Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom
Standing for Truth and Defending Your Freedom

Timeless Advice from William F. Buckley, Jr.

By Jerry Newcombe, D.Min.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s certainly the case on America’s leftist college campuses.

Sixty-nine years ago, William F. Buckley, Jr., then a 25-year-old graduate of Yale, wrote a book, God and Man at Yale, which helped put him on the map.

Buckley wrote that “under the protective label ‘academic freedom,” Yale (and virtually all the other universities at the time) were producing a great incongruity: “the institution that derives its moral and financial support from Christian individualists and then addresses itself to the task of persuading the sons of these supporters to be atheist socialists.”

Buckley went on to found National Review and to become the father of the modern conservative movement. Buckley was my mom’s first cousin, and a relative sent me a recently-found transcript of a radio interview conducted when the book was new. What is fascinating about this 1951 radio interview (with host Bill Slater) is how strikingly it echoes today’s debate.

For example, Buckley exposed the following quotes from textbooks on economics at Yale: •There is no “‘right’ of private property, and the freedom to engage in business for oneself is not a basic freedom.”

•“The State must remedy the appalling inequality of income which most Americans regard as inequitable.”

•“The fear that increasing the public debt can make the nation go bankrupt is almost completely fallacious.”

•“To set the responsibility for attaining and maintaining full employment on the shoulders of individual consumers or individual business men is absurd.”

Some of these arguments sound exactly like what we are hearing from candidates on the Left today.

In his research, Buckley found that Yale was not alone. He included in his 1951 book an appendix that listed “hundreds of colleges using the same left-wing textbooks on economics.”

Perhaps what disturbed the young Buckley, a strong Catholic, was another trend he discovered at Yale: “I found that, with some exceptions, the teachers disparage Christianity---or for that matter, any belief in God---and even go so far as to play up the notion that religion is a ‘superstition.’”

The host challenged Buckley as to the issue of academic freedom:

Slater: But surely the objection arises that unless all points of view are expressed in college, a student isn’t going to come out well educated.

Buckley: All points of view should be expressed---but there’s a difference between a point’s being expressed and point’s being propagandized.

Slater: Will you give us an example, please?

Buckley: Well, I am strongly in favor of presenting a course on the theory of Communism, but I am very much opposed to its being taught by a propagandist for Communism.

Slater: Well, then, Mr. Buckley, where does the time-honored search for truth come in?

Buckley: It seems to me, Mr. Slater, that educated men ought to be able to say, with respect to truth: Our convictions and our knowledge lead us to believe collectivism to be false and individualism to be truth---and we shall certainly not support or tolerate the teaching of error, at least in those schools for which we are responsible….The freedom of a group to found a school---as Yale was originally founded---to support that school, and to urge its students, for whose education they are responsible, to scorn error as they---the responsible ones---see error, and to embrace truth as they see it….I hope that someday the American people will be emancipated from the shackles of “academic freedom” at every educational level. [emphasis added]

In other words, “academic freedom” became the buzzword by which education was replaced with indoctrination. How timely and how timeless.

A year after Buckley’s book came out, Witness by a former Communist was released. In that book, Whittaker Chambers said of communism, “It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods,’ It is the great alternative faith of mankind….The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.”

Despite the incredible power of free enterprise for good to alleviate the misery of poverty for hundreds of millions the world over, and despite the murderous track record of the Communists (100 million-plus human beings killed by the Communists in the 20th century alone), somehow socialism/communism seems to be winning the debate in the minds and hearts of many young people in our society. They have learned these things in their colleges.

Many of them are simply echoing the kinds of unbelief in God and belief in the state that the young William F. Buckley, Jr. encountered at Yale 70 years ago. Some things never change.


Hat tip to my cousin Meredith Lombard.