College Kids Have Independent Minds, Including Harvard Kids
Story Stream
recent articles

Back in 2012 a very good and entertaining writer submitted his weekly column to me. He was very specific about neither the title nor the next being edited, as his stated goal was to reach and convert left-wing readers. I gently stopped him right there.

I then reminded him of the night-time satellite photos taken of North Korea next to South Korea. They were very much a thing at the time, so much so that even Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president in 2012, brought them up in the midst of his campaign.

For those who don’t remember, South Korea was lit up like a candle at night, while North Korea was almost totally dark. What a contrast! More specifically, what a powerful way to convince supporters of economic intervention on the left of just how errant their thinking was.

Which was why I brought it up to the columnist. Without trying to discourage him even a little from writing opinion pieces, I pointed out that if the photo of South Korea next to North Korea couldn’t turn the people of the world into raging libertarians, his weekly column most certainly would not. My comment wasn’t meant as an insult, nor was it taken as one.

At the same time, it did open the writer’s eyes, or ears. While people read every day to be informed, and to enhance their understanding of the world around them, they’re not as malleable as people want them to be or imagine them to be. In a very real way, this is a good thing. What a volatile, turbulent world if the minds of people were so easily changeable. Except that they’re not.

Indeed, while it would be difficult to find more compelling visual evidence of the genius of economic freedom than South Korea next to North Korea, minds are changed slowly, if at all. Romney lost to Obama despite rhetorical support for economic freedom. 

This is something to keep in mind as conservatives continue to wring their hands about “what they’re teaching these kids today” on college campuses. If we ignore that handwringing about “what they’re teaching these kids today” is as old as the college campus is, we can’t ignore that minds aren’t as easily changed as increasingly alarmist conservatives imagine they are.

To calm themselves, they might start with themselves. One guesses that the vast majority of conservatives fearful about what college professors are teaching attended college themselves. Some of them even attended Harvard. Yet they survived, including ideologically. They got jobs, got married, and some like centrist thinking Bill Ackman (Harvard, ’88) grew remarkably rich.

More than a few did this even after flirting with campus radicalism (see the ‘60s generation) while in college. To which some will respond college was different then, the curriculum was more varied, “this time is different, don’t you know!!!???” Except that the same was said about college education back then as is being said now. And if readers doubt this, they need only buy on Amazon (Jeff Bezos was class of '86 at left-wing Princeton) Changing Places by David Lodge, or The Handmaid of Desire by John L’Heureux, among many other novels or books chronicling the left-wing lean on campus from long ago.

Conservative worrying about education imagines kids arriving on campus either apolitical or conservative, only to depart radicalized. This is overdone. See your own college experience yet again, but also pull up the North Korea and South Korea satellite imagery. We human beings are yet again not so easily influenced. Applied to the present, the bet here is that the pro-Hamas radicals at Harvard who are generating lots of attention for being pro-Hamas radicals at Harvard, arrived at Harvard already radicalized. Alongside the previous bet, I’d wager an even bigger amount that a walk of the Harvard campus today would expose the pessimists to all manner of Republican students, but much bigger numbers of Harvard students who find the arguments made by the pro-Hamas radicals rather appalling. Fringe is fringe, including at Harvard. Bet on it.

After which, older conservatives should try to show a little more faith in young people. Not only is their pessimism the same as the pessimism that their elders expressed about them when they were in college, it insults today’s youth in the way that elders of the past insulted youth. The pessimism imagines the spawn of evidently wiser past generations to be spineless mental midgets desperate to have their minds shaped by the mediocrities at the front of the classroom. It’s not that simple, and it’s not simply because the Bill Ackmans (embraced by the right at the moment, Ackman used to swing rather left...) of tomorrow are sitting in those classes, and they have minds of their own.

Change is slow. So is change in thinking. The kids are once again alright. They’re much more powerful and independent in thought than their critics imagine them to be, which means they’re not about to be indoctrinated by their socialist professors. Rest easy. 

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

Show comments Hide Comments