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Looking Back: William F. Buckley’s Warnings About Academia’s Decline

Conservative writer William F. Buckley pictured in 1981.
AP/Nancy Kaye

In 1951, William F. Buckley published God and Man at Yale which forecasted an intense decline at American universities. So how did Buckley’s predictions hold up?

William F. Buckley was only 21-years-old when he published God and Man at Yale in 1951. The book predicted that American universities would abandon the nation’s historical values of Christianity and free market capitalism. In a new column this week for Real Clear Education, Garland S. Tucker III argues that Buckley predicted the transformation of American universities with “remarkable accuracy.”

Buckley clearly perceived that Yale — and most of American higher education at that time — was actively undermining what he called “the public welfare.” He saw belief in Christian values and free-market capitalism as the foundation upon which America had been built. As a student, Buckley had become convinced that the elites at Yale preferred openness and relativity to Christianity and collectivism. They promoted government control instead of free markets and capitalism. Buckley wrote, “The duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world … and the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.” He was among the very first to discern this trajectory in American higher education.

Tucker praised Buckley’s insight about the developing battle between collectivism and capitalism in the United States. Buckley foresaw that this battle would take place on the university campus. Most significantly, Buckley understood that this battle would be at the center of the progressive v. conservative debate going forward into the next decade.

Although Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale” in the midst of the Cold War, he foresaw an ongoing battle between collectivism and capitalism that would continue beyond the defeat of communism. Indeed, the threats which Buckley exposed remain deeply entrenched in American intellectual circles today. Similarly, Buckley’s philosophy of Christian individualism still remains just as much at the core of American conservatism as it was in 1951.

You can read the entirety of Tucker’s column here.

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