be guilty of moral superiority any day-- what I was describing in my post was moral superiority granted by implicit consent of the majority rather than through other means, which I think you'll agree doesn't describe the conservatives at Harvard in the least.


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