A Few Words from Harvey Mansfield

Over at Uncommon Knowledge, the National Review interview show hosted by Peter Robinson, there is a long interview with Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield “on the state of the American academy.” It is absoltuely, positively essential viewing.
Here are some intriguing quotes:
Robinson: “Why are the faculty at so many impressive institutions so monolithically to the left.”
Mansfield: “They can’t help it. Because they see each other and live with each other and listen to each other and talk to each other, and they all turned left in this way in the late-60s. I saw it happen.”
Mansfield: On the rise of the New Left in the 60s—“What I saw then was just how weak liberalism was. There was no fight. No longer was a liberal somebody who stood up for something, stood up in defense of liberty. It was a person who was oh-so-eager to please and oh-so-afraid of being criticized by those younger than he.”

Mansfield: The enemy of the New Left in the 60s was not conservatism. It was “Cold War liberals.”
Mansfield: “The faculty surrendered to the students.”
Mansfield on Western civ: “If you go through from Homer to Nietzsche mentioning, say, a dozen names, those would give you—and have read those books—those would give you the main alternatives behind our way of life today.”
Mansfield: “Relevance was a demand of the late-60s, but they didn’t ever get to it because they were afraid of permanence.”
Mansfield, “[Harvard professors] are much too apologetic about America. We are embarrassed that America is as powerful and as prominent as it seems to be, and there’s a considerable doubt that we deserve to be in that place.”
Mansfield, “It’s passing strange that professors who have devoted their entire lives to a field should be so quick to find excellence in so many students. It just doesn’t make sense that 50 percent of a Harvard class can receive an A or A-.”
Mansfield on giving two grades to students, one official grade and one honest grade: “It’s a way of showing my contempt for the grade inflation that we have at Harvard now.”
On grade inflation: “It starts off as a point of view, namely that, and this again from the late-60s, that it’s oppression for a professor to be in the position of a grader, of passing judgment on the young. We should listen to them, not instruct them. . . . But that principle is not really held any longer. It’s just fallen into a routine in which it is easy for a professor to give high grades because students don’t complain.”
Robinson: “Why shouldn’t [the university] care most about intellectual diversity?”
Mansfield: “Well, of course, it should. But it doesn’t. These people all of the sudden go moral and say, ‘Oh you mustn’t force us to make appointments on the basis of politics. So we only choose whoever is best and if it just turns out that you’ve got 47 liberals and 3 conservatives . . . well, that is . . . funny, but it’s not really objectionable. And it isn’t as if you conservatives really suffer. Being conservative you probably have more money than the rest of us.'”
On manliness: “It’s under a cloud of suspicion.”
Mansfield: “Sensitivity is letting other people’s reactions to you decide your behavior. So instead of choosing to do what you think is right and then defending it, you say something or try out something or listen to other people demand something and try to adapt to that.”
On explaining why “Conservatives are more tolerant than liberals,” Mansfield states, “Conservatives are more tolerant because conservatives don’t expect that liberalism is going to disappear, whereas liberals expect that conservatism will disappear.”


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

One thought on “A Few Words from Harvey Mansfield”

  1. Not clueless, Bernie. Well-read, well-educated, and capable of discerning fact from fiction from hearsay from talking points from sensationalism.

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