Bowdoin: In 1825 & Now

I don’t know much about Bowdoin. This seems, unfortunately, to be expected. I like the donor’s response – the president’s petty grandstanding is an overreach that motivates. Smugness enrages.

Today we skim over Longfellow, but once readers looked forward to his next narrative poem as an event. Longfellow also took academia and his languages seriously – developing a modern language program at Bowdoin; Harvard then drew him away to develop a similar program for them and he did. As we read a poem or two, I mention his Morituri Salutamus. Longfellow’s theme is similar but he hasn’t the power of Tennyson’s Ulysses. However this occasional poem is personal; his classmates, the classes of 1824 and 1825, at Bowdoin were some of his closest friends all his life. While he was the most popular American poet, a classmate and friend was Hawthorne. The novelist also remained intensely grateful and loyal to Franklin Pierce; a friendship begun at Bowdoin lasted until Hawthorne’s death. A fourth gained his fame more indirectly: Calvin Stowe’s interest in theology was shared with the famous Beecher family; his wife became a novelist with the broad audience Longfellow found. Clearly all were shaped by those years at Bowdoin.

These years, these moments, are quality time: following a class, walking slowly home, lost in discussion, speculation, and, then, in the work of learning. Colleges are important, still, in those ways. And in fulfilling certain roles. One is in research. My sister and I had a rare talk; she caught me up – describing her group’s research on the aquifer, her husband’s in no-till, her son, but in his second year, on defense projects. Their work changes lives, makes land produce more and better crops. Little is more important. We (people like my husband and I) teach students to connect dots, to look beneath the surface, to consider the great universals and truths of human nature, of the tragic & joyous continuities, each period shaped by its own life. His is research-oriented, mine is not. All of us contribute, all of us touch lives. Defining the good life seldom comes without self-consciousness, without a breadth and depth we get only through reading of other times & places, of others’ passions & experiences. I don’t think we’ve wasted our lives, while granting our work will neither feed the multitudes nor reach into the sky.

True, the future promises a new way of learning. Our on-line classes may yet match expectations with course. This needs tweaking – my evaluations veer from those thankful the class asks much and those who complain they have no time for reading or paper writing, that’s why they took it online. Credentials are debased – but knowledge, well, that remains a true good. MOOCs seem a way to mastery, with or without credentialing. If nothing else, students may notice work correlates with knowledge, and, finally, come to see the mastery, the knowledge, and not the credential as goal.

And I remain nostalgic: walking slowly home and fixing tea and sometimes gin, we’d argue about James and Hawthorne, the sweep of western exploration. I will be very sorry if there is no longer a place that nurtures such friendships. I met my husband in a linguistic class; contemplating the deep structure of language we moved into our own depths (this concept still seems useful if Chomsky’s politics seem certifiable).

So, tomorrow, others will meet and learn through the internet. Maybe that’s better; it will be different. We tend to see the world through our own experience. That can be sentimental. So, let’s pause to respect the old ways of mating & bonding. And feel an anger at those who’ve debased what we once loved.

Post Scripts

NAS Study. Klingenstein’s description of his conversation.

By the way, anyone interested in the history and breadth of the problems Klingenstein found at Bowdoin might enjoy Bruce Bawer’s The Victims’ Revolution. He covers a lot of depressing ground. And concludes with a moving (if familiar) tribute to what those old lit classes meant to him.

Claire Berlinski reviews Bawer, acknowledges his points but hesitates at his argument’s sweep.

The humanities might learn another lesson from the class of 1825 – writing novels that splendidly understand human nature shouldn’t be confused with political insight. Hawthorne’s “Chiefly About War Matters” may be interesting, but neither it nor his judgements on George Eliot and Margaret Fuller have the depth of The Scarlet Letter – and, certainly, of Lincoln.

20 thoughts on “Bowdoin: In 1825 & Now”

  1. “And concludes with a moving (if familiar) tribute to what those lit classes.”

    Something missing here?

  2. In my lifetime the overwhelming majority of “political” people—that is the people who lives and opinions count—turned to stupidity, viciousness, corruption, degradation, and hatred of a type and scale I’d only read about in books. A new culture with new mores is victorious, triumphed over all opposition, a transformation as thorough as the Enlightenment or of the Christianizing of Europe. There can be no going back. All the future will be based on reaction to this transformation, which can rightly be called socialism.

