Russell Kirk taught at Hillsdale College as a dis­tin­guished vis­iting pro­fessor of the human­ities.

During the Senate debate over Hillsdale College’s tax status last Friday night, New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer ungram­mat­i­cally tweeted: “Impos­sible to over­state how beloved Hillsdale is in USA right. It’s their ideal college & con­stantly has right-wing lumi­naries as guests.”

Heer is correct that Hillsdale College is openly con­ser­v­ative. But he and many of Hillsdale’s critics are con­fused about what our con­ser­vatism means. They seem to think that the college is an ide­o­logical boot camp, training a new gen­er­ation of policy wonks and campus activists. This is not and never has been Hillsdale’s mission.

“Con­ser­v­ative” is a slippery word that means many things to many people. When seeking to define it, we must begin by asking what exactly the con­ser­v­ative seeks to con­serve.

At Hillsdale College, con­ser­vatism is not a cat­e­chism of policy pre­scrip­tions. It does not mean pro­tecting par­ticular tax rates or levels of enti­tlement spending — although these are important ques­tions which are some­times debated on campus.

In just the last few weeks, campus groups have hosted every­thing from a series of talks on the Ref­or­mation from both Protestant and Catholic per­spec­tives, to a debate on what U.S.-China rela­tions should look like in the future. One student club, Praxis, even brought in a speaker to make the case for increased immi­gration.

Unlike other col­leges, these debates are still pos­sible on Hillsdale’s campus. Black-clad gangs of rad­icals do not shout down our guests, and the admin­is­tration does not police student speech according to the faddish stan­dards of political cor­rectness. Heer and Hillsdale’s leftist critics say that the college’s con­ser­vatism is sti­fling and dis­crim­i­natory, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Stu­dents at Hillsdale are open-minded and willing to question their beliefs because of their con­ser­vatism, not in spite of it. Hillsdale is a place where young people choose to learn from old books, and that’s what makes us con­ser­v­ative. We believe that the truly great things, the things most worth studying, never really change. They are per­manent.

Russell Kirk, the late founder of modern American con­ser­vatism and a former faculty member at Hillsdale College, explained that “By ‘the Per­manent Things’ [we] meant those ele­ments in the human con­dition that give us our nature, without which we are as the beasts that perish. They work upon us all in the sense that both they and we are bound up in that con­ti­nuity of belief and insti­tution called the great mys­te­rious incor­po­ration of the human race.”

It starts even before stu­dents get to campus. Freshmen are asked to read Aristotle’s “Nico­machean Ethics” the summer before they begin classes. Then, every student is required to go through a demanding core cur­riculum which focuses on the great books — no football player, science nerd, or frat boy can escape life-changing encounters with Homer, Augustine, and Shake­speare.

Over time, the Hillsdale student accu­mu­lates a broad knowledge of the Western her­itage. But even more than that, Hillsdale ini­tiates her stu­dents into a con­ver­sation with the greatest minds of human history. For the Hillsdale student, that con­ver­sation is not merely of anti­quarian interest. It raises urgent ques­tions which provide the very foun­da­tions of Western civ­i­lization and our way of life.

In 1938, as Nazi Germany pre­pared to conquer Eastern Europe, Winston Churchill gave an address at the Uni­versity of Bristol. “When Civ­i­lization reigns, in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people,” he said. ”The tra­di­tions of the past are cher­ished, and the inher­i­tance bequeathed to us by former wise or valiant men becomes a rich estate to be enjoyed and used by all.”

Hillsdale’s stu­dents and faculty are inter­ested in pol­itics because they want to con­serve edu­cation in civilization’s per­manent things.Whether it is the Department of Education’s bureau­crats inter­fering with the college’s admission policies or Demo­c­ratic Sen­ators slan­dering our college on the floor of Con­gress, the gov­ernment often tries to obstruct our ability to enjoy and use our civilization’s inher­i­tance.

Heer and other critics were quick this weekend to point out how many of our stu­dents go on to careers in political life. The thing these critics miss, however, is that Hillsdale pro­duces just as many doctors and teachers and busi­nessmen working in their home states as it pro­duces activists and staffers working in Wash­ington. A Hillsdale edu­cation isn’t about pol­itics, it tran­scends pol­itics.

The grad­uates we do send to D.C. do not go because they are want to promote a par­tisan agenda. They go because they are con­ser­v­a­tives in a truer sense of the word. They want to con­serve the per­manent things. If Jeet Heer under­stood that, perhaps he wouldn’t say that Hillsdale is merely the American right’s ideal college — perhaps he would say that Hillsdale is the ideal college, period.

