Migration, capital punishment, House “master”
I have to praise Lincoln Caplan’s article on Judge Richard Posner (“Rhetoric and Law,” January-February, page 49) for largely avoiding the gushing worshipfulness of the typical Harvard Magazine piece. But I still must demur on some points.
First, I think the label “pragmatist,” even if Posner’s own self-description, is not only misleading but unfair to William James. I see Posner’s approach as far closer to John Dewey’s perversion, “instrumentalism.”
Second, I think his approach is fundamentally wrong, even dangerous, for a judge. Take antitrust law, where he has had the most influence. I personally am sympathetic to his wealth maximization approach. But there are many—as Caplan notes—who think economic efficiency is less important than the political and social benefits of having a large number of small operators. This is basically a matter of values—and should the choice be made by an unelected and irremovable judge?
Another example is his switch on photo IDs for voting. He gives two reasons: “voter impersonation fraud is extremely rare,” and the requirement “impede[s] voting by people easily discouraged from voting.” As someone who has lived so many years in Chicago, how could Posner possibly say voter fraud is “extremely rare”? And no one, I think, will disagree that lack of knowledge about or interest in public affairs is widespread even among the roughly 60 percent of the eligible electorate who cast a ballot. Is it thus sound policy to encourage voting by those likely to be the most deficient in those regards?
John Braeman ’54
On the last day of his constitutional law class, the last words that [Loeb University] Professor Paul Freund uttered were, “In the law, there is only one absolute and that is intelligence.” At the time, I was much impressed with this “build a better mousetrap” theory, dovetailing as it did with what I had come to see as the true Harvard motto: Vanitas (rather than Veritas).
According to Lincoln Caplan, Freund was Richard Posner’s mentor, the man who, e.g., obtained a clerkship for him with Justice Brennan. Just as I did a few years later, Posner probably spent a lot of time parsing the difference in the constitutional thinking of Justices Frankfurter and Black. My memory goes back five decades, but I can still see clearly the process by which these two giants authorized the federal government to bring the states into alignment with what might be called civilized thinking. Frankfurter took the position that it was state conduct which “shocked the conscience” that was prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment, while Black argued that the only rights “incorporated” by the due process clause were those enumerated in the federal Bill of Rights.
It is easy, I think, to see the line from Frankfurter to Freund to Posner: the only absolute is intelligence! Certainly, none of these men hide their lights under the Biblical bushel. They were all far brighter than their generational peers and did not hesitate to let everyone know it. However, even as a legal naïf, I could see that Frankfurter was engaging in gross judicial lawmaking, clothing his totally subjective a priori conclusions with the patina of erudition. The same can be said of much of Posner’s jurisprudence.
The co-founder of the now ubiquitous 12-step programs said that the first step toward theism is for a person to admit that he or she isn’t G-d. Posner would definitely not make it in Alcoholics Anonymous. Like his Harvard mentor, he sees himself (perhaps correctly) as the smartest person in the room. More problematic, he gives no evidence of recognizing any “higher authority,” e.g. natural law, originalism, constitutionalism.
These three Harvard Law School wise men seem to possess in great abundance “the haughty spirit that goes before a fall.” They even fail to recognize that great fundament of our system (which sociologists have basically verified): that the collective wisdom of 12 people, randomly selected, is usually better than that of one genius.
H. John Rogers ’66
New Martinsville, W.Va.
Editor’s note: Stephen Ellmann ’72, J.D. ’76, of New York Law School, observes that the Posner article “refers to my father, Richard Ellmann, but spells his last name ‘Ellman.’ We two-n Ellmanns have fought for generations to preserve that second ‘n.’ ” The editors regret the oversight.
I found the paean to Richard Posner quite troubling. For a person allegedly so intellectual and “pragmatic,” Judge Posner seems to lack any insight into himself, history, or human nature.
Posner can’t understand why a brilliant federal appellate judge like himself, who is openly contemptuous of the Constitution, wasn’t appointed to the Supreme Court. He disdains the separation of powers written into that document by the Founding Fathers (and indirectly by the strong women who supported them), who feared the tyranny of arrogant despots more than the inefficiencies of human politics.
