We are an academic and intellectual enterprise focused on making sure that what has happened in the American academy—and which has now spilled out into American streets—does not take over and destroy our free and decent polity.
Over a quarter-century ago, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.—a committed liberal and partisan Democrat—and Allan Bloom—a conservative, of sorts—wrote very different books that came to similarly disturbing conclusions: that the mind of the American university was closing and that it would result, as Schlesinger put it, in the “disuniting of America.” Their shared prophecy is now playing out in our streets in ways that neither would probably have imagined.
By now, the American academy is in some respects a lost cause. Tenured radicals who got their toehold by appealing to demands for diversity have largely taken over and discarded any pretense of intellectual diversity. They deny the legitimacy—and sometimes the humanity—of those who disagree with them. They have built a left-wing intellectual monoculture that increasingly persecutes conservatives and is now threatening liberals and any others who resist what George Orwell prophetically called “smelly little orthodoxies.”
Those who have signed this Open Letter—a mix of conservatives, liberals, and unclassifiable academics and writers—are putting their names to a statement that both articulates what is under attack and offers an intellectual defense of those necessary ideals and institutions on which a free society depends. We do so in the hope that a silent majority of the American people remains committed to our inheritance, and that others can be persuaded to renew that commitment in this new time of troubles.
It is our intent that this Open Letter will not represent an isolated moment of intellectual public spiritedness but will instead give life to something longer-lasting and more consequential. Our intent is to marshal the best of the academy and the larger intellectual world and bring these voices directly to the American people. Our project unites conservation with reformation: only by building on our noble if imperfect heritage can we sustain ordered liberty, a commitment to intellectual freedom, and a shared affirmation of justice and common humanity. The spirit of destruction—of reckless nihilism—cannot point the way forward. It can only destroy; it can never build or renew.
"We know the intellectual roots and weaknesses of the virulent ideology that confronts us, and how to defeat it."
We also know how to give a principled defense of the ideals and institutions that "We the People" require to remain recognizably American and recognizably free and equal. With our cosponsor “1776 Unites”—headed by the activist and patriot Robert Woodson—we profess a thoughtful and affirming yet self-critical patriotism. We believe, of course, that all black lives matter—and that all lives matter. Such is the path of decency and a shared civic horizon.
Those amenable to our views are not without number in the academy, and we are confident that more who share them will emerge. We invite non-academics to join this movement to keep the American mind free and open, and in doing so, reunify our deeply divided society. E pluribus unum —out of many, one. A true republic is incompatible with the divisive cult of grievance and victimization that is identity politics.
Please consider signing up for our mailing list so that you can get updates. We would be honored as well to have you as a public signatory to our letter, but we understand, considering the power of a tyrannical cancel culture, why you might not be able to assent publicly to our letter. If you are an academic and lack tenure, don't sign the letter—but do show your support for the cause by joining our mailing list.
We see this project as nothing less than a declaration of intellectual independence. 1776 Unites precisely because it promises liberty and justice for all. Let us renew that shared patrimony in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass—the spirit of thoughtful citizenship.
All inquires should be directed to:
Mark T. Mitchell