finally got around to reading William F. Buckley’s God
and Man at Yale (1951; reprint, 2001) in November, 2005.
This was probably too long to wait. I started reading Buckley’s
National Review back in 1959, my first semester in college.
described at Yale was common in almost every liberal arts college
in 1950. In some fields, things are much worse today, especially
in the humanities. But in the economics departments, it is sometimes
a lot better. Political correctness is worse, but economic correctness
What I noticed
only after reading almost the entire book was its subtitle: The
Superstitions of “Academic Freedom.” How had I missed that?
More to the point, how could half a century of commentators and
critics have missed it? While Google can locate a few discussions
of it in the 18,900 links pulled up by searching for “God and Man
at Yale,” nothing short of a web search engine could have located
these few discussions.
It was a great
title. It was a great subtitle. The problem is, the two are almost
never associated. They should be. Buckley used his inside knowledge
of Yale to promote an agenda for undermining the liberals’ control
of higher education in America. The chapters on Yale are highly
specific. Chapter 4, “The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’,”
used the example of Yale as a springboard for a much broader assault
on the Left.
the Left more than a threat to cut their funding by members of the
non-Left. This was what Buckley proposed.
spoke of God at Yale, he meant the God of Yale’s Protestant — originally,
Calvinist — Christianity. Where was there any trace of this God
at Yale in 1950? Not in the classrooms, certainly. Buckley’s point
was that the university had once officially stood for Christianity,
but this commitment had faded. He did not say when.
has read George M. Marsden’s book, The
Soul of the American University (1994), knows that this
departure from orthodoxy institutionally and operationally took
place long before Buckley arrived at Yale in 1946. Marsden dates
this transformation at Yale as having taken place no later
spoke of man at Yale, he meant the science of man, which was revealed
most clearly to more students on campus by the economics department.
Specifically, he meant the Keynesianism of the textbooks.
In 1880, the
battle had been over sociology: specifically, the sociology of Herbert
Spencer, as interpreted by Yale’s William Graham Sumner. But Spencer’s
ideas spilled over into economics. “The survival of the fittest”
— his phrase, which Darwin later adopted — had implications for
every social science in 1880.
In 1951, Buckley’s
book became a sensation, the first big seller ever published by
the tiny conservative publishing firm, Henry Regnery Company. Some
diligent master’s degree candidate in history could profitably research
this question: Why?
The fact that
religious liberalism by 1950 had captured the religion department
of an Ivy League university was hardly front-page news. It would
not have been front-page news in 1890.
The fact that
theological liberalism was being used by certain professors as a
cover for their agnosticism and even atheism also was not big news.
Had Yale’s religion department been filled with Bible-believing
professors with Ph.D.’s, let alone Calvinists, this would have warranted
a front-page story in the New York Times. It would have deserved
the fact that Keynesian textbooks were being used in the economics
department in post-war academia should not have been a surprise
to anyone with knowledge of academia in 1951. By the time Buckley
graduated in 1950, Paul Samuelson’s Economics
was well on its way to becoming the best-selling textbook of all
time. The New Deal had been replaced by the Fair Deal. Had economics
textbooks in 1950 not reflected the move from free market economic
theory of the pre-Depression era to the interventionism of the Cold
War era, this would have been a remarkable non-development, academically
to the academic world of 1890, the move to economic interventionism
was already visible. Numerous economists who founded the American
Economic Association in 1885 were Progressives: believers in the
ability of agents of the State to guide the economy into prosperity
through higher taxes, government spending, and regulation. The Federal
Reserve System in 1913 had been sold to politicians and commercial
bankers on this basis: the inability of the unhampered free market
to produce stability. Keynes offered nothing new with his call for
more government spending. He offered merely a jargon-filled, incoherent
justification for it.
did not mention was the fact that these two intellectual developments
— theologically liberal Protestantism and politically liberal
economics — were linked both philosophically and institutionally.