These fears have proven well founded because despite these protections, the judicial system has managed to promulgate the most egregious abuses of power in American history: from sanctioning Native American genocide and the unlawful seizure of their property, to slavery and segregation; from depriving women of the right to vote, to the imprisonment of Americans of Japanese ancestry without due process during World War II; and now to the notion that certain human lives have no moral value because we can’t hear their voices. And Judge Posner is worried about guns?
Posner’s sneer on the cover dismisses we who swore “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and sacrificed/sacrifice so much to do just that. But the fact that he didn’t make it to the Supreme Court shows that our system occasionally works, and is worth preserving.
James N. Suojanen ’74, M.D.
The very interesting article on Richard Posner tells us that “He had also taught himself ancient Greek, with the help of a classicist, so he could read Homer and the New Testament in the original.” Posner must have been disappointed, since the New Testament and Homer are written in radically different Greek. It would be somewhat like studying Beowulf in order to read Shakespeare.
Christopher L. Webber
The modern version of legal positivism is described by Judge Richard Posner in his book The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory (2002), which is based on the Holmes Lectures that he gave at the Harvard Law School in 1997.
In those lectures Judge Posner defended legal positivism and the practice of judges separating their interpretation of the law from moral arguments. He then goes further and argues that all morality as well as all law is relative. The lectures are available online and Judge Posner does give good reasons for his opinions in terms of judicial interpretation of the law.
I attended those Holmes Lectures and there was only one contrary question raised by the audience. Afterward, the dean of the Law School also conveyed to me that the lectures expressed his own views. Our own Declaration of Independence, however, was written in the manner of Euclidian geometry and its first moral assertion was that “all men are created equal.” Madison, Tocqueville, Lincoln, and the great reformers such as the suffragettes and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. also considered the primary moral concept of our government to be equality, though we have certainly struggled to live up to that standard. The Constitution with the Bill of Rights contains “Higher Law”: substantive concepts of equality and freedom, as well as democratic procedural concepts of equality such as “one person, one vote” and majority rule. The United States Constitution, though, was also ratified by a procedural process and even its substantive principles, such as the Bill of Rights, can be changed or amended not by a majority, but by two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states.
Political circumstances change and we now live in a pluralistic global community with access to weapons of mass destruction. After the tragedies of two world wars, the United Nations in 1948 set forth and aspired to a standard in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which began by stating, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,….”
Legal positivism in an international context, on the other hand, is entirely relative and does not recognize any universal values or Natural Law concepts such as human rights. It is thus disarmed in an international “battle of ideas.” Perhaps this background of legal positivism as advocated by Judge Posner is one of the reasons that our leaders have problems conveying American values even in the presence of radical terrorism with beheadings, the abduction of young girls into slavery, the burning and drowning of men in cages, and a genocide of minority groups in the Middle East.
James H. Rutherford ’64, M.D.
Author of Moral and Political Philosophy
New Albany, Ohio
Having seen Cass Sunstein (in 2015) and now Richard Posner masterfully profiled for Harvard Magazine, might a Yalie cast an affirmative vote that Lincoln Caplan compose some annual tribute? Posner’s observation on “the critic’s job” (page 57) held true in this case, whose girth and depth might otherwise provoke skimming for embedded meaning. Instead my attention was captured and memories rekindled from one glorious year of legal study (across the river at BU). With your permission, I will send this issue to my father, a retired lawyer who toward the end of his career lamented the state of legal affairs.
May legal “thinkers” heed Posner’s approach while bickering over the selection of a new Supreme Court justice. Thanks to Caplan’s article, I anticipate Posner’s commentary as both logical and literary reprieve from the usual huff and puff.
