Yale University Press: Disseminating Lux et Veritas?

John B. Parrott

America’s university presses are situated within a network of over one hundred universities, learned societies, and scholarly associations. According to a pamphlet put out by the American Association of University Presses, these presses “make available to the broader public the full range and value of research generated by university faculty.”1 “University presses are based at a wide array of educational institutions,” the essay goes on, “and thus promote a diversity of scholarly perspectives.”

Requiring large subsidies to stay in operation, most presses are in business for scholarly, rather than financial, reasons. While some exist to enhance the prestige of their university, most presses view the dissemination of knowledge as their raison d’être. In large measure because of their charter to generate and disseminate knowledge, the federal government grants university presses not-for-profit status.

Above all, it is with the expectation that he will gain an understanding that a reader picks up a book published by a university press. This paper surveys the works of the prestigious Yale University Press and concludes that it is more concerned with purveying the progressive, left-wing opinions of its authors, and less with demanding fealty to facts and scholarly standards—a policy scarcely in keeping with the principles of the press’s idealistic founding.

Yale University Press

Founded in 1908, Yale University Press (YUP) currently publishes over three hundred new books a year, making it the largest books-only university press in the United States. Since its inception, YUP has published more than eight thousand books, and now has plans for an electronic publishing imprint. In 1920 Clarence Day, a major partner in the endeavor and brother of founder George Parmly Day, expressed the spirit in which YUP was founded:

The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.2

This is the press’s current mission statement:

By publishing serious works that contribute to a global understanding of human affairs, Yale University Press aids in the discovery and dissemination of light and truth, lux et veritas, which is a central purpose of Yale University. The publications of the Press are books and other materials that further scholarly investigation, advance interdisciplinary inquiry, stimulate public debate, educate both within and outside the classroom, and enhance cultural life. In its commitment to increasing the range and vigor of intellectual pursuits within the university and elsewhere, Yale University Press continually extends its horizons to embody university publishing at its best.3

University presses are usually not much in the news. But in 2009 YUP published The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Brandeis University politics professor Jytte Klausen, which caused a furor. The book centers on twelve cartoons depicting Muhammad that appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005—sparking worldwide controversy and violent protests by Muslims across Europe—but does not include the cartoons themselves. The choice not to include these images in the book led to charges of cowardice, and eleven civil liberties organizations protested the decision to Yale president Richard C. Levin and to the Yale Corporation, Yale’s governing body.4 “The University’s role in that decision,” the organizations said collectively in a letter sent on their behalf by the National Coalition Against Censorship, “compromises the principle and practice of academic freedom, undermines the independence of the Press, damages the University’s credibility, and diminishes its reputation for scholarship.”5 The question behind the controversy was this: does Yale exemplify intellectual integrity in its publishing program—or political correctness?

A survey of its 2009 trade offerings in American government and American political history reveals that rather than educating its readers, YUP is largely a doctrinaire press, disseminating “knowledge” from the progressive viewpoint.

A "Progressive" Press

In 2009 YUP published fourteen clothbound and paperback books that serve as the subject for this analysis. Clothbound first editions include:

  • King’s Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, by Eric J. Sundquist, which studies the civil rights movement against the backdrop of King’s speech;
  • Alger Hiss and the Battle for History, by Susan Jacoby, which describes contemporary American politics and security policy against the backdrop of the Hiss case;
  • The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History, by Patrick Allitt, a chronicle of the history of American conservatism;
  • Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics, by Peter Goodwin Heltzel, which describes Christian evangelicals and their political behavior;
  • In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History, by Michael Fellman, which examines the phenomenon of state-based, reactionary terrorism;
  • War Without Fronts: The U.S. in Vietnam, by Bernd Greiner, which investigates U.S. involvement in Vietnam; and

  • One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy, by Allison Stanger, which looks at the business-government relationship in terms of foreign policy outsourcing.

