Posted: August 25, 2014
I am grateful to the Claremont Review of Books for inviting me to respond to Harvey Mansfield's essay on the National Association of Scholars report, "What Does Bowdoin Teach?" ("The Higher Education Scandal," Spring 2013). I assume that I was invited to respond because I have taught at Bowdoin for many years and can therefore assess some of the harsh accusations made against it. I do not, however, want to respond primarily as a Bowdoin loyalist—which I am—but, rather, as someone who is deeply interested in the condition of liberal arts education today. One of the real flaws of the NAS report is that its narrow and often mean-spirited focus on Bowdoin distracts from the important issues about higher education that it seeks to raise. I commend Professor Mansfield for taking the focus off Bowdoin—and President Barry Mills—and keeping it on these issues.
This reservation aside, however, Mansfield is very much in agreement with the NAS report's findings. He praises it for showing exactly "what political correctness in our time has done to higher education in our country." Of course, for Mansfield and the NAS, political correctness is the stock-in-trade of liberals, and therefore it is liberals who are ultimately responsible for the ruin of our colleges. Conservatives, on the other hand, are the only ones "who stand for high standards in education." How did liberals accomplish their destructive mission? First, they got rid of general education requirements, replacing them with a vision of radical openness and student choice. Then they filled the void with specialized "topical" courses—often lodged in highly politicized "Studies" programs—devoted to the marginalized and the oppressed and underwritten by the ideologies of diversity, multiculturalism, and radical environmentalism.
The obvious problem with this critique of the politicization of higher education is that it is, well, highly politicized. The self-contradiction lies on the surface when Mansfield states: "It is conservatives who deplore and resist the brazen politicization of the classroom, the loss of the great books, indeed the disregard of greatness in general, the corruption of grade inflation, the cheap satisfactions of trendiness, the mess of sexual license, the distractions of ideology," etc. This is not ideological? The same self-contradiction runs through the NAS report, which decries how advocacy and ideology have displaced the disinterested pursuit of truth in the academy and then goes on to blame liberals for just about everything that is wrong with higher education today, including the repudiation of reasoned argument, the West, America, and the possibility of truth itself.
One of the least attractive aspects of the NAS report is its portrayal of today's college students as lazy, obsessed with sex, afflicted with a permanent sense of grievance, and characterized by an attitude of supercilious "knowingness." Mansfield speaks of this latter attitude as well, and of students' general lack of interest in learning. I hope I am not succumbing to the liberal tendency to flatter by not recognizing my own students in this portrait. This is not to deny that students arrive at college today with shorter attention-spans and less patience to grapple with linguistically or conceptually complex material than ever before. But they are hungry to learn, and the real tragedy is that we don't always satisfy or direct that hunger. I worry less about the "knowingness" of students than about the lack of humility on the part of educators. In this connection, it is worth recalling Leo Strauss's general rule concerning teaching: "Always assume there is one silent student in your class who is by far superior to you in head and in heart."
There is undoubtedly much more that could be said about the cartoonish portrait of today's liberal arts colleges found in the NAS report and largely echoed by Professor Mansfield. But I want to close with some practical questions: who exactly is Harvey Mansfield or the NAS writing for? And what exactly do they hope to achieve with their polemics? Given the ideological and partisan character of these polemics, they are not likely to persuade anyone outside the already converted conservative fold. Nor do they seem likely to diminish the politicization of the academy they purport to abhor; indeed, quite the opposite. So everything stays the same. This is too bad because some of the issues raised in the NAS report are of vital importance: the specialization and fragmentation of college curricula; the need for a more thoughtful and robust set of general education requirements; the excessive number of courses devoted to race, gender, and sexuality; and so forth. In order to address these issues seriously, though, conservatives need to recognize that they are not simply the product of some liberal conspiracy and that they cannot be solved simply by going back to the "old Bowdoin" of the 1950s. Put another way, conservatives need to give up the cheap satisfactions of culture war and engage with liberal colleagues—whom they may just find have not abandoned reasoned argument—in the slow, difficult work of incremental reform.
