The Attack on Yale

"God and Man at Yale, written by William F. Buckley, Jr., is a savage attack on that institution as a hotbed of 'atheism' and 'collectivism.' I find the book is dishonest in its use of facts, false in its theory, and a discredit to its author."

The recently published book, God and Man at Yale (Regnery, $3.50), written by William F. Buckley, Jr., a 1950 graduate of Yale University, is a savage attack on that institution as a hotbed of "atheism" and "collectivism." As a believer in God, a Republican, and a Yale graduate, I find the book is dishonest in its use of facts, false in its theory, and a discredit to its author and the writer of its introduction.

Writings in The Atlantic by William F. Buckley:

The American Idea: A Proposition (November 2007)
"Ours are loyalties to an ideal, not to a revelation."

Aweigh (July/August 2004)
A master and commander decides, after a lifetime on the water, that he will no longer go down to the sea.

Bush for President (October 1988)
Employment is up; inflation is down; and success as a social ideal now commands prestige. Why repudiate the politics that have brought us to this felicity?

Mr. Buckley's thesis rests on two propositions: first, that Yale is currently anti-Christian and anti-capitalist; and second, that Yale's alumni have a right and duty to insist that it teach "Christianity" and "individualism" as he defines them. Let us consider the method and evidence with which he tries to establish these notions.

Beginning with religion, Mr. Buckley asserts that Yale has a weak department of religion, a high degree of apathy in the student body, and a number of un-Christian and anti-Christian lecturers in other fields. Even if all this were true, it would not make Yale anti-religious, for the weakness of religious teaching has been a national phenomenon for decades, and so has religious apathy among young men. And it is well to note that on Mr. Buckley's strict definition of a Christian such men as Jefferson, Emerson, Lincoln, and Yale's own William Howard Taft would fail to qualify.

But in fact there is no need to grant Mr. Buckley's claims. What he has done is to take the flimsiest of evidence or no evidence at all, and ignore whatever goes against his thesis. Thus on the basis of a single hearsay quotation—ripped from its context and quite unverified—he condemns as anti-religious a teacher whose profoundly religious influence I myself know from classroom experience and personal friendship. Similarly, in the teeth of the massive testimony of faculty and students alike—and quite without proof—he asserts the ineffectiveness of the saintly man who is Yale's chaplain. He makes no mention of the fact that not one of the ministers or chaplains at Yale, of any faith, agrees with his analysis; he never considers the generally agreed opinion of these and other observers that Yale is more religious than the rest of Protestant America and more religious than it was a generation ago. Most remarkable of all, Mr. Buckley, who urges a return to what he considers to be Yale's true religious tradition, at no point says one word of the fact that he himself is an ardent Roman Catholic. In view of the pronounced and well-recognized difference between Protestant and Catholic views on education in America, and in view of Yale's Protestant history, it seems strange for any Roman Catholic to undertake to define the Yale religious tradition (and Yale has thousands of Catholic alumni and friends who would not dream of such a course); it is stranger still for Mr. Buckley to venture his prescription with no word or hint to show his special allegiance.

If possible, the economic section of Mr. Buckley's attack is still weaker. A part of this attack consists of the same sort of personal "evidence" against individuals that he uses in his religious chapter. The insidious character of this sort of innuendo and quotation from lectures lies in the fact that no outsider can readily check the context in which the statements were made. Fortunately a large part of Mr. Buckley's case rests on the theory that Yale students are enormously influenced by the views of those who write their introductory textbooks in economics, and he devotes a long section to an "analysis" of the "collectivism" of four books which have been used in recent years at Yale. Here any man who has access to a library can check him up, and this "analysis" deserves detailed attention.

Mr. Buckley acknowledges that outright Marxists and Communists are exceedingly rare at Yale; he mentions none in this book. What he is attacking, and what he finds in the offending textbooks, is the more subtle menace of "collectivism," a term which remained undefined throughout his book. But let us see what he regards as evidence of this menace in the texts. First we find that these textbook writers consider nineteenth-century individualism "impractical of application" in contemporary America. This dangerous view has been repeatedly expressed by Mr. Herbert Hoover. Then Mr. Buckley complains because a quotation he has lifted discusses the excesses of capitalism (excesses which he himself admits, at least in large part); but he omits other quotations, from the same book, in which the over-all success of the American economic system is bluntly and vigorously asserted.

Next we find him distressed because the texts in question argue that the great inequality of wealth and income should be avoided in a healthy society. Is it ignorance or trickery that leads him to neglect the fact that this "collectivist" view dates back to Aristotle, has the support of his own Church, and is roundly endorsed by one textbook which he praises?

He then goes on to accuse the textbook writers of "egalitarianism." An inspection of the books shows that not one of the authors supports a full leveling of incomes, and among the quotations Mr. Buckley has omitted we find this: "'Equality' has generally been regarded as undesirable; such a goal is fundamentally inconsistent with the American focus on the advantages of aggressive private initiative based on income incentive."

The next inequity is that the textbooks used at Yale support a progressive income tax. This of course has been the law of the land since 1913. But Mr. Buckley feels that the writers of these books (whom he quotes indiscriminately as if they were all members of a single panel) place undue reliance on the tax, and part of his "evidence" is the fact that one of the texts wants to raise 60 percent of federal revenue in this way; he then misquotes the recommended tax rates and fails to inform the reader, first, that on incomes between $20,000 and $100,000 the recommended rates would be a substantial reduction of those in force when the book was written (let alone now); and second, that the whole recommendation was based on the views of the Committee for Economic Development, which was led at the time by such great "collectivists" as Paul Hoffman of the Studebaker Corporation and Beardsley Ruml of Macy's. He fails to mention that three out of four of the texts he attacks urge changes in the income tax laws to encourage venture capital.

Another claim is that these texts do not defend the institution of private property. In support of this claim Mr. Buckley enters a single quotation in which it is argued that majority opinion probably does not consider "free enterprise" to be as basic a right as the four freedoms. The quotation is evidently supposed to indicate hostility to free enterprise, and it is therefore somewhat surprising to find that the author in question went on, in a passage ignored by Mr. Buckley, to present with evident favor three detailed and practical arguments for the institution of free enterprise: that it works, that it is "a central causative factor in the growth of political liberties," and that it satisfies a basic human urge. This total reversal of the author's intent is a measure of the honesty of Mr. Buckley's method, and the sample could be multiplied a dozen times.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In