Sleeper: Yale’s real social network

At the turn of the 18th century, Yale was founded to stop a Harvard-based “social network” from diverting the holy Puritan mission toward one that emphasized worldly “works” and wealth in a society connected, but flattened, by commerce.

The world isn’t flat, Yale’s founders insisted. It has abysses, and students need a faith that can plumb them: one that can defy worldly power in the name of a Higher one. Harvard was losing that faith and turning society into a slippery swamp of contracts and deals. Yale, sanctimonious and inward-turning, produced Jonathan Edwards 1720, Nathan Hale 1773 and other dissenters, up through Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. ’49, Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau ’70, Howard Dean ’71 and, maybe, you.

It was always a minority strain, though, because too much of Yale was always too much like Harvard: The worldly self-dealing that the film the “The Social Network” claims divided Harvard’s Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin also divided Yale’s Henry R. Luce ’20 and Briton Hadden ’20. These two News editors invented Time, a “new media” breakthrough on the scale of Facebook.

According to biographer Isaiah Wilner ’00 in “The Man Time Forgot,” Luce pushed Hadden aside. He went on to herald “The American Century” in Time, but had to be shamed into funding the construction of the News’ Briton Hadden Memorial Building — just as Zuckerberg may have been shamed by “The Social Network” into donating $100 million to Newark, N.J., schools.

Both stories carry the Puritan warning that raw ambition, stoked by perverse economic pressures, erodes friendship and public trust. Yet friendship and trust still mattered at Luce’s and Hadden’s Yale. As Wilner puts it, “Though the desire for fame and power ran strong in Luce, so did a strong sense of morality. […T]he essence of a man’s character is tested only when it conflicts with his own self-interest. Luce failed that test [by wronging Hadden], and he did not feel right about it.”

The drive for fame and power also troubled a News editorialist in 1955, during the Cold War, as he pondered another Yalie’s advice on the Opinion page. “The man who clocks his business mind out with his time card at night should not enter the sales end of the brokerage business,” his classmate argued. “You have to eat, drink, play and perhaps even more, with your customers without seeming commercial about it.”

“Ouch!” the editorial responded. “Thank God for President [A. Whitney] Griswold’s ‘one-man-band’ for the liberal arts.” Griswold was crusading for liberal education, against both Communism and McCarthyism, to strengthen what the News called “a higher type of friendship essential to life.” If the West couldn’t win by reasserting “values of friendship other than commercial ones,” the editorial asked, “Who are we to call the kettle black?” The editorial’s title? “Marx Invades Wall Street.”

Yale’s emphasis on genuine, uncommercial friendship continued to resonate. “To a remarkable extent this place has detected and rejected those who wear the colors of high purpose falsely,” President Kingman Brewster Jr. ’41 told my entering freshman class in 1965. “This is done not by an administrative edict … but by a pervasive ethic of student and faculty loyalty and responsibility… deep in our origins.”

A Harvard smarty might dismiss this as a snob’s boast about an in-crowd. But Brewster, a descendant of Puritans, really wanted Yalies to plumb abysses in order to know true leaders from false.

So Yale struggled for three centuries, in Calvinist and classical ways, to balance humanist Truth-seeking with republican Power-wielding. That “balance” determines how we live, invest and wage wars.

But now, things are different. Yale teaches that the world is flat, thanks to globalized engines of wealth creation, driven by rational investors and consumers and guided by grand strategists. “One thing the Cold War did accomplish was to vindicate democracy and capitalism,” wrote professor John Lewis Gaddis in 1999. “These institutions are now sufficiently deeply rooted that we can view the future with confidence. The only people who doubt this reality lack the power to do anything about it.”

Many a lecture and News column chirps this good news, along with Yale’s characteristically elegant apercus, self-deprecating humor and tips on how to do well by doing good. Isn’t that what liberal education is for? A flat world may have valleys, but abysses? Please. We’re taking neo-liberalism to Singapore, even the Moon!