What worries me most about polemics such as Mansfield's is that they will unwittingly render nonutilitarian liberal arts colleges like Bowdoin more vulnerable than they already are in our increasingly utilitarian world, feeding the anti-intellectual perception that because they do not provide a practical education they are not worth the money. In materialistic America there are always philistines waiting in the wings ready to ask, "Is college worth it?" (the title of a new book by William Bennett, who wrote the foreword to the NAS report). I am reminded of what Dr. Thomas Arnold said in the 19th century about critics of higher education: "No man ought to meddle with the Universities who does not know them well and love them well." Given his long and distinguished career in academia, Professor Mansfield's qualifications in this regard cannot be doubted. I'm less sure about the writers of the NAS report whose argument he enthusiastically embraces.
Harvey C. Mansfield replies:
Professor Paul Franco, one of my friends at Bowdoin, deserves a serious answer, and for him and those like him I am happy to lower the temperature. His main point is that strenuous resistance to the introduction of politics into the classroom is, or becomes, just as "political" as its object. It is strange that politicians today accuse other politicians of being political when doctors don't accuse other doctors of doctoring. "Politics" somehow stands for the low art of politics, whose higher part needs to be specified. So I would reply that the defense of a non-political classroom is indeed political but in the higher, nobler sense.
This higher sense differs from political correctness. Political correctness is not the prevalence of one party, a feature that can be quite harmless. It is common, let's say, for stockbrokers to be conservatives and professors to be liberals. But P.C. consists in the refusal to hear, or to present, both sides. This is what happens at Bowdoin and at my place, Harvard. I am as much a loyalist for Harvard, having spent my adult life there, as Franco is for Bowdoin, but that is why it makes me so angry when the P.C. crowd—faculty and administrators more blamably than students—pretend that Harvard belongs to them and should serve them and their opinions rather than the university and the truth.
A true liberal is at minimum a person who wants both sides to be heard. That is the practice of free speech and its companion, academic freedom. The so-called liberals today don't want to hear both sides. Real liberals like Franco do, but those who stand up for liberalism today are mostly conservatives. Conservatives have their family get-togethers of course, but they do not indulge in the P.C. delusion that the other side represents a temporary though nasty prejudice soon to become obsolete, and deservedly so. For the most part conservatives realize that their victories are neither destined nor permanent.
Conservatives at universities therefore believe that the polemics of the culture war need to be maintained. This is for the benefit of the country and especially of the young, who should be discouraged from the "knowingness" that allows them to think, without hearing both sides, that all virtue and intelligence are to be found on the P.C. side. To be sure, some individuals excel on committees battling for incremental reform, while others would rather carry the flag and lead from the front. Both of these usually separate roles are needed, and conservatives will be content with Paul Franco in whichever of the two he chooses. He worries about lack of humility in educators, but would that not be because they impart this character to their students? And why not call it "knowingness" when they succeed?
It is unsettling to learn that an outside team of two, given no encouragement or help in its investigation, could discover the faults in one's home institution, and then trace them through their connections to a single, consistently corrupting outlook. That is the willingness to make universities sacrifice their standards of excellence and their practices of free discussion to serve the policies of political correctness. I do believe that Peter Wood and Michael Toscano in their report have understood Bowdoin better than Bowdoin understands itself. I agree with Paul Franco that Bowdoin is vulnerable to attack from those who want to abandon a liberal education rather than defend it as do we conservatives. Is it not then the interest of Bowdoin to reassess its needs and to join with conservatives in this defense?
Steven Hayward's review of my book, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, is a welcome critical response to my own work, and that of Angus Burgin, a historian at Johns Hopkins University ("The Road to Freedom," Spring 2013). Hayward has engaged with our attempts, some of the first written from the perspective of historians of the United States, to grapple with the rise of transatlantic neoliberalism since the 1930s. However, in his treatment of my own book, notwithstanding political disagreements real or imagined, Mr. Hayward has ignored several of the central issues with which the book is most concerned.
