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Educating for LibertyThe First Half-Century of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
By Lee Edwards
ISI BooksCopyright © 2007 Lee Edwards
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Other Sixties
The academy is no longer a comfortable fiefdom of the Left; it has become instead what it ought to be, a battleground of ideas.
M. Stanton Evans
"The center that had more or less held in the late 1950s," wrote the historian James T. Patterson, "cracked in the 1960s, exposing a glaring, often unapologetic polarization" between generations, races, genders, and social classes. It split apart because of a seemingly unending succession of cruel and mocking events. One president was assassinated, and another decided he did not dare run for reelection. The civil rights movement transformed the way America looked at its black citizens, but the leader of the movement was foully murdered in a Memphis motel. The most powerful nation in the world committed half a million men and $150 billion to defeating communism in Vietnam and was fought to a standstill by a tiny Third World nation. Millions cheered John F. Kennedy when he declared that "we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty," but eight years later, more than 600,000 people were participating in antiwar "moratorium" demonstrations in Washington, D.C. Eight million young people happily enrolled in the nation's colleges and universities which by the end of the decade were riven by anger, fear, violence, and death.
Other historians have taken a less apocalyptic view of the era. For instance, one wrote that the 1960s were "the longest period of uninterrupted growth in United States history." Untouched by either the Great Depression or World War II, the young men and women of the 1960s were more self-confident and self-centered than their parents or grandparents. Many came to believe they had "the knowledge and the resources to create a progressive, advanced society like none before," not only in American but in human history.
The academy shared in the hubris. College and university officials, according to Diane Ravitch, foresaw "no dark clouds on the horizon, not even the problem of financing, which seemed manageable in a thriving economy." No one anticipated that the openness of America's campuses would make them staging grounds for youthful revolutionaries who "tried to destroy the one institution in American society that provided a sanctuary for their views." How ironic, Ravitch pointed out, that the freedom to teach and learn was attacked not from the Right but by "student ideologues" of the Left and "their campus sympathizers."
What many accounts of the 1960s leave out is the remarkable rise of the Right that successfully challenged the liberal political establishment throughout the decade. Conservatives nominated an uncompromising conservative-Barry Goldwater-as the presidential candidate of a major political party (a feat not accomplished since Calvin Coolidge headed the Republican ticket forty years before); elected an enormously attractive if inexperienced candidate-Ronald Reagan-to the governorship of the second most populous state in the union; and helped accelerate the forces which led to the decline and eventual fall of liberalism as the reigning philosophy of American politics.
The 1960s were a heady time for conservatives who came to believe, swept up in the revolutionary spirit of the age, that they too could accomplish almost anything through political action. But there were those who took the longer view that man does not live by politics alone. Writing to the Notre Dame political scientist Gerhart Niemeyer, ISI's Vic Milione argued that the election of a conservative as president would mean little "without an increase in the effort to restore the root values of our civilization in the intellectual center of American life." Milione conceded that such a restoration was "a tremendous task" but not an impossible one, because, he said, quoting Tocqueville, "every fresh generation is a new people." Despite mounting pressure from members and donors, ISI stuck to its mission to educate for liberty and declined to join the political parade.
From its beginnings, ISI had been conceived as an educational institution, not a vehicle for political activism. This fundamental imperative was given concrete form by Milione's educational philosophy, shaped by his reading of such thinkers as John Henry Newman, Ortega y Gasset, and Richard Weaver. From Newman, Milione learned that fragments of the truth are found in many disciplines, so that an approach to the whole truth about man requires the student to confront a variety of perspectives. ISI therefore eschewed a narrow approach in its educational efforts and instead exposed students to the whole of the liberal arts. In an era of increasing specialization and professionalism, ISI insisted on the importance of traditional broad learning.
From Ortega, Milione learned that true education involves the cultivation of cultural norms which are the preconditions of sound judgment. These norms represent the best insights of the past, and Milione believed that in the twentieth century, it was particularly important to remind the rising generation-hubristic in every age, but especially so in an age of scientific and technical progress-about the great achievements of the Western tradition. ISI necessarily endeavored to distinguish the truly profound truths from passing fads. In so acting, it sought nothing less than to conserve Western civilization itself.
