Leave the Past Behind


To the Editors of The Crimson:

In recent days, I have noticed a couple of strange attacks on the opponents of political correctness, both of which appeared on the Opinion page of The Crimson.

On October 1, Adam K. Goodheart wrote an Opinion piece ("PC Past and Present") in which he compared "the chic anti-PC brigade, circa 1991" to a white supremacist writer of the 1960s. He even called the writer, Carleton Putnam, "the Dinesh D'Souza of Jackson, Mississippi, circa 1961," in a reference to the opponent of political correctness and author of Illiberal Education.

In doing so, Goodheart emphasizes style and ignores substance. For example, Putnam condemned "the idea that all races are equal in their adaptability to our Western culture." D'Souza and other opponents of PC, in contrast, advocate exposing students of all races to the best of both Western and non-Western cultures.

Goodheart also quotes from a recent article in Time magazine which "warns that 'a growing emphasis on the nation's "multicultural" heritage exalts racial and ethnic pride at the expense of social cohesion.'" This statement is supposed to be similar to Putnam's claim that "there has been no case in civilization in which the white race has comingled with the black without the resulting degradation of the white civilization."


However, the quotation from Time supports integration, whereas the Putnam statement is a defense of segregation. Goodheart admits that his "comparisons may seem crude or facile." What else can one call his referring to opposite ideas as "remarkably similar"?

I am not sure if Goodheart has actually read D'Souza'a Illiberal Education. He claims that D'Souza "ignores the founding of a 'White Students Association' at Temple University." Hardly. He refers to that group three times and says that colleges should not "recognize and fund any group which is racially separatist and excludes students based on skin color."

Near the end of Goodheart's piece, he refers to Winthrop Professor of History Stephan Thernstrom as one of "D'Souza's heroes...who are simply too cowardly to stand up to legitimate criticism of their scholarship, preferring to cancel their courses and then complain of 'thought control.'"

The Crimson picked up the theme in an editorial on October 2 ("Pro Anti-Anti-PC") which said, "And, as was explained recently in The Nation and Tikkun, D'Souza's retelling of the alleged political persecution of Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom (often cited as the prime example of PC totalitarianism) was flat-out inaccurate."

Why writers for The Crimson should feel the need to criticize Thernstrom twice in two days, over three years after he was accused of "racial insensitivity," and six months after D'Souza's book was published, remains unexplained. Nor do I wish to retell the story of the reaction to the course, "The Peopling of America." However, several responses must be made to these criticisms.

1. The "legitimate criticism" of Thernstrom included the accusation that he had defined "affirmative action" as "government enforcement of preferential treatment in hiring, promotion and college admissions"--hardly evidence of insensitivity. The "legitimate criticism" was not made to Thernstrom himself; the students involved went directly to the Committee on Race Relations without discussing the class with the professor.

2. Tikkun did not disagree with the facts D'Souza presented in his reporting of "The Peopling of America." The Tikkun reviewer claimed that the incident "deserve[s] condemnation," although he did not consider it as serious "as being fired and blacklisted for one's beliefs." This is a difference of interpretation, not of fact.

3. Of the 11 footnotes in D'Souza's account of the Thernstrom story, six refer to articles from The Crimson. This leaves three possibilities. Either The Crimson reported the story incorrectly in 1988 (in which case a correction is long overdue); D'Souza ignored correct information in 1988 editions of The Crimson (in which case The Crimson should elaborate on its claim of "flat-out" inaccuracy); or the current Crimson editors trust The Nation over The Crimson itself.

4. The Harvard Salient, of which I am circulation manager, reprinted a 1988 article about the controversy in its October 1991 issue. While the Salient's interpretation of the incidents is similar to D'Souza's, the Salient has received no mail claiming that the article ("Sense and Sensibility" by Christopher Ford '88) was incorrect. Presumably any "flat-out" inaccuracies would have provoked a response.

Knowing The Crimson, I expect that there will be many more "anti-anti-PC" articles. Whatever the reason for these inappropriate attacks on Thernstrom, I hope that The Crimson will not continue to attack him in those articles. Joshua S. Kreitzer '93