The first of these themes, and one that partly separates mine from Burgin's excellent account, is the political application of neoliberal ideas. This subject is the reason why Masters of the Universe begins in the 1940s and addresses German, as well as British and American neoliberalism. It is also the reason why the book is not focused on the Mont Pelerin Society ("the MPS"), whose undoubted importance as an originator and bearer of neoliberal thought is well explained by Burgin and other accounts.
Instead, my account seeks to examine the imperfect and messy political application of neoliberal ideas. In other words, how did a set of academic ideas translate into policy? In order to trace how this occurred in relation to neoliberal ideas, the book is split roughly into two. The first chapters examine the intellectual components that became crucial to the later attack on the New Deal and Social Democratic Europe. There were many such ideas, of course, including some of greater import perhaps in the specifically American context of anti-New Deal, right-wing, and conservative activism, but the book focuses on three in particular. These were Friedrich Hayek's critique of economic planning in The Road to Serfdom, Karl Popper's attack on the bases of collectivist thought in The Open Society and its Enemies, and Ludwig von Mises's pamphlet denouncing the insidious effects of government management, Bureaucracy. Chapter Three looks at the distinctive contributions of the Chicago School of Economics and the Virginia School of Political Economy to a more policy-friendly application of free market thinking.
The second half of the book reveals the percolation of these academic and polemical critiques of liberal collectivism and illustrates a second major theme unnoticed by Mr. Hayward in his review, the transatlantic nature of neoliberal politics. This goes well beyond clichés about Maggie, Ronnie, and the Cold War. Instead, the transatlantic connections uncover crucial aspects of the history of conservatism and the rise of the Right in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
These differences are best revealed in the book's two case studies. The first is macroeconomic strategy and the shift from Keynesian demand management to a monetarist approach in the 1960s and '70s. The second is one of the very few areas of social policy where neoliberal advocates attempted a proactive agenda during the 1980s with any success: urban policy and affordable housing.
Hayward suggests that these chapters reflect the "strangeness" of the book. However, the economic chapters reflect arguably the most important political application of neoliberalism of all, that of monetarism, which had a complicated genesis in both countries. Urban and Housing policies, meanwhile, were chosen because they provide a useful example of policy exchange between transatlantic neoliberals. The fact that Enterprise Zones were a successful import and the privatization of housing was not is reflective of important cultural, political and historical differences between the United Kingdom and the United States. The New Deal never created as comprehensive, or as complete, a welfare state as did the combined efforts of the Liberal and Labour Governments in Britain. In terms of housing, this meant that the focus of Thatcherites in Britain was on the large-scale social and public provision of council housing whereas in the United States the focus was on racially-scarred and lost slum neighborhoods in desperate need of renewal. Such nuances, and distinctive differences, between the two countries created divergent priorities in reforming efforts.
The third important aspect of the book that was largely missed in Hayward's review is the development of neoliberal thought and politics itself over the course of the last 80 or so years. Through its transatlantic lens, the book examines the changing nature of neoliberal politics. Here was a set of ideas that traveled from interwar Europe and a preoccupation with the twin totalitarian disasters of Nazism and Stalinist Communism to the vastly different context of a prosperous postwar United States, dominated by the Cold War.
Neoliberal ideas as they developed in the 1950s tended to drop Hayek's willingness in The Road to Serfdom to accept a basic welfare state (Popper and the Germans had also shared such a willingness to compromise). Indeed, Hayek himself was only half welcomed by his fellow economists at Chicago after 1951. He was kept at some distance from the Department of Economics by his appointment to the Committee on Social Thought. In the Free Market Study Group led by Aaron Director (Milton Friedman's brother-in-law) the Chicago School moved away from the German neoliberals' focus on anti-trust regulation. Instead, government regulation was held to be the problem rather than an important guarantor of the competitive marketplace.
This history shows important shifts. The early neoliberal preoccupation was with developing a third way between laissez-faire and the interventionist liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and the British Edwardian Liberal governments of H.H. Asquith and Lloyd George. This gave way in the Chicago and Virginia versions to a wide-ranging critique of the welfare state and a clear advocacy of market mechanisms to be applied in all policy areas, a process often disparagingly known as "economics imperialism."
