The "Free Enterprise Fund" letter of Kenneth D. Robertson to his 1929 classmates bears out the old adage that the radical fringe hollers the loudest. Even though much of its publicity can be laid to the Boston Post, this area's own Chicago Tribune, the letter should not be shrugged off without comment. For its ideas float around all too frequently these days.
Mr. Robertson makes frequent illusions to "subversives" and "reds" at Harvard. Now, these two words have a very specific ring. They conjure up the picture of men taking orders from Moscow, itching to destroy our government by force and turn America into a police state. But those Mr. Robertson chooses to label "subversive" are "misguided professors . . . with foreign, atheistic and thoroughly un-American ideologies and philosophies, if not actually communistic in name, communistic in form or substance."
It is easy to see that Mr. Robertson, viewing Harvard from his investment office on State Street, sees no difference between "reds" and economic reformers. He confuses economic belief with loyalty to a political system, and equates free enterprise with both democracy and, later in his letter, with salvation.
This technique of the Big Blur is not new. Ignorantly or deliberately, it has been a favorite device of deep-dyed conservatives ever since the emergence of the Communist menace.
But Mr. Robertson lets his confusion seep into his conception of the academic principles of his own University. He wants the Class of '29 to finance an alumni "watchdog Committee" which would bring professors' "socialistic and communistic" views into the arena of public debate, whereupon teachers would either change their ideas or change their jobs. But he forgets there already is such a committee, pledged and capable to screen Communists from employment. Its name is the Harvard Corporation, and it consists of seven alumni whose sound economics not even Mr. Robertson would question. He also ignores the fact that professors he calls "collectivist" have always been quite happy to hold their views up for public scrutiny in books and speeches.
Mr. Robertson declaims against the fanaticism and dogmatism of the professors he would like to fire. But it is he who is dogmatic. In his casual blending of free enterprise, morality, religion, and salvation he believes he has found the truth. He wants the Class of '29 to agree that men hunting truths along other lines have no business at this University.
Fortunately, Harvard professors have always been allowed to pursue truth wherever it might lead. And they at least have always been humble enough to admit the chase can never end. A dogmatic truth, be it imposed by alumni pressure or any other means, would change the University's goal from education to indoctrination. To channel the search for truth would be to dry up the sources of the University's greatness.