    At Bowdoin as elsewhere, socialist theories of race are based on National Socialism; socialist theories of class on International Socialism; and socialist theories of gender…, well, that has no clever name like “Nazism” or “Communism,” but it’s America’s contribution to the cesspool of hate. Should you disagree neither the Soviet, EUSSR, or American Constitutions, all pieces of paper, can protect you from the consequences of your freedom of, er, hate speech. If you are fortunate, you will merely be vilified (probably as a racist, but sexist, homophobe and fascist are also popular epithets, the modern equivalent of heretic).

    Speech will we suppressed. Religions will be altered or oppressed. Guns will be seized. And then Ayers and the Greens (who like the mustachio’d dictators compare people to diseases and vermin) will have their death camps.

    The tragedy to me is not the lost American revolution of “The Company You Keep,” but the lost counter-revolution. It is too late to bury this evil, too late to expel the people of ill-will, too late.

  3. ErisGuy….agree that today’s “progressivism” has large components of both Marxism and Fascism…I actually think the second component is a stronger influence. And there is also this third component, which is a “contribution” of our own time (though not specific to the USA…similar things in Europe), which is harder to define.

  4. The third element is Yankee Puritanism and moralism. The Marxism is Frankfurt School political correctness.

    I disagree that the bad guys win it all. Their system is already failing.

  5. I hope you’re right, Lex. Not in my lifetime, though. The trends and fashions in philosophy, religion, and poltiics have been clear for generations. I can’t see them suddenly reversing anytime soon. Should the system or the establishment collapse, the new system will founded on race, class, gender instead of contaminated by it (as our own is).

    David, should I assume you’ve read “Killer Angels?” “…he attempts to modernize the school,… de-emphasizing religion, and becomes involved in student demonstrations over the question of ROTC…. dies of his wounds, June 1914…”

  6. They’ve kept the statues; I suspect they expect the statues to be revered by those likely to donate. But these classes do not seem to give a context for what he did – on the battlefield or later.

    And, Lex, this approach has failed everywhere it has been applied. Why did Americans, with their belief in experience and what works, ever think our exceptionalism was so great it could be gutted and we’d remain exceptional – that these inevitable conseuences would never come? I suspect it was because too few know history and therefore its history.

  7. What to do? I’m a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. I had always contributed something after I graduated despite the fact that a lot of truly nutty ideas come out of there. When they had a class on 9/11 trutherism, that was a bridge too far for me. I was in Washington on 9/11 and I definitely don’t think it was a joke. I decided my money would not contribute to garbage. Money is what they understand. They will try to say you’re hurting children but how is teaching them garbage going to help?

  8. If it is any comfort to the other commenters, my 30-something daughter has absolutely no interest in continuing her college education at this point. She did two years at the locall CC on the GI Bill, and got totally frustrated at the fact that all anyone seemed interested in was figuring out how to milk as much money from her as possible. I’m steering her to Khan Academy and self-education in various useful technical skills. And she and her best friend from high school are in the first stages of starting up a business together. If my daughter is any indiction, the colleges and universities may be wierding themselves out of business.

  9. Collectivism, regardless of the particular flavor or style, is based on several fundamentally flawed premises, which leaves it intellectually and morally bankrupt when it comes in contact with reality.

    Its recurring practice has been to spend down any inherited collateral, whether economic or in some other form, and then clamp down in repressive mode when it can no longer hide its shortcomings.

    This has been the historical pattern for all the collectivist revolutions and/or siezures of power, in Russia, Italy, Germany, China, Cuba, Southeast Asia, and more recently in Latin America and the EU.

    As the counter-productive economic theories lead to more and more scarcity and hardship, and the intellectual theories can no longer be defended by evidence and standard argumentation, then the controls become ever more stringent, and the repression of any dissent ever more vigorous.

    We are seeing the somewhat slow motion development of this pattern currently in the US, accelerating as the current regime plunges the country deeper and deeper into the progressive wonderland in which jobs are created by taxing the companies that create them, where energy is produced by preventing any development of traditional sources while subsidizing fanciful, non-economically viable pipe-dreams, and shutting down any possible disagreement by categorizing any contrary opinions as being racist, sexist, homophobic, or simply greedy and evil.

    We are now approaching the end-game, in which the total bankruptcy of the progressive, collectivist model becomes so evident and undeniable that there are only a few possible paths available—either the ideological elites will succeed in forming a repressive system which can maintain power a little while longer by further impoverishing the citizenry, or the citizenry will recognize the failure of the elites and their dogma, and reform their mistaken policies after throwing them out.

