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PostProf. Jeffrey Hart, 1930-2019 (David Duggan, USA, 03/26/19 5:00 am)
WAISers are going to have to wait a while for me to explain the need for an international (or at least an interstate) hook for the Feds to prosecute "terrorism," because I need first to remember my professor of English at Dartmouth College, Jeffrey Hart, whose death last month escaped my notice (none of the College's recent e-blasts mentioned it).
Just as our editor owes his career to Dartmouth's language professor extraordinaire John Rassias, to a great extent I owe mine to Jeff Hart, who embodied the engaged intellectual who saw the world as it was, and tried to preserve the good and defend our freedom to pursue it.
Jeff was a true Renaissance man who could write with the best about current affairs, debate English literature with the likes of Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren (father of the protagonist in the Redford-directed "Quiz Show" of the 1990s), and then follow it up with a mean game of tennis. At the Dartmouth of the late 1960s-early 1970s, he was the voice of conservative reason, defending the war in Vietnam as a necessary concomitant to protecting the sea lanes linking the Persian Gulf's oil to Japan and Korea's East Asian industrial might. He brought scholars such as Milton Friedman, and his National Review publisher Bill Buckley to the College during my three years there. Just as significantly, he wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and won the faculty tennis tournament.
A graduate of Columbia University's esteemed PhD program in English (he wrote his dissertation on Viscount Bolingbroke, Henry St. John--which Jeff pronounced "sinjin"), Hart helped re-vitalize Dartmouth's English department, which had veered left and largely irrelevant. Having once left Dartmouth as a student, feeling that in the late 1940s it was essentially a post-graduate prep school devoid of intellectual heft, Hart helped turn it into, if not quite Amherst or Williams North, a better version of its Winter Carnival-obsessed self. Having hung around some of the more conservative circles in my first, student-strike interrupted year (1970), I took Hart's "Augustan Age" course second year to see what the fuss was. Sometime striding into class wearing his raccoon-fur coat and a bow tie (sacrilegious in that era of four-inch collar points, wide-ties and sideburns), Jeff re-kindled my interest in ideas as the fuel of society. Writing a paper on the difference between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, I received a rare "A." Sadly, however, on one of Jeff's short-answer tests, I had forgotten the difference in the rounds of "Puckle's Machine Gun," which specified square bullets to be used against the Muslim Turks (perennially at Vienna's doorstep), better to convince them of the benefits of western society--and Christianity--because of their more devastating effect. Nearly four centuries later, we don't seem to be doing any better in our efforts.
The following fall, I asked Jeff to write a recommendation to Northwestern's graduate journalism school, which I had resolved to attend rather than waste another year at Dartmouth. I gave him several samples of my writing for the Daily Dartmouth (then the College's only newspaper), which he liked. I exposed myself to the draft later that year (my lottery number was high enough), was not called up, and then was free to contemplate my future. I spent most of my last terms writing sports columns, finishing my major requirements and trying not to do too much damage to my GPA. I also played tennis with Jeff, and on one occasion, he picked me up in his Cadillac (Bill Buckley gave him his used Fleetwoods), and we drove to a private court remotely fixed amidst a farm in Thetford, Vermont. En route we saw a couple of young lovelies sun bathing au naturel adjacent to a pond. We looked at each other and laughed. I could never get more than 4 games a set off him.
I saw Jeff for the last time at a Dartmouth-Columbia game at northern Manhattan's Baker Field in the early 1980s. By then I had forsaken journalism in exchange for the more certain and lucrative career of a lawyer. Also present that game was Cong. Jack Kemp, whose son Jeff was throwing passes to Don Shula's son David for the Big Green. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle joined Kemp in the stands. Hart's son, Ben, a top junior skier, helped found The Dartmouth Review in the early 1980s, which has become a leading voice of the college conservative movement, counting among its alums Dinesh D'Souza, Laura Ingraham, and the late Joseph Rago.
Disaffected with the Republicans' tilt toward influence peddling and pork barrel politics (Casino Jack Abramoff), Jeff voted for Kerry in 2004 and Obama twice (horrors). He sat out the 2016 election and I can only imagine what he thinks of Le Grand Orange. Jeff's disciples will undoubtedly be contemplating eternity in the sweet afterglow of his brilliance. Jeff Hart, RIP.
JE comments: In my Dartmouth days (1982-'86), Prof. Hart was a legend, much respected and equally loathed for his brainchild, the Dartmouth Review. Studying with him was a rite of passage for many of my classmates, although I managed to graduate without taking a single English course. (Now we know who to blame for my editing mistakes!)
Jeffrey Hart was one of the last of the elitist, gadfly academics--a dying breed in today's culture of tenuous tenure, trigger warnings, and getting hauled to HR for saying anything that makes somebody else uncomfortable.
A marvelous tribute, David.