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Friday, May 7, 2021


So now it is Elise Stefanik, who will shortly take over Liz Cheney’s position as the number three in the Republican House caucus, who is a graduate of Harvard. How many of these right wing fascists does the Ivy League have to produce before we start having some serious doubts about whether they are the greatest educational institutions in the world?


s. wallerstein said...

First of all, do we know if Harvard produced her or if she went to Harvard with rightwing ideas? My political ideas were more or less formed by the time I entered college and so were those of my three freshman year room-mates.

Second, it's not Harvard's job or that of any educational institution to form politically correct citizens. Their job, among others, is to provide the reading and the general culture so that graduates can decide for themselves, insofar as any of us decide for ourself, given the role of genes, upbringing, social background, class, ethnic origin, and just plain accident in forming our political beliefs.

Actually, I'm be suspicious if everyone graduating from Harvard had perfect politically correct progressive or radical political beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Raymond Geuss’s description of his role at Cambridge comes to mind:

“I have what I have always held to be a mildly discreditable day job, that of teaching philosophy at a university. I take it to be discredtable because 85 percent of my time and energy is devoted to training aspiring young members of the commercial, administrative, or governmental elite in the glib manipulation of words, theories, and arguments. I thereby help turn out the pliable, efficient, self-satisfied cadres that our economic and political system uses to produce the ideological carapace that protects it against criticism and change.”

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Good for Ray!

Anonymous said...

The least Harvard could do is to have its graduates recognize Veritas when they see it. Given Elis Stefanick, Ted Cruz et al, they're not doing a very good job.

Jim said...

Anonymous --

That is a great Raymond Geuss quote. Can you provide the source? I would like to use it in something I am working on.

-- Jim

Jordan said...

Hi Jim, you can find it here:

It's also the title essay of a recent collection Guess gas published

jeffrey g kessen said...

Anonymous. In wine veritas, in water sanitas, in weed gravitas, in beer fricking stultus. The trouble with Ivy Leaguer's of late is that their smoking less weed and drinking more beer---hence the preponderance of Republican-minded graduates.

aaall said...

And then we have Yale Law.

Jim said...

Jordan --

Thank you for the link -- what a great reflective essay.

-- Jim

Anonymous said...

Prof. Wolff,

Perhaps your words praising Prof. Geuss were premature, if you had not read the entire essay. Following the excerpt quoted above, he writes:

“I take my job to be only mildly discreditable, partly because I don’t think, finally, that this realm of words is in most cases much more than an epephenomenon secreted by power which would otherwise express themselves with even greater and more dramatic directness. Partly, too, because 10 percent of the job is an open area within which it is possible that some of these young people might become minimally reflective about the world they live in and their place in it; in the best of cases they might come to be able and willing to work for some minimal mitigation of the cruder excesses of the pervading system of oppression under which we live. The remaining 5 percent of my job, by the way, what I would call the actual ‘philosophical’ part, is almost invisible from the outside, totally unclassifiable in any schema known to me – and quantitatively, in any case, so insignificant that it can more or less be ignored.

“The experience I have of my everyday work environment is of a conformist, claustrophobic and repressive verbal universe, a penitential domain of reason-mongering in which hyperactivity in detail – the endlessly repeated shouts of ‘why,’ the rebuttals, calls for ‘evidence,’ qualifications and quibbles – stands in stark contrast to the immobility and self-referentiality of the structure as a whole. I suffer from recurrent bouts of nausea in the fact of this densely woven tissue of ‘arguments,’ most of which are nothing but blinds for something else altogether, generally something unsavory; and I feel an urgent need to exit for it altogether. …”

Are these not words which disparage the very discipline of teaching philosophy, the majority of its time devoted to instructing students in the analytic tools which they will deploy in conducting clever logomachy serving only to preserve the status quo, and that the 5 percent of pure philosophizing is no more than an exercise in futility, consisting in never-ending quibbling arguments without resolution?

LFC said...

This whole discussion of what kinds of students are "produced" by elite universities is somewhat tiresome.

Universities are not revolutionary institutions. Maybe on a good day, so to speak, they can help nudge the social and economic order in a better reformist direction, and some of the research they turn out may help support social change, but their dominant function is probably to help ensure the relatively smooth running of "the system" (along with courts, legislatures, corporations, media and internet companies, think tanks, foundations, and all the other institutions that make up the society).

Within that context, they are going to "produce" students with a variety of political views, some of whose critical thinking skills are going to be better developed than others', and some of whom may even lack the ability -- or, for calculated reasons, may pretend to lack the ability -- to distinguish truth from falsehood.

From this perspective, the fact that Harvard "produced" Elise Stefanik has little bearing on its quality, or lack thereof, as an educational institution, just as the fact that Yale College and Yale Law School "produced" Brett Kavanaugh has little bearing on Yale's quality, or lack thereof. The notion that these places should "produce" students who all become leftist union organizers and journalists, or liberal foundation executives, or public-interest lawyers, or left-leaning professors, or pioneering medical researchers or, for that matter, novelists, musicians or museum curators, or what have you, is a ridiculously unrealistic expectation given all the "outside" influences students are exposed to, the variety of views they arrive w/ as freshmen, the influence of their peers, the occupational structure and its varying rewards, monetary and otherwise, the quirks of personal and familial circumstances, etc. etc. etc.

This would only become a significant question if it turned out that certain colleges and universities were "producing" a lot more right-wingers and, say, Trumpists than others. In the absence of that, factoids and anecdotal evidence about particular graduates don't really carry very much weight (although they are, admittedly, interesting in the way that so-called human-interest stories are interesting).

s. wallerstein said...

I remember thinking something more or less akin to what Geuss says above just before I dropped out of the university after finishing my MA in 1970.

Having worked in countless different jobs, having lived in three countries, I conclude 50 years later that the university is a lot less "conformist, claustrophobic and repressive" than the rest of the human world.

F Lengyel said...

LFC could we see your statistical programming and your data sets? You use R, correct?

LFC said...

As far as I can tell, I made no statistical claims in my comment. I said "if it turned out," meaning "if someone were to do the research," but I made no claim to have done it myself.

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