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Then and Now: Harvey Mansfiled

September 13, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I bring in a few conservative speakers…

GWEN IFILL: Ah! They’re happy for that.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yeah, they’re happy for that.

GWEN IFILL: Harvey Mansfield came to Harvard 50 years ago as a freshman and never left. As a professor of government he’s made a name for himself as an expert on de Tocqueville and Machiavelli. But he is also deeply involved in shaping modern conservative political thought. He has had the ear of Presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, and from his perch at Harvard he has often been at the center of campus debate, arguing against affirmative action, multiculturalism, feminism and academic grade inflation. We spoke with him at Harvard.

GWEN IFILL: Here we sit on Harvard’s campus, which is supposed to be a hot bed of debate– cultural, intellectual, all kinds of debate. A year after September 11th, has that been the case?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Not at all. There has been a great silence at Harvard this past year. For the most part, the students and the faculty have had nothing to say at all. There’s been no anti-war outcry. I think that Harvard people are stunned and shocked. They are full of grief and anger. There’s a kind of towering anger. I think both these sentiments they share with the rest of the American people, but they haven’t found a way to understand this, and I think the reason is that our dominant opinion of multiculturalism doesn’t seem to have worked out.

GWEN IFILL: Now, what do you mean by that? What does what happened on September 11th have to do with multiculturalism?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Multiculturalism means that all cultures can be included in a community, and this attack on 9/11 seems to be a grand challenge to that happy notion. Here, these people are not just others whom we can understand if we look hard at them and see that underneath them they’re really like us. No, they’re different from us. They’re our enemies.

GWEN IFILL: What of all the talk post September 11th of this great American unity, in which all these different people from different backgrounds now saw themselves as Americans? Is it that we all see ourselves as Americans and everybody else as an “other?”

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Not everybody else, but certainly the Islamic radicals. I think we’ve been pretty good at making a distinction between most Muslims and these attackers.

GWEN IFILL: You have written extensively about what you consider to be an excess of conformist behavior on college campuses. Has that changed in the year since September 11th?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I’m not sure. I don’t think that we’re as politically correct as the conservatives say, as we used to be. Part of the change is a movement, I would say, from multiculturalism to a feeling of patriotism, which is a sentiment that is hard to justify, but somehow indispensable in emergencies.

GWEN IFILL: Why are those two things not.– why can’t they coexist?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Well, especially in our country… our county is based on a universal abstract idea that all men are created equal. So why is it that we think of a particular segment of mankind and make it, so to speak, more equal than the rest by feeling a special attachment to those who live in the United States? I think it is a difficult sentiment. And I think there’s perhaps also a political difference with liberals and conservatives, that conservatives feel much more comfortable being open about their patriotism. I don’t think that liberals are in fact any less patriotic, but they don’t feel as good about saying so.

GWEN IFILL: So the attacks, in your opinion, settled a lot of arguments in some ways?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, I think that’s true. I think both sides saw something of truth in what the other side has been saying. But what the conservatives saw was that government is not necessarily an enemy; that government, even big government, is something that we need.

GWEN IFILL: And is here to stay?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Is here to stay. Moreover, there is an honor to being in the public service, an honorableness to wearing a uniform, especially a policeman and a fireman and a military…

GWEN IFILL: So that’s what the conservatives learned. What did the liberals learn?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: What the liberals learned, I think, is that their government is not only for caring; it’s also for fighting. And that we need it for protection, and for that, we all need to stand together, and it isn’t only the needy that government has to be concerned with, but all of us.

GWEN IFILL: So in the wake of these events, which riveted everyone a year ago and have since, in the time when we were supposed to be waging war, whatever that means in this context, how does that change the way the kind of debates that you posit play out now?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: We’re somewhere between peace and war. We’ve learned that peace is not going to be a permanent condition, but it probably isn’t true that we’ve come to the end of history and that there is… because there’s nothing left to fight about. It seems that there is. But it’s a war that doesn’t call upon us to sacrifice. Some people want us to sacrifice: The Republicans should sacrifice their tax cuts; the democrats, their domestic spending; old folks should sacrifice their prescription drug benefits, and so on. But if we do that, then people also say, “Won’t that be giving in to the terrorists by showing that we can’t live our normal peaceful lives?” So we’re stuck somehow in between peace and war.

GWEN IFILL: It’s an odd kind of limbo. How do we begin to cope with it?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Well, it won’t be easy. Already you have seen great disagreements over the extent of civil liberties, which should be retained.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about that.


GWEN IFILL: Should we be prepared… when you talk about sacrifice, to also sacrifice some of the civil liberties, which we have read to be guaranteed in the Constitution?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: I think we have to be. I think that civil liberties really change their focus from the liberties of a minority to the liberties of a majority, and from the liberties against government to liberties that have to be enforced by or protected by government. So it reminds us a little bit that civil liberties are a two-way street in this way. And in an emergency, the principles are… of peacetime civil liberties, it doesn’t seem valid because you can’t give judicial protections to soldiers or even un-uniformed soldiers, who are fighting against you.

GWEN IFILL: So we should be prepared to expand executive privilege rather than individual privilege?

HARVEY MANSFIELD: Yes, I think that’s going to be a consequence of– or already has been– a consequence of 9/11. And if 9/11 is followed by another such attack, it will be even more so.

GWEN IFILL: Professor Mansfield, thank you very much for joining us.

HARVEY MANSFIELD: It’s been a pleasure.