April 30, 2006

The Dartmouth Review at 25

By: Alvino-Mario Fantini

NEW YORK CITY–On April 21, a quarter-century of irreverent conservative student journalism was celebrated as The Dartmouth Review held a gala dinner at the Union League Club in Manhattan. Three hundred of the off-campus newspaper’s closest friends and supporters–and some former staffers–showed up for an evening of recollections, anecdotes and speeches.

It was, according to this writer, a fantastic affair. Not only was it an opportunity to see old friends after nearly a decade, but it was also a chance to enjoy the company of William F. Buckley, Jr., the erudition of Fr. George W. Rutler and the humor of Spectator and Telegraph columnist Mark Steyn, keynote speaker for the evening. Plus, throughout the evening, band music from Alex Donner and his Orchestra accompanied us while libations flowed appropriately.

The evening also marked the publication of an anthology of articles titled The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent (ISI Books), edited by James Panero and Stefan Beck, both of The New Criterion.

As several speakers noted, The Dartmouth Review changed the lives of many people and, in the process, made history. Started by a group of disaffected staffers from Dartmouth College’s official on-campus publication, The Review stood for a return to a liberal arts curriculum rooted in Western Civilization; the preservation of the traditional character of the College; for professors, an emphasis on teaching rather than publishing; a rejection of attempts to re-make the school into a large research university; a defense of the outdoor, sporting life; and a defense of many of Dartmouth’s pre-1960s traditions (notably, the use of the Indian mascot).

From the very beginning, the paper received the encouragement of Jeffrey Hart, professor of English at the College (now emeritus). Hart was also Senior Editor of Buckley’s National Review, the flagship publication of the American Right. With Hart’s encouragement, and with the strong financial support of disgruntled alumni elsewhere, as well as foundations such as the (now-defunct) IEA, The Review started publishing regularly–completely independently from the College.

The paper’s conservative point of view, and the fact that it aggressively went after the sacred cows on campus, quickly raised the ire of the liberal faculty. Over the years, a variety of incidents on campus brought the newspaper and its editors nation-wide notoriety (and welcome publicity) for being feisty, festive and dead-on Right.

More importantly, however, was the fact that The Review served as a model for conservative student publications on campuses all around the country. In the decade or so after the founding of The Review, schools like Yale, Brown, Stanford, Michigan and Harvard all saw the rise of their own conservative student publications. In fact, in a recent editorial lauding the rise of conservative campus papers, The Wall Street Journal said, “What was once a lonely voice challenging campus orthodoxy is now a boisterous chorus.”

Personally, I think none of this would’ve been possible–certainly not the existence of The Review–were it not for the always-exuberant support of Bill Buckley and, perhaps more importantly, Professor Hart. Buckley may have seen the boys at The Review as inheritors of the critical tradition that he himself started with the publication of God and Man at Yale. But it was Professor Hart who played host to the first few meetings, who mentored several of its young writers and who taught everyone about how to “smile through the cultural catastrophe.”

Hart, no stranger to campus enmity himself, taught members of the paper how to clearly and forcefully articulate a conservative vision–while also having a bit of fun. On a campus of liberal academics, deconstructionists and assorted Marxists, Hart wore Nixon pins, played Handel before starting his lectures on the Augustan Age and wore raccoon coats to football games, drinking from a flask on every home touchdown. The motto on his personal stationery, this writer recalls, cites Southern writer John Crowe Ransom: “In manners, aristocratic; in religion, ritualistic; in art, traditional.”

The Review, and Professor Hart, saved many of us from a dreary, undergraduate life full of anti-Americanisms and mind-numbing discussions on race and gender. The Review offered us, instead, more fortifying fare, introducing us to what Matthew Arnold called “the best which has been thought and said.” Through its association with other organizations, The Review also introduced us (borrowing a line from Marion Montgomery) to the men I have chosen as fathers: Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Frank S. Meyer, Willmoore Kendall and Eric Voegelin.

There is, however, one fundamental lesson that The Review taught everyone associated with it–and which was carefully noted at the end of the evening by the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson (quoting, in turn, Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor): “You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.” Let that be a motto for us all.

Alvino-Mario Fantini is a 1990 graduate of Dartmouth College and a member of the board of The Dartmouth Review. A 2003 Phillips Fellow, he is currently an Erasmus Mundus Journalism Scholar through the European Union.