From Weaver, Milione learned a lesson which would distinguish ISI from almost every other educational organization-students are not "objects" but individuals. They should not be used to achieve any political end but should be allowed to develop their own intellectual abilities and cultural interests. Students themselves are the end, and ISI existed for their sake. When students encountered ISI for the first time, they were often baffled by an organization which seemed to have no ulterior motive in dispensing its largesse. But when they discovered that what seemed to be true of ISI was indeed true, they were captivated by the idea of education qua education-a reflection of what university learning ought to be but so often was not.
In mid-1961, Frank Meyer drafted and Gerhart Niemeyer revised a statement of principles for ISI which, while never formally adopted, reflected and still does reflect more than forty years later ISI's basic philosophy:
Man's activities are guided by moral law, founded in the nature of things.
Political power is legitimate only as it defers to this moral law.
Government's functions are the preservation of public peace, the maintenance of justice, and the defense of the Republic.
Free government presupposes the rule of law; personal separation of political and economic power.
The right of private property is an essential condition of independence.
The urgent need to provide an alternative view to the prevailing ethos of the academy was confirmed in a 1960 poll of Harvard undergraduates conducted by the editors of the student-run Harvard Crimson, under the guidance of sociologist David Riesman. The paper headlined its report, "'Moderate Liberals' Predominate Politically: Lectures, Course Reading Influence Shift to Left." The Crimson pointed out that while a large number of students identified themselves as "liberal," their political views were "decidedly radical"-one-seventh supported "full socialization of all industries," more than a fifth favored socialization of the medical profession, nearly a third believed that the federal government should "own and operate all basic industries," two-thirds supported wage and price controls to check inflation.
Indeed, wrote the Crimson: "Federal aid is rapidly gaining the status of a magic word. Surrounded by a climate of liberalism, most Harvard undergraduates seem ready to accept increased Federal activity in almost any area of national life." For the most part, the Crimson stated, students did not arrive at Harvard with these beliefs but picked them up from class lectures and assigned textbooks that consistently leaned to the Left. The result was that 70 percent had changed since their freshman year either "from conservative to more liberal" or "from liberal to more liberal."
Although Vic Milione conceded (in a letter to a potential supporter) that what happened at Harvard did not necessarily "happen in equal measure elsewhere," it was safe to assume that all students were influenced by their teachers and acquired thereby "beliefs which they will retain, most likely, for life." The Harvard undergraduate poll demonstrated that no school, not even the most tradition-bound, was immune to the virus of collectivism.
ISI stepped up its distribution of pamphlets and books and its sponsorship of speakers and seminars and held its first summer school in 1960 at Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania. With total expenses of about $10,000, the school represented a major commitment by ISI. In addition to four-week courses in economics and persuasive speaking by Grove City faculty Hans Sennholz and William Teufel, a veritable Who's Who of American conservatism addressed the thirty-five students (six of them female) who immersed themselves in conservative ideas for a full month. One of the young ladies was Annette Courtemanche of New York's Molloy College, whose very Catholic mother contacted ISI to inquire about the nature of the accommodations. Milione assured Mrs. Courtemanche that her beautiful twenty-year-old daughter would be perfectly "safe"-as indeed she was, except from the subtle blandishments of faculty member Russell Kirk, whom she married four years later.
One-week courses at the Grove City summer school were conducted by political scientist Karl Cerny of Georgetown University, economist David McCord Wright of McGill University, and international relations professor Stefan Possony of Georgtown. Lecturers who spent one or two days were political scientist Anthony T. Bouscaren of LeMoyne College, law professor Sylvester Petro of New York University, the ubiquitous William F. Buckley Jr., FEE president Leonard Read, and ISI trustee Lemuel R. Boulware. As important as the lectures themselves were the frequent opportunities for the students to talk informally with Kirk, Buckley, Sennholz, et al, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late into the evening. (Russell Kirk enlivened the nights with his ghost stories.) At this and ensuing summer schools, more than one student summed up his experience by saying simply: "It changed my life."
Out in America's heartland, Don Lipsett was a whirlwind of activity, setting up ISI chapters, arranging for outside speakers, encouraging campus publications, and finding time to establish the Indiana Conservative Club, whose intellectual standards were impressively high. The club's weekend seminar in early November 1960, for example, featured Milton Friedman, Frank Meyer, and Richard Weaver-all for a seminar registration fee of $20 plus $8.50 a day for room and board. The willingness of the prominent conservatives to accept far less than their normal fee was due to Lipsett's persuasive argument that they would be addressing a group of future conservative leaders.