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Michael Lucchese
Michael Lucchese ‘18 is majoring in American Studies, and is a member of the Dow Journalism Program. In addition to the Collegian, he has also contributed to The Federalist, Acculturated, Conservative Review, and several other publications. In 2015, he reported on national security and foreign policy for Breitbart News. He also hosts a weekly radio show, The Michael Lucchese Show on Radio Free Hillsdale WRFH 101.7 FM. e-mail: Twitter: @MichaelLucchese
  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    The Political Left in America no longer has any ideas or pro­posals worth dis­cussing. Nearly all their core beliefs have been tried and found wanting in America and other nations around the world. Their current ‘con­tri­bu­tions’ to political dis­cus­sions and debate are mostly name-calling, insults, ridicule and refusing to tol­erate open dis­cussion of any ideas not related to pro­moting more federal gov­ernment control. Hillsdale College, which not only tol­erates open debate but pro­motes it, is a threat to those who fear free dis­cussion. So, they fall back on their usual methods of trying to diminish your input by asso­ci­ating the College with the fringe ele­ments of ‘the Right’. Ignore them, they’re losing their power and they know it. The name-calling has been used to such an extent it’s lost it’s impact. That club doesn’t hurt anymore.

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    Son, I think we have a dif­ference of def­i­n­i­tions.

    Hillsdale isn’t “Con­ser­v­ative”, it’s just less liberal. Or are you con­fusing “Socially Con­ser­v­ative” with the clas­sical def­i­n­ition of Con­ser­v­ative… which ulti­mately is clas­sical lib­er­alism? They have nothing to do with any­thing, “Social Con­ser­vatism” is pro­gres­sivism under any other def­i­n­ition.

    But lets look at not words, but actions. The chair of you eco­nomics department grad­uated from UC Berkeley and run a con­sulting firm, that amoung other things, sol­licites grants from MEDC.

    Con­ser­v­ative? No, less liberal, maybe. But a long way to go. Look up occa­sionally as you drink the koolaid.

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      As well he should. NEO­CON­ser­vatism is not con­ser­vatism. It pro­motes US mil­itary inter­vention in parts of the world where American interests are ques­tionable. The big NEOCON advo­cates in America, like Bill Kristol, are ques­tionable in their conservative/libertarian cre­den­tials and could just as easily be Democrats as Repub­licans. In fact, many of them have been Democrats in years past. NEO­CON­ser­vatism is just cam­ou­flage for Glob­alists hiding in the Repub­lican Party, nothing more. They have done great damage to the GOP under the Bush Administration(s) in par­ticular.

      • Ellsworth_Toohey

        I didn’t state that for your benefit, but the writers.

        • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

          My com­ments were intended for the edu­cation and edi­fi­cation of casual readers, not for you.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            Well thank you for that clar­i­fi­cation. I’m sure the stu­dents and staff of the College appre­ciate your edu­cation in this matter.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            Only too happy to help out clearing up the con­fusion you con­tribute. It’s a thankless task, but someone has to do it.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            What “con­fusion” were you clearing up? I said Kirk rejected Neo­Con­ser­vatism. That’s all I said. You agreed with me and then went into a long dia­tribe.

            You insis­tence on arguing the inane, and now the apparent full agreement does explain why you have a post count of over 3000. I guess you like hearing yourself??

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            Relax, I was joking about some of the other posts that we’ve locked horns on. On this topic we mostly agree. Peace.

  • Living­In­Hells­dale­County

    Takes a deep breath —- BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s the sil­liest thing I’ve EVER SEEN! Hillsdale College’s admin­is­tration isn’t just right wing, it is EXTREMIST. Smacks of the Jerry Falwell Sr curses on America post 911, and other whackos that came before Arnn in the dark thinking people use Christ’s name with. Anyone who dares to get up in front of CPAC and claim the 14th Amendment, in all the many years of legal scholars devel­oping the soul of this country and even judges fighting their own PERSONAL prej­u­dices to do what is right for all? Anyone that gets up and claims he wants to abolish equal pro­tection under the law is a man to be feared, worse, when he does so from a reli­gious college that doesn’t have a church to rein it in. The author writes like someone we’ll be hearing from for long to come, great story, but it is clearly fiction! The college needs to replace their admin­is­tration before Hillsdale College loses their right to have hoarded hun­dreds of mil­lions for a student body of 1500. By my cal­cu­la­tions, ever single one of you stu­dents should be going there FOR FREE, just on what is donated to this college per year, and there should be a dorm room for each one of you for the full 4 years you go there. Why are 1/3 of your stu­dents kicked out of on campus housing every school year? Why is it so expensive to go there? I live for the day when the IRS cracks open the vaults of Larry Arnn and the slush fund he THINKS he runs, char­tering cruises and sending out 3.6 million political pro­pa­ganda brochures every month, never worked for a TAXABLE entity in his lifetime, he really should focus less on his political aspi­ra­tions and more on being pres­ident of a reli­gious college. My opinion.

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      Who peed in your corn­flakes this morning, LIHC?

