Like all readers of the Washington Socialist, my email inbox daily attracts dozens, sometimes upward of 100, unsolicited messages. Many of them I reflexively delete; some I simply ignore. But recently an unexpected message hit my inbox, and the subject line intrigued me enough to open it. “Help us understand the rise of socialism,” it read. Now that’s a topic I could help shed light on, I thought, and a welcome relief from the constant ads for tinnitus cures, CBD oil and political candidates I never heard of. So I opened the message.
Here was the text:
Dear Fellow American:
Socialism appears to be on the rise in our country, particularly among the young, and we want to understand the extent of that support.
That’s why you have been selected by Hillsdale College to represent your state in a National Survey on Socialism.
With your response, you will help Hillsdale College more clearly understand the views of mainstream Americans—views that we will make available to policymakers and opinion leaders.
Every month, Hillsdale College is reaching millions of Americans with educational outreach, especially right now, as many people are home because of our recent national emergency.
Your response to this National Survey on Socialism is essential in helping us form the most effective strategy in fighting for the future of our country.
So please give your views on the political, media, and cultural forces that are promoting socialism in our country today by completing this National Survey on Socialism: [editor's note - couldn't pay me to post that link]
There is no doubt in my mind that, especially among younger Americans, socialism is increasingly attractive—and that this threatens the future of American liberty. As Winston Churchill noted, “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.” And education is the surest way to defeat it.
If you agree, please stand with Hillsdale College as we promote intelligent patriotism and defend liberty through education.
Please represent your state and take the National Survey on Socialism today.
Larry P. Arnn
President, Hillsdale College
Pursuing Truth - Defending Liberty since 1844
I was willing to give Hillsdale the benefit of the doubt as to the objectivity of its data collection until I reached the part that read “socialism . . .threatens the future of American liberty.” Maybe they’re just a bit biased? And here I was, a socialist thinking that we actually were for liberty, so much so that we wanted to extend it into further reaches of American life such as the economy and reproductive choice. I surely didn’t wake up each morning wondering what I was going to do that day to threaten liberty.
So I went to Hillsdale’s website and found its menu lacked an “about” button. The most concise summary of the college’s philosophy on its main page was as follows:
Think about the people you want to be around. Think about everything that’s the opposite of shallow and trendy. Think about four years of conversations you’ll never forget. That’s Hillsdale College. In and out of class, people here are on a journey together — one where intellectual enthusiasm is valued, friendships are genuine, and honest discourse is unflinching.
When you come to Hillsdale, you also become part of something bigger. For more than 170 years, Hillsdale has promoted “the diffusion of sound learning” as the best way to preserve the blessings of civil and religious liberty. Learn more about the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful at Hillsdale College.
Sounded pretty good to me, and nothing at all incompatible with socialism. I figured those two paragraphs didn’t tell me everything I might want to know. So I conducted an in-depth study of the college and its outlook as any serious educational scholar might – I looked it up on Wikipedia. The entry read in part:
Hillsdale College is a private conservative college in Hillsdale, Michigan. Founded in 1844 by abolitionists known as Free Will Baptists, it has a liberal arts curriculum that is based on the Western heritage as a product of both the Greco-Roman culture and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hillsdale requires every student, regardless of concentration of studies, to complete a core curriculum that includes courses on the Great Books, the U.S. Constitution, biology, chemistry, and physics. Since the late 20th century, the college has been one of several in the United States which decline governmental financial support, instead depending entirely on private donations to supplement students' payments for tuition.
So, conservative in both political and educational outlook, with an anti-government emphasis. Good to know, and details about which its own website was pretty coy.
Wikipedia also noted that Hillsdale was ahead of many US colleges in championing a racially diverse student body, causing it to be barred from participating in the 1956 Tangerine Bowl football game because its roster included African American players. On the other hand, it has fought affirmative action and other government oversight of higher education, which led it to reject all federal and state financial assistance. It’s worth noting that Hillsdale has a foothold in the Washington area, the Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, which is located within whistle-toot range of Union Station. According to the Hillsdale website, the Kirby Center “hosts public lectures, educational seminars, and congressional briefings. The College has sponsored an annual Constitution Day dinner and conference since that time. Hillsdale also sponsors the James Madison Fellows Program, an intellectual community for mid- to senior-level working professionals to engage in the study of constitutional principles and to consider seriously the actions necessary to perpetuate free government.”
What the school’s website doesn’t say – but Wikipedia does – is that cosponsors of the “James Madison Fellows Program” include decidedly non-socialist organizations such as The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. A monthly lecture series has included such conservative luminaries as David Horowitz (a onetime lefty who made a sudden turn to the far right) and John Bolton (conservative then and now) and, as far as I could tell, no actually existing socialists.
But I was itching to get to that survey, and so I took the bait: I clicked the link and started reading the questions:
I was waiting for a choice such as “socialism would lead to a system in which human need is valued over private profit.” But that choice never appeared, so I chose “I have no concerns about socialism.” (Although that wasn’t strictly true; I was concerned that under socialism there would be so many meetings to attend that I’d run out of excuses to skip them).
Darn tootin’ they should, and I proudly clicked “yes.” They should be teaching more about the heritage that gave plantation owners the liberty to enslave Africans and, once slavery ended, gave racists the liberty to deny African Americans their constitutional rights; gave the military the liberty to exterminate Native Americans and invade third-world countries; gave giant corporations the liberty to deprive workers of a living wage and the opportunity to forum unions – I could go on and on. There’s so much about American liberty that our kids don’t learn!
I also answered yes, although that colleges were denying free-speech rights to non-progressives was news to me. It seemed to me the business schools were doing a booming business and the law schools were pumping out corporate lawyers in as great a quantity as ever. It seemed to me that for a long time it was left-wing speech that was censored until campus activists fought for real free speech. So “yes” was my answer, so long as socialists actually got equal time.
I scoured TV news and major newspapers for bias toward left-wing politicians and ideas and came up empty. I did land on Fox News for a few minutes, and I wondered if the creators of the survey were actually familiar with the major media. So I had to vote “no.”
Hmm. Bernie, AOC and the other socialist lawmakers want living wages, Medicare for All, free college (at public universities, not Hillsdale) and cuts in the military. So no, they’re OK in my book.
Definitely the last of those. I want more young people to learn that Article II doesn’t give the president the right to do anything he wants, that the constitution has only seven articles and not 12 as President Trump thinks, that slaves were once considered three-fifths of a person, and that the Bill of Rights consists of more than the Second Amendment.
Somehow I was not surprised that when I submitted the survey I landed on a page that asked me to make a donation to the school. I took a pass. Nor was I surprised when a few days after taking the survey Hillsdale emailed me to say the overwhelming majority of respondents regarded socialism as a menace on par with COVID-19, giving the school another opportunity to solicit a donation. As you might expect, once again I declined.