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'Principles That Don’t Change'

9:32 AM, May 24, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield delivered the following remarks upon accepting the Bradley Prize last week in Washington, D.C.: 

It is the job of the humanities to make non-science into something positive that could be called human in the best sense. This crucial work, which is necessary to science and, may I add, more difficult and more important than science, is hardly even addressed in our universities. Leading this trend—“leading from behind” in a recent phrase—is the humanities faculty at Harvard, and to give credit where credit is due, at other comparable universities. They are the ones who have established change as the principle that, for lack of anything better, can be agreed upon. In its more thoughtful expression, that principle is known as postmodern. What is modern is faith in science and progress, and what is postmodern merely comes after that—the modern then “still present as left behind.” Postmoderns don’t have the courage to attack, much less abandon, science and its numerous benefits; so they merely accept them, and let their ill grace serve as a sign of bad conscience.

When there is no basis for what we agree to, it becomes mandatory that we agree. The very fragility of change as a principle makes us hold on to it with insistence and tenacity. Having nothing to conform to, we conform to conformism—hence political correctness. Political correctness makes a moral principle of opposing, and excluding, those of us who believe in principles that don’t change.

The few honors I have had—I’m not asking for more; how could they compare to this one?—have come from Republican presidents and conservative foundations. All major universities and the political-science profession have very thoughtfully not disturbed my quiet or done anything to stir my gratitude. After all, it’s a free country, and I’m thankful for that, as I am for the signal distinction I receive tonight.

Whole thing here.

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