Harvey Mansfield is now 89 and a political philosophy professor at Harvard, considered a leading authority on Tocqueville. He wrote a 60 page introduction to Democracy in America in the 2000 Chicago Press edition. The intro alone is worth the price of the book.

From Persuasion, The Conservative Case for Philosophical Liberalism, Yascha Mounk interviews Harvey Mansfield.

Mansfield: Yes, in ancient Athens you had philosophers who were content to let the gentlemen rule, with some powers given to the people as well. But that whole way of thinking about philosophy was replaced by the notion that philosophy should have an agenda, and seek to enlighten the common people. And that’s the period called the Enlightenment.

I don’t think it’s anything new that intellectuals are on the left. That’s, I think, the picture of modernity. If the left means standing for progress, and progress means progress in liberty and in science, that’s for the most part, on the left. Locke’s combination of economic liberalism and intellectual liberalism came to be attacked. So the intellectuals were no longer allies or friends of businessmen and became enemies. This happens with Rousseau. The whole idea of keeping together these two social currents of liberalism—namely, private property and toleration—gets lost. What we have today are mostly progressive intellectuals. There are a few conservative intellectuals who react against the progressives, and also want to enlighten the people, in their way.

It’s striking that the range of argument in the universities is so much more narrow than in American society as a whole. That, I think, is a great danger, more for the universities than for American society. The universities are the source of our experts and, it should be, of our open mindedness. But they’ve stopped being open-minded. That is a real problem, and that is getting worse and worse. I would say this “wokeism” characterizes the recent decade or so. There’s been a real change even in the last ten years, I would say, toward aggressive intolerance in the universities.


This is also the case of Julien Benda in The Treason of the Intellectuals (1928).  Benda warned of the danger of intellectuals serving political ends, subverting their roles to hold rulers accountable.  He predicted the war to come.