Something got me thinking last night about one of the nation’s late, great academic outliers and mavericks, the late M.E. Bradford, and how, if he had survived into his 80’s, would be regarded today as a pariah on most U.S. college campuses. Bradford was regarded as a “paleoconservative,” one of the leading intellectual lights of the paleocon movement.
He was a student of the old Southern Agrarian tradition and a vocal and intrepid defender of the Constitution and the Old Republic. He was also a searing critic of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and the 16th president’s efforts to consolidate the American Republic. And while in intellectual terms he was considered an outlier, Bradford was one of a number of traditionalist conservative academics who, once upon a time in America, were valued for the role they served in leavening and balancing out academic discourse. He taught at several prestigious academic institutions, including the U.S. Naval Academy, and served as president of the Philadelphia Society.
I cherish two of Bradford’s works – “Remembering Who We Are” and “Original Intentions: On the Making of the Constitution“ – for providing me with critical foundational bricks in my intellectual development and maturation.
A vocal Reagan supporter in the 80’s, Bradford was tapped to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. However, due to fierce opposition from neoconservative elements, he ultimately was passed over for William Bennett, the neocons’ candidate, but not before receiving the endorsement of U.S. Senators from every geographic region of the country as well as by a number of prominent leading conservative intellectuals, including Russell Kirk, Jeffrey Hart, William F. Buckley and Harry Jaffa.
Bradford died while undergoing heart surgery at the relatively young age of 58 in 1993. In a sense, he is fortunate not to have lived into his eighties to reflect on the intellectual wasteland that characterizes American academia today.
It’s one thing to be an outlier, quite another to be a pariah, which is precisely the way Bradford would be regarded today in America’s toxic academic environment. And this is remarkable considering that scarcely a generation ago, academic mavericks and nonconformists such as Bradford were still afforded a place, even an exalted place, in many American institutions of higher learning, valued for the role they served in refining intellectual inquiry and open discourse.