IN “When Water Is Safer Than Land,” Jacqueline Bhabha suggests that the abandonment of the Dublin Convention regime was a result of Europe’s migrant crisis (January-February 2016, page 41). In fact, Germany’s suspension of the Dublin protocols helped cause the crisis. The Convention forces migrants to seek asylum in the first European Union country they enter, thereby preventing “asylum-shopping.” Since most migrants arrive first at one of the impecunious nations of southern Europe, this sensible policy dampens the allure of generous northern European welfare states. When this bulwark was removed in the summer of 2015, the stream of migrants predictably turned into a flood.
Enoch Powell famously observed that “The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils.” Angela Merkel abdicated this function by opening Germany’s borders. Her actions have earned plaudits from the elite media, globalist politicians, and ivory-tower academics. But she must weigh this fleeting approval against the enduring scorn of German taxpayers who must now support the foreigners that she recklessly invited. Long after Merkel has left office, Germany will struggle to placate a potentially inassimilable minority, many of whose constituents are openly hostile to European culture, traditions, and manners.
If Europe seeks a future other than the dystopia foretold by Jean Raspail in The Camp of the Saints, it must turn away from the myopic globalism of Angela Merkel and embrace the sober, far-sighted nationalism of leaders like Viktor Orban, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen.
Matthew D. Burwell, M.B.A. ’06
Thank you for publishing the essay by Jenny Gathright (The Undergraduate, “My Harvard Education,” January-February, page 35) describing her growing emotional maturity in dealing with her insecurities and anxiety as a woman of color in situations that are new and awkward for her in her Harvard experience, both in and out of the classroom.
The author’s descriptions are a breath of fresh air in the current environment of other college students far and wide demonstrating and petitioning for “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and more authentic “ethnic foods.” Those other students often participate in shout-downs of speakers with opposing views, or may even scream for the removal from buildings and academic departments of names and statues of persons with imperfect histories. By comparison, Gathright appears to possess self-awareness of her understandable insecurities. Instead of demonstrating for external changes that might help her temporarily feel more comfortable, she finds herself developing impressive journalistic skills writing this quality piece that is informative for all of us.
As an undergraduate in the 1960s, and as a white male, I would like to reassure Gathright that I experienced a range of similar insecurities and anxieties about my own place as a Harvard undergraduate then. Kudos to her for sharing “My Harvard Education.”
Hugh R. Winig, M.D. ’65
Laura Burnett, M.L.A. ’86
I present a small talk to third-year Johns Hopkins medical students, entitled “The Ignorome.” It’s intended to show that ignorance is a fundamental element in medical care, that the ability to acknowledge and manage ignorance is essential, and that humility is a necessary part of honesty. It is not a uniformly popular talk here.
Jenny Gathright has provided a brilliant description of one aspect of ignorance and has really helped me. Although not specific to the field of medicine, the ignorance she describes is a direct threat to people of color who become patients. It’s an area of ignorance that medical professionals, as everyone else, may not naturally recognize and manage. I am adding her article to the front of the syllabus.
Thomas E. Finucane ’71, M.D.
Professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins
Sophia Nguyen’s “Capital Punishment’s Persistence” (January-February, page 14), while apparently objective in approaching the topic, places the United States in company of some notorious human-rights violators, while ignoring that other countries, including Japan, India, and Indonesia, also employ capital punishment. In fact, while technically true that “most countries have abolished the death penalty,” the Amnesty International website states that 101 countries have done so, while the United Nations has more than 190 member states.
To be sure, most countries your readers like to associate with (European Union states, Canada, Australia, etc.) have abolished capital punishment, and some where it is still on the books have not invoked it in recent years (Brazil, Russia, etc.). Nonetheless, journalistic integrity would require that no guilt by association be present.
Derick P. Pasternak ’63, M.D. ’67
The author responds: “Most,” here, simply means “a majority of” countries (not “almost all,” as the word is sometimes used colloquially). Professor Temkin’s paper specifically examines the United States as an exception among Western democracies. India, Japan, and Indonesia do retain capital punishment, as do Singapore and Taiwan, but on Amnesty International’s most recent list of “persistent executioners,” the United States ranks significantly higher than any of the above. In Japan and Indonesia, though, the use of the death penalty is on the rise. Thank you for pointing to this broader global context.
