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Harvey Mansfield
Principles That Don’t Change « Back to Story

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i heard of the grey haired harvard professor
i want to meet you
Some people who have made comments appear to be bemused (to be kind) by this seemingly incoherent piece or (at worst) dismissive of the content. I think there is more here than meets the eye.
In essence, I take it Mansfield may be lamenting the capitulation of the 'best' of the civilised world to "Heroic Materialism", in the words of Kenneth Clark in his fabulous personal presentation of Civilisation for the BBC in 1969. Clark worried that such a world abstracted man from the need to accept anything as permanent and external to his touch - what we commoners would call the 'immutability of truth'. Instead, the world consisted of discrete things and continuous processes, which in science were ever changing.
So, "diversity, choice and equality" are the flip-side (the humanities-side, if you like) of this scientific world. Science has won and now rules the mind, not the other way round. It is the very opposite of what Mansfield believes ought to be happening. And nowhere is it worse for him than in the universities, particularly the best of the best universities, because there the mind is supposed to develop this larger view - to answer the question why "knowledge is better than prejudice".
Anyway, that's what I think!
Mansfield is a great scholar often mentioned alongside conservative thinkers like Leo Strauss and Alan Bloom. I wish he would participate more in public forums and debates (on C-Span, Youtube, etc.). He's featured in almost nothing on Youtube. I wish he would consider doing a lecture series on political philosophy along the lines of his concise little introduction. He has the opportunity to imprint on future generations. I'd love to see him go toe-to-toe with some of our more vociferous atheists. (He would destroy Sam Harris, urbanely and gentlemanly, needless to say.

The opportunity to exploit his life-time of (I dare to say) wisdom is must not be missed. And by wisdom I mean, among other things, his prejudices. (Why is he a Republican? which candidate would be support today, given that Obama's policies are well to the right of an Eisenhower and Nixon?)

In the ideal society elders of the tribe who've distinguished themselves as you have, rather than celebrities, would be convene for public conversations. I wish he would sit down for another extended interview soon--and not by Brian Lamb (!) but someone who knows the important and challenging questions that would do him justice as a scholar and philosopher.

(For example, what does he make of Stone's work on The Trial of Socrates? Specifically, the picture he paints of Plato's Euthyphron compared to Strauss's essay?)
It give me some insight about Harvard university and facts abt mit and boston university.
like this article..
absolutely brilliant sir....hats off! :)
The liberal arts are a form of moral discourse which belong to a small community who don't need to be told they are good. It is better that it lacks pretensions, otherwise there would be too much talk about the heedlessness of science, and priests (who wouldn't call themselves priests) would grow overconfident and crowd the streets, brooming out all the science and replacing it with moralizing blather. Behavioral trivialities would be debated with fervor while murder, rape and child molestation rates would everywhere climb to Bible-Belt levels. The priest's flocks would grow large and degenerate again, and they would be pleased.

True devotion to the arts and philosophy is rare. The practice of them should therefore also be rare. Farewell massified liberal arts. It was nice while it lasted. And please, Mr. Mansfield, do take a break from all this heedless opinionizing. The modern world is the best one we've had so far.
Is there something that ties these random and unsupported assertions together? Is this a radically edited version of the remarks, one that leaves out the connections between the ideas? As it stands, this is literally incoherent.
This is embarassingly incoherent and unfocused. I've read it three times and I have no idea what he's saying.
Harvey, why are you so grumpy?
Let's get rid of neocons in our universities.
We don't need our youth brainwashed.
Mansfield has a point - science has not always worked to explain whether or not it's products are beneficial - but he seems oblivious to the effects of science's advance on the so-called humanities.

Those overarching values that we esteem essentially because we are taught - by the Humanities - to value them have not necessarily guided the human race along the best path. Inequality among citizens of every country is high, wars are predictable and costly, we routinely eradicate other species and wreak havoc with our environment, and cruelty, dogmatism, lies and stupidity have characterized the human race since its inception.

The question in, is that the best we can do? To that critical question, the Humanities has no answer for it is incapable of exploring alternatives to its values, of teasing apart for example the degree to which we can change our values and hence our behavior versus what is essentially genetic and hence less tractable. That is the province of science, and particularly over the last 30-40 years science has taken up the challenge.

