Rauda & Sivarajan: In Memoriam – Professor Jeffrey Hart
The College mourns the loss of a loyal son.
On Feb. 16, 2019, professor emeritus of English Jeffrey Hart passed away at the age of 88. We are not writing to rehash professor Hart’s achievements or contributions to the conservative movement, but rather to decry the treatment that Hart has received after his death. The late professor was a man who valued consistency of thought, and took the issues of his time seriously, but never himself. The former brought him to support then Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election (and later again in 2012), as Hart believed the Republican party had lost the intellectual seriousness that he himself undoubtedly contributed; after all, “successful government by either Democrats or Republicans has always been, above all, realistic.” The latter was exemplified by his carrying of a “motorized wooden hand [he] used to drum on the table when faculty meetings went on too long.”
Hart’s was an aristocratic conservatism, unsullied by mindless truisms and Jacobinical extractions of abstract founding principles. That is to say, Hart understood conservatism not as an ideology, but as a philosophy, a way of thinking. In this dichotomy, an ideology masks the way people view the world, distorting it to utopian ideals, while a philosophy attempts the explain the world as it is, a direct distillation of reality. Some would say that Hart belonged to a bygone generation of professors, another generation of men, and therefore, he should be seen as an important yet passing chapter of Dartmouth’s history. We are well aware that for many students, this is their first time hearing about professor Hart. For those seeking to become better familiarized with Hart’s ideas, we implore them to look at his book “Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival of Higher Education.” Not only would the student body of Dartmouth benefit from interacting with Hart’s ideas, but so would professors and administrators.
Today, on college campuses and in civil discourse, policy points and memorized platitudes are prioritized over challenging thoughts and judgment. As a professor at Dartmouth, Hart sought to instate the love of the Western canon in students by letting undergraduates come to find their own appreciation of the material, by focusing on the historical context and structure, and at the same time assigning students daily journals to record their inner thoughts. Hart, a huge proponent of the liberal arts, acknowledged its role in defining the civilization we live in. Dartmouth, a college that continually espouses the value of the “liberal arts” and the importance of tradition, has recently stepped back on the message it attempts to peddle, whether it be accidentally or on purpose. For the few times it does have to preach about its longevity and tradition, Dartmouth appears as if it does so out of necessity and not out of desire. Dartmouth has historically distanced itself from conservative ideas, some of which were born on its campus. With the passing of Jeffrey Hart, the College should look back on the vision Hart maintained and use it to finally stop withdrawing from its responsibility to build and reinforce Western civilization.
Professor Hart was a man who, like all of us, at times succumbed to ideology. But he always found his way back. He all but severed ties with National Review, a magazine with which he worked for decades, over President George W. Bush, a man he deemed the worst president ever. Knowing the moral strength it took for him to resign on principle from Bill Buckley’s magazine should leave people in awe of the late teacher’s fortitude (it must be noted that Buckley himself was ambivalent toward the Iraq War). Hart tempered the conservative movement by being a traditionalist influence in a world of ideologues. From William F. Buckley Jr. to James Burnham, from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan, professor Hart worked with and for all the conservative greats, but disliked political conservatism’s appeal to the South instead of the Northeast. Hart spent every day trying to live life to its fullest, trying to adhere to the principles the West was founded on. His was a life well-lived, and no man who has lived such a life need fear death.
We would like to highlight one depressing example of how Jeffrey Hart’s death was ignored on this campus: after Hart’s death, not a single article on Dartmouth’s website or VOX Daily announced his death until much later. Dartmouth, as an institution, should not do a disservice to professor Hart’s memory, and should fly its flag on the Green at half-staff. It should stop cowering away from conservative thinkers and ideas for the sole reason that they may offend some students. Hart, while conservative, was not partisan, and Dartmouth should emulate him. The College should embrace Hart’s vision and legacy, even as many blessed by his contributions are ignorant, and even disparaging of them.
Requiescat in pace, professor. The world is worse off without you in it.
Rauda and Sivarajan are members of Dartmouth College Republicans. They are both members of the Class of 2021.
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