Politics Is the Master Science

Meanwhile David Satter expresses disgust at the changes in the Rhodes Scholarship program in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

While at Oxford, I studied Hannah Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism and the Russian language and traveled to the Soviet Union. Classmates studied Arabic and Chinese and became respected experts in their fields. The U.S. Rhodes Scholars in 2021, however, were praised not for worldliness but for their demographics. Twenty-one of the 32 winners are “students of colour” and one is “nonbinary,” according to the Rhodes Trust’s announcement. More important, diversity is often their preferred academic specialty, along with sexual harassment, racism and the status of prisoners. The winners are described as “passionate” or motivated by “fierce urgency.” The notion that Rhodes Scholars are defenders of universal values and destined to have careers that benefit their countries has been replaced by training them for conflicts with their fellow citizens.

Elizabeth Kiss, warden of Rhodes House, wrote that the Rhodes Trust today rejects Rhodes’s goal of educating young men for a civilizing mission as “wrong and obsolete.” Oxford itself, she writes, is a place where “racism in all its forms—structural, overt and implicit—remains rife.”

The Rhodes Trust has embarked on a program to expunge the scholarship’s “racist and sexist” past. One feature is a mandatory workshop led by members of the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement, which is campaigning to remove Rhodes’s statue from Oxford’s Oriel College. There is also inclusion training for all Rhodes staff, outreach to black colleges (but not other schools), and data processing to improve the diversity of the selection committees.

The goal, according to a recent statement, is “radical inclusion.” That means racial preferences, which violate Rhodes’s will. Its 24th point states: “No student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a Scholarship on account of his race or religious opinions.” The phrase “no student shall be qualified” is particularly important. I don’t see how the trustees have the right to change this condition.

Like many Rhodes Scholars IMO Mr. Satter fails to recognize that the program was, is, and always has been primarily political. I’ll give three examples.

One of my high school acquaintances received a Rhodes Scholarship. He wasn’t valedictorian. He wasn’t even in the top 20% of the class. His dad, however, was the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen (an old family friend) and, apparently, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Just about 50 years ago, shortly after the program was expanded to include women, one of the smartest women of my acquaintance was irate that her application was rejected while those of people much her inferior in intelligence and performance than she received scholarships. “It’s all politics!” she declaimed. I agreed with her and mentioned my friend to her. I don’t know whether that made her feel better or worse. Since then she’s made quite a name for herself in international relations circles.

My final example: Bill Clinton. He was a Rhodes Scholar but his SAT scores cast some doubts on just how high his IQ was. There’s no doubting, however, that he is politically astute. Just to be clear I don’t think that Bill Clinton is stupid. I think he’s a completely typical member of the professional class who is also a brilliant politician.

I think that more than anything else the changes in the program tell you which way the political winds are blowing.

4 comments… add one
  • bob sykes Link

    Things have changed. The original purpose of the Rhodes Scholarships was to promote unity in the British Empire and improve relations with the US. It was essentially an Anglophone enhancement program.

  • steve Link

    60 years of the kids of rich, influential (coincidentally almost all white and male) getting the scholarships and not a peep. A couple of years of minorities (and woes) over represented and it is the end of the world.

    I have no idea, nor do I care, how smart Clinton may or may not be, but I wouldnt use SAT scores as an absolute guide. We were poor. I had almost no idea how important SAT scores could be. It was never talked about in my home. There was no prep class for the SAT. I had to work until midnight the day before the SATs and then go home and cook my dinner since we were not allowed to eat at work and then I had to do laundry since I was doing most of the work of raising my brothers and sisters. Fell asleep during one part of the test. I doubt that high school education in a small town in Arkansas (mine was in Indiana) compared with an elite school in a large city. Family situations including stability and emphasis on education, including getting good SAT scores, matter a lot.


  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    One should take with a grain of salt on the rumored SAT or other test scores of politicians unless confirmed (like George W Bush or Chuck Schumer).

  • Grey Shambler Link

    They should give Cecil his money back.

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