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Systemic Naifism

Stop sending your child and your money to American universities.

(David Kn/Shutterstock)

Have you heard of the Madison Speakeasy? Probably not. Almost nobody has. But for a year or so during the mid-Aughts, the Madison Speakeasy was a glimmer of hope for a few conservatives on the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus.

The Madison Speakeasy was a newspaper, kind of. I founded it as a dissertator at the U.W. I got a lot of help from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which flew someone out to Madison to teach me and a hearty band of fellow non-leftists how to start and run a publication.


Undergrads and fellow grad students wrote articles for the Speakeasy for free. One talented undergrad designed the logo (a silhouetted whispering man in a fedora, very cheeky and noir). Professor John McAdams (1945-2021), the wonderful truth-blurter at Marquette, agreed to write an article for the Speakeasy, gratis, which I published with gratitude and pride.

The name of the newspaper tells you pretty much all you need to know about what it was and why I started it. I was fed up with the hall monitor-ism of U.W., sick of the trammeled discourse. Friends with roots in the Middle East, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and even exotic locales in northern Wisconsin and I were, apparently, racists, fascists, bigots, and “homophobes” for snickering at groupthink and calling out arrant nonsense

It didn’t really matter what the topic was. Sexuality, race, abortion, congressional spending, there was only one acceptable opinion at the University of Wisconsin. And those who disagreed, from either a right or a left standpoint—doctrinaire Marxists were as hated in Madison as were Second Amendment Republicans—were anathema. So, my fellows and I did what any sane person on a college campus would do. We laughed at the lunatics and rubbed their noses in their lunacy.

If I remember correctly, we managed to put out three issues (each one a couple of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper stapled together) before I graduated with my doctor of photocopying and left town. The other contributors also went their separate ways. But while it lasted, the Madison Speakeasy was my refuge. It was pure joy to run the Jolly Roger up the flagpole and send up the oh-so-serious liberals in peals of satirical laughter. We owned the libs. We drank their tears. It was grand.


The Madison Speakeasy was an all-papyrus endeavor that registered hardly a ripple in its reality-challenged hometown. Even so, it was fun, and I am very glad I did it.

And yet, as the years have gone by, I have become less sure that I would want to do it again. It is not that the Madison Speakeasy was the problem. It was its presence on a college campus. We non-lunatics were laughing at the sea of idiot liberals around us. But maybe the joke was on us.

Yes, Madison is a side-splittingly hilarious madhouse. So is pretty much every other university in the United States. One could multiply examples endlessly—fake Indians, Antifa-loving professors, triggered DEI deans, tarring-and-feathering woke mobs, fake black people, Jim Crow revivalism, Bill Gates-funded gender shock troops, violent snowflakes, Chinese Communist Party collaborators, more fake black people, man-shaped hippopotamuses, more fake Indians: the loo-loo gang is all here. It’s perfect material for comedy sketches. The Madison Speakeasy basically wrote itself.

And yet, now I think that that is precisely what was, and is, wrong. As I walked the University of Wisconsin campus, I used to see plenty of farm-bred undergrads milling about the colonnaded buildings and the white-supremacist rocks. This lent an air of normalcy to the joint that I don’t think it deserved. Young people at the University of Wisconsin, and at every other university I have known, are not, by nature, bomb-throwing anarchists

In the final analysis, then, aren’t all those regular people just egging the batty professors and tyrannical administrators on? Someone once asked John Henry Cardinal Newman about the laity. He replied, in so many words, that “the Church would look foolish without them.” Apply this logic to the modern American university and you have captured my misgivings exactly. If an audience is what is required, then I have come to think that not giving campus loons warm bodies to harangue may actually be a pretty good way to save Western civilization.

I have not yet seen bumper stickers reading “My Child and My Money Go To Sing Sing” or sweatshirts emblazoned with “Proud Alumni of Leavenworth.” But why not? What is the difference between one institution packed with miscreants and another? The real fault of the university problem therefore lies with the parents. By paying scalper-rate tuition and buying all the paraphernalia that university bookstores sell at gouging prices, parents legitimize and perpetuate what is essentially an anti-social institution, namely, American higher ed. 

It is naive to expect a late teen to simmer in a witch’s brew of “sex positivity,” overt racism, transgender propaganda, fake history, and compulsive rioting, and then come back for Thanksgiving break happy and well-adjusted. It is even more naive—structurally naive—to hand one’s offspring over as a pawn for universities desperate to appear normal so other parents will also spring the trap. It’s systemic naifism.

Universities in the United States are freak shows. Terrorist training camps. Anti-civilizational public menaces. Perpetrators of one of the biggest money-making scams in history. Places where the intellectual life goes to die—correction, to be murdered. We at the Madison Speakeasy knew all too well how easy it is to lampoon this stuff.

But the thing is, it is the distance that makes the circus. The clown car is probably not so funny if one has to ride in it. I once thought that the Madison Speakeasy would reach the minds of at least some of the mindless liberals. My quixotic project was akin to balloon-leafletting North Korea. But now I see that I hoped in vain. Defunding the universities is the only way forward to a brighter American tomorrow.

The Winter 2022/2023 issue of The Independent Review features a symposium on what we are still, inexplicably, calling “higher education.” One essay, by David Waugh and Phillip W. Magness, asks “how long the public will continue to pay for a university system that no longer aligns with its values and educational priorities.” The answer, apparently, is forever, or at least as long as parents keep writing checks to con artists

A certain P.T. Barnum dynamic is the only explanation for the otherwise inexplicable failure of the universities to have given up the ghost decades ago. America is dying, asphyxiating in a gas attack of faculty lounge nihilism. The universities are killing our homeland by intellectually and spiritually (and, of late, physically) mutilating young Americans. Either the universities go, or America does. 

There is no more reform. There is only a very clear choice to be made. It is only the parents of America who can make the right thing happen by shutting their pocketbooks to the universities post haste. Mamas (birthing parents), please don’t send your children out as hostages to the crazies who run universities. Papas, don’t pay for your nice, normal sons and daughters to be human shields for the people who use quads as staging grounds for revolution. Don’t send Skyler and Dylan to State U. Don’t perpetuate structural naifism. 

Don’t feed the beast. And if you do, then you forfeit your right to complain about what is wrong with the country. If you are paying college tuition at any of a thousand nationwide Woke League franchise universities, then the problem with the country is you. You are the naif that is keeping all the rest of us in Kyle Rittenhouse mode, waiting for some little darlings from campus to run riot in our hometowns.

A Ph.D. colleague with two college-age children is sending neither of them to college. They both started businesses and are learning to be entrepreneurs instead, earning money while getting an actual education. To top it all off, they are spending quality time with Mom and Dad, getting pro tips from family insiders about placing orders and making payroll. The possibilities are endless when parents stop farming children off as indentured servants to psychopathic professors during their tender post-adolescent years.

For those who really do want to learn about mathematics (not the racist kind, of course) and the history of ancient Mesopotamia, there are actual institutions—Hillsdale College and the Collegium Sanctorum Angelorum, for example—with classrooms, books, responsible teachers, and, shockingly, students who want to know something true about the world. It is a beautiful thing. Universities should be defunded, but the handful of places that are not incubators of crime should, by the same measure, be celebrated and lifted up.

But whichever post-secondary route you take—work or real study—don’t be naive. Don’t be like I was and think that screwballs running a campus are just a splendid joke. Don’t do what I did and perpetuate oppressive structures of systemic naifism. Your child’s mind, and my country, are terrible things to waste.