Richard Hofstadter was not exaggerating when he wrote in The
Age of Reform (1955) that “Progressivism can be considered
from this standpoint as a phase in the history of the Protestant
conscience, a latter-day Protestant revival. Liberal politics as
well as liberal theology were both inherent in the response of religion
to the secularization of society.” Robert Crunden has told this
story in detail in his book, Ministers
of Reform (1985).
So, the question
needs to be asked: What was it about Buckley’s book that created
a sensation and established his reputation? Within four years, he
had raised enough money to start National Review. He would
then become for two decades the most identifiable voice of intellectual
conservatism, a voice so well known that Robin Williams did a good
imitation of it in the Disney cartoon, Aladdin (1992) —
by then an inside joke lost on all of the children and most of their
What made the
book unique was its subtitle, which no one remembers, but which
could not escape the attention of the faculty and administration
The book was
a frontal assault on the idea of academic freedom as promoted by
college faculties: immunity from control by the outside agents who
pay the university’s bills.
as a concept had its modern origin in Prussia. In the early nineteenth
century, the Prussian government was creating the modern public
school system. Both the kindergarten and the graduate seminar were
Prussian developments. Edmund Wilson wrote in 1968 that America
missed a great opportunity in World War I when Congress failed to
propose legislation to ban the Ph.D. degree as a German atrocity.
Wilson had a point, but our only President ever to earn a Ph.D.
would have vetoed the bill.
in Prussian universities sought independence from the Prussian State.
They demanded what no other bureaucrats in Prussia possessed: immunity
from interference by the State that paid their salaries. They did
receive limited immunity. This precedent became the touchstone for
professors everywhere — immunity not just from the State but from
all those who paid their salaries. The tradition of academic tenure
is a product of this view of the academicians’ vocation.
Yet what Prussian
professors wanted in 1825, university professors had always demanded.
Medieval universities had insisted on their sovereignty, meaning
a limited but defined jurisdiction separate from bishops, kings,
and burghers. This was why professors insisted on the right to wear
robes, a mark of sovereignty possessed only by clerics and civil
was and remains a violation of a familiar economic principle of
authority: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” The medieval
church denied this principle; so did the established churches of
the colonial American era. They sought money from the public, yet
they resisted control. The universities imitated the churches.
Horace Mann in the 1830s began to proclaim the concept of the public
school as an agency of personal virtue and social redemption, his
timing was perfect. The state of Massachusetts had abandoned tax
support of Congregational churches in 1833. The public school soon
became America’s only established church.
Yale and Harvard
had provided training for the Congregational priesthood prior to
1833. They continued to do so after 1833. The graduates’ robes did
not change color. Neither did the source of the funding: the State.
But the graduates’ ordination liturgy changed. So did their creed.
The common creed of the public schools was Unitarian and moralistic:
salvation by good public works.
exactly what he was doing in 1950. He understood the implications
of his proposed solution to Yale’s drift into modernism: an appeal
to Yale’s alumni to re-establish control over the faculty or else
cut off the funding. He proposed this in Chapter 3.
“The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” offered a philosophical
defense of his proposal. He began with a brief survey of what was
by then an 80-year affirmation of academic freedom by Harvard and
Yale presidents. Then he showed that the defense of academic neutrality
is a myth. Faculties screen themselves. For example, they do not
hire defenders of Aryan racial supremacy. (They did in 1925, however.)
The defense of value-free, morally neutral academic truth is deceptive,
He made a telling
point, one which I had never considered before. The researcher requires
freedom of inquiry because he does not know what his research will
produce. But when he supports himself as a teacher, he cannot legitimately
claim the same kind of immunity from those who fund his teaching.
Yet he does make this claim. “Therefore, cannily, he distends the
protective cloak of research to include his activities as a teacher,
thereby insuring to himself license in the laboratory, which is
right and proper, and license in the classroom, which is wrong and
improper.” This is a form of bait and switch.
