“Nathan Harden is the author of the book Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad. He graduated from Yale University in 2009 with a B.A. in Humanities. He now works as the editor of The College Fix, a higher-ed news and opinion site, as well as a freelance journalist.”
Why did you transfer to Yale?
There’re a couple reasons. I had tried to get into Yale a couple times before. Yale has a mystique about it, an incredible presence architecturally, a great history, and it still has a great deal of intellectual resources too. I had a great political education at Claremont but I was able to explore some other branches of the humanities in a deeper way at Yale. When you get down to it, with a lot of it is the power to get the name, which has the potential to open a lot of doors for you career-wise, and it certainly has done that. It certainly wasn’t exactly the experience I anticipated when I first arrived.
What inspired you to write “Sex and God at Yale” ?
I started working on reporting about Sex Week with the idea of doing a magazine article about it, or an essay. I eventually did that, but I realized that there was a lot more to this than Sex Week itself. Sex Week makes up a pretty good chunk of the book, but in some ways it’s simply there to illustrate the bigger problem. That problem is what I call a lack of intellectual purpose or a lack of moral compass. And so I touch on things like the loss of a sense of patriotism or duty to the country. It’s looked at as intellectually sophisticated to be on the side of America’s enemies, to take a look of derision at the military, or expressions of patriotism. The last thing is a pretty extraordinary example of this: I was in a final exam in International Relations next to a former official for the Taliban. You have to look at a moment like that with an incredible sense of irony because at that very moment American troops were fighting his former comrades in the mountains of Afghanistan. Here he was at the cradle of American presidents, the very center of where we train our next generation of political and cultural leaders. It was a pretty extraordinary moment.
Having graduated Yale, what do you do now?
My main gig now is that I’m editor of The College Fix, a higher-ed news and opinion site. We basically publish primarily student journalism. Our goal is to talk about issues important to higher-ed or politics. We really want to identify elite, college journalists at the student level and give them a national platform to cultivate their craft.
What do you make of comparisons of your book to William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale,” and of comparisons of him to you?
Well, of course it’s natural for people to make that connection. I had the chance to meet WFB a couple years before he passed away at the house of a professor. He was an extraordinary man, what can you say? In some ways, he was the intellectual force who launched modern conservatism. And his book, “God and Man at Yale” — although, if you look at it now, its complaints about a Yale education look pretty quaint aside what’s happening today. But at the time, it was sort of a revolutionary book. And it really launched a lot of careers, certainly Buckley’s career, and, by extension, a lot of the modern conservative movement. I’m a very different sort of guy from Buckley, but I do think that my own book is a kind of continuation of the story that he began to tell. Buckley always emphasized the importance of higher education. He realized that our political future is really wrapped up in what’s going on in the classroom today. And I definitely share that view. I think that what’s happening at Yale has implications far beyond Yale, far beyond people who go to Yale. But if you don’t go to Yale, or your kids don’t go to Yale, what does this have to do with you? Well, three of our last five presidents went to Yale; two of the last three Supreme Court justices. Countless cultural and political leaders are coming through this ideological training ground. And so the question is: what are they learning? What are the implications 20 years from now? Those are things that are critical for all Americans.
How did you get connected to Hillsdale College?
I’ve known about Hillsdale for a long time. It obviously has an incredible reputation as an academic center, particularly among intellectuals on the right. I met [college President] Larry Arnn several years ago, and I was very impressed by him. I think he’s done great work there. [Director of the Dow Journalism Program] John Miller and I met by virtue of when I started writing for National Review Online. At the time he was a national correspondent for National Review and contributor to the blog, and he still writes for them. We sort of connected that way. He is also involved in the leadership of the College Fix, where I’m editor now. John’s passion is really centered around identifying young, freedom-loving journalists with talent and really giving them a chance to cultivate what they’ve got. He’s got a real mentoring aspect to him. It’s a great fit for him for what he’s doing there at Hillsdale, and The College Fix has a similar vision, which is another connection we share.
Is this Hillsdale event on Thursday part of a national book tour?
Yes. I’ll be speaking at a number of campuses this fall, and doing some bookstore talks and that sort of thing. It’s one of a number of similar events.
-Compiled by Jack Butler
-Photo courtesy of Nathan Harden