In response to “Capital Punishment’s Persistence,” about the research of Moshik Temkin, my belief is that when one person takes another person’s life, he or she ceases to be human. Therefore, the concept of human rights as opposed to legal rights becomes irrelevant.
The definition of human includes being humane—being tender, compassionate, and having sympathy for others. Killing someone does not seem to clear that hurdle. Temkin refers to the slavery argument that “it was immoral for one man to own another man as property.” I wonder what adjective Temkin would use to describe one man killing another? “Inhuman” seems appropriate.
The offsetting argument would be that if governments execute people for killing people, then they become inhuman. Is it possible to be inhuman to a person who has repudiated his humanity?
I agree that the subject of capital punishment should be a national debate. Just remember that a debate implies two opposing viewpoints.
Ron Dugan, M.B.A. ’67
Dr. Ernest Bergel makes some excellent points in his letter on sexual assault (January-February, page 6). But those who are sexually assaulted are not partners; they are victims.
Frances Pierson O’Leary ’54
As a product of the silent ’50s generation at Harvard, I was delighted to read the letter by Ernest Bergel, M.D. ’56, in the last issue of Harvard Magazine. In this new era of bringing sexual assault on campus into the open, Bergel advocates bringing in the field of scientific social psychology to explore the subject.
I think this is an excellent new direction for President Faust’s task force to explore. Let’s take the subject out of the locker room jokes and/or moral proclamations and find out what is really happening in the field of our student culture.
Bergel recommends collecting statistics from the past, interviewing the assaulters as well as the victims, and finding out what factors other than alcohol contribute to the problem. What better place to launch such a study than Harvard, with its vast resources and trained personnel?
The problem of poor treatment of women extends beyond the undergraduate level. Last year at my sixtieth reunion I was still hearing stories about women over the years who had experienced abusive treatment from men at reunions, social gatherings, and committee work. This behavior seems endemic to our culture and not just at Harvard. It’s time to get at the causes of this behavior and remedy it.
I also applaud the efforts of the new dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, whose main goal is to push for inclusivity at Harvard—by such moves as trying to persuade the all-male final clubs to admit women and to curb student sexual assaults (Boston Globe, Metro, section, January 3).
Audry Lynch, Ed.D. ’55
I find the lack of diversity in the current edition of the magazine unsettling. I read President Faust’s letter (page 5) and expected to read more about the challenges the Harvard Law School is taking on: battling racial inequity, defending human rights, immigration, etc. In the entire issue, I could only find two references or articles featuring Asian men, one feature on an African/Latino male, and one with an Indian female. All of the other articles and references were to white males, with the exception of five photos of white women.
As a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I took several courses by top scholars and professors of color, and find it upsetting that their work is not more prominently featured in the overall university publication. My work now takes me to areas of the nation that are struggling to deal with race, education, equity, and diversity. My former position at the U.S. Department of Education, as the deputy director for STEM Education, allowed me to tackle issues of underrepresentation in STEM fields, which is a serious concern that should be reflected by our nation’s top institutions. Harvard and other top institutions could help us make sense of the racially charged issues of gun violence, educational inequity, immigration, etc. The article on the Syrian refugee crisis is a good example, and it would have been nice to at least include an image of Professor Bhabha. Images matter, and in a magazine that I look forward to reading bimonthly, I want to see the faces of women and men of all races reflected as contributors to this publication from one of the top institutions of learning on the earth.
Camsie McAdams, Ed.M. ’05
Editor’s note: We take the point, and encourage you to look at multiple issues, not just one bimonthly edition, and the magazine’s extensive reporting online. The magazine does not run photographs of contributors, so to do so for repeat contributor (and subject) Jacqueline Bhabha would be an aberration. Finally, as the reports of the senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity suggest (http://faculty.harvard.edu), in many respects, the University’s professoriate is less diverse than it wishes—a subject of regular, thorough reporting in these pages.
