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Two Deaths That Should Remind Conservatives Why Universities Matter

Remembering Bernard Lewis and Richard Pipes, influential conservative advisers to presidents and senators

The deaths, in the same week, of the great scholar of the Middle East Bernard Lewis and the great scholar of Russia Richard Pipes are a warning to American conservatives: Don't give up on the universities.

Lewis and Pipes are being rightfully remembered for their influence as advisers to presidents and senators, and as public intellectuals who wrote for newspaper op-ed pages and political magazines.

They also, though, were both teachers and historians who made their intellectual homes at Ivy League universities. Lewis was Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Pipes was Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of History at Harvard University. Pipes lived in Cambridge, Mass. and in New Hampshire, and Lewis lived for many years in Princeton, N.J., though he often spent three months a year in Tel Aviv, where he kept an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean.

These universities and others like them are deeply unpopular at the moment among Republicans in Washington and nationwide. The tax bill enacted late last year by President Trump and congressional Republicans includes a new 1.4% tax on university endowment income, targeting well endowed institutions such as Harvard and Princetone. A 2017 Pew Poll found a sharp increase in the share of Republicans who say colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country. An April 2018 study by the National Association of Scholars concluded faculty at liberal arts colleges skewed so overwhelmingly Democratic that "the solution to viewpoint homogeneity may lie in establishing new colleges from the ground up, rather than in reforming existing ones."

If politicians do see any value in academia it tends to be as high-tech incubators, with laboratories spawning computer-science or biotech startups. Humanities and social sciences are derided. Senator Marco Rubio campaigned for president in 2016 by denouncing philosophy majors. Even President Barack Obama had to apologize in 2014 after questioning the value of art history degrees. Students are increasingly avoiding history and English and instead choosing statistics, computer science, engineering, or applied mathematics.

Conservatives complain that today's universities aren't producing scholars like Pipes or Lewis, or that those who do manage to get doctorates wind up working at magazines or think tanks instead of finding tenure-track academic jobs at prestigious institutions. If so, the examples of Lewis and Pipes make the case for engagement, rather than writing off academia altogether.

Even presidents and prime ministers who win elections based partly on popular reactions against coastal elites, after all, need ideas and staff. One of President Trump's foreign policy aides, Fiona Hill, is a former student of Pipes. President Trump's secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, tweeted, "Bernard Lewis was a true scholar & great man. I owe a great deal of my understanding of the Middle East to his work. He was a man who believed, as I do, that Americans must be more confident in the greatness of our country, not less." Vice President Cheney made a special trip to Philadelphia in 2006 to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lewis.

Lewis and Pipes were both deeply knowledgeable, learned, eminent, and respected. They were brilliant, substantive scholars, whose opinions were grounded in authority accumulated with years of careful research. While they had their own clashes with the "experts" in their fields, they were experts themselves.

It bears mentioning, too, that Pipes and Lewis were not only Ivy League professors, but they were both also something else that is not always entirely so popular with today's Republican Party. They were both immigrants to America—Pipes from Poland and Lewis from Britain. Had legislators decades ago fretted about the two immigrant Jews taking academic jobs away from native-born Americans, and driving down wages by increasing the labor supply, maybe history would have turned out differently—and a lot worse for America.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation conducted an interview with Pipes in which the historian tells of joining the White House national security staff and writing a memo to President Reagan advising a shift in American policy, to defeating the Soviet Union rather than merely containing it. Reagan wrote on top of it "very sound."

Then it was back to the classroom. Pipes explained: "Harvard only gives you two years leave of absence, so when my two years were up, I returned."

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.

Photo Credit: Susan Candelario/agefotostock/Newscom

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  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    An April 2018 study by the National Association of Scholars concluded faculty at liberal arts colleges skewed so overwhelmingly Democratic that "the solution to viewpoint homogeneity may lie in establishing new colleges from the ground up, rather than in reforming existing ones."

    Somewhere deep within his Fortress of Ideological Blindness, Reverend Kirkland senses a disturbance in the force....

  • Mr. Gus||

    *waves garlic*

  • ||

    I hadn't realized both passed. I own several of their books. RIP.

