The Closing of the Harvard Mind

A while back, after a German soccer team upset the favored British national team, a columnist tried to console his distraught countrymen. “Not to worry if the Germans beat us at our favorite sport,” he wrote. “After all, we beat them twice at theirs.”

The point of the joke, of course, is a German aptitude for war even Napoleon recognized. “Prussia was hatched from a cannonball,” said the Corsican. After conquering Prussia, he led his officers to the tomb of Frederick the Great, who had fought France, Austria and Russia all at once. “Hats off, gentlemen,” said Napoleon. “If he were alive, we should not be here.”

Vietnam war hero Jim Webb in his splendid new book, Born Fighting, pays tribute to the warrior qualities of the Scots-Irish clan whence he came. From the Scottish lowlands to Ireland to the Confederate army, Scots-Irish warriors have shown a bravery and ferocity in battle, exemplified by the great Andrew Jackson.

Other ethnic groups have excelled in other ways. Italians have produced many of the world’s great works of art and sculpture. African-Americans invented the only original American form of music. If one were to list the greatest running backs in NFL history, the greatest players in NBA history, the greatest athletes in track and field, blacks — though 12 percent of our population — would have several times that representation in the respective halls of fame.

In intellectual and academic pursuits and Nobel Prizes, one finds an extraordinary overrepresentation of Jewish-Americans.

In short, it seems not irrational to conclude God sprinkled his gifts and talents unevenly among individuals and peoples. Early in the 20th century, Americans like Sen. Albert Beveridge argued that the English and Americans were uniquely endowed with the gifts of governance to rule the world.

Among friends, at bars and around dinner tables, such things are commonly discussed. The late great Murray Rothbard, the famed libertarian and polymath, once confided to me at a most politically incorrect dinner, “All stereotypes are true.”

For the “proles” of Orwell’s 1984, it is acceptable to loudly discuss such ideas. But in the house of Big Brother, such heresies are hanging offenses, as Harvard’s president has found.

As much of the country now knows, Larry Summers, at a closed session in Boston to discuss the progress of women in academia, suggested their under-representation might be due to the fact that boys outperform girls at the highest levels of math and science.

Statistically, this is undeniable. But Summers’ suggestion there might be a link between heredity and intelligence, between maleness and an aptitude for higher math, just as there is between gender and strength, caused one female Ph.D. to react as though she had been gassed.

“I felt I was going to be sick,” said biology professor Nancy Hopkins of MIT. “My heart was pounding, and my breath was shallow.”

“I just couldn’t breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill.” Had she not fled from the room, said Hopkins, “I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.”

Economics professor Claudia Goldin of Harvard, however, spoke up at the inquisition: “I left with a sense of elation at his ideas. … I was proud that the president of my university retains the inquisitiveness of an academic.” As of now, count has been lost as to how many times Summers has begged forgiveness.

So, what does this tell us about Harvard, and about America?

Nothing that is good.

That a Ph.D. at MIT almost collapsed at hearing a central tenet of her liberal orthodoxy questioned, that Summers has been forced to grovel and apologize for an honest opinion, testifies to a neo-Stalinist intolerance of politically incorrect thought at Harvard. Why are U.S. taxpayers being forced to subsidize these liberal madrassas?

Harvard is apparently home not only to the close-minded, but the snobbish. “It’s one thing for an ordinary person to shoot his mouth off like that,” sneered Hopkins, “but quite another for a top education leader.” What Hopkins is saying is that “ordinary” folks may be so stupid as not to believe in egalitarianism, but no Harvard academic may disbelieve and remain part of the intellectual elite.

But Jefferson had it right. All men are created equal only in the sense that they are all born with God-given rights to life and liberty. As for who should rule, Jefferson wrote, it should be a “natural aristocracy” based upon virtue and talent.

These are to be discovered in the competition of life.

As for the demand for more “diversity” at Harvard, for more women professors of math and science, whether or not they are the highest achievers — which was the reason for the conference at which Summers spoke — it is born of a Marxist mindset.

This is a mindset that cannot abide freedom and a meritocracy, for, all too often, they fail to produce the equalities of result to which all else, including justice, must be sacrificed.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.