Some day we will have better answers to those questions, and it will be science, not the Humanities, that has given them to us and, in so doing, given us a basis for evaluating whether we can find a better value structure than that taught us for years by people like Mansfield.

Maybe then we will have a shot at escaping from the bounds of gratuitous ignorance; of beginning to live in a fact-based world where everyone can agree for example on the fact of global warming, and where we might edge toward agreement on a values framework that will tell us how it might be possible to work toward the greatest good for the greatest number, for example.
Dr. Mark H. Shapiro May 29, 2011 at 1:16 PM
Back in the mid-50s I studied Latin at a public high school here in southern California (I was a recent transplant from the Bay State, where I grew up in a slum about six blocks from Harvard Yard.) My Latin teacher was a Harvard man, presumably a man from the Old Harvard.

Within a week or two it became apparent to me and most of my classmates that this person was pompous, dull, so lacking in common sense that he likely couldn't find his way out of a telephone booth in Fresno with a road map. He also was completely incompetent as a teacher.

It's hardly fair to judge a University by a single graduate. Lord knows that the second tier public university that I taught at has turned out its share of functionally illiterate graduates. But, if this gentleman was an example of even a fraction of the Harvard graduates of his day, it's safe to say that not every Harvard man received a first-class education there.

I would venture to guess that today's Harvard men and women have been vetted far more carefully than was my erstwhile Latin teacher. That in itself shows that Harvard has had the capacity to grow in spite of a few faculty troglodytes like Mr. Mansfield.
Mansfield!! Don't bother showing up for work tomorrow, you're fired! Maybe Cornell will take you, if you aren't too socially awkward to announce that at a wine and cheese party!

Sincerely, Harvard.
SAT scores do not signal merit. Neither do high grade point averages. Call it smartocracy if you like, but please don't call it meritocracy. The proof is in the pudding.
Either conservatives are in trouble, or Mansfield is over the hill.
Science cannot scientifically prove itself good, but then can anything else do a better job at it, scientifically prove itself good? Horse sense tells us science is good, we see evidence of its usefulness everywhere around, for the purist this may not be enough. The rigorous proof would first require us to know exactly what good means.
Moreover if science is not the holy grail why adopt scientific methods? Or is it that science has to prove itself scientifically while humanities do the same with their own methods?
The first idea in the essay is about conviction, pride in one's brilliance, faith in one's ability and clarity of view, the recognition that a multiplicity of ideas does not necessarily imply an equivalence among them. This critique of science however goes against
the very grain of the earlier idea. Fuzzy abstractionism cannot negate real world results. Science cannot scientifically prove itself good. Can humanities do it? Can we prove anything good for that matter? Can we even prove that good and bad are two different things or they are the same, just a manifestation of the world as it exists, or maybe a quirk of consciousness? Isn't this very similar to the idea you resist: that our desire for equality is somehow compelling us to suppress merit or to euphemise demerit as diversity.
Sir I respect you for your ideas, but I find huge contradictions, how can science be brought down by an idea that does not stand its own test? With such a logic nothing can good or bad , they just become vaguely equivalent.
Without professors like Mansfield, Huntington and Pinker, Harvard's intellectual diversity would be largely replaced by diversity of another kind.
Hard to say what your speech really means. What does it mean?
A subtle yet devastating critique of what has gone wrong at Harvard and a wonderful exposition of the fundamental ideological tensions that underlie the shift.

