As a Yale College graduate in the Class of 2000 and a second-year graduate student in history at the University of Virginia, I have found the undergraduate response to our current crisis heartening. Many undergraduates have vocally supported the war effort in these pages, and I have heard that a solid, if silent, majority of the College realizes that terrorism must be crushed.
But I am dismayed by the faculty’s reaction, a reaction that reflects the makeup of America’s academic elite. For the last 30 years, the far left has dominated academic life in American universities, especially in the humanities. Conservatives too frequently portray the academic left as being more monolithically malignant than it truly is, but the hegemony of the left has had a deleterious affect on our universities.
And these elites have now started to lecture Americans about the evils of their country and the legitimate grievances of murderous terrorists.
Professors Donald Kagan and Steven Smith have, in these very pages, rebutted these sorts of arguments with more ability than I could ever muster, and I have nothing to add to their cogent arguments.
Instead, I hope to address those undergraduates who already recognize the merit of those arguments and who may be considering academia as a profession. Those undergraduates may feel the need to respond to their country’s call, to recognize that patriotism is not a sin, and to realize that love of country is nothing to be ashamed of.
I am sure that many well-educated academics will laugh and snicker at that statement. I say to them:
Laugh all you want. Marx and Foucault may be your heroes, but I prefer older, nobler and more beautiful allegiances. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that Henry Clay “loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country.” To love America is to love its noblest ideals, not some abstract political entity.
My parents brought me to this country as an infant when our native Taiwan was still ruled by an authoritarian one-party regime. They built a reasonably comfortable life here while their native land prospered and democratized under the protection of the American government.
America has its flaws, but it is easy to forget that this country has been a force for good in the world more often than not. Look at postwar Europe and Japan, at South Korea and Taiwan, at the sad record of totalitarianism in the 20th century, and tell me that America has only been a force for ill.
For those who agree with me, I want to say this:
Please, if the scholar’s life fits you, enter the academy and oppose the leftists who disdain America, who fail to realize the privilege of dissent that they can only have in a society such as ours, and who advocate a policy of appeasement to terror in the name of scholarly sophistication. Raise your voice in opposition to the tenured elites who control the terms of scholarly debate.
Be willing to defy the scholarly dogmas of our day. Test our academic culture’s commitment to true dissent. This is our task, our duty — to make sure that someone will stand up for America in her universities.
Our universities are important. They educate many of our future citizens and serve as the guardians of our nation’s culture and history. We cannot abandon them to our opponents.
Always remember that good scholarship rises above politics and take heart in this when you feel isolated and exposed. The most intelligent of your ideological foes will respect your work if it shows merit. Remember to do the same with their work and simply ignore all the rest who reject reason. But most importantly, always keep faith in both your convictions and your country.
Wayne Hsieh ’00 is a second-year graduate student in history at the University of Virginia.