Still don’t believe elite colleges can be dangerous places for
brilliant and vulnerable minds?
Think it was a mere aberration that Hillary Rodham entered Wellesley
a good Goldwater Girl and left a card-carrying liberal Democrat?
Atlantic Monthly’s cover story, “Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber” by Alston Chase, the expert on forest ecology and natural preservation whose important books include “Playing God in Yellowstone.” It’s a piece that makes you wonder why anyone would ever pay to have their kids’ minds formed at Harvard.
After a thorough study of Ted Kaczynski’s college career and his writings, Chase makes a plausible case that the Unabomber was born and bred at Harvard University.
He says it was not merely Teddy’s personal problems and anger toward his family that turned him into a monster who killed three people and injured 23 others by mailing or delivering 16 package bombs over 17 years.
Nor was it merely the “prevailing intellectual atmosphere of anti-technological despair” at Harvard in the late 1950s that filled Teddy’s head with the idea that he was living in an inherently evil, sick society that is dependent on and controlled by technology. And that it needed to be torn down with deadly violence.
Chase says that something else bad happened within Harvard’s ivy walls: Kaczynski willingly subjected himself to a series of “purposefully brutalizing psychological experiments” that would have rocked him emotionally and “confirmed his still-forming belief in the evil of science.”
Chase provides details of these shocking, Nazi-like, ego-crushing, abusive experiments that had their origins in defense work for the CIA. And he tries to assess the impact they may have had on the brainy but impressionable mind of Kaczynski, who wasn’t nuts in a clinical sense and entered Harvard at age 16.
He also details the affect of Harvard’s standard illiberal arts curriculum, which spent most of its efforts pushing moral relativism and trashing western values, religion, technology and science. As taught by the leftist Harvard faculty, the curriculum presented a generally despairing depiction “of the sinister forces that lie beneath the surface of civilization,” says Chase, who passed through Harvard intellectually and emotionally unscathed a few years before Kaczynski.
As Chase says, the most disturbing thing about Kaczynski and his crazy ideas “is not that they are so foreign, but that they are so familiar.” When the Unabomber’s manifesto was first published, Chase reminds us that writers in The New York Times, the New Yorker and elsewhere greeted it as “reasonable” or as a work of “genius” or “profundity.”
Chase says the manifesto’s ideas and its “pessimism over the direction of civilization and its rejection of the modern world” were nothing new or radical. They are “an academic — and popular — cliché.” Unfortunately, he says, many middle-class Americans today, especially the educated elite, are still gripped by Kaczynski’s ideas and in schools our kids are still taught “bleak visions of the future.”
Most Americans “are morally repulsed” by the Unabomber’s terrorism. But Chase says many accept his views and “silently tolerate the extreme actions on behalf of … Kaczynski’s cause of choice — ‘saving wild nature.'”
After reading Chase’s story, we should be extra thankful Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard before his great mind was destroyed. Instead of the evil billionaire monopolist he is today, he might have turned into a real threat to society — a trial lawyer, for instance, or another Ted Kennedy.
Dennis Prager, the L.A.-based author, theologian and syndicated talk-show host, is no apologist for the Atlanta Braves’ John Rocker. But in his
Weekly Standard cover story, “Hating John Rocker,” Prager says lessons can be learned from the liberal “anti-Rocker hysteria” that followed Rocker’s insensitive mid-winter blabbings to a Sports Illustrated writer.
Prager does a nice job of pointing out how selective and hypocritical liberal commentators and sports writers have been in their criticism. They beat up on Rocker for what he said and thought, not for anything he actually did. And they refused to accept his written and verbal apologies.
“There is such a thing as the politics of personal destruction in America,” Prager says. “John Rocker has been its perfect victim. The wild overreaction, the hysteria, the media incitement to hatred — over trivia uttered by a trivial personality — is an astonishing spectacle.”
Two members of the chattering class who earn praise from Prager for putting Rocker’s venial verbal sins into perspective are
Morrow of Time and U.S. News & World Report columnist
Leo. Leo has a good piece this week called
Hate,’ which shows what may be a new trend on college campuses — the faking of race and gender crimes.
Modern Maturity’s youth movement
Look out for the old geezers at Modern Maturity, the magazine you get when Buicks start looking good to you. The editors are now seriously engaged in trying to make the magazine that is sent to about 20 million AARP members more appealing to the coming waves of aging Baby Boomers.
May-June issue — the one with St. Paul Newman on the cover — contains the usual large-size type font and features your parents or grandparents might be interested in, including “The 50 Most Alive Places to Live.” Translating from AARP-speak, that means the 50 best cities and towns to retire to and wait to die. Boston, Austin, Boulder, Asheville and Sonoma County, Ca., take their respective categories.
Modern Maturity gets much edgier with a feature package on the Vietnam War that includes some very bitter personal reflections by a pair of famous anti-war protesters, Daniel Ellsberg and David Hackworth.
Ellsberg, the former Defense Department insider who tried to end the Vietnam War in 1970 by leaking the Pentagon Papers, is still torturing himself for not doing what he did five years sooner.
“Like so many others,” he says, “I put personal loyalty to the President above all else — above loyalty to the Constitution and above obligation to the law, to truth, to Americans, and to humankind. I was wrong.”
Hackworth, a career soldier who fought in World War II and Korea, is outraged whenever he thinks about the many young boys in his command who died in Vietnam after following his orders.
He says he learned after five combat tours in Vietnam that the enemy was motivated by freedom and independence, not ideology; that our generals were clueless; and America had no business being there.
“After almost half a decade of observing the obscenity, I told the press that Americans were being lied to, that the war was unwinnable the way it was being fought, that we should get the hell out.”
Hackworth says the military propaganda machine’s explanation — that the war was lost because of “the peaceniks, the Commie press and weak-kneed politicians” — is not true. It was lost because of the strategic and tactical blunders of the generals.
What’s worse, Hackworth, who alleges that the military tried to have him killed after he turned against the war, says that many of the military leaders in charge of today’s excursions into the “sinkholes” of Kosovo, Bosnia and Haiti have learned nothing from the Vietnam experience.
The New Republic is definitely more liberal New Democrat than conservative Republican in values and outlook. It prides itself, justifiably, on being a centrist think magazine that can often pleasantly surprise readers from either end of the political spectrum.
But sometimes appeasing the god of balance can make you look silly. Take, for example,
a June 5
article on how George W. Bush’s ideas about compassionate conservatism and private-sector cures for the ills of the welfare state have strong roots in Catholic neoconservative doctrine.
Written by associate editor Frank Foer, it is a little on the cynical and snide side, but it’s OK. It explains how two Catholic intellectuals, Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak, have melded Catholic religious and social principles with a deep faith in the virtues of the free market to make Bush — an evangelical Christian — theologically and politically appealing to socially conservative Catholics.
The principal tool, Foer says, is the Catholic concept of “subsidiarity” — the sensible idea long espoused by William F. Buckley Jr. that says that “social problems are best understood by the organizations and people closest to them.” Foer does not try very hard to hide his own liberal point-of-view, but he really slips up when he’s describing the origins of subsidiarity.
He says Pope Pius XI came up with the concept as part of a 1931 encyclical that sought to “split the difference between the twin evils of soulless laissez-faire capitalism and soulless socialism.” Excuse ideological us, but “twin evils?” An -ism based on coercion and control is as evil as an -ism based on freedom? That’s the kind of moral equivalency not even the most fanatical centrist should make.