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."

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.

Finally, Mr. Buckley comes to the late Lord Keynes. He argues that the texts he denounces are slavish in devotion to Keynes, whereas in fact all four contain major differences from Keynes's position—just as Keynes himself constantly revised and modified his own distinctively capitalist views. The error is unimportant except that it shows Mr. Buckley's ignorance of what he is denouncing. Moreover, the central object of his attack—the policy of fiscal adjustment to prevent a boom-and-bust cycle—is "collectivism" only if Senator Robert Taft is a collectivist, for it has his clear public endorsement.

Mr. Buckley finds radical the views of a leading conservative economist, the late Henry Simons; if he bothered to study it, he would find the same kind of "radicalism" in the work of such men as Hayek, whom he ignorantly praises as a supporter of his sort of individualism. Mr. Chamberlain, in his introduction, makes the same error; it simply is not true that Mr. Buckley's individualism is like that of Lippman's Good Society or that of Frank Knight (if Mr. Buckley read Lippmann and Knight, he would be horrified). In the end Mr. Buckley's indictment of Yale's economics texts turns out to be a self-indictment. This chapter shows him to be a twisted and ignorant young man whose personal views of economics would have seemed reactionary to Mark Hanna.


The worst is yet to come. Having made his "case" against Yale, Mr. Buckley has the appalling effrontery to urge that only those who will support his basic position should be allowed to teach subjects that relate to religion and economics at Yale. He goes on to argue that the alumni have a right and duty to enforce this view—unless they are themselves sympathetic to atheism and collectivism. His personal view of what a university should be is of course his own business, but in urging alumni control of Yale's educational policy he is absolutely wrong, both on the law and on the Yale tradition. His basic argument is that because the alumni pay the piper, they should call the tune. This argument has no more validity than a proposal that the religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church should be dictated to the Pope by the Roman Catholic laymen who pays his bills. Of course any alumnus who disapproves of what Yale is doing may urge changes, and equally of course he may cast his vote as he pleases for the minority of elected members of the Corporation. Obviously also he can always send his money and his sons to other institutions if he pleases. Moreover, Mr. Buckley makes a fair point when he says that most alumni know too little about Yale—although he is totally wrong in his charge that this is the fault of the University authorities. (The principal evidence for this charge is that Mr. Buckley himself was once discouraged from making a speech to a large alumni audience.)

But these considerations do not add up to the conclusion that the alumni as a body have any right or duty or capacity to set the educational policies at the college. They never have and never should. The Yale tradition is one of unusually close and effective cooperation among students, faculty, and alumni, but that tradition is based on an understanding of respective rights and obligations which is entirely different from Mr. Buckley's theory.

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