In November 2005, the administration of Hamilton College invited a celebrate radical–then in the literature department at Duke University–to speak “Of Neoconservatism and Black Intellectuals.” Hamilton students and faculty packed the chapel to listen. The lecture, alas, proved to be an appalling disappointment. It provided neither definition nor analysis to the subject and largely deteriorated into a rambling series of ad hominen attacks against such prominent right-of-center black intellectuals as Shelby Steele and Stephen Carter, who were charged with opportunism and race betrayal, among other crimes.
Shortly after this performance, one of the founders of the AHI wrote President Joan Hinde Stewart to make a point about the lack of intellectual diversity on Hamilton’s campus. At bottom, he told President Stewart, Hamilton students and faculty left the chapel that night not a whit wiser as to the meaning and origins of neoconservatism, a movement whose gurus, he pointed out, largely derive from the political left. If evidence were lacking at Hamilton College for the need to promote intellectual diversity, to break out of a simplistic and reductionist campus monologue on searing political questions, Houston Baker’s performance that evening should have raised some eyebrows, if not a few alarm bells.
Last night, the AHI continued its efforts at remedial action by inaugurating the Edmund Burke Association, a subsidiary organization of the Hamilton College Republican Club. Robert Kraynak, Director of the Center for Freedom & Western Civilization at Colgate University (yes, Colgate is allowed to have such things) played to a packed house at our headquarters. Fifty attendants, most of them Colgate and Hamilton undergraduates, listened to Professor Kraynak speak on “Conservatism in Modern America: The Challenge of Edmund Burke.” He carefully delineated the differences in the contemporary United States between various strains of right-of-center thinking: traditional and religious conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, and national security conservatives. Professor Kraynak then proceeded to describe Edmund Burke and the centrality of natural law, prudence, and prescription to his political thinking, provoking the audience at the end of part two of his talk by wondering whether such a thing as an American Burkean is even possible. Professor Kraynak ended his talk by answering his question in the affirmative, and he pointed to Judge Robert Bork and Professor Samuel Huntington as examples of American Burkeans. George Will, another American Burkean, as it turns out, will be speaking at Colgate University on 27 March at an event sponsored by the Center for Freedom & Western Civilization.
The Founders of the AHI thank Professor Kraynak for a memorable evening of intellectual stimulation. In the lively discussions that followed, Colgate students and Hamilton students chatted about how they could cooperate to use the AHI to advance the cause of intellectual diversity on their respective campuses. We welcome their ideas.