“Master” No More
The purpose of a university is to teach, and to try to teach accurately when public opinion would prefer obfuscation. The English word master is a very old Indo-European word, among whose cognates are Latin magister (“teacher”), French maître, and Ukrainian майстер (“expert”). In English, it has countless benign usages other than the one denoting the owner of slaves in the pre-1865 American South. Yet, with President Drew Faust’s approval, public opinion at Harvard is about to expunge the term “House master” [see “Debating Diversity,” in this issue, page 17].
Of itself, what one calls the leader of a Harvard House is not important. But the effort to expunge “master” is a sign we are in a silly season of the intellect. Harvard is not doing away with its magister in artibus (“master of arts”), and there is no agitation against “Overseer”—a Harvard word whose context in slavery bespoke brutality.
What is really going on? “Master” and “mistress” were common terms for teachers in English and American schools and colleges, including in the 380 years of Harvard. Language changes and the usage may seem quaint to us. But it never implied condonation of slavery, which many Harvard graduates spent their lives opposing. More than a few died in the war that ended it.
It is fashionable—worse, I think, it is acceptable—to despise the class of people who founded and led Boston, Harvard, and Massachusetts in their first three centuries. The peer tribalism of the sophomoric has sometimes shaken the world for the better. But in this case, it only seems to want to walk off with the head of the dean, or of the dean’s English. “House master” never had anything to do with “slave master.” The real implication of the agitation to expunge the term is to exclude a certain class of people from the human family. It closely resembles anti-Semitism, which it could easily turn into.
To date, Drew Faust has led Harvard with a common-sense enlightenment that was making her beloved. Her association with this silly season of the intellect halts that.
David A. Mittell Jr. ’66
I read with interest the note in the “Yesterday’s News” column (January-February, page 32) that in 1916 “William Stanislaus Murphy, Class of 1885, leaves all his money to establish scholarships at the College for young men with his last name.” Thanks to this generosity, my father, John Gordon Murphy ’25, LL.B. ’31, who grew up in a large working-class family in Somerville, was able to receive a Harvard education. Many years later, at my father’s urging, I inquired whether the Murphy Scholarship still existed. Alas, the funds had long since been expended.
John G. Murphy Jr. ’68
In all of the articles I have read in Harvard Magazine concerning the improvement of teaching at Harvard, I have yet to come across any reference to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a readily available resource that, on the surface at least, would seem to be able to make some contribution to the effort. Is this lack because there has been no effort to reach out to HGSE, because HGSE has rebuffed the effort, or because the magazine has chosen not to mention any such collaboration?
John H. Gillespie, Ed.D. ’72
Old Lyme, Conn.
Editor’s note: Recent coverage of the online initiative and of the College’s General Education program did not involve HGSE people because they were not specifically engaged there, but they appear in the broader spectrum of coverage on teaching and learning, many times. The magazine has profiled Pforzheimer professor of teaching and learning Richard Light and reported on several of his initiatives; devoted a recent cover story (“Computing in the Classroom,” March-April 2015, page 48) to HGSE faculty members and others involved in developing and deploying educational technology; profiled its current dean in unusual depth and detail (“Education and Opportunity,” September-October 2013, page 52), following initial news coverage; reported on the school’s capital campaign and priorities online and in print; covered the new Harvard Teaching Fellows Initiative; and reported extensively on HGSE researchers’ evaluations of HarvardX, among other examples. Our reporters are in regular contact with the school.
The placing of black tape over the coat of arms on the Law School seal appears to be a trespass on the case for which civil damages at common law would be six pence. The removal of that black tape from the seal and placing it on the faculty portraits (“Race Debate, and Defacement,” January-February, page 31) is the same civil wrong. While the intent of the former trespassers might be considered laudable, the intentions of the latter are not so clear. Could be bigotry, could be a very politically incorrect reaction. President Faust calls it a hate crime and orders an investigation. The question is: are these trespasses different as a matter of law? Could be a subject for a Law Review article or perhaps a topic for a Restatement of the Law.
Robert N. Grosby ’47
Boynton Beach, Fla.
Native American Rights
Something’s wrong at Harvard Magazine when “No hostile Indians” is the phrase highlighted in an article on Judge Richard Posner.