    I hope for, and work for, the latter. The blue, progressive model is failing rapidly. I don’t think it will be much longer before the situation requires the common people to respond.

    The main task of those who believe in individual liberty will be to pin the blame exactly where it belongs, on the incompetence and irrationality of the political and intellectual elites who have engineered this collapse, and prevent the typical scapegoating which the collectivist uses to avoid responsibility for the ideological bankruptcy of his programs, and the real world bankruptcy they produce.

  10. }}} Today we skim over Longfellow, but once readers looked forward to his next narrative poem as an event.

    True, but how can any mere poem compare to the epic events of Jersey Shore or the events on yesterday’s American Idol?

    I mean… really.

  11. “Sorry, ErisGuy. Fixed.”

    Thanks. No reason for the sorry. I read your posts as carefully as I am able, and I wish your thoughts compleat.

  12. I particularly like this quote… it shows a tack the Right should take on the matter — redefine the word used to reflect what is desired, and not be merely “against diversity”… much easier to recast the latter as “pro-racism”, no matter how inaccurate that description is.

    By way of example I explained my disapproval of “diversity” as it generally has been implemented on college campuses: too much celebration of racial and ethnic difference (particularly as it applies to blacks), and not enough celebration of our common American identity. I told him that I wholeheartedly support reaching out to those who have traditionally been excluded but that I prefer to call such outreach “inclusion” (not “diversity”)

    Thanks for that. I’d seen the WSJ piece but not seen any link to his initial direct response. I do disagree with Klingenstein in one arena — I believe that conservative donors should endow schools with money that is explicitly designed to do the job of supporting intellectual diversity, not as defined by the faculty, but by the general public. And if any school had two black professors for 98 white profs, they’d be complaining about its lack of “diversity”. If it had one female prof for every 9 white guys, they’d be complaining about its “diversity”… and justly so, even though race and gender should not generally be the primary goal of hiring… but once you get it down to a short list of three, if you’re low on black guys, or women, it makes sense to seriously consider the gender or race of the choice as a reasonable part of the process… because the choice of which of the three is really almost a crap shoot anyway. So the same should be applied to professorships at most universities, which consistently rank even worse than journalism for their LACK of political diversity.

  13. }}} If my daughter is any indiction, the colleges and universities may be wierding themselves out of business.

    SM: I’ve heard good things about some of the “online” institutions these days. You might suggest those — if your daughter only wants knowledge, and doesn’t care about the professional esteem associated with a degree from an “officially good” university, she might be able to get what she wants from UPhoenix or somewhere like that.

  14. Anyone read the Cheifly About War Matters – Nat Hawthorne? Interesting essay, but more amusing are the censorship and editorializing by the editors of Atlantic Monthly.. these would demand the death of Socrates.

    “We are compelled to omit two or three pages in which the author describes the interview and gives his idea of the personal appearance and deportment of the President. The sketch appears to have been written in a benign spirit and perhaps conveys a not inaccurate impression of its august subject; but it lacks reverence, and it pains us to see a gentleman of ripe age, and who has spent years under the corrective influence of foreign institutions, falling into the characteristic and most ominous fault of Young America.”

    “[8] We regret the innuendo in the concluding sentence. The war can never be allowed to terminate, except in the complete triumph of Northern principles. We hold the event in our own hands, and may choose whether to terminate it by the methods already so successfully used, or by other means equally within our control, and calculated to be still more speedily efficacious. In truth, the work is already done.

    We should be sorry to cast a doubt on the Peaceable Man’s [Nat Hawthorne’s] loyalty, but he will allow us to say that we consider him premature in his kindly feelings towards traitors and sympathizers with treason. As the author himself says of John Brown (and, so applied, we thought it an atrociously cold-blooded dictum), “any common-sensible man would feel an intellectual satisfaction in seeing them hanged, were it only for their preposterous miscalculation of possibilities.” There are some degrees of absurdity that put Reason herself into a rage, and affect us like an intolerable crime,–which this Rebellion is, into the bargain.”

  15. IF a broad liberal education is desired it can be found, inexpensively and efficiently, in any large public or university library. This educaion would be superior in most ways to that received in the diploma mills, IF one has a plan of study and is self-disciplined.

  16. James Augustine, “…or on the immaculate page of the Atlantic.”

    Amusing. One really has to suspect that Hawthorne added this last barb after the editing (and Atlantic publication).

Comments are closed.