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A Hotbed of Radicalism?


By William S. Benjamin

JUDGING FROM the leaflet distributed by the Harvard Republican Club over Junior Parents' Weekend, the conservatives have learned a lesson or two from their ideological counter-parts. Mixing polemics with a persecution complex, the traditionally complacent segment of the Harvard community has sought to project itself as the victimized minority in an intellectually stifling atmosphere. But this none-too-subtle turning of the tables is a feeble attempt to arouse support--both in letter and in spirit, the Republican Club leaflet is dead wrong.

Even the most cursory glance at the faculty register reveals that leftist academics by no means saturate the University. For every "unremitting pacifist" and "self-avowed Marxist" that the conservatives name they fail to mention the Government professors who, in the recent past, have gone on record as opposing affirmative action, supporting the invasion of Grenada, and maintaining that authoritarian regimes may be the most suited for the tasks of Third World development. Perhaps the leaflet should also have stated that the Economics department carries only two Marxists, who themselves once had good reason to fear that their convictions would jeopardize their chances for tenure.

Had members of the Republican Club put down their Wall Street Journals for a moment and taken a hard look at reality, they would never have forwarded the claim that the Social Studies department is a Marxist citadel. Karl Marx is but one of eight theorists, for example, whom sophomores read in their tutorial. Concentrators also pore over the pages of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, pillars of the political and economic tradition to which the Republican Club is the delinquent heir. Why, each year department chairman David Landes gives a lecture in which he lambastes Marx as a historian and economist, echoing Raymond Aron's exact words that "Marxism is the opiate of intellectuals." So much for the nursery of radicalism.

The extent to which Marxist interpretations have penetrated the social sciences should be viewed as a positive thing, even by non-Marxists. Marxism is but one school of though out of many that has made a valuable contribution to intellectual debate. In economics, Marxists have attempted to look beyond the laws of supply and demand, focusing instead on the relations of employers and workers, thus breathing a little life and relevance into an often abstract discipline. In history, Marxists have introduced class as a variable helping to explain the shaping of society.

Further, the article's implication that writers such as Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez should not be read because of their political beliefs smacks of the kind of censorship that has gained unfortunate popularity around the country. People should ignored Marquez no less than they should avoid the poetry of Ezra Pound, a Nazi sympathizer.

BUT IT IS the claim that students with right-wing beliefs are ostracized by the Harvard community that holds the least water. Any stand reasonably presented is likely to find an audience here at school. The lack of conservative participation in the political debate on campus bespeaks not exclusion, but complacency. And why not? This is after all, the heyday of conservatism. Why should the conservatives come out and discuss the issues of the day when they can most likely look forward to another four years of a President who will do it for them? Obviously the real issues of the day just don't interest the Republicans--they've already got their tax cuts and dismantled welfare state. It doesn't seem to offend their moral sensibilities that during the past three years eight million more Americans have slipped below the poverty line. It doesn't anger them that Black unemployment is double that of white, and that programs and benefits that had once been the cushion between subsistence and deprivation have been abruptly withdrawn.

A defense of these policies by the Republican Club would be more than illuminating and its members should feel free to step forward and speak their minds on the issues. But one hopes the conservatives will voice their opinions in the intellectual arena, not with cheap shots aimed at parents here to enjoy the weekend with their children.

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