Paperbacks include:

  • We Shall Overcome: A History of Civil Rights and the Law, by Alexander Tsesis (clothbound, 2008), which describes America’s efforts to live up to the promise of equality;
  • From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism, by Joseph E. Lowndes (clothbound, 2008), which explains modern conservatism and the Republican Party in terms of the race issue;
  • George Kennan: A Study of Character, by John Lukacs (clothbound, 2007), which explores the life, work and ideas of the Cold War diplomat;
  • The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy, by Walter L. Hixson (clothbound, 2008),
  • The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, by George McKenna (clothbound, 2007), and
  • Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, by Michael H. Hunt (clothbound, 1987), all of which look at the motivation behind American foreign policy.6

The analysis undertaken in this paper is from what might be called the “Reasonable Reader” point of view. The “Reasonable Reader” expects the books he reads to attain a harmony between the facts of the subject matter and the judgment of the author. All in all, the Reasonable Reader ought to be satisfied if an author (1) considers his own point of view critically, (2) considers alternative viewpoints, (3) does not take sides in the game of politics, and (4) stands free of ideological tendentiousness or a rigid ideological style. Let’s examine these books in the light of these four principles.

When reviewing YUP’s 2009 offerings in American government and American political history, our Reasonable Reader finds, first, that these books pass along the progressive viewpoint almost exclusively, with only a few that could be considered theme-neutral or classically liberal, and none that can be termed conservative-oriented.

Progressivism defines itself along two axes. First, in domestic affairs, progressives adhere to Dominance Theory, a sociology-based neo-Marxian perspective that holds that the United States, because it has a majority racial and religious element, is a structurally intolerant place, where the white and Christian majority—sometimes consciously but often unconsciously—is aloof from and dismissive toward minorities. The solution is for “socially aware” groups to use the equality ideal as an activism tool. Second, on foreign policy, progressives hold that the United States is an aggrandizing power, one that pursues a nationalist drive for hegemony that often results in war and the subjugation of peoples in less-developed areas. These are the themes that YUP’s books in this category overwhelmingly reflect.

Alexander Tsesis’s We Shall Overcome: A History of Civil Rights and the Law is written from the dominance perspective. Tsesis holds that the promises of equality contained in the Constitution’s Preamble and the Declaration of Independence have not been met because of majority oppression of minorities, and that the solution is in the application by the federal government of the equality ideal. Tsesis takes the principle of equality and elevates it to the status of near-scientific law, insisting that the federal government has an absolute obligation to use its authority to enforce equality—even at the expense of legal neutrality: “I take liberal equality to be not a national myth but a driving force of social and civil improvement” (5). “Government’s raison d’être is the development of liberal equality for the overall common good,” he argues, “not the following of neutral principles…nor the preservation of democratic neutrality….When principles and democratic processes are neutral, they lack any judicially recognized fulcrum to check the behavior of dominant majorities” (2).

In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History covers the phenomenon of terrorism from the dominance perspective. Author Michael Fellman argues that terrorism, apart from being practiced by the revolution-minded oppressed, is also carried out by the forces of the status quo, mostly white Christians, as a way of maintaining dominance:

Underlying my study is a belief that dominating forces used terrorism to suppress the people they accused of revolutionary activities and that the uses of political violence have been motivated by religious certitude coupled with psychological anxiety, with the larger goal of instilling fear—terror—in the hearts and minds of ordinary people in order to defeat political challenges to the status quo. (3)

One Nation Under Contract, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, War Without Fronts, and The Myth of American Diplomacy closely follow the progressive thesis that American foreign policy is militaristic and imperialistic.

In One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy, Allison Stanger writes that government has privatized policy to such an extent that much foreign policy now takes place under the purview of corporate, profit-motivated actors. The result has been a foreign policy that is, at best, inefficient and detached from genuine national interests and, at worst, irresponsible, militaristic, and imperialistic. Michael Hunt writes in Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy that “American policymakers measured the worth of other peoples and nations against a racial hierarchy. They displayed hostility toward revolutions that diverged from the American norm, especially those on the left” (171).

