Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President. He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.
Question: What is your proudest achievement?
Harvey Mansfield: At a certain point in my career at Harvard I decided to raise a little hell, and to oppose the conformist political correctness that I think I saw and still see there … this place I love. And yet it deserves to be criticized, I think, through and through for its conformity to a foolish and unthoughtful liberalism. Affirmative action, grade inflation. The … the loss of interest in subjects having to do with the military, or with religion, or with the American founding. The unconcern for excellence. The loss of morale among the faculty, and to some extent even among the students. I don’t think that the faculty still believes that study is good for its own sake, and that the life of study is the best life to live. The belief in that has … has declined considerably since I’ve been at Harvard. You can just look at the recent reorganization of the core program for students … and a core curriculum. What is the purpose of the core? It’s to enable our students to adjust to society. And that I think is much too low an aim. We should give our students at least a vacation from society – a time to reflect, to think things over, to ask and even – perhaps for themselves – to answer the big questions.
Recorded on: 6/13/07