Last year, in the midst of all the COVID-19 chaos, it was easy to miss a major milestone in the history of American conservatism and the battle of ideas.

Regnery Books released a 70th anniversary edition of William F. Buckley’s seminal work “God and Man at Yale” (with a new introduction by Michael Knowles)—first published in 1951.

When most people think back to that year, they recall the words of Russ Hodges yelling, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” after Bobby Thomson’s home run off Ralph Branca of the Dodgers. Or they remember the ongoing “peacekeeping” mission in Korea and the other escalating tensions of the Cold War.

While all these events were of historical importance in one way or another, it was Buckley’s writing that proved to be prophetic and long-lasting.

The indefatigable William F. Buckley was a devoted Catholic who felt that religion and faith were absolutely the foundations of higher education, both at Yale, which he attended from 1946 to 1950, and in our nation. He saw that they were coming under increasing attack, and felt strongly that he had to sound the alarm about what was happening at Yale and which was beginning to seep out in the hallowed halls of higher education across America—the rejection and replacement of those ideals with secularism, socialism, and government dependence.

He also saw that with the left there was no room for debate. As he put it, “Though liberals do a great deal of talking about hearing other points of view, it sometimes shocks them to learn that there are other points of view.” Those words turned out to be prophetic as we face the “cancel culture” of the 21st century.

In “God and Man at Yale,” the estimable Buckley peeled back the layers of the onion at Yale University and exposed its leftist core. As Richard Brookhiser wrote, “Yale in 1951 still pretended to be a bastion of capitalism and Christianity; Bill told the world this was a con, to keep alums sending their sons and their money to New Haven.”

Unfortunately, more than 70 years later, we have all seen that what started in New Haven did not stay in New Haven. While “God and Man at Yale” served as the launching pad for the conservative movement, much of America remained blissfully ignorant of what was happening to their children as they entered the ivory towers of American academia.

The campus protests and the emergence of the radical left that Buckley warned about became reality in the 1960s. American society would be transformed as those leftists groomed at our nation’s colleges and universities moved in the positions of power in all aspects of American politics and culture. Our national debt would explode as individual reliance was replaced with government dependence. Religious faith, which brings people together and provides hope and healing, was scorned and eventually attacked, both legally and politically.

But sadly, despite Buckley’s warnings, wealthy alumni would continue in denial and write six- and seven-figure checks to their alma maters while muttering, “Well, that’s not happening at my school.” American parents would save and scrimp for years to send their children to colleges and universities, where a degree was seen as the golden ticket to success in life.

These alumni would see their monies used to attack the very systems that had made their wealth possible, and these parents would, in many cases, see their children thoroughly indoctrinated in the leftist worldview and reject the values of hard work, personal responsibility, and faith that they, who had worked so hard for their children to have a college education, had instilled in them.

Yale alumni and administrators did not take kindly to Buckley shedding light on what was they going on. McGeorge Bundy, a Yale alumni, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, said: “‘God and Man at Yale’ has the somewhat larger significance that it is clearly an attempt to start an assault on the freedom of one of America’s greatest and most conservative universities… Certainly it will put the Yale authorities to an absurd amount of trouble in making answers to questions based on a set of charges that ought to be beneath contempt.”

Richard Brookhiser concluded, “‘God and Man at Yale’ is a standing invitation to get under the skin, and an example of how a bright kid once did it.” Evidently, Buckley’s words got under the skin of Bundy and others who thought Yale was still conservative and great.

We need more “bright kids” like Buckley today, and I am greatly encouraged by those conservative programs that are producing increasing amounts of bright intellectual minds to get “under the skin” of the leftist orthodoxy at Yale and other “institutions” of higher learning. Those young minds are a major part of the legacy of William F. Buckley and give me, and countless other conservatives, hope for the future.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation. 

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