My book is an attempt to understand both how this development occurred and its important effects. The "radical" epithet I use for neoliberal ideas as they were honed and sharpened in Chicago and Virginia during the 1950s and 1960s is merely meant to emphasize the breadth and depth of the transformation of free market ideas. It is meant as a description rather than a criticism. In my view, it is undeniable that neoliberal ideas became radicalized.
Notwithstanding Hayward's disagreement with some of its conclusions, the book's aim was to take neoliberal ideas and their success seriously. This task engendered respect on my part for the clarity and rigour of some of the most persuasive neoliberal thought. I was also struck by the power of certain policy insights, especially in terms of the operation of government bureaucracy and regulation. However, the irony in the title, Masters of the Universe, must not be missed. Hayward hits on the problem himself when he points out that Hayek understood the limits of human-driven policymaking. Policymakers and financiers alike came to understand the world to be driven by markets that would self-correct. This proved to be a complacent and hubristic belief.
Daniel Stedman Jones
Steven F. Hayward replies:
Daniel Stedman Jones has some reason to complain that I did not address the full scope of his book in my relatively short review, and to the extent that there is much in his response that I can agree with, it is tempting to repair to the old simile of two trains passing in the night—except that in America our rail lines often converge on a single track, assuring a head-on collision eventually. Such is the case here.
One reason for not recounting or criticizing Jones's broader history of neoliberalism—and especially of its most prominent feature, monetarism—is that his account is thorough and, as far as I know, largely error-free, as is his case study of monetarism's embrace on both sides of the Atlantic. But since he invites it, I will pick a few examples to help explain why many American readers will nonetheless react as I did to his book.
Consider Jones's characterization of George H. Nash's early book, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945, as laying bare the contradictory character of the "New Right"—an overbroad and inaccurate description I find typical even of British authors who sympathize with American conservatism such as my pals at The Economist. (To be sure, it is a confusion shared by many American observers, too, such as the left-leaning dust-jacket blurbists for Jones's book, Eric Foner and Sean Wilentz.)
Although I agree that examining "the imperfect and messy political application of neoliberal ideas" is the most suitable focus of any treatment of the subject, I continue to think that housing policy is one of the least important arenas of neoliberal thought in America on account of the asymmetry of the nature of housing markets on either side of the Atlantic, and the fact that housing policy was a largely ancillary focus of American neoliberals. Much better would have been a comparison of industrial privatizations or deregulations—such as of telecommunications, energy, or transportation—where the differences in the kind and scale of public goods privatized or de-regulated in America and Europe offer a much better window into the substance and results of neoliberal economics.
Although American neoliberals celebrated Milton Friedman's and George Stigler's famous 1946 essay attacking rent control, "Roofs or Ceilings?", rent control was, and remains, a minor, localized phenomenon here, while public housing—as Jones correctly notes—was aimed not at the middle class but at the poor. Likewise, it is hard to find many American neoliberals today who think that Enterprise Zones were "successful," much less that they were an import.
Jones's policy history is very good, but he might have made more out of Hayek's lonely and undeveloped chapter on "Housing and Town Planning" in The Constitution of Liberty. He perceptively quotes a key passage from that chapter where Hayek postulates a contrast between market outcomes and planned outcomes, but the rest of Hayek's treatment drifts off into a critique of rent control and public ownership of housing. Neither Hayek nor his followers have ever dilated on the significant challenge of town planning versus market forces either in England, which has a juicy target in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, or in the United States, where with the exception of states like Oregon and Vermont, a similar planning policy has never taken root.
As for examining "messy" applications of ideas, it hardly gets any better than this significant lacuna in neoliberal thought, where free-market economists deserve to be pressed a lot harder. In a passage that appears a page before the passage Jones cites, Hayek writes this:
In many respects, the close contiguity of city life invalidates the assumptions underlying any simple division of property rights. In such conditions it is true only to a limited extent that whatever an owner does with his property will affect him and nobody else. What economists call the "neighborhood effects," i.e., the effects of what one does to one's property on that of others, assume major importance.... The general formulas of private property or freedom of contract do not therefore provide an immediate answer to the complex problems which city life raises.
