Thursday, November 26, 2015

Princeton as a task

I would be interested to know
if Woodrow Wilson were better
known for a deeply controver-
sial Presidency of Princeton,
or of the United States. In
both settings he was a com-
promised Progressive, and in
both he seems to be emerging
as being at fault for it. How
distracting the dead can be.

I offer no opinion in the ex-
citing question, of whether
his name should be associated
with various institutions he
very clearly did inspire at
Princeton - principally, a
School of Public and Interna-
tional Affairs which has lent 
cover for many contentious 
careers, such as that of Gen-
eral David Petraeus; and an
experiment in non-discrimin-
atory undergraduate society,
a nominal "college" within the
college, the first of its kind,
followed next by one named for
Adlai Stevenson.

Among Wilson's other interests,
he also supported the viciously
discriminatory (and anti-intel-
lectual) association, the Ku
Klux Klan, famous for conduct-
ing a wave of terror for sev-
eral generations in the United
States against many sects, but
most notably against one race.

It would be hard to name such
complex, if not compromised Pro-
gressives, without thinking of
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and
William Jefferson Clinton; but
of them, only Madison attended
Princeton, earning nomenclature
of an underclass dining hall for
the trouble of authoring the na-
tion's charter of government, and
its first ten amendments. 

Now, for acts having nothing to
do with Wilson's brilliant en-
hancements of undergraduate ed-
ucation at Princeton, structur-
ing a system of instruction be-
yond price or compromise, and
without the balkanizations of
teaching of Harvard and Yale,
revulsion with his racism has
brought a challenge to the trif-
ling honoraria of what a couple
of buildings are called. Icons
are made for clasms, and exer-
tions of this kind come proper-
ly to the territory of inquiry.
Wield the soap, for what it is
worth; it cannot touch the task.

It's when we see Samuel Alito,
Donald Rumsfeld, and Ted Cruz
listed as alumni of the univer-
sity, that genuinely pressing
questions present themselves, 
and truly do implicate the soul
of the liberal education. Even
with the best will in the world,
a great institution can misfire;
and when Princeton is reconciled
with the lasting moment of Wil-
son's contributions, possibly a
little curiosity will remain, for
addressing the mentality of those
in her care, this very day. Wood-
row Wilson's project can fail; if
one wants a better Princeton, let
vigilance look there.

Thanksgiving, 2015

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