Higher ed witch hunts

Shaming intellectuals for “harboring” schools of thought is misguided.

by Alex Rich, University student


“Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Joseph Welch’s famous shaming of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts has lived in our collective imaginations as a vivid example of condemning political bigotry.

So I was disappointed when I came across Sen. Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas, recent claim, outlined in a New Yorker expose that Harvard Law had been “harboring” 12 communists during his time as a student there.

Whether this charge is true or not is irrelevant. Rather, I want to point out that this insipid comment ignores the value that Marxist thought has brought to our intellectual life.

Unfortunately, Cruz’s commentary is not an isolated incident. Sarah Palin’s characterization of President Barack Obama as a socialist and Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s accusation that her opponent was a “bearded Marxist” are other prominent examples.

Communism aside, Marxist thought has had a major impact on various fields. A history student could tell you that Marxist historiography — that is, thinking about change over time in terms of conflict between the classes — is in large part derived from Marxism.

Economic historiography is another example. One could argue the same for the field of economics itself. Moreover, a law student could tell you the same of the field of law and economics. And the list could go on.

Universities exist to educate and engage in intellectual discourse and discovery. To condemn one for “harboring” people who engage in that discourse, even if it’s outside the norm, is anti-intellectual. We should embrace anything that adds to our intellectual life.

Thinking about the world in new, and sometimes uncomfortable, ways can be a door to intellectual growth. The University of Minnesota itself has several Marxist professors. They were among the best educators I have ever encountered, and I am no communist.