by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jane Mayer is a writer for the New Yorker who knows her audience. It consists mostly of elitist progressives who like hearing that their enlightened transformation of America is imperiled by greedy conservative villains. She has written lots of articles and most recently a book entitled Dark Money on that theme.
The February 26, 2016 issue of Chronicle Review (the companion publication to the Chronicle of Higher Education, but much more overtly political) contains an essay drawn from that book, “How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education.” …
… In the essay, Mayer recounts the tale of how this dastardly deed was done, beginning with the John M. Olin Foundation’s “offensive to reorient the political slant of higher education to the right.” That so-called offensive meant funding a few scholars at major universities who dissented from the prevailing leftist notions about the impact of government. Those scholars were of a classical liberal bent, their thinking informed by the likes of John Locke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.
That intellectual tradition has always been present in American universities, but following the New Deal, progressives who could see nothing but good in the expansion of the state came to dominate most faculties.
For most college students, contrary ideas could only be found if they ventured into the dusty shelves of the library. Was there a case against socialism, for instance? Students would probably never hear that there was unless somehow they chanced upon Ludwig von Mises’ great 1922 book Socialism. Otherwise, they would probably hear and read only pro-interventionist ideas in their classes.
What Olin and other foundations simply wanted to do was to revive an intellectual tradition that was out of favor with the elites who thrive on government control. They weren’t “tugging” higher education in any direction, only trying amplify a voice that was mostly going unheard. If a philanthropist put money into sponsoring a series of string quartet performances, we wouldn’t object that he was tugging the music world toward the classics, but applaud him for helping to give students another sort of music to enjoy and perhaps study.