Perhaps Posner was tongue-in-cheek when he used the phrase, but what does its use say about him, and about Harvard Magazine: That “we” are non-Indians, and that “we” retain the right to take Indians’ land and lives?
“To be an Indian in modern American society is, in a very real sense, to be unreal and ahistorical,” wrote Vine Deloria Jr. in 1968.
Like many Indian activists before him, Deloria, a Yangton Sioux, was well-educated and dedicated. A scholar, author, and activist, Deloria was recognized at his death in 2005 as “a champion of Indian activism” by The New York Times.
This month, as Ammon Bundy calls for the return of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge “to its original owners,” this nation has an opportunity to return this land to that group, the Northern Paiute Indians. As a sovereign nation, the Northern Paiutes’ right to their lands—not only the wildlife refuge but also the land where the Bundys illegally graze their cattle—is upheld by international law.
However, U.S. constitutional law still upholds the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal bull that Pope Nicholas V issued in 1454, which asserts that only “discovering, Christian nations” can claim title to land. Ironically, it was in the year of Deloria’s death that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in City of Sherrill, New York vs. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, that “Under the ‘doctrine of discovery’…fee title,” meaning ownership, “to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign,” which was first the “discovering” European nation, and later this nation.
When the U.S. government acted to compensate the Northern Paiute, in 1989, for lands taken, it paid what would have been owed when it took the land in 1890, from 28 to 45 cents per acre.
That such exploitation of this continent’s original owners persists, after more than 500 years, is unconscionable.
Elizabeth M. Champagne ’67
St. Johnsbury, Vt.
I was taken by President Faust’s comments in The View From Mass Hall regarding eminent alumni of Harvard Law School (“Wise Restraints,” January-February 2016, page 5). It turns out that my class, HLS ’71, was no different. We boasted a grandson of FDR, a nephew of a U.S. Attorney General, a future U.S. senator, and the future CEO of the largest apartment owners in the country. No wonder everyone couldn’t make law review!
Philip K. Curtis, J.D. ’71, M.B.A. ’74
President Drew Faust’s recent column titled, “Wise Restraints,” briefly encapsulates Harvard Law School’s impressive history as a leader in legal education and in training the leaders of this and other nations. As we would expect from a historian of her caliber, she got that right. In the article, she opines that the law school trains talented individuals to “develop a profound sense of how the law can serve society as they articulate and pursue common goals.” I believe that statement is at odds with its more recent history.
It is my opinion that the case study method of legal education and the current economics of the mega law firm teach students that it is the lawyer’s job to find a way to win, no matter what, subject only to the ethical boundaries of the profession. Right and wrong, guilty or not guilty, and the public interest are irrelevant. A lawyer who seeks justice and wants to serve society and do what’s best for all parties will most likely soon find himself unemployed.
A look at the educational background of our governmental and political leaders in today’s United States should furnish ample proof of the failure in current legal education. The impasse between the major political parties, the mindset of most bureaucracies in government, the approach of lobbyists to every concern of their clients are the results of a dysfunctional approach to problem solving. Most of those people are lawyers. It is time to reexamine the total devotion to the adversarial approach taught by the law schools of this country.
It is not my opinion that the case method and adversarial approach should be scrapped. It has worked well and continues to work well in many settings. We should all recognize that it does not work well with respect to government service. Recognition of that failing should cause an addition to the law-school curriculum. Harvard Law School needs a course to teach lawyers that there is a time where right or wrong, guilty or not guilty, and what’s best for all concerned is a legitimate approach and consideration. This opinion is not totally new. I raised the issue some years ago with then-dean Elena Kagan. She agreed that a course should be developed at the law school concerning these issues. She moved on, as you know, and I asked then-professor Elizabeth Warren to work on the matter. Professor Warren apparently had no interest in pursuing the matter. The idea died and Harvard Law School continues doing the same thing, expecting a different result. That is the classic definition of something. Can you guess what?
