So last Thursday I delivered an inaugural public lecture for the university’s Center for Western Civilization, on the subject “Why Are There So Few Conservatives in Higher Education, and Does It Matter?” Quite a large audience turned out, and the discussion period was, shall we say, spirited. Let’s just say it was a good thing I brought my kevlar underwear and asbestos dress shirts with me.
I won’t post the entire lecture here–it was over 6,000 words long, and as such you’ll need a large cup or small pot of coffee to make it though. You can read the whole thing at the link above if you wish. I resisted the temptation to play to the audience by using Gandhi’s old line about western civilization (“I think it’s a good idea; someone should try it sometime”), and instead went with some icebreakers from conservative folklore:
Last week out in California there appeared a headline in a Bay Area newspaper that read: “Hayward Implosion,” and the lede said: “A Hayward implosion was conducted Saturday while a crowd of hundreds looked on.” A number of my friends emailed the story to me, asking—“Already! I’d have thought this would have taken a few months at least.” Of course the story concerned the controlled demolition of a building at a Cal State University campus. My friends are still deeply worried, though, because I let them know that I’ve started riding my bicycle everywhere, and even though I’ve been here a month, I still haven’t bought a tank of gas. If I start to eat granola, they’re likely to hire a Blackwater extraction team to come get me out.
This may just be the beginning of the potential for confusion, however. Down the road at Colorado College, there is a Canadian-born novelist teaching the English department with my exact same name and spelling. I don’t know what his political views are; he may not have any in particular, and I haven’t read his novels. But regardless: the poor man! A few months ago he had a book review published in the Wall Street Journal, where I also frequently appear. In fact I’m not certain the editors didn’t have us confused, because once again I got a number of emails from friends saying they liked the review though it seemed a bit of a topical departure for me, and in any case they hadn’t realized I’d started my post in Colorado already.
It reminds of a story from the early 1970s today buried deep in conservative folklore about the time William F. Buckley made a cameo appearance on the NBC comedy revue Laugh-In. At the time his brother, James Buckley, was serving in the United States Senate, having been elected in something of a fluke in New York in 1970. An indignant constituent wrote in to Sen. Buckley complaining how he had demeaned his high office by stooping so low as to appear on such a crass program.
I can’t resist here a “my-how-times-have-changed” aside here. One of my favorite old books that I have occasionally taught is Xenophon’s overlooked classic, The Education of Cyrus. Needless to say, this week I’m thinking we need to update Xenophon with The Education of Miley Cyrus.
Anyway, Sen. Buckley responded to his constituent by saying, “I have forwarded your letter to my brother, the columnist William F. Buckley Jr. It was he, not I, who appeared on Laugh-In.” Brother Bill couldn’t resist piling on, writing separately to Mr. Hitchcock:
“It is typical of my brother to attempt to deceive his constituents. It was of course, he, not I, who appeared on Laugh-In, just as you suspected. On the other hand, his greatest deception is as yet undiscovered. It was I, not he, who was elected to the Senate. So you see, you have nothing to worry about. You are represented in the Senate by a responsible, truthful man.”
This provides an obvious opportunity today: if I do or say anything that creates a significant controversy here, I’m going to say, “Oh no, it wasn’t me—it was that that other guy down at Colorado College.” And if it turns out that this other Steven Hayward does have some conservative inclinations, perhaps he can come here next year as my successor in this program, and the university won’t even need to reprint the business cards.