Bernd Greiner’s War Without Fronts: The U.S. in Vietnam and Walter Hixson’s The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy argue the Chomskyite thesis that the United States is an arrogant, rapine country that brutalizes the developing world in its search for global hegemony. Greiner contends that the My Lai massacre was no aberration, that U.S. Army death squads roamed Vietnam, systematically raping, torturing, and murdering innocent Vietnamese. Hixson holds that race and gender are “critical components of national identity” that “powerfully influence” foreign policy (12), and that American norms of racism and sexism, culturally created to support the domestic political legitimacy and power of an elite of white male Christians, inform a foreign policy of arrogance, imperialism, and aggression. Hixson writes:

Foreign policy flows from cultural hegemony affirming “America” as a manly, racially superior, and providentially destined “beacon of liberty,” a country which possesses a special right to exert power in the world. Hegemonic national identity drives a continuous militant foreign policy, including the regular resort to war. (1–2)

Returning now to our four-point review of YUP’s 2009 offerings in American government and American political history, our Reasonable Reader also finds that these books do not consider any alternative points of view.

There are no books on foreign policy written from the national interest perspective, for example. Unlike the progressive paradigm, which holds that foreign policy is culturally-produced by elites and reflects the identities of the policymakers, the national interest paradigm holds that policy flows from goal-oriented behavior by deliberative decision-makers on the basis of situational factors, including economic, political, and security considerations. The books surveyed depict a foreign policy that is rooted in the sociological composition and cultural inclinations of policymakers rather than any objective calculation of interests or threats.

In addition to offering no books that give alternative viewpoints, the YUP catalogue contains no books that actively contradict the progressive paradigm. Books that offer facts and themes contrary to, and not simply alternative to, a given paradigm put that paradigm to the test. For example, a book that challenges We Shall Overcome’s notion of equality as a near-scientific law would investigate the political utility of the equality ideal and examine whether it is a real standard or a whip politically-connected elites use to legitimize their power and advance their agendas. Such a book might note Henry Louis Gates’s endorsement of black nationalist “counter-narrative” as a technique of “framing,” of relating facts in a way that makes dominance theory seem real.7 The book would conclude with an admonishment against framing by Barack Obama, who in Dreams of My Father investigated for himself the use of counter-narrative and concluded skeptically that “race-baiting could make up for a host of limitations.”8 Obama decided to reject the black nationalist storyline, on the grounds that, in part, it “corrupted both language and thought; [and] made us forgetful and encouraged fabrication; [and] eventually eroded our ability to hold either ourselves or each other accountable.”9

A second hypothetical contrarian book, which we’ll title Ideology and Foreign Policy, might chronicle the dynamics that propel progressive criticism of foreign policy. The book might note Noam Chomsky’s advice to progressives, first expressed in his famous 1967 New York Review of Books essay, “The Responsibility of the Intellectuals,” that as a tool of protest they should characterize American foreign policy in outlandish terms.10 The book might also mention how Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez cited Chomsky during his 2006 speech before the United Nations General Assembly.11 It can conclude by posing this question: What is the effect of the “Americans-as-imperialists” frame on terrorist groups and other enemies of the United States?

Not surprisingly, with regard to our Reasonable Reader’s third requirement, these books have the effect of endorsing one set of political and politically-relevant actors. After reading YUP’s books it is hard for a thinking reader to see anything commendatory in conservative or Republican principles, personalities, or policy recommendations.

For example, Patrick Allitt’s The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History portrays conservatives according to largely unflattering stereotype as suspicious of democracy and equality. “Conservatism throughout American history has often entailed the defense of privilege by the holders of privilege,” Allitt declares in his introduction, “and has always been vulnerable to the accusation that it is really just the self-interested special pleading of men who have a lot to lose” (5). He concludes:

[C]onservative arguments against equality and against democracy were persuasive and influential to intelligent readers in many eras of American history, as were arguments in favor of slavery. We do not have to believe them, but if we are to fully understand the American past we should remember that serious people took them seriously. (5)

Joseph E. Lowndes’s From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism presents a race- and class-based analysis of the Republican Party and conservatism since the Depression. Claiming that Republicans have become “dominant through racially inflected positions on poverty, crime, affirmative action, and government assistance,” Lowndes says his book amounts to a necessary “racial archaeology of the modern GOP” (2, 7). “In the case of modern conservatism,” he claims, “race has been both an open and coded signifier for popular mobilizations against redistribution, regulation, labor protections, and myriad other aspects of neo-liberal opposition to ‘big government’” (7).

