Over the weekend, I met a friend in Cambridge, Mass., for lunch. He’s a foreigner studying at Harvard. He told me that his experience there has been quite an education in how the American elite constructs its worldview and reproduces itself. In fact, that is perhaps the most important lesson he has learned from his experience at the top US university.
I’m writing this with his permission, but I want to be careful about what I say, to protect his privacy. In general, he said it has been a real shock to him — and to the other foreign students in his circle — to observe how “coercive” (his word) the intellectual atmosphere at Harvard is, at least in the areas he’s been studying. He explained that it is quite simply impossible to discuss certain things, and ask certain questions, because of the ideological rigidity of the American students and their teachers. My friend made clear that this is the consensus view of the foreigners he knows there, whether they are on the left or the right.
My lunch companion said that the elites formed by this most elite American university are people who have set up a world in which they never have to encounter an idea, or a person, that they don’t already endorse or embrace. We were joined at the table by a third person, a left-wing Baby Boomer who works in a very liberal Boston institution (I’ll not name it to protect his privacy), and who said that he finds the ideological rigidity of Millennials and the generation behind them to be insufferable. Such joyless, humorless, incurious people, he said. The foreigner, though a Millennial himself, agreed.
On our way to the restaurant, I had mentioned to my foreign friend something I’ve heard from several of you readers of this blog who are conservative academics: that as long as old-school liberals remain in charge of faculties and academic institutions, there will be a place for right-of-center scholars. But when the Jacobin-like younger generation moves into leadership, that will be the end. He agreed, and brought up several examples from academia and academia-adjacent institutions (e.g., publishing). He told me one story about a left-liberal scholar he knows who has been turned into a non-person for questioning out loud some of aspects of au courant progressive dogma. I’m not easy to shock about things like this, but this particular story — my foreign friend named names — was for me a sign of how advanced the ideological militancy has become.