I’ve recently received information that Yale University may be about to rename what is possibly the most picturesque of the twelve colleges that house its undergraduate population. Calhoun College, which flanks stately Elm Street in the now badly run-down city of New Haven, is for me a scene of youthful memory. As a graduate student in the mid-1960s, I would cut across the Calhoun yard, which was enclosed by Tudor Gothic buildings, on the way to the Sterling Library. There I labored on my dissertation and could see the college as I entered and left the building. Although constructed as recently as the 1930s, Calhoun emitted an old-world architectural aura. What gave it additional charm for me was its name. It bore the name of the venerable South Carolina senator, who as late as October 2000 was declared in a senate resolution one of America’s seven greatest senators.
J.C. Calhoun graduated from Yale with honors in 1804 and then attended Litchfield Law School, an institution at which the Connecticut Yankee Aaron Burr had studied in the early 1770s. Litchfield was then an early American law school that Yale graduates often attended, until Yale started its own school of law in 1824. Whenever my parents had visitors who came from a long distance, I would drive them from Bridgeport to Litchfield, to show these guests the worn seats in the eighteenth-century building where Calhoun and other early American leaders had received instruction. Later I took my children to see this historical site when we were traveling through Connecticut. I have always respected Calhoun as a perceptive political theorist and at least in his writings one of the very few classical conservative minds produced by this country. When I wrote on American conservatism, I pointed to Calhoun as an early American thinker who sounded like a European counter-revolutionary of the same time period.
But lest I seem insensitive or reactionary, allow me to salute the zeitgeist and express support for a long overdue name-change. According to one Yale news release, it seems inappropriate to allow a college to continue to be called after someone who engaged in the “strident support of slavery.” From what I recall of Calhoun’s arguments as a political-historical thinker, he viewed inequality as a permanent law of history. But since we are now determined to revoke that law through the actions of a permanent political class of social engineers, we should indeed treat Calhoun as the devil incarnate. And once Yale purges his memory from its campus, its arbiters of sensitivity should do what the Germans with their peculiar Teutonic genius for Political Correctness are now modelling, removing from university libraries books published by reactionary authors and putting them in a special section reserved for “poisonous writings.” A young Israeli has informed me that the same thing was done in his country for my book on Carl Schmitt. Yale and other American universities will undoubtedly soon follow suit.
Since Calhoun’s politically incorrect name will soon no longer grace the college I used to traipse across, allow me then to propose a few names of famous people that may suit the political climate better.
My deceased friend Joe Sobran once suggested when dignitaries in the District of Columbia complained about their city being named for a slave-owner that we rename Washington for the four time elected black mayor of our capital Marion Barry. But Washington never had the chance to grow into Barryville, particularly after the former mayor began behaving riotously under the influence of crack cocaine. There seemed to be a direct correlation between Barry’s acting out during his cocaine binges and his popularity, which continued to soar until the time of his death, at age seventy-eight. But Mayor Barry should be remembered for his positive side, his willingness to denounce white racism whenever he was not snorting or embezzling federal grants. Certainly there is no reason that this deceased great should not lend his name to what is still anachronistically called Calhoun College.
Getting more real, perhaps we could rename Calhoun College for Barack and Michelle, who may be our contemporary equivalents of William and Mary, the two English sovereigns who gave their names to a now celebrated university in Williamsburg, Virginia. Considering how the media continue to move our political discussion toward the left, the Obamas may have been turned into archconservatives by the time the renaming occurs. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may also work as new names for Calhoun, since both combine in varying degrees economic Marxism with Cultural Marxist calls for social and cultural control. The kiddies at Yale should love both Democrats as name-givers.
My own favorite for a new name for Calhoun College is Ellen Jane Willis(1941-2006), a Jewish feminist, abortion advocate and apostle of gay marriage whom I once met at a Telos gathering in New York (once was enough). Although Ellen had the unfortunate, indeed fatal habit of smoking (she died of lung cancer), she had so many offsetting virtues that Yalies might forgive her one atavistic habit. Ellen was no namby-pamby cultural radical but hoped that the nationalization of gay marriage, a goal for which she worked arduously in Greenwich Village, would change our entire way of life. To start with, it would subvert patriarchal relations nurtured by heterosexual unions. For another thing, gay unions would strike a blow against individuals and groups that Ellen didn’t particularly like. But let there be no doubt on this matter: my deceased acquaintance was solid on all stands that Yale now cherishes; and it would be a fitting homage to her memory if Calhoun College were renamed for her. “Let’s go for Ellen!” is my rallying cry for the renaming campaign that is about to begin.
By the way, I used to donate every year to the Yale Alumni Fund (my younger son still does) but then I decided that there were needier institutions for the mentally infirm to which I should give my modest sum.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right. His latest book is Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers.
The eighth annual meeting of the H.L.Mencken Club will take place Nov. 6th and 7th. To find out more about the conference and to register, click on this link: http://hlmenckenclub.org/2015-conference/