George McKenna’s The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism considers patriotism a myth, a narrative used by leaders during trying times to get themselves and their policies through unscathed. McKenna contends that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush’s speeches appealed to patriotism in order to interrupt the gradual move of American culture toward liberalism and secularism. Bush’s speeches amounted to a reversion to an outmoded “Puritan” inspiration for America, one where patriotism serves as a quasi-religious creed—and a dishonest one at that. McKenna says Bush portrayed America as a shining beacon that has come under attack, yet it is America’s own policies that caused 9/11, and the appeal to patriotism simply covers up America’s own dysfunction (363–65).

And as to our Reasonable Reader’s fourth and final expectation—that a book will stand free of ideological tendentiousness and not manifest a rigid ideological style—once again, the books examined disappoint.

The typical progressive style consists of three elements: frame-making, labeling, and polarizing arguments. “Framing,” as noted above, means contextualizing facts in a way that makes the progressive spin regarding them seem real. The idea, which goes back at least to renowned Berkeley and University of Pennsylvania sociologist Erving Goffman and his ground-breaking Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Harper & Row, 1974), has been used most recently by Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science George Lakoff in advising Democratic activists on how to get votes.12 Labeling refers to the ideologically-oriented appellations we give to phenomena; “far right wing” and “extremist” are examples. In polarization, which Richard Hofstadter explained in his seminal Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Knopf, 1964),13 we draw phenomena into good-evil categories, with our side universally residing with the former and our opponents with the latter.

Peter Goodwin Heltzel’s Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics posits two strands of Christian evangelism: pro-family conservative and social justice progressive. Heltzel describes adherents of the former as dividers who associate with “warrior” politics and inclined toward white supremacy. “The evangelical pro-family movement ” he writes, “is best understood as a white male conservative power movement” and “a reaction to the civil rights movement” (93). The analysis applies to conservatives the “Religious Right” label, a standard appellation found in progressive discourse but never used by conservative Christians. The progressive movement, which receives no labels, is depicted as a movement of compassionate unifiers concerned with finding solutions to social ills.

Susan Jacoby’s Alger Hiss and the Battle for History tries to tie the legitimate effort to expose and convict Alger Hiss, now fully documented as a spy for the Soviet Union during his years in the State Department, to the suppression of liberalism. She conflates the Hiss case with McCarthyism, and characterizes the latter as “an attack on New Deal liberalism as well as communism” (12). Hiss was a New Dealer, and although Jacoby does concede that she “believe[s] Hiss was guilty of both perjury and spying” (20), she argues that attacking him “was tailor-made for those who wished to besmirch the memory of Roosevelt” (12–13).

The book’s theme is that today’s “right wing”—which she identifies as the press, conservative think tanks, the Republican Party, and conservative intellectuals—continues to demonize the Left by unfairly linking it and its policies with communism. Today’s McCarthyite heirs “have exerted substantial political influence in every Republican administration since Reagan was elected in 1980; [they are] the middle-aged children of the old liberals-turned-neo-cons, based in conservative think tanks and foundations, [who] were among the intellectual architects of the war in Iraq” (18). The relevance of her book, Jacoby says, is in what the Hiss case says about the threat that ideology and the political Right pose today (18).

