God and Man at Yale at 70, William Rogers Coe 50 years after his death, and manipulable elites’ “naïveté and effrontery”

Feb 9, 2021

Which may be permanent, and thus still relevant—including in the higher-education context.

William F. Buckley, Jr., published his first book, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom,” in 1951—70 years ago, when he was 25 years old. The book is and should remain an important part of the conservative canon. It harshly criticized Yale, which Buckley attended, for imposing a collectivist and secular ideology on its students. It had an impact on both American higher education in particular and, in turn, society at large.

Cover of the first edition in 1951

A quarter of century later, Buckley wrote an introduction to God and Man at Yale’s 25th-anniversary edition. The intro. is also included in the still easily purchasable 50th-anniversary edition.

In it, Buckley writes about William Rogers Coe, “an elderly tycoon with a huge opinion of himself.” Coe was a banker and railroad executive who died 50 years ago this May.

According to Buckley, during the days before the seminal book’s publication, Coe

advised me that he knew about the manuscript and had splendid tidings for me: namely, I could safely withdraw the book because he, Mr. Coe, had got the private assurance of President [Alfred Whitney] Griswold that great reforms at Yale were under way and that conservative principles were in the ascendancy: so why bother to publish a book that would merely stir things up? I gasped at the blend of naïveté and effrontery. But although I had observed the phenomenon I was not yet as conversant as I would quickly become with the ease with which rich and vain men are manipulated by skillful educators. As a matter of fact, men who are not particularly rich or vain are pretty easy to manipulate also.”

Would that funders of higher ed in America were not so manipulable now and during the next decades. Buckley was right to “stir things up” with God and Man at Yale those decades ago. Such stirring, contra Coe, is still sorely needed—with support—maybe now more than then.