As a Harvard '42 (mcl), son, nephew, sister, brother Harvard also, I have a deep affection for the school even going back to those 70-year past days when it was struggling to find itself. I have a theory I would like to inflict -- Harvard's emergence to its present prominence was due in large part to Conant making it the first Ivy League school to confront the Jewish quota resulting in a more eminent and charitable student body and, by osmosis, a more distinguished world-view in its intellectual leadership. Sorry, I think the connection is clear but no one talks of it!
What Blather. Harvard indeed.
The joke as I remember it was: how do you tell a chemist from a physicist? The chemist washes his hands BEFORE he unzips his pants.
Karen Sampson Hudson May 27, 2011 at 1:00 PM
With all due respect, I suggest that business ethics be strongly emphasized at Harvard in the light of the latest Wall Street antics.
As a graduate of a public ivy, University of Michigan, I respectfully submit that our "well-rounded" education, complete with high-level intercollegiate sports, marching bands, authentic diversity based on merit without "legacies", has as its highest value the development of rigorous critical thinking and the formation of a strong social conscience. I could have attended Harvard. I chose Michigan instead.
West Coast college student May 27, 2011 at 12:31 PM
The blathering of an outdated Good Old Boy who condemns science for lacking morals or judgment just after praising Harvard as a malleable institution free from the constraints of rigid morals or judgments. Retire this tenure relic from the Good Old Boys welfare club.
HM writes "It is the job of the humanities to make non-science into something positive..." Given his preceding argument, it would make better sense to claim it is the job of the humanities to make *science* into something positive, and to steer it away from its most venal, collusive and inhuman tendencies. Harvard has always befuddled merit with money; the New Harvard merely proclaims to be "okay with that."
Prof. Mansfield:

A philosophy of science is certainly crucial for science, now more than ever. And, you are correct that such a philosophy cannot come from within science itself. Scientists must participate, of course--but they cannot, must not, be the only ones involved in that discussion.

You state, "When there is no basis for what we agree to, it becomes mandatory that we agree. The very fragility of change as a principle makes us hold on to it with insistence and tenacity..."

Yet "change" (qua change) is neither positive nor negative--and thus "change" alone hardly qualifies as a "principle".

Further, I don't see change as the defining characteristic of PostModernism. PostModernism (as I understand and use the term) correctly defined, means "credulity towards metanarratives. Metanarratives such as science certainly should be carefully, and continually critiqued.

But, with nothing more than an adherence to a bague notion of "change", the humanities are not going to be able to judge (to paraphrase Aristotle) which change(s) should be made, and when, and to what degree(s), and for what reason(s), etc.?

In fact, from your description of the situation in many "major" universities, it seems as if judgement is the very thing which has been abandoned.

And, with a discipline as complex (and as potentially lethal) as science, the ability to determine which changes will be beneficial (as opposed to those that might be disastrous)--in other words, rational and sound judgement is more than simply appropriate; it is crucial.

If adherence to nothing but "change for change's sake" is all that "the best university's" humanities departments can offer science, then I would strongly advise scientists and their supporters to remain as far from these departments as possible!

You have claimed that it is "mandatory that we agree".

I assume that I am part of that "we".

Yet, I certainly do not agree.

Keith Russell

A good understanding of Mansfield can be discovered in Nussbaum's manly takedown of him:
"At Harvard, the challenge comes not from the faculty, but from one’s fellow students . . ."

That's perfectly obvious from this amazingly bad article. The author most likely would be too busy regaling his students with "jokes" about Old and New Harvard and what a "Yale man" now does to teach them anything useful or significant at all.

I agree: this article *has* to be a joke. Surely, it's self-parody of a very high order. If it's not, it's "pompous uselessness" indeed.
wouter krijbolder May 27, 2011 at 8:59 AM
last week I went to see The Inside Job where the dean of Havard Law was interviewed: he didn't seem to mind conflict of interest whereby professors work closely with the too big to fail Wall Street bank(er)s (kept his mouth wide shut, which is an agreement in itself). after comparing this with medical professors working for big pharma the dean regained his voice; he didn't mind conflict of interest of those theaching Law and Ethics and what have you (contracts made for CDO/CDS, loansharking)

