Quigley: Another Side of a Reflective Man
Helen E. Veit
(Introduction by Terrence Boyle)
Helen Elizabeth Veit was the person closest to Carroll Quigley during the last
ten years of his life. No one living today has a better understanding of the man
and of his thinking.
Sadly, the last few years of Dr. Quigley's life as a teacher
coincided with the late 1960s and early 1970s, when student unrest and
anti-intellectualism unsettled college campuses all over this country. In
1969-70 that spirit came violently to Georgetown University and focused
especially on the very few teachers like Prof. Quigley who adamantly refused to
lower academic standards, no matter what political cause du jour was being
offered as a reason.
When, therefore, in May 1970, Dr. Quigley and a very few other G.U. professors
refused - with, by the way, no support from the craven University Administration
of the day - to accede to demands that all classes and examinations be canceled
in supposed support of "a nationwide protest" against American military
involvement in Indo-China, a band of student activists vowed to prevent classes
and examinations from being held, no matter what. Several of these protesters
invaded Dr. Quigley's classroom, physically roughed him up, and prevented his
final examination from being given that day.
Much of the joy of teaching left Carroll Quigley in the next few years. He
complained bitterly that his 1970s college students were woefully under-educated
and ill-prepared for college level work and that too many of them had their
minds elsewhere, fixated more on bringing about a social revolution than on