At the seminar-and a subsequent ISI meeting-Friedman offered the encouraging news that there had been "a drastic change over the last ten or twenty years in the teaching of economics in American universities and colleges." In the late 1930s, he said, the University of Chicago was almost the only U.S. institution "at which there was a substantial group of believers in a free enterprise system." Today, said Friedman, there were "young, able, vigorous teachers of a free market persuasion" widely spread over the country. The reasons for the change, Friedman argued, were the failure of centralized control in Britain and other countries and the widespread "disenchantment with the Soviet Union."
ISI activities in Lipsett's first full year as Midwest director reflected the traditionalist/libertarian/anti-Communist character of the conservative movement. There was a seminar entitled "The Moral and Economic Case for the Free Society," featuring FEE's Edmund Opitz and Dean Ben A. Rogge of Wabash College, and held in Indianapolis. And there were speakers like Representative Donald Jackson of California, a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, who showed the riveting documentary film Operation Abolition before a capacity audience at Indiana University, and discussed the Left's concerted efforts to abolish the Committee.
Lipsett's $6,000 annual salary and most of the expenses of the Midwest office were paid by Milwaukee businessman William H. Brady, who was impressed by the young Hoosier's unflagging energy and appreciated his quirky humor, seen in the "super-secret" Stephen Decatur Society, which Lipsett founded in 1961. The Society's red, white, and blue letter head provided no address, telephone number, or names of officers. An unsigned two-page document explained that the Stephen Decatur Society stood firm for America First and against "Socialism, Liberalism, Atheistic Communism, Foreign Aid Giveaways, The Godless U.N., Egghead Conspiracy, Planned Parenthood, The Urban Renewal Hoax, Fluoridation ... Gnosticism and Entangling Alliances (partial list)." The Society collected no dues or fees, it was explained, because it was comfortably financed by an "extensive holding of Imperial Habsburg Gold Bonds, Imperial Russian Bonds, Chinese Imperial Railway Bonds ... gold bullion, enriched Uranium (for maximum fallout), numbered deposits in the Liechtensteiner Staatsbank and several leading Geneva houses (partial list)." Conservatives vied to become "members" of the nonexistent society and relished letters from "Commodore" Lipsett (the Society's very unofficial secretary) through the years.
Lipsett's industry caught the attention of National Review publisher William A. Rusher, an influential mentor to many young conservatives. "Ordinarily I am skeptical about 'field men' as a genre," Rusher wrote Milione, but Lipsett "does a fine, solid job for you, and is worth every cent. I am sure you must be proud of him."
A Special Meeting
Lipsett helped to organize in November 1960 a special Indianapolis meeting of ISI's trustees and advisers at which students from Northwestern University, DePauw University, the University of Wisconsin, and Earlham College reported on the state of conservatism at their schools. Thomas C. Huston was the founder and first president of the Indiana University Conservative League and later chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and a White House aide to President Richard Nixon. He said that while Indiana was considered "basically a conservative school," left-liberal faculty "dominate intellectual discussion on the campus." As a result, students moved to the left during college because "the average student, particularly at the freshman and sophomore level, is much more affected by the teaching of his faculty instructors than he is by his family background." ISI, Huston said, "performs a tremendously important task in getting out the intellectual material." Anne Husted, secretary of the DePauw Conservative Club and future contributor to leading conservative magazines, suggested that the main problem at DePauw was that students knew very little about conservatism. "ISI," she said, "is the only channel through which we are able to obtain ... conservative literature."
Robert Croll of Northwestern University, the organizer of Youth for Goldwater for Vice President at the 1960 Republican National Convention and a future professor of political science, praised ISI for the Chicago seminars and their "noted conservative speakers" and for publishing The Individualist, which provided "a vehicle for student writers" like himself. Roger Claus, who helped found the student magazine Insight and Outlook at the University of Wisconsin, talked about the difficulties of campus publishing and revealed that financial support was easier to obtain "through advertisers than contributors." When asked for suggestions about possible improvements in The Individualist and other ISI publications, the students said they would like "more introductory material" about conservatism, more humor, "ammunition" on academic freedom-a favorite faculty topic-reduced subscription rates for National Review and Modern Age, and "case studies" on the most current campus issues, like the National Student Association and the United Nations.
Excerpted from Educating for Liberty by Lee Edwards Copyright © 2007 by Lee Edwards. Excerpted by permission.
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