NYT: Jeffrey Hart, Influential and Iconoclastic Conservative, Is Dead at 88

I interviewed Jeffrey Hart in 2005.

Jeffrey: “I thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Then I supported [the American-led invasion]. Now I find that many of those claims were not only incorrect, but possibly fabricated.”

Luke: “What grade would you give the Bush administration?”

Jeffrey: “He’s the worst president in American history. I’ve been reading about James Buchanan. He wasn’t bad. He was just trapped in a situation where civil war was inevitable.”

Luke: “How do people at National Review and how do you view the chapter on race in the book The Bell Curve?”

Jeffrey: “The National Review had a symposium on that when the book came out. Psychometrically it’s a commonplace that blacks score 15 [IQ points behind (on the mean average) whites who are about 15 IQ points behind asians].

“No one is saying that this is immensely important in any sense. It’s a fact. If you lack five IQ points on somebody, it does not mean you will accomplish less.”

From the New York Times today:

Jeffrey Hart, Influential and Iconoclastic Conservative, Is Dead at 88

Jeffrey Hart, a defiant defender of the Western literary canon and a profusely credentialed but contrarian conservative who bolted the Republican Party to support John Kerry and Barack Obama for president, died on Sundayin Fairlee, Vt. He was 88.

The cause was complications of dementia, his wife, Nancy Hart, said.

Professor Hart, who taught English literature at Dartmouth for three decades, drafted speeches for Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon when they were presidential candidates; wrote copiously for William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review, where he was also a senior editor; and was the author of books and a syndicated column.

He was also what Christopher Buckley, William’s son, called a Pied Piper for The Dartmouth Review, the acerbic, decidedly conservative, often inflammatory journal (not affiliated with the university) founded in Professor Hart’s living room in 1980 by four students, including his son, Ben. The Review became a proving ground for such vocal conservatives as the author Dinesh D’Souza and the talk-show host Laura Ingraham.

“Jeff Hart was one of the most influential conservative writers for approaching half a century,” Jack Fowler, the vice president of National Review, said in an email.

Professor Hart defected to the Democrats largely because of the war in Iraq, which he branded as “the greatest strategic blunder in American history.”

Claims by the Bush administration that the Iraqis were stockpiling weapons of mass destruction proved to be “dishonest,” he said, and without a strongman like Saddam Hussein, rivalry between religious sects rendered the region ungovernable.

Professor Hart was an iconoclastic conservative — some would say a political apostate — who supported stem cell research and criticized the Republican platform on the environment. He considered the crusade to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion as impractical. “It is a very peculiar kind of conservatism that values life only in utero,” he said.

Professor Hart liked to flaunt his nonconformity, commuting to campus in a gas-guzzling Cadillac limousine that occupied two parking spaces; sporting an ankle-length raccoon coat at campus football games; coupling a meerschaum pipe with lumberjack boots and a Budweiser tie; seeking to restore the school’s American Indian symbol (Dartmouth was chartered in part to educate children of Indian tribes); and wearing mischievously provocative political buttons from his collection, like one that exhorted, “Soak the Poor.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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