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Two weeks ago, in the dead of night, flag-adorned tabloids appeared by the dozens in dining halls across campus. Three copies arrived at my door.
This issue of the Harvard Salient — a conservative publication freshly resuscitated after disappearing in the 2010s — featured articles such as “The Universality of the American Founders” and “Utah: A Model for America.” The authors? Hidden behind pen names like “Thucydides” and “Marcus Porcius Cato.”
I laud my peers taking the initiative to produce this self-branded “alternative platform” aimed at “the pursuit of truth.” It stimulates a great deal of dinner conversation. The other night, I spotted two of my most liberal friends furiously highlighting passages at Eliot Grille. Love it or hate it, the Salient gets Harvard students talking — and thinking.
I enjoy tradition, even tradition preserved for the sake of tradition alone. But I challenge Harvard conservatives to reconsider whether pseudonyms advance their pursuit of salience. Anonymity is directly contrary to their cause.
Self-censorship in the ivory tower is real. I have friends in Social Studies seminars who keep JPMorgan internships and anti-abortion convictions to themselves to avoid stirring the pot. There’s little immediate upside to sharing unpopular opinions, but the downside can be considerable: from strained friendships to outright “cancellation.” So students are afraid to speak their minds.
But speaking behind the mask of a Roman senator only reinforces the perception that such perspectives are dangerous. The liberal majority may misinterpret this as signaling ideas so extreme, their authors could not bear to claim responsibility for them. That the writers worry for their law school applications or confirmation hearings decades down the line.
In fact, articles in this edition of the Salient are not radical at all, considering the broader political landscape. They might be criticized and rebutted — as any speech should be on the road to Veritas — but plenty of beliefs on Cambridge’s ideological fringe are common to half the American public. Secret authorship conveys an air of self-conscious transgression that keeps lay readers from considering them seriously.
There’s a chilling effect, too, when freshmen arrive on campus to find right-of-center speech shrouded in anonymity. Is it not the mission of a university to encourage free and open exchange of ideas? Students should be shown a model of courage, of standing by values even and especially when such views are unpopular. Pseudonyms convey that there is something to fear. The editors of the Salient are reinforcing exactly the climate they condemn.
Campus speech climate aside, hiding behind “Publius” constitutes self-coddling. It means avoiding ideological challenge when in fact debate is an altogether constructive exercise. Confrontation, though sometimes uncomfortable, can change minds. It helps both parties refine their ideas and understand points of disagreement — and shared principles, too — with more nuance. Writing will be a far more enriching intellectual feat for Publius if she invites criticism. Publishing a piece should be only the first step in a campus-wide conversation.
Some feel free speech in contemporary academia is a lost cause. Former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers and Psychology professor Stephen A. Pinker have been helping launch the University of Austin, a new liberal arts university dedicated to the “fearless pursuit of truth.” It’s a mission UATX’s founders say other American schools have abandoned. But must we give up on Veritas at Harvard?
Simply creating more venues for speech will not break the cycle of self-censorship. It matters how we engage with one another’s expression — and take ownership of our own.
Indeed, there is room on campus for far more political speech of every ideological persuasion. I would just as well love to see the Harvard Communist at my door and, despite my love of free markets, look forward to reading every page.
Harvard should celebrate forums for speech beyond the scope and sensibility of The Crimson’s Editorial pages. But self-ostracism only perpetuates a culture of political orthodoxy. I challenge my peers to eschew anonymous bylines for the public square.
Samuel W. Zwickel ’21-22, a former Associate News editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Adams House.
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