The Interview: Harvey Mansfield

"Q & A with Harvey Mansfield," Boston Magazine, August: 2017.

Harvey Mansfield interviewed in Boston Magazine (August 2017).

Much has changed since Harvey Mansfield arrived at Harvard in 1949. The university went coed and campus politics have drifted left. Yet Mansfield, the famously outspoken conservative professor who’s hard at work on a book about political parties, remains unchanged—blasting the university for grade inflation and dismissing “so-called rape culture.” He’s taught a generation of political pundits, from Andrew Sullivan to Bill Kristol, but on today’s campus, is Mansfield’s conservatism an antiquated relic, or an invaluable source of ideological diversity? “I’m not running for office,” Mansfield says. “I can afford to take a dispassionate view that doesn’t bow to fashionable opinion.”

Let’s put politics aside for the moment. You arrived at Harvard in 1949 as a student. How has the school changed since then?

Perhaps altogether there’s more continuity than change. It was number one then. It is still, by less of a margin, number one today. It still gets the best undergraduate students in America. It’s grown in size but not substantially, or not yet. But then, of course, there have been some big changes. Coeducation is perhaps the greatest.

How so?

Coeducation, living with and eating with women, has a calming effect or a taming effect on the male. Today’s Harvard men are premature husbands. Men, especially young men, are afraid of making fools of themselves in front of women. So the presence of a woman diminishes their spiritedness. Still, on the other hand, there are great advantages to having women around. Association with them is less formal, less reserved, less artificial than it was in my time. In my time, you had to import a woman [laughs]. Either you went to Radcliffe, which was for weekdays, or you imported somebody from Wellesley, or even farther—perhaps you even put a woman up at a hotel to be your date for that weekend.

What is a premature husband?

A premature husband is someone who is always looking at a woman to make sure he is not going to incur grave criticism. It is a guy who has his eye on feminine criticism and worries about that. Some people feel it more than others, of course.

Boston Magazine