But Yale’s economic-determinist confidence in materialism would horrify our founders, Adam Smith and even Marx, whose materialism has indeed invaded Wall Street and “The Social Network.” The real “social network” is collapsing along with millions of American homes and jobs amid road rage; lethal store-opening rampages; extreme or “cage” fighting; TV shows that gloat over others’ humiliation; rising crime in New Haven; and rising Christine O’Donnells and Linda McMahons, who bypass Americans’ brains and hearts on the way to our lower viscera, wallets and post-republican despair.

Yale’s founders and the 1955 News editorialist are warning those who can hear them that this can’t last and that, when an emperor has no clothes, we need enough faith to say so and to stop giving him false drapery. Fortunately, Yale has a long tradition of Truth-telling from which to draw.

Jim Sleeper ’69 is a lecturer in political science and teaches the seminar “Journalism, Liberalism, and Democracy.”

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Heavens to Betsy!

    Two naked Yale Emperors practically monopolized the American print media for more than a decade during the Communist Scare Era.

    Henry Luce (*Time* magazine and *Life* magazine founder) and William F. Buckley (*National Review* founder, and later host of PBS’s *Firing Line*) brought the Commie Scare into every livingroom and doctor and dentist’s waiting-room in America for 15 years, the journalistic equivalent of declaring the world is flat. And Americans bought their balogna.

    Who can gauge the political decisions, military violence, and human casualties their scare tactics provoked?

    Puritanism had nothing to do with it. It was barefaced Freudian male ID at work in Luce and Buckley’s empires, as it is today in Zuckerberg’s Digital **Acropolis of Impersonality**, using the public as a cathartic outlet for their subconscious boogeymen.

    Zuckerberg’s subconscious fantasy, although couched in idealistic “save the world” rhetoric, is the same raw ID seeking unlimited power as it always does, now hiding behind the logos *”face”* rather than “*Time*” or *”Life”.*

    PK

  • jimsleep

    If I may comment on my own column as well a respond to the comment above:

    1. I probably should have included William F. Buckley, Jr.’s name in my short list of recent Yale dissenters. That might moderate some people’s objections to the notion that Yale ever had a tradition of dissent worth reckoning with. On the other hand, Buckley wasn’t really in the civic-republican tradition that animated William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (whose theology was Calvinist, by the way), or Howard Dean (whose family and faith go back to the beginnings of the republic.)

    2. I do say, in the third paragraph above, that Yale’s dissenting tradition “was always a minority strain,” eclipsed by the worldly self-dealing of other, more powerful and economically successful graduates. Why bother with it, then? Because it’s been a pivot on which the larger strains have turned, more fortunately and fatefully for the country than they otherwise would have. If we lose that dissenting pivot or fulcrum, we lose the republic.

    3. Plunging into abysses to face demons isn’t something I urge blithely, at least after my own experiences of it. I do insist, though, that if we can’t take the dark contradictions and undercurrents beneath our own systems more seriously than we generally do now, the abysses will rise and engulf us even if we don’t dip our toes into them.

    It’s not enough merely to glance at those abysses via potted renderings of classical battles and prophecies in our survey courses. A society that lacks a rich language and collective narratives and some symbols and rites of passage that are potent enough to carry young people into real adulthood, is a society that is falling. If its most powerful investment combines turn that kind of culture, and even the society’s dissident counter-cultures, into over-the-counter cultures, peddling sex and violence without context or value, it’s gone.

    That’s a fundamentally conservative message, by the way, and my column closes with it. Leftist universalists these days know little more about it than do Ivy League neo-liberals. But neither do “free market” conservatives who imagine that today’s casino-finance capital and modern multi-national corporations can be reconciled with the visions of Adam Smith or John Locke, let alone with those of John Winthrop or Jonathan Edwards, who still have a few things to teach us. A Yale education should still make that clear.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Too thick for me.

    I’m just a simple Vermonter and I resent having the whole country manipulated by couple of Yalies who grabbed hold of the media for fifteen years (and I give Zuckerberg’s empire twenty at the MOST) and convinced them there was a Commie Revolution about to take over the world.

