The Unprestigious Ivies

Wokeness has claimed higher ed. It’s high time donors redirect their dollars to where it’ll make a difference.

It’s hard for people like me to remember when I used to respect the standards set by America’s premier institutions. And I’m a hard case. I was homeschooled for much of K-12, purposely went to a college outside the academic machine, and the actions I’ve taken throughout my life have always been based on the premise that the educational system in America was in need of deep reform: structure, curriculum, pedagogy—the whole deal.

But the draw was still there. Here’s why: you’d go to Conservatism, Inc. events along with the other kids and if you started making the case that we needed new institutions, the adults in the room would humor you. The message was: “Yes, of course, they are liberal. But you’re just envious.” First, Conservatism, Inc. considered elite institutions a giant IQ test, which was and still is true to no small degree, although plenty of intelligent  kids go and excel elsewhere. They also thought that the prestige of those institutions not only mattered, but was based on something real related to the education itself.

Things have changed. Donors need to realize that the kids who don’t join the Left’s elite after graduating from elite institutions don’t think those institutions can be saved—often, they want to raze them. Few smart kids leaning right even think about becoming a professor these days, and those that do know they have to go and build up institutions firmly set outside the established system. And yet plenty of older people leaning right still funnel money to institutions that hate them and everything they stand for.

But that’s old news. What’s new is that the prestige factor is weakening for everything from the New York Times to Harvard. The proper response to these institutions is to mock them and treat them as the enemy. Their cachet is eroding, despite the denial of the upper middle class,  whose jobs are often dependent upon the prestige ladder, and whose bosses are credentialed by the same smattering of universities. But the number of people who still believe dwindles by the day.

The Bulwark—a fake Right publication funded by leftists—recently published a nasty hit piece against the Claremont Institute. What was striking was the tenor of the article: the assumption that the usual accusations and tactics (“opposing Black Lives Matter is racist!”) of the powerful institutions that run our nation are always and everywhere correct. But blindly accepting these propositions is now publicly considered ludicrous by half the nation—and much of the other half knows the truth even if they do not dare to voice it.

The upshot is this: if you oppose Critical Race Theory (and whatever other names that refer to the demented ideology that dominates elite institutions) and still give money to them, you should be ashamed of yourself. Don’t get played. These people hate you and everything you stand for. Their job is to “normalize” corruption and woke ideology to establish their intellectually crippled graduates as the leaders of the nation. Any realistic evaluation of the efficacy of your giving will reveal it goes to the enemy. They will lie to your face about intellectual diversity and say whatever they need to say (they keep lots of people on payroll for this purpose) even as they keep pumping out wokeness. 

Of course, people have been saying this for years. Now that America is actually coming apart at the seams, and every institution has been captured by woke lunacy, do you finally believe them? Can you stop the bad habit of giving to your lying alma mater in the face of sordid reality? There’s still time—not much—but there’s still a little time left to change course. Take your money and run.

The same dynamic applies to the media: you have to really, really not care at all what they say and regard them as your enemy—because they are. This is what separates the adults from the children in the mind of the public.

Speaking as someone who has never fully respected higher education, the difference for me today is that during all these debates, I feel nothing. It’s merely performative: all I can do when scribbling is to mock these people in front of a crowd in order to give others the encouragement and permission they need to do the same. The rest of the time, I am taking action at Claremont and New Founding to build anew.

For the love of God, if you still think these places give you some sort of prestige, think harder. Prestige is a funny thing. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, it is dependent on the opinion of others. It’s dependent on enough other people thinking it’s a big deal. Half the nation—the half anyone on the Right professes to belong to and support—is no longer impressed. In fact, they are outraged and want to defend themselves against the hatred and ceaseless attacks.

Like so many others, I’ve moved on. The educational system in America has long since been captured and corrupted. There are new institutions, organizations, and businesses to build on the actual front lines of the battle. It’s long since time to withdraw from corrupted institutions and organizations and focus on what matters—before it’s truly too late. If you want to know how best to do this, get in touch.


Matthew J. Peterson (@docmjp) is Vice President of Education at the Claremont Institute and Editor of The American Mind. He directs Claremont’s annual fellowships and heads our initiative for a new center to support graduate level scholarship.