Conservatives did not realize how good they had it in the 20th century. Now, the walls are closing in on them.
To appreciate this change, consider five venerable and prestigious institutions selected by the father-son team of Leonard and Mark Silk in their 1980 book, “The American Establishment”: Harvard University (founded in 1636), The New York Times (1851), the Brookings Institution (1916), the Council on Foreign Relations (1921) and the Ford Foundation (1936).
Already, 40 years ago, all five favored Democrats, progressivism, social experimentation, high taxes and change. But, back then, Harvard hired outspoken conservatives to teach, The Times often published them, Brookings included them in events, the CFR invited them to chair meetings and Ford funded them. I know, because I personally did all that. Back then, liberals had passionate and acerbic differences with conservatives, but they no more imagined canceling conservatives than 21st-century conservatives imagine canceling liberals.
That acceptance ended around 2000. For example, Psychology Today in 2008 announced that “conservatism is a mild form of insanity.” Four years later, Rick Perlstein, dubbed the “chronicler extraordinaire of modern conservatism” deemed conservatives “crazy.” Others on the left find conservatives inherently gullible, rigid or authoritarian. Disdain drips: the term “climate change deniers,” for example, purposefully alludes to Holocaust deniers.
Not surprisingly, Establishment institutions over time have increasingly rejected the very legitimacy of conservatism. Liberals who dare forward a conservative idea can find themselves unemployed. Larry Summers’ presidency of Harvard ended when he suggested that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” might account for the paucity of women in science. James Bennet had to resign from The New York Times for publishing a senator’s conservative op-ed, while Bari Weiss found her self-described “forays into Wrongthink” made The Times’ editorial office unbearable.
Actual conservatives also, of course, get pushed out. Kevin Williamson’s career at The Atlantic ended before it even began because the magazine’s staff could not stomach his views on abortion. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst expelled a student, Louis Shenker, because he had the audacity to support Mr. Trump and Israel. Northwestern University denounced Joseph Epstein, who taught there for 28 years, and dropped him from its website because he wrote a sardonic article advising Jill Biden not to call herself “Dr.”
This intolerance means that conservatives under the age of 45 have effectively been shut out of leading institutions. My younger colleagues cannot benefit from the affiliations I did. That would not sting so much if conservatives had built their own Establishment, but they have not. Liberals control nearly all the most prestigious institutions in the United States, inheriting some, transforming others and creating the rest.
Indeed, the old Liberal Establishment has flourished mightily. Harvard College’s acceptance rate decreased from 82% in 1933 to 20% in 1965 to 5% today. The Ford Foundation endowment grew from $2.6 billion in 1980 to $14.2 billion today. That the new Establishment — Amazon, Facebook, Google — has abandoned its libertarian roots and moved in near-synchrony to the left appears in retrospect as inevitable as it is disappointing.
This disparity of resources is likely to continue because the wealthy are predisposed to the left and conservatives generally prefer to tend their private gardens. A Capital Research Center report finds that, in the arena of public policy, liberals out-donate conservatives by a ratio of 3.7 to 1. It seems likely that similar disparities exist in other arenas, including education, the arts and foundation assets.
In combination, these elements translate into liberal institutions reigning authoritatively, while conservative ones have a partisan quality. Fox News has a parochial edge that makes it the rough counterpart of MSNBC; CNN stands augustly apart. The same goes, respectively, for National Review, The Nation and The Economist or Hillsdale, Oberlin and Williams colleges.
This trend extends far beyond the life of the mind. Conservatives have been de-platformed, I recently wrote in The Washington Times, by “a restaurant, a ticketing service, ride-share companies, a cruise line, a hotel chain, President Trump’s private club, a lodging broker, a retail store, an Internet provider, a video hosting company, banks, credit-card companies, a payment system, governments, and hospitals.” In the aggregate, these deprivations threaten livelihood, dignity and enfranchisement.
Exclusion has reduced the opportunities, repute and income of conservatives. Full citizenship is eroding, replaced by an outcast status. The penalty for being conservative is already a generation old and it keeps getting worse, with no end in sight.
• Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.