    '...It bears mentioning, too, that Pipes and Lewis were not only Ivy League professors, but they were both also something else that is not always entirely so popular with today's Republican Party. They were both immigrants to America..."

    It's not? I know anti-illegal immigration (which a completely rational and legitimate concern in the context of the modern nation-state) and anti-immigration are conflated and hope it's not the case here.

    Which GOP politician is against immigration and why exactly? Tump seems to take dead aim at illegal immigration; not legal immigration.

  • Headache||

    It is Reason sucking the left tit of Nancy Polosi. Comparing Lewis and Pipe to illegal sheetrockers is a disgrace, but not surprising.

  • Chili Dogg||

    By and large I agree with you, however Trump did suggest cutting legal immigration from 1 million a year to 500,000. IIRC, he wants to cut back on HB1 visas, too. I don't know how popular these policies are with Republicans as a whole.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    I know anti-illegal immigration (which a completely rational and legitimate concern in the context of the modern nation-state) and anti-immigration are conflated

    They're not conflated unless you adopt circular logic. That is, they only are legitimately distinct things if you accept that the laws that govern immigration are and should be legitimate. But if the entire discussion is really about whether those laws should exist, then you can't hang your hat on the existence of current laws.

  • John's broseph||

    You can't save a dead institution, whole swaths of academia produce nothing but political propaganda, unrepentant racism, and angry children with high debt burdens.

    At this point the garbage they put out is pushing the country towards civil war. Historians will look back and see institutions so blinded by ideology that they committed suicide in pursuit of it. The same will probably be said of most institutions in our present day.

    Russians in the 1980's didn't need to be propping up the walking dead and neither do we. Let it crash and try to build something better from the wreckage.

  • mtrueman||

    "Russians in the 1980's didn't need to be propping up the walking dead and neither do we."

    The universities have never been more popular, with diligent high school students spending a great deal of effort to give them a wider choice of school. Once they enter, they spend astonishing amounts of money to get their degrees.

  • inoyu||

    yes, it's true that american students are not concerned with leaving home and making a living after high school. In fact, they aren't going to leave home at all. They might go to school if that's what is being arranged for them.

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Russians in the 1980's didn't need to be propping up the walking dead and neither do we. Let it crash and try to build something better from the wreckage."

    *IF* it crashes and burns I can almost promise you we will have a military government in charge or some faux-democracy like Russia where our siloviki (intelligence, military, and security elites) rule our state. Not to mention the bloodshed and massive impoverishment that would likely accompany such a crash. Be careful what you wish for.

  • croaker||

    "we will have a military government in charge or some faux-democracy like Russia where our siloviki (intelligence, military, and security elites) rule our state."

    You mean like now?

  • AcademicRealist||

    Well, at least (for the moment), books like "Three Felonies a Day" can be published and sold . . . though that may just mean that the PTB just don't *care* . . .

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    One alternative might be to teach your snowflake to be an independent thinker, instead of being afraid that he will be indoctrinated. Sorry, I know that's kind of snarky, but my intent is to emphasize the importance of parenting in pretty much all things. Hillary was wrong when she said "it takes a village". I don't think it's fair to try to ask institutions of higher education to chip in and help teach your kid your particular brand of values. If educators tend to lean left (and there are obvious reasons why this may be the case...), the solution is not affirmative action programs to artificially give preferences to right-leaning educators who are probably less qualified. You, of course, always have the option of sending your kid to a right-wing college. But, as I said, I think the simpler (and much better!) option is to teach your kid to be an independent thinker and not shield him from alternative viewpoints, even if they're left-wing viewpoints.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    I am a great believer in academic freedom but I am also a great believer in honesty. Richard Pipes was one of the main forces behind "Team B", the alternate CIA that concocted any number of lies to argue that the U.S. was unilaterally disarming in the face of an ever increasing Soviet threat. Lewis was an earnest propagandist for the AIPAC vision, always finding reasons and excuses for U.S. incursions and invasions into the Middle East on behalf of Israel. Both men did a great deal of admirable work, but their incursions into the political arena were invariably tainted with hypocrisy. They were not at all above falsifying the historical record to "prove" their arguments and were, I think, proud of their frequent rhetorical sleights of hand.