Instead of being abashed at Hiss’s guilt and the extent of communist espionage in the United States, denied for years by the Left and now irrefutably documented, Jacoby persists in portraying the Left as victim: “The proprietors of the right-wing anti-Hiss cottage industry built and staked careers on [Hiss’s] guilt,” she writes, “and many have used the dead horse to impugn the integrity of liberals like me, who view both Soviet Communism and the attack on civil liberties during the McCarthy era with deep loathing” (21–22). She also mentions Ronald Reagan’s posthumous granting of the Medal of Freedom to Whittaker Chambers, the man who exposed Hiss’s guilt, as “a move that proved deeply offensive to many American liberals in the 1980s” (16; see also 218–23).

A few of YUP’s 2009 catalog offerings in American government and American political history do take an independent or classical liberal approach, and are therefore accessible to non-progressive readers. Eric J. Sundquist’s King’s Dream: The Legacy of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech is a straightforward examination of King’s intentions. Sundquist seems to conclude that King did favor race-based preferences approved of by progressives and not the color-blind principles favored by conservatives, but he acknowledges King’s essential ambiguity on the question and treats both sides with respect and authenticity.

John Lukacs’s biography, George Kennan: A Study of Character, is critical of the expansion of American foreign policy and the use of force that occurred post-Kennan, but his analysis sticks close to the facts of Kennan’s character and actions and lacks the hard polarizing style and frame-making typically employed by progressive narrative-makers. Lukacs, a well-known if somewhat eccentric conservative, specifically finds that both conservative and liberals have misunderstood Kennan, who was not a progressive (154).

On the whole, however, it is the ideology of progressivism, not the more expansive tenets of classical liberalism—and certainly not conservatism—that YUP editors have clearly endorsed.

Lux et Veritas?

While progressives have the right to express their views, substituting myth for facts offends against reality, and the first duty of the scholar, and of the publishing house that prints his work, is to comprehend what is real. Regrettable as it must seem for many professionals, progressivism exists more in the realm of creed than reality, and has been more wrong than right in its assessment of the phenomena of our world, and the books that pass on its mythical themes have not passed the test of time.

It seems evident that Yale University Press tries to promote the flawed progressive “alternative reality” at the expense not only of conservative or classically liberal explanations, but of reality itself. The result has nothing to do with equality or global peace or any other high ideal.

What is has to do with is politics and power.

1American Association of University Presses (www.aaupnet.org), News Desk, “The Value of University Presses,” http://aaupnet.org/news/value.html.

2Yale University Press (http://yalepress.yale.edu), About the Press, Robert Pranzatelli, “‘A Brief History of Yale University Press,’ Adapted from A World of Letters, by Nicholas A. Basbanes,” http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/about.asp.

3Yale University Press, About the Press, “Mission,” http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/about.asp.

4“The Yale Corporation,” also more formally known as “The President and Fellows of Yale College,” is comprised of nineteen members: three ex-officio members—Yale University president and Connecticut’s governor and lieutenant governor, ten “successor trustees” who elect their own successors, and six “alumni fellows” elected by Yale alumni.

5Joan E. Bertin, National Coalition Against Censorship(www.ncac.org), on behalf of the American Association of University Professors, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Society of Journalists and Authors, First Amendment Committee, Center for Inquiry, College Art Association, Freedom to Read Foundation, First Amendment Project, First Amendment Lawyers Association, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Middle East Studies Association, letter to Yale University president Richard C. Levin and the members of the Yale Corporation, September 14, 2009, http://www.ncac.org/Letter-to-Yale-University.

6All references to the works listed here will be cited parenthetically within the text.

7See Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (New York: Random House, 1997), esp., 106–109. See also my discussion of framing in “George Lakoff’s New Happiness: Politics After Rationality,” in the Fall 2009 Academic Questions (vol. 22, no. 4).

8Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Times Books, 1995), 186.

9Ibid., 187.

10Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of the Intellectuals,” New York Review of Books, February 23, 1967, available at http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19670223.htm.

11The webcast of this speech is available at http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/61/gastatement20.shtml.

12See especially Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004).

13See Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, November 1964, http://www.harpers.org/archive/1964/11/0014706.

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