In the early
medieval universities, students paid their teachers directly, if
they paid them at all. They retained the right to hire and fire.
The teachers revolted within a century. They sought funding from
outside the university. Then they sought immunity from inquiry by
those footing the bill. None of this was new in 1950.
Men want to
receive money with no strings attached. This includes the faculty
members of every institution of higher learning. Yale saw Buckley’s
threat in 1950: the tightening of alumni strings. This was a decade
before the Federal government began to replace the alumni as the
primary source of funding, a development that simultaneously replaced
the power of department chairmen over aggressive faculty members
who were not dependent on their departments or the university for
their primary income, which was large. Robert Nisbet described this
process in The
Degradation of the Academic Dogma (1971).
Yale went on
the attack in 1951. Yale graduate Austin W. Bramwell, in the 50th
anniversary edition (2001), provides some of the choicest rhetorical
examples in his Preface. Buckley in the 1977 reprint had provided
others. Anyone who thinks that the rhetorical excesses of the more
recent entrenched professorate are historically unique should read
extracts from the Yale faculty in 1951.
It is not too
much to say that the liberal Establishment went ballistic. But,
as it turned out, they provided, free of charge, the first stage
of the missile that carried Buckley into the stratosphere. Like
all first-stage rockets, they detached and fell back to the earth.
Buckley is still up there, sending his observations back to earth.
That few people tune in any longer is a matter of competition and
style as much as anything.
did for God and Man at Yale what a later generation of critics
did for The
Passion of the Christ. They turned it into a phenomenon
by means of their preposterous accusations and off-the-wall rhetoric.
Their strategy backfired.
YOUR FIRST BOOK IS YOUR MASTERPIECE
The book made
Buckley’s reputation. It was cogently argued, but not flamboyant.
There is no trace of the thesaural pyrotechnics of his later career.
His style reads well, half a century later. I enjoyed Up
from Liberalism more, long, long ago. Nevertheless, this
book is restrained, documented, and easily read, even by today’s
Yale alumni. That was its threat in 1951.
1951 was a skilled debater. He and Brent Bozell were a team at Yale.
He knew how to work the judges, meaning the readers. He did not
expect to convince the Yale administration. But if he thought the
Yale alumni would listen to him and follow his advice, then he had
not read Schumpeter’s Capitalism,
Socialism and Democracy (1942) carefully enough.
He refers to
this book in Chapter 2. Schumpeter, a Harvard professor, argued
that rich entrepreneurs send their sons to prestigious universities
where they will be taught by professors who are envious of the fathers’
wealth and dedicated to undermining the social order that makes
such wealth possible. If Buckley did not believe Schumpeter, he
should have believed Aristophanes, whose Clouds had made
much the same point regarding Plato’s academy.
the nature of university funding and its relation to the internal
chain of command. Two decades after this book appeared, Henry Manne
[MANee], a legal scholar and self-taught Chicago School economist,
delivered a speech to the trustees of the Foundation for Economic
Education, to which he had just been appointed. The speech was titled
“The Political Economy of Modern Universities.” It was later published
in a collection of essays, Education in a Free Society (1973).
Manne went on to found two graduate programs in
law and economics and ended his academic career running the
law school at George Mason University.
out that the trustees at a university are legal agents. The public
thinks of them as agents of the donors. Certainly Buckley did in
1951. Chapter 3 rests on this assumption. Not so, said Manne. The
trustees are economic agents of the president, whom they appoint,
who in turn becomes the economic agent of the faculty.
is in charge economically and institutionally because they are full-time
experts in their fields. The system of academic appointments establishes
their functional autonomy. Under the present system, the trustees
are part-timers, seekers of prestige, and gain this prestige by
way of the reputation of the faculty.