I sometimes read this passage to neoliberals without revealing the author, and I often get the predictable response: "What socialist said that!?" Hayek never did get around in his subsequent work to answering his own challenge.
Jones might reply with some justification that his book is largely a history and not a substantive critique of neoliberalism's intellectual problems. That would be fair enough except for the volume's conclusions that are in no way established in its main body, and that prompted me to find the book as a whole odd. Jones's culminating account of the financial crisis and housing crash is contestable, especially his claim that "the financial crisis was the direct result of neoliberal policies." I'll pass over the neoliberals who warned of easy housing money and perversions in the housing market as much as a decade before the crash, only to be summarily dismissed by Paul Krugman, Barney Frank, and others who today claim justification. Jones needs to produce a wholly separate book to justify this claim, which might start by revising his judgment that "[a]ttempts to rebalance the scales have been scorned." Apparently he has not heard of Dodd-Frank (among other measures), a train wreck of a remedy that will crash on the tracks all by itself. Had Jones omitted his concluding chapter, which reads quite differently from the rest of the book, Masters of the Universe might have found a wider embrace by the readers he most wishes to engage.
For more discussion of British and American neoliberal thought with Nigel Ashford, Steven F. Hayward, and Daniel Stedman Jones, visit our online feature, Upon Further Review, at www.claremont.org/ufr.
The Real James Madison
In my recent biography of James Madison reviewed by Michael Zuckert ("The Thinking Man's Founder," Spring 2013) I sought to correct the erroneous account we get of Madison from some of the most widely read books on him.
The short version of the Accepted View is that Madison was the Father of the Constitution, Author of the Bill of Rights, Co-author of The Federalist and chief Ratifier of the Constitution, Winner of the War of 1812, and Oracular Expositor of the Constitution (including Chief Suppressor of Nullification). My book attempts to let some of the air out of this inflated image of Madison, which is either exaggerated, distorted, or flat-out wrong, in every particular.
Professor Zuckert seems to prefer either a rehash of the leading accounts, or (so far as they can be distinguished) a flat-out endorsement of Madison's statesmanship. How else to explain his taking me to task for criticizing Madison's insistence throughout the Philadelphia Convention on both houses of Congress being apportioned by population, even after numerous states' delegates had told the Convention that, in light of their legislatures' instructions, inclusion of that provision would mean that they would not sign the Constitution? I judge Madison's continued insistence on this point—even after Delaware's John Dickinson pulled him aside and warned him that he was about to scotch the Convention—simply imprudent. Writing in The American Conservative, Ralph Ketcham pronounced my Philadelphia Convention chapter "superb." Elsewhere, Robert Paquette called it the best account of the Convention. Zuckert claims that my non-endorsement of Madison's behavior on this score shows that I do not understand why the founder wanted what he wanted.
At the end of my book, I say that James Madison's achievements will have to speak for themselves. They are indeed momentous—not so great in some areas as we are commonly told, but far greater in the most important one than the Accepted View allows.
Kevin R.C. Gutzman, J.D., Ph.D.
Western Connecticut State University
Michael Zuckert replies:
Professor Gutzman seems to have mistaken the point of my review. I did not mean to fault him for taking a view of Madison different from the standard view, which as he summarizes it, is no longer (if it ever was) quite standard. Although I do not prefer a rehash of the standard view, I do look for an incorporation of the newer scholarship on Madison, which is not present in Gutzman's biography, and which is in some part responsible for the fact that what he presents as the standard is no longer so. I do not mean to fault him for his substantive views on Madison, but rather for the relatively non-analytic and non-interpretive character of his presentation. Indeed I ended my treatment of his book by expressing the wish that he had been more forthcoming with the substance of his view. I think that would have made a better book and would have allowed readers to better judge whether he has the evidence and argument to support that view. He is more forthcoming about his views in his letter than in the book.