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No Need to Save Nicholas Brown


Bruce Chapman observes that despite his alma mater's having been named after a minister and preacher, John Harvard, recent sentiment among the faculty goes against Harvard's religious heritage:

Perhaps the Freedom From Religion Foundation should write Harvard and demand that the old man's seated statue be removed from Harvard Yard and the name of the college changed to Pinker.

That is, after evolutionary psychologist and Harvard professor Steven Pinker who spearheaded a move to drop an undergrad requirement to study the intersection of "Faith and Reason."

Clearly, between the Darwinian secularist ethos that Pinker embodies and the ethos on which Harvard was founded, there is a contradiction. I thought as I read Bruce's reflections, however, that my own college's name and namesake seem more secure. For whatever that's worth. The Brown family of Providence, RI, made their fortune in the 18th-century slave trade. While Darwin was emotionally committed to abolitionism, there's no question that one unambiguous thrust of his theory confirmed a view that justified the business of slavery: that the human races are unequal as the predictable outcome of natural selection.

Our colleague Benjamin Wiker explores the underpinnings of Darwin's racism here.

Brown University founder Nicholas Brown Sr. was active in the triangular trade, shipping slaves to the Americas, sugar to New England, rum back to Africa. It was a fine living and endowed his son Nicholas Jr. with the funds necessary to get the family's name on the college in Providence, where they were leading citizens.

That's convenient, if nothing else, because two (or many more) Pinker Universities would be confusing.

Image: Nicholas Brown Jr./Wikipedia.