that the only way to restore accountability to the market for higher
education would be for the trustees to hand over ownership of the
university to the faculty. Then the faculty would have to provide
services that families are willing and able to pay for, or else
There is another
crucial factor that Buckley ignored. The university serves many
graduates as their would-be sacred home. With the loss of faith
in God and trust in the authority of the church, alumni look to
the reputation of their alma mater (“nourishing mother,” as in earth
goddess) to provide what the Mother Church once provided: a sense
of participation in something both meaningful and immortal. The
greater the reputation of the alma mater, the greater its reflected
glory. Sometimes this reputation is achieved through sports. Sometimes
through faculty scholarship (rarely). Anyone who seeks to call into
question the legitimacy of the alma mater is calling into question
the reflected glory on its alumni. This is a futile effort.
not win that fight. I find it difficult to believe that he ever
expected to win. But God and Man at Yale soon became one
of the most effective business cards in the history of American
conservatism. It opened many doors.
ECONOMIC THEORY IN 1951
In a note on
one Keynesian textbook calling for government spending, he made
I know about the long run,” Keynes once quipped, “is that we are
all dead.” One of Keynes’s most distinguished critics, Professor
Ludwig von Mises, retorted that this was “the only correct declaration
of the neo-British Cambridge school.”
He then went
on to explain the business cycle in terms of credit inflation, which
is produced by the government. “As for aggregate unemployment,
the individualist insists that it is exclusively the result of government
intervention through inflation, wage rigidities, burdensome taxes,
and restrictions on trade and production such as price controls
He goes after
Henry C. Simons, the founder of the Chicago School of economics.
He describes Simons’ 37-page pamphlet, A Positive Program for
Laissez Faire, which was assigned to Yale economics students.
“He equates freedom with free enterprise, and proceeds to outline
a sure program for the destruction of the free economy.” He then
lists nine recommendations by Simon, every one of them mandating
government intervention. “This, we are led to believe, is the conservative
alternative to ever greater statism and socialization.”
should Yale students have been reading? [John] Jewkes, Hayek, Rpke,
[B. M.] Anderson, Watt [V. Orval Watts?], and von Mises. This was
a reading list straight out of the Foundation for Economic Education’s
recommended list of authors.
It was years
later when the methodological heirs of Henry Simon displaced the
methodological heirs of Ludwig von Mises in the pages of National
his conservative bona fides with God and Man at Yale. Never
again did one of his books have an impact to rival this one. The
book was positive and negative. It dealt with theology and economics
— good and bad — which I surely can appreciate. It offered what
seemed to be a practical solution: a call to the alumni to cut off
the funds. This was perceived by Yale’s defenders as a highly practical
solution and therefore highly dangerous. It was neither. Buckley
in 1977 quoted Dwight Macdonald: Yale’s authorities “reacted with
all the grace of an elephant cornered by a mouse.”
on the academic Left became a sideline for him after 1951. He sent
out copies of Russell Kirk’s little quarterly review, The University
Bookman, as part of a subscription to National Review.
But he never again focused his sights or his energy on higher education
in America. This is just as well. We should choose our battles carefully,
and that one is inherently unwinnable. The correct strategy is replacement,
In the spring
of 2005, Yale University’s chapel severed all ties with the United
Church of Christ, the institutional successor to Congregational
Church. The chaplain felt too confined theologically for the UCC.
This boggles the mind. Rev. William Sloane Coffin, in retirement,
an old friend and fellow Bonesman
with Buckley, the son of Henry Sloane Coffin, who savaged God
and Man at Yale, had no comment.
seen it coming. His critics denied that any of it was true. All
of it was true.
It now costs
$40,000 a year to attend Yale. It will cost more next year. Yet
rich men still send their sons and daughters there. Schumpeter had
seen it coming.
of them had seen coming was academia’s loss of faith in Keynesian
economics by 1980, let alone the collapse of the Soviet Union in
1991. Today, Hayek, Rpke, and Mises have more followers than they
did in 1951. Samuelson still has plenty of book royalties flowing
in. The great reversal is not complete, but it has begun.