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To combat the long march, let’s build a conservative university

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IN the present political and cultural climate, a long conservative counter-march through the institutions has never seemed so necessary – or improbable.  

A few rallying-cries for this historic mission, significantly from outside the Westminster bubble, were heard after the Conservative Party victory in December 2019. But the most we saw in response was the usual hollow sabre-rattling at the BBC.  

No Tory MP even bothered this time to make the equally empty election-cycle promise of a bonfire of the quangos, though kindred groups such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance called for one.   

In the unlikely event that the Government, flush with an 80-seat majority, even considered mounting a root-and-branch challenge to the country’s cosy liberal institutional monopoly, any such thoughts were soon extinguished by the events of March 2020 – the start of the Covid Age.  

Since then, far from setting about undoing decades of Left-wing hegemony in state schools, the Civil Service, the judiciary, the police, etc, the Government has given a reasonably good impression of creating a totalitarian socialist state, albeit aided and abetted by the ‘acceptable’ capitalists of Big Pharma.  

‘In office but not in power’ has long been the Right’s conundrum; ‘Conservative Party in name only’ is the newly apt term. Meanwhile, the grip of progressivism tightens still further, nowhere more so than in the most influential arena of all, the academy.  

Anyone who has observed the Free Speech Union will have noted how much of its sterling work is devoted to defending university academics and students under threat of censure, de-platforming, cancellation, dismissal and social obloquy. Given this context, reclaiming an equitable stake for conservatives in academe appears the longest, most unlikely, counter-march of all.    

But if an existing institution is irrecoverable, what about creating a new one? Yes, there are a few notable Right-leaning think-tanks, such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), and more would be helpful.  

But it’s time to be bolder. I propose a new university, one which will uphold the best ideas of true conservatism, and provide a much-needed foothold for traditional learning in a hostile academic landscape.  

Let’s call it the Thatcher-Reagan Institute of Higher Education, likely to be shortened to the Thatcher-Reagan Institute (TRI). Perhaps Professor Nigel Biggar, himself no stranger to the baleful consequences of academic wokery, can be prised away from Christ Church, Oxford, to become its first Vice-Chancellor.   

I was tempted to suggest the Churchill-Thatcher Institute, but with start-up costs likely to be in the region of £250million, Reagan’s moniker might help to elicit valuable funding from wealthy American donors. Besides, post-war there were no more indomitable champions of Western liberal values, in the classical sense, than the Iron Lady and her Cold War-winning partner.  

TRI will run undergraduate, masters and research degree courses of the highest standard. There will be a battle royal to win university title and degree-awarding status, of course.  

But let’s assume the new institute surmounts that particular hurdle. The range of degree programmes will be as wide as any other top university. Economics, politics, law, history and English will feature heavily, earning particularly high reputations, freed from the virulent Marxist and colonialist dogmas abroad in higher education.  

Teaching will be international in outlook, but the emphasis will unashamedly be on the staggering achievements of European civilisation.  

Teaching of European history, including the imperial experiment, will not be uncritical; but nobody will graduate from TRI feeling an overriding sense of guilt for what their ancestors did. As Pascal Bruckner has written, ‘we must cease to confuse the necessary evaluation of ourselves with a moralising masochism’.  

Likewise, hard sciences at TRI – as Mrs Thatcher, an Oxford chemistry graduate, would have approved – will be untrammelled by the white-privilege and gender-fluid ideas increasingly hindering the teaching of objective scientific facts.  

In biology, for example, how can important research into reproduction survive, let alone flourish, in the aggressively ‘non-binary’ educational atmosphere we see today?  

At TRI, such research will find a safe haven. Indeed, all of its programmes will be equipment for living, not by offering students an escape from the world, but by helping them to see it more clearly.  

Media studies courses, that dubious staple of new universities, will not be offered as standalone degrees; however, there will be plenty of opportunity to study and research Big Media manipulation of the public.  

Interesting parallels will doubtless be drawn with techniques used in the Soviet Union and modern-day China, fostered by the expert tutelage offered in the new institute’s Centre for the Study of Communism. This department will undertake groundbreaking research on the controlling techniques deployed across the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and their chilling effects.      

De-platforming will not be tolerated. The underlying ethos of the institute will be that conservatives have the best ideas; hence academics of other political persuasions will be welcome to speak on campus, the better for students and faculty to sharpen their arguments and debating skills, to learn what makes their ideological opponents – not enemies – tick. Any student who thinks they need a ‘safe space’ will be politely asked to leave.      

The new university’s location is up for grabs. It will naturally wish where possible to embrace Scrutonesque architectural aesthetics, not least in the designing of its chapel.  

To do the late Sir Roger full justice, this may require a new-build in a comparatively rural area – no bad thing with the shires the traditional incubators of genuine conservative values.  On the other hand, siting it in former Labour territory in the North would sit well with the CPS’s call for a northern ‘Big Bang’ of Thatcherite policies.  

There would also be something symbolically powerful about a London campus, close to the levers of power; after all, the long-term aim is for TRI graduates to rise to positions of influence, not least in Parliament.  

Whatever the final decision, there will need to be a fitting Latin motto above the main entrance. Vincit omnia veritas (truth conquers all things) would be a worthy frontrunner.    

The Thatcher-Reagan Institute will be an oasis of common sense in a conservative higher education desert, a nourisher of maligned but self-evident truths about the world, truths which it is our duty to preserve and hand on to future generations.  

It will produce graduates who, having been taught how, rather than what, to think will be in demand by any reputable employer, and will be feared adversaries in the culture wars.  

Let’s more fully honour not just the memory of two 20th-century conservative icons, but the enduring integrity of the principles they fearlessly espoused.  

Firefighting alone won’t do; it’s time to draw up detailed plans, source the funding, let construction commence and, in the best sense, build back better. 

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Stuart Major
Stuart Major is an independent scholar based in Sussex.

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