Harris Baseman, LL.B. ’55
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Harvard should eliminate its football program because of the medical consequences to the players reported in the news, which might also pose a liability for the University.
Victor Felszegi ’78
New York City
The report on the ongoing evaluation of the undergraduate curriculum is superb, but the review will miss the mark again, because it never addresses Harvard’s lack of diversity—the intellectual kind. From past polls, 90 percent of our faculty gave to one political party, 80 percent who serve in Congress are of the same party, and, when the question “Are we educating or are we indoctrinating?” was posed in [response to] the “Crimson in Congress” article some years ago, the letters to Harvard Magazine exploded in attack [see the March-April, May-June, and July-August 2011 letters sections]. Their response indicates that the readers of the magazine most likely share a similar allegiance. Harvard’s past president, Lawrence Summers, interviewed recently in The Weekly Standard (“Creeping Totalitarianism on College Campuses”), describes the end point of unipolar thought which seems very much in evidence on our campus today. If the end point of a Harvard education is to begin the lifelong discovery of wisdom, can this be accomplished with faculty who overwhelmingly possess only one point of view?
Peter McKinney ’56
Editor’s note: In the current U.S. Congress, interested readers may wish to know, seven senators who have Harvard affiliations are Republicans, and six are Democrats. In the House of Representatives, Harvard-affiliated Democrats significantly outnumber their Republican colleagues. A complete list may be found at “Crimson on Capitol Hill: 114th.”
Many Years Before the Mast
The Open Book excerpt on Richard Henry Dana Jr. (“Beyond Brahminism,” January-February, page 66) gives justified praise to Jeffrey L. Amestoy’s excellent biography of Dana, Slavish Shore. There is at Dana Point harbor in California a statue and commemorative plaque to Dana. However, anyone looking for “the slight, nearsighted boy” who boarded the ship in Boston in 1834 for the years of voyaging that would result in Two Years before the Mast might not recognize that person in the bronze Gold’s Gym habitué posed on that stone monument. And as for any information about Dana (or the sculptor, for that matter), one must climb through some rather tough and pointed Orange County cactus to find the rather peremptory plaque. Don’t take the detour, read the book.
A.E. Santaniello, Ph.D. ’61
Dana Point, Calif.
Alumni Association Acrostic
[Composed in response to a fundraising solicitation]
How humbling and yet uplifting—
An e-mail came from our alma mater
Reaching out to suggest a gifting.
Veritas, it’s true I really oughta
Accept the challenge and send some moolah.
Remember The Game! (Boo to “Boola Boola”)
Down dropped a menu: a “title” select—
See: all sorts of politicos, but no President-elect,
An army of poobahs of all judicial gradations,
Limitless academics, doctors philosphic and medical,
Uniforms Military and Naval, and cloth-wearers clerical,
Much royalty and peerage of Downton-type nations.
Now my plebian status sadly feels like a travesty—
I’m saved! My mere “Mr.” hugs “Her Imperial Majesty”!
Don Deixel ’48
Social Progress Index
I applaud Professor Michel E. Porter for constructing the Social Progress Index, which shows how poorly the United States compares with many poorer countries (“Putting Social Progress on Par with Prosperity,” November-December 2015, page 15). But I was surprised—and disturbed—by two of his purported “explanations.”
1. “We had gridlock, whether it’s the unions….” But union density in the United States has fallen steadily since World War II to less than 11 percent—far below countries that rank above us in Porter’s SPI; and Republicans are determined to drive it lower still.
2. “We can’t rein in this excessively costly legal system.” Is this another covert swipe at alleged American “litigiousness”? Numerous studies have documented that it is businesses, not individuals, that use (and abuse) the legal system. I hope Professor Porter will read and improve on the extensive empirical research showing that the real problems in the United States are workers who are insufficiently organized and a legal system that inadequately regulates business misconduct.
Richard L. Abel ’62
Connell Distinguished Professor of law emeritus
Distinguished Research Professor
The Vita on Cora Du Bois (January-February, page 46) mentioned the American Association of Anthropology; the organization’s correct name is the American Anthropological Association. We regret the error.