      • Living­In­Hells­dale­County

        The strange thing about your com­ments is that, for a man who seems to prize his superior intellect, you sure say some trashy stuff, dear! I would actually feel honored to share Ellsworth Toohey’s snapper turtle flambee in his drainage ditch, because he not only isn’t making ridiculous per­sonal attacks on people to attempt to humiliate them into not uti­lizing their free speech rights, like con­tinue to do while offering nothing of fact, but he’s also noted in pre­vious com­ments that he sees the damage the college has done to our local com­munity, which was admirable and insightful. You don’t seem to realize, sir, that America has checks and bal­ances written into every activity of the gov­ernment. When an entity like Hillsdale College applies for the right to be a licencee of the IRS, and not be taxed, they rescind their right to claim the gov­ernment cannot “interfere” with them and their political activ­ities. The lies they tell about not accepting a dime of federal aid, yet accepting not just the right to not pay taxes but ALSO take GI bill funds? When they claim the right to not report race/gender/crime sta­tistics stuff nor have to provide for dis­abled children in ser­vices and pro­grams at their college nor at their on campus charter school, based on not “tracking” civil rights related infor­mation, then track those things for NCAA par­tic­i­pation? The admin­is­tration shows their com­plete lack of char­acter and integrity, things they claim to possess in spades. Trust me sir, to you, I’m nothing, perhaps to everyone, I’m nothing, but to me? I’m dis­ap­pointed in the things I used to believe in, things I admired. You can reduce that to being dis­gruntled or whatever, and opine that I’m trash, have at it, but better people than you demanded my civil rights be forfeit because I live in the county where the college worked to whittle away Con­sti­tu­tional rights of cit­izens for many years now, from a Free Will Baptist founded church school that is “exempt” from every­thing the rest of America adheres to and indeed, believes in. Your rights to be a jerk are rights I respect, sir. But being a brain­washed minion of people who harm America’s system by being tax cheats? It smacks of you having a stake in what you’re doing by trolling people who offer cri­tique of an insti­tution which has been insulting this com­munity for the past few years in MANY ways. Arnn, Spauding, Pewe, Wolfram (ugh, hor­rible man) Flannery, these are all unAmerican people bashing tax evading money laun­dering embez­zlers to me, since I’ve read the IRS rules they’re breaking, and fol­lowed the court system since I was a child and am FULLY aware of all the struggles which formed the pro­tected classes of the XIV Amendment that Arnn wishes to abolish in Christ’s name as if he’s in “cru­sades” rather than the million dollar pres­ident of a dinky college tucked into a dying town in the midwest. I value free speech, freedom of expression, right of due process griev­ances, right to assemble with others in peaceful protest, and more. When I saw him at CPAC, I hon­estly felt chilled by his words, but after looking around and seeing his hands in the Her­itage Foun­dation, which is now recommeding US Supreme Court Judges to that puppet pres­ident of ours, and employing a Michigan Supreme Court whose harm to indi­vidual rights and hate of the judicial pro­fession SHOWS, and employing so many lob­byists dis­guised as pro­fessors, and more? His million dollar salary given even though he finds this area detestable and is RARELY even AT the college, always touring the nation as a political pundit? You dis­count my research into MY opinion alllll you want sir, but at least I’m not a syco­phantic prisoner, clinging onto ide­ology founded upon FRAUD like you’re doing. I did my homework on the college, and am shocked at how they behave. But please know: I’m shocked at how other higher learning insti­tu­tions act as well, but at least they DO accept FAFSA for finan­cially dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents, which makes them several rungs higher in class than Hillsdale College in my esti­mation, showing they respect America in SOME manner. Arnn and his thugs throw 1/3 of the stu­dents out of campus housing while having a billion dollar worth to educate just 1500 bright minds per year. He runs a charter school seed funding business, nepo­tis­ti­cally giving his daughter huge Hillsdale College donor funds to run one, even though that has nothing to do with the 1500 stu­dents the school BEGS for cash to educate. He runs 2 for-profit hotels, charters cruises, and slaps our com­munity in the face by not even printing those 3.6 million free newsletters here, nor mailing them here in this county, not even cre­ating one job for using a reli­gious college’s non profit to send out political pro­pa­ganda around the world. Get your facts straight sir. Offer SOMETHING to the con­ver­sation aside from being a jr high bully,please. Redeem yourself sir, I don’t need to be redeemed, and am not ashamed that I’m not wealthy. I’d hate to be like you. Bored, mean, and someone’s FLUNKY. Eek.

      • Living­In­Hells­dale­County

        LOL my response was deleted. That’s hilarious. This from the sup­posed Con­sti­tution loving college that wants freedoms from reg­u­la­tions yet they censor critics.

        • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

          I didn’t ask for it to be deleted. I support Free Speech, as long as you abide by forum rules.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    if you support trump, you right wing.