Harvey Manssfield is the great teacher of government and long-time member of the Harvard faculty. Among his books are Manliness and an indispensable edition of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. The Wall Street Journal Weekend interview profiles Professor Mansfield. At age 80, he can look back on an incredibly distinguished career, but he’s still going strong. The quotable Professor Mansfield offers this:
“We have now an American political party and a European one. Not all Americans who vote for the European party want to become Europeans. But it doesn’t matter because that’s what they’re voting for. They’re voting for dependency, for lack of ambition, and for insolvency.”
And this, referring to Massachusetts and Harvard:
“I live in a one-party state and very much more so a one-party university. It’s disgusting. I get along very well because everybody thinks the fact that I’m here means the things I say about Harvard can’t be true. I am a kind of pet—a pet dissenter.”
And this, returning to the election just passed:
[T]he electorate that granted Barack Obama a second term was unwise—the president achieved “a sneaky victory,” Mr. Mansfield says. “The Democrats said nothing about their plans for the future. All they did was attack the other side. Obama’s campaign consisted entirely of saying ‘I’m on your side’ to the American people, to those in the middle. No matter what comes next, this silence about the future is ominous.”
At one level Mr. Obama’s silence reveals the exhaustion of the progressive agenda, of which his presidency is the spiritual culmination, Mr. Mansfield says. That movement “depends on the idea that things will get better and better and progress will be made in the actualization of equality.” It is telling, then, that during the 2012 campaign progressives were “confined to defending what they’ve already achieved or making small improvements—student loans, free condoms. The Democrats are the party of free condoms. That’s typical for them.”
But Democrats’ refusal to address the future in positive terms, he adds, also reveals the party’s intent to create “an entitlement or welfare state that takes issues off the bargaining table and renders them above politics.” The end goal, Mr. Mansfield worries, is to sideline the American constitutional tradition in favor of “a practical constitution consisting of progressive measures the left has passed that cannot be revoked. And that is what would be fixed in our political system—not the Constitution.”
This is all great stuff, and there is more of it in the rest of the interview. In a rightly ordered universe, however, this would go straight into Bartlett’s: “The Democrats are the party of free condoms. That’s typical for them.” Thank you, Professor Mansfield. Thank you very much.
NOTE and QUERY: As I recall, this Commentary review demonstrated the relentless left-wing bias of Bartlett’s sixteenth edition under the editorship of Justin Kaplan. It’s now up to an eighteenth edition. Has it gotten any better?