Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students

The following letter written by professors from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton was first published on 8/29/17 by our friends at the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. With permission, I have re-printed it here. I wish I had the opportunity to read this letter when I was a freshman. Perhaps you too will find it as insightful as I did. If you’re interested, James Freeman (Yale ’91) at the WSJ had valuable commentary on the letter.
– Pranam Dey, Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon


We are scholars and teachers at Princeton, Harvard, and Yale who have some thoughts to share and advice to offer students who are headed off to colleges around the country. Our advice can be distilled to three words:

Think for yourself.

Now, that might sound easy. But you will find—as you may have discovered already in high school—that thinking for yourself can be a challenge. It always demands self-discipline and these days can require courage.

In today’s climate, it’s all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion on your campus or in the broader academic culture. The danger any student—or faculty member—faces today is falling into the vice of conformism, yielding to groupthink. Continue reading

Of Judges and Justice with Michael Mukasey

By: Zach Young

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey came to speak at a Firing Line Debate on “Privacy and Security in a Digital World” hosted by the Buckley Program on April 20th, 2017. 

Michael Mukasey spoke in sharp, measured utterances. The one-time US Attorney General, district court chief judge, and fast-rising federal prosecutor now practices law at Debevoise & Plimpton and contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal editorial page. In our brief interview, he touched on major judicial topics in the news today.

What to make of the Democratic filibuster to now-Justice Neil Gorsuch? “A strategic blunder,” he noted. Mr. Gorsuch was “nothing if not presentable” and would have sailed through the Senate regardless of Democratic obstruction. “The real battle is going to come with the next seat,” he added, noting that Democrats have ceded their most potent tool to block a less-desirable Supreme Court nominee. “That will be a real dose of Castrol oil for the Left,” he quipped.

On the judicial rebukes to President Trump’s travel ban? Mr. Mukasey viewed their legal analysis as unprecedented and far-extending. “They essentially say that, because these orders came from somebody whom they deem to be bigoted, they cannot be evaluated facially,” he summarized. By dismissing the orders on a subjective character assessment of President Trump, rather than on the constitutional merits, these judges have developed a new genre of judicial second-guessing.

And what of the Oath of Office? The judges “have delegitimized the oath he took as president,” Mr. Mukasey noted, shrugging off Mr. Trump’s pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Emphasizing only his campaign rhetoric, the judges invite never-ending legal analysis of stadium speeches, written platforms, and offhanded remarks. “I suppose [Mr. Trump] can never sign an order on this or many related subjects—because of who he is.” So much for blind justice.

Is Mr. Trump wrong to lambast “so-called” judges? “I’m generally not for tit-for-tat,” Mr. Mukasey replied. He also cautioned, however, that outcry over criticism of judges could be overblown. As a federal judge, Mr. Mukasey noted, “I found that my salary was just the same size the months when I got criticized as the months when I got praised.” Given the tremendous public support lent to judges who have checked Mr. Trump, mediated fears of a partial judiciary seem ill-founded.

Has originalism been living up to its promise? On this note, Mr. Mukasey struck a more ambivalent tone. On the one hand, he observed: “The originalism debate that Justice Scalia fought has changed the nature of legal analysis to the point where people on both sides are debating it on his terms.” Indeed, he said, constitutional inventiveness is no longer “completely unmoored” as it had become by the mid-to-late twentieth century. Nonetheless, Mr. Mukasey worries about “how important it has become who the justices are.” Since Griswold v. CT (1965), a case that “started here in New Haven, which was a project of the Yale Law School,” judges have been “drawing arbitrary lines” on subjects as profound as the meaning of life. The politicization of judicial nominations should not come as a surprise. “In truth, it really does matter who the judge is in a political way, and it shouldn’t,” he remarked.

Any advice for you people today looking to engage in public service? “Do what interests you, so long as it doesn’t burn any bridges to what you might ultimately want to do,” he said. Pithy, nuanced, and insightful, it was the former attorney general in mid-season form. Amen, Mr. Mukasey.

Zach Young is a senior in Silliman College and a former President of the Buckley Program. 

Interview with Charles C. W. Cooke, Editor of National Review Online

By: Emily Reinwald

This interview with Charles C. W. Cooke was conducted before his discussion at the Buckley Program’s dinner seminar on Thursday, February 16th. This transcript has been condensed and lightly edited from a longer interview.

Mr. Cooke is the editor of National Review Online. His work has focused especially on Anglo-American history, British liberty, free speech, the Second Amendment, and American exceptionalism. He is the co-host of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast, and is a regular guest on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. He has written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times.


Emily: What made you want to write on the topic of the blend of libertarianism and conservatism? Continue reading

Interview with J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy

By: Pranam Dey

This interview was conducted before J.D. Vance spoke to the Buckley Program and its guests at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, CT on February 1st, 2017. The transcript has been condensed and lightly edited from a longer interview.

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and The New York Times and has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC. Currently, J.D. works as a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Hillbilly Elegy is a #1 New York Times bestseller and widely considered one of the most important books of 2016.


Pranam: Kentucky, Ohio, the Marines, a degree from Ohio State summa cum laude in two years, and then Yale Law School here in New Haven. In the midst of this, when did you first think of writing Hillbilly Elegy? In the book, you talked a bit about meeting Yale Law Professor Amy Chua and how that influenced your writing this book. Continue reading

Honorable Mention: Buckley High School Essay Contest

By: Zain Anthar

The following essay received an honorable mention at the Buckley Program’s spring semester high school essay contest. The topic was “What can we learn from William F. Buckley, Jr. today?”. 

In today’s media landscape, political discussions have swayed towards partisanship at the expense of meaningful, probing dialogue. Politicians opt to conduct interviews with their congenial news outlets in order to avoid the “toughies” – questions that penetrate through any attempt at feigning comprehension of an issue. Continue reading

Third Place: Buckley High School Essay Contest

By: Gabrielle Vozzi

The following essay was the third-place winner of the Buckley Program’s spring semester high school essay contest. The topic was “What can we learn from William F. Buckley, Jr. today?”. 

Today, the United States is a divided nation as political polarization can be seen in every corner of the country. Now, more than ever, this nation needs the wisdom of William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley’s conservative beliefs and overall view of government can greatly influence the nation today. Continue reading

Second Place: Buckley High School Essay Contest

By: Calla Bai

The following essay was the second-place winner of the Buckley Program’s spring semester high school essay contest. The topic was “What can we learn from William F. Buckley, Jr. today?”. 

Champion of conservatism and celebrated founder of the National Review, William F. Buckley Jr. was one of the most influential figures in American politics who is remembered today. He had studied at Yale; written over 50 books on topics more imaginative than imaginable; hosted the popular television show, “The Firing Line”; and most importantly, in the predominantly liberal landscape after the World War II, he managed to make conservatism respectable and mainstream. Even apart from politics, there is a clear lesson that can be learned from Buckley’s life: to conform is to sacrifice risks, yet also greatness.