for me this is New Harvard
I don't know what the Bradley prize is, but, reading these remarks, it must be awarded to honor pompous uselessness.
Ramesh Raghuvanshi May 27, 2011 at 8:07 AM
Reading article I amused myself not learning anything.What Professor want to tell to readers?Only titbit of his rumination, his spending time there?What reader learn form all this?Why you published so boring article? why west so much paper on this kind of junk?You are not getting good article in America for publishing?
Ramesh Raghuvanshi May 27, 2011 at 8:06 AM
Reading article I amused myself not learning anything.What Professor want to tell to readers?Only titbit of his rumination, his spending time there?What reader learn form all this?Why you published so boring article? why west so much paper on this kind of junk?You are not getting good article in America for publishing?
Ramesh Raghuvanshi May 27, 2011 at 8:05 AM
Reading article I amused myself not learning anything.What Professor want to tell to readers?Only titbit of his rumination, his spending time there?What reader learn form all this?Why you published so boring article? why west so much paper on this kind of junk?You are not getting good article in America for publishing?
"Political correctness makes a moral principle of opposing, and excluding, those of us who believe in principles that don’t change." Here lies HCM's terrible, furious, blind spot.
What a load. Where is Professor Mansfield's studied skepticism of the march of science, technology, and progress when he lends his "authority" to the utter moral folly of unprovoked wars of aggression in the middle east? All those "postmodern" types, whoever he means, were probably people smart enough and educated enough to know that it has not been given to us to remake entire peoples in our own image, and that allowing the deaths of a couple hundred thousand (at least) non-combatants because it makes you feel "manly" is probably not ethical, even by changing standards. Mansfield's trumpeting of timeless values is little more than a thin mask for his atrocious nihilism.
Ah Mr. Mansfield? Sir? Oh great one? As a graduate of a Public Unversity, I may not fully understand your point. Is it that you mourn the days when the graduates of Yale and Harvard ruled the country and we serfs bowed and scrapped before you? I can guarantee you that a Harvard man or woman will inform each person they meet of that fact within a few minutes. Nothing of note has changed, the arrogance, the conceit and the preditible lecturing of the "unwashed" as to how we are to love our lives. Witness, Al Gore, one of your esteemed alumni, even thought he was a C student or was that before the advent of grade inflation, another thing the Ivy League Colleges are known for? I have to admit, that when I cause a Harvard educated lawyer to lose his license, it gives me a special pleasure. Someday the disgruntled will be coming for the elites and they won't be carrying books.
I'm not sure Harvard has changed as much as you say. I was at MIT in the late 1960's and spent what little spare time I had around Harvard Yard. There seemed then to be a great disconnect between many Harvard folks and the rest of the human race, and not based on actual or assumed merit either, it was all attitude. Much as you describe. Just another variant of 'we know best - but don't ask us to prove that we actually know asnything at all'.
If you don,t stand for something. You,ll fall for anything
Fred Williams, PhD Pol Sci May 20, 2011 at 8:15 AM
It was late fall. I was reading Mansfield's "Manliness" while awaiting my son at the student commons at Carleton College. I was seated in the "loft" overlooking the lunch counter. Beneath me, near the entrance, a table that had been set up to sell fresh flowers. Finally, a crush of students arrived, signaling the class break. As I looked up from Mansfield's book, I took note that every young women, and not one young man, appeared to be physically drawn to the flowers. The flowers' appeal to the women was almost visible, like an arm that reached out and nabbed them all. Some book.
One of the best articles (for insights) I have read in recent times
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"leading from behind" comes from Larry Niven's scifi books. It refers to the Pierson Puppeteers who while extremely advanced scientifically are extreme cowards who "lead from behind." Their greatest and most cowardly leader is called "The Hindmost."
Thoughtfully said, as usual. But is that not his revered teacher, Leo Strauss, standing behind him and whispering those sweet reasonings into his ear?
God help us! When I read articles like this, I am reminded how lucky I am not to be anywhere near Harvard or the arrogant provincials who dwell there.
Mr. Grupenhoff, I assume he was being sarcastic. As I recall in Romans 1, Paul argued against the view that sin should not be shunned that grace may abound. Somewhat your point. I assume the prof was giving the school a polite Finger.
I never thought I would hear such honest and insightful comments from a current Harvard professor. Maybe there is yet hope for all of us.
Richard Grupenhoff May 17, 2011 at 7:40 PM
"Respect for merit gives confidence that the inequalities resident in our democracy are the source of progress...." Just how are we to translate that? One could say, for example, that slavery should be reinstated, since it will bring more progress and greater respect for merit.

And, "How else is a Midwesterner diverse if he is not a hayseed?" Let's see, let me count the ways....

This whole article is a joke, right? How else could a Harvard professor be so stupid?