  • JoeBlow123||

    "Both men did a great deal of admirable work, but their incursions into the political arena were invariably tainted with hypocrisy."

    Bingo. Well said.

  • Mark22||

    Lewis and Pipes were both deeply knowledgeable, learned, eminent, and respected. They were brilliant, substantive scholars, whose opinions were grounded in authority accumulated with years of careful research. While they had their own clashes with the "experts" in their fields, they were experts themselves.

    And in the 20th century, if you wanted to be that kind of person, being at a university was a necessity, for the reputation, libraries, for the colleagues, and for the talks/seminars. In the 21st century, you don't need a university for any of that anymore thanks to modern communications technologies. That's why the 20th century university is history, like the horse buggy and the washboard.

  • DenverJ||

    Oh crap thanks for reminding me; I left my washboard in the buggy.

  • mtrueman||

    Let me know when modern communication technologies provide one with a salary, pension, office, parking space and ceremonial robes.

  • Mr. Gus||

    Have you ever worn ceremonial robes? They are CRAPPILY designed. In keeping with the whole "medieval" thing that every university ceremony consists of, they're basically just huge swathes of cloth that cover you but aren't tailored to your form–form-fitting clothes being something that has only become common for non-elites in the post-Industrial Revolution age (incidentally, I can tell you the story of why ties were invented. It also involves poor tailoring in the 1700s).

  • Mark22||

    Except for the salary, none of my private sector jobs have included any of those either. As for the salary, at university, you get paid for teaching, not for being a "brilliant, substantive scholar".

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    As for the salary, at university, you get paid for teaching, not for being a "brilliant, substantive scholar".

    Not even close to being true.

  • croaker||

    Get woke, go broke. Time universities learned the realities of the world.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You sound eager for the people who run Ouachita Baptist, Grove City, Ave Maria, and Liberty to teach Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley a thing or two about running a successful, high-quality school.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    "Two Deaths That Should Remind Conservatives Why Universities Matter"

    I guess the intern who wrote that headline forgot that Monday is reason.com and Tuesday is RedState, FreeRepublic, or whichever other right-wing site provided the other internship.

    Sometimes that faux libertarian cover slips a bit more than usual around here, showing more right-wing stripe.

  • DavidS-T||

    Pipes and Lewis were neoconservatives, not conservatives. Or they were "conservative" in the sense Stoll is a "libertarian."

  • Cloudbuster||

    A death that should remind conservatives why universities aren't the only way:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hoffer

  • Azathoth!!||

    When an article contains bullshit like this--

    It bears mentioning, too, that Pipes and Lewis were not only Ivy League professors, but they were both also something else that is not always entirely so popular with today's Republican Party. They were both immigrants to America

    It highlights how academia is more of a problem than an asset. This is propaganda. Propaganda so deeply embedded that Stoll probably thinks it's his own clever jab. So deeply embedded that examples like this can come up over and over and over again until they, by their sheer numbers alone disprove whatever the premise was and STILL Stoll will cling to the propaganda over the facts.

    Someone referred to 'Reality Derangement Syndrome' in another post. And that is what this is.

    And where was this propaganda inserted into Stoll's psyche? In a school skewed so overwhelmingly Democratic that "the solution to viewpoint homogeneity may lie in establishing new colleges from the ground up, rather than in reforming existing ones.".

  • Bill Dalasio||

    If so, the examples of Lewis and Pipes make the case for engagement, rather than writing off academia altogether.

    Except conservatives have been willing to engage academia. Only to be (often physically) attacked for doing so. When conservative and libertarian student groups are targeted by administrators and serious scholars like Charles Murray get bum-rushed and labeled "white supremacists" just for showing up to give a lecture, it's kind of hard to pretend that the academy is a place that it's possible to engage in a meaningful way without first giving it an object lesson.

  • Headache||

    Harvard the second largest land owner in Massachusetts, right behind the largest land owner the University System of Massachusetts and placing third the state government.

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