    PK

  • FailBoat

    > “free market” conservatives who imagine that today’s casino-finance capital and modern multi-national corporations can be reconciled with the visions of Adam Smith or John Locke

    There’s a reason you are a political science lecturer and not an economics lecturer.

  • YaleMom

    This one put me to Sleeper! Hahaha! Seriously, what are you talking about Jim?? Some of us don’t have Yale degrees — we just have kids who do!

  • jimsleep

    Well, YaleMom, this is the Yale Daily News, not the New York Daily News, so what can I say? I wrote for the latter for years, but this time I’m writing here.

    http://www.jimsleeper.com/articles/signature-pieces/TV%20violence,%20Daily%20News,%201994.pdf

  • The Anti-Yale

    jimsleep:

    I think the YaleMom is asking you to talk turkey. You prefer talking truffles and caviar.

    I have found academic writing to be synaptically paralytic prose: It deadens the brain.

    Pass the gravy, please.

    PK

  • Prof3

    I think we all need to take ourselves a lot more seriously.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Prof3

    To use a sports metaphor (probably incorrectly): Posting on the YDN board is like volleyball, or badminton, or tennis— it’s seeing **how long you can keep a volley going**.

    It’s sport, **intellectual sport**, but sport nonethless (except when insecure posters become NASTY.)

    My understanding of sport (except for certain obsessives like Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi) is that it is supposed to be for FUN and RELAXATION and for FILLING THE EXISTENTIAL ABYSS.

    Unfortunately, as Arthur Miller warned us so presciently in *Death of a Salesman* in 1949, the American Dream turns EVERYTHING into competetion:

    “Willy Loman had a good dream, it’s the only dream you can have —to come out number one man.”

    *One is the loneliest number you’ll ever do*

    Welcome to the American three-dog nightmare.

  • jimsleep

    Although the comments posted here by readers didn’t do much to advance the discussion opened by this column, there’s a discussion going on anyway, by e-mail and in conversations. To clear up one point that has surfaced, here’s an addendum to the column and comment I’ve already posted above.

    A few people have asked if I really want to take Yale back to its “sanctimonious, inward-turning” Puritan times. Perish the thought! Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Yale has been not inward-turning but outward-facing, a powerhouse of American civil society and, indeed, democracy; it was Harvard’s George Santayana who called Yale “The Mother of Colleges” because so many American colleges and universities had Yale grads as their founders and/or first presidents. As Jay Gitlin noted in his column that ran the same day as mine, Yale captured a lot of American youth culture in the early 20th century, and not only because of football.

    But here’s the thing: The energy, allure, and public love and trust associated with Yale in those days drew a lot from the “religious” and classical taproots I invoke in my column. I don’t mean that Yalies went around being pious; I mean that their characters and principles drew something from the old religious and classical wellsprings that had also figured in the founding of the republic, and that it wasn’t mainly or only “free markets” that made Yale and America beacons of hope and inspiration. Neo-liberalism has lost this connection — as have Democrats and Republicans alike, the latter more hypocritically and tragically.

    I’ll stop there. One can do only so much in an 850-word column and comments, but since a few people have brought this up, it may occur to others who read the column now while following links, etc.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Sorry your readers didn’t “*advance* t*he discussion*” you had in mind. Glad you have found others elsewhere who meet your expectations. Perhaps the pronouns **”I”** used eleven times and **”my”** (**mine**) six times in your 691 word responses seemed to the YDN posters a bit of self-absorbtion which was just a trifle more narcissistic than they wished to enable by giving it their attention.

  • JimSleeper

    Ah, well, “Anti-Yale,” unlike you, I used my real name to advance my arguments in the column that is the subject of these comments.

  • morse_14

    The Anti-Yale is well known to be Paul Keane; he’s just about the only one of us who doesn’t take advantage of the anonymity that the comments can provide.

    Also, you’re a bit late with your response, aren’t you?

  • Ciceroni

    Quite late indeed. I used to be known as Pasta Keane. I am the Anti-Pasta and I have returned.