Fifty years ago, my radical views caused me to feel like an outsider at Columbia. Returning as a conservative, I find myself an outsider still—and again it is because of my political views.
In the half century since I graduated, this is the first time that I have been invited to an official Columbia function, and even so the occasion is an alumni reunion not a formal academic event. This exclusion has occurred despite the fact that I am the well-known author of many books, several concerned with university reform; and despite the fact that my son who is also a Columbia alumni has donated a generous scholarship fund to the college for minority students; or that my grand-daughter is currently a Columbia student so that we are in a manner of speaking a Columbia family. Evidently, I have been more loyal to Columbia than Columbia has been to me. Even the invitation to this alumni function had to be sustained against a strenuous resistance by some of my classmates who are professors now at other schools and are apparently of the opinion that my views should be suppressed.
And this attitude of exclusion is a prevailing one among current Columbia faculty. So far as I can ascertain, there is not a single prominent conservative intellectual on Columbia’s liberal arts faculty today. The dozen or so books I have written, like those of other well-known conservatives, though widely praised and highly regarded in the world outside Columbia, are more effectively banned in its classrooms than were the books of Marxists fifty years ago, during the height of the McCarthy era.
From a conservative vantage, the changes that have taken place in the last fifty years can be regarded as the result of scientific and technological advances, and do not represent a fundamental reordering of the relations between human beings themselves.
This is the case, for example, with the changes that have taken place in the lives of women, who have moved into a variety of public roles in unprecedented numbers. These developments are quite different than a change in the fundamental relationships between the genders, in male respect for women or in the nature of women themselves.
To the politically incorrect like myself these new roles and the respect they earn are the result of technological developments that have relieved women of arduous tasks on their end of the division of labor, and scientific innovations that allow them to control their reproductive cycles and to be protected from routine mortality in childbirth.
This conclusion is reinforced by my experience as a student of English literature at Columbia fifty years ago. One of the leading and most honored Shakespearean scholars in the nation at the time was Columbia professor Caroline Spurgeon. Benighted as we may have been back then, I do not remember anyone who thought it odd that Professor Spurgeon was a woman or thought less of her work because of it.
Similarly, when I took a course in the 19th Century English novel, 5 of the 12 authors we read were women, and this was well before the publication of The Feminine Mystique and the beginnings of the so-called “women’s liberation movement,” whose subtext was that men, which would have included my teachers, were their oppressors.
It is true that in recent years we have witnessed the appointments of the first three women secretaries of state, and the first two women Supreme Court justices, with a third now on the way. But these are easily understood as a consequence of technological improvements that afford women new freedom to pursue such careers, rather than the overthrow of an oppressive ruling “patriarchy.”
Thus, the Elizabethans I studied in my literature classes were called “Elizabethans” in deference to one of the most powerful monarchs in English history because long before the women’s movement she ruled her era.
In sum, as we embark on the 21st Century, women and men are pretty much the familiar genders we encountered in our first days as undergraduates reading in our Humanities sections Homer’s 3,000-year-old epic about Helen of Troy who had the power even then to cause the launching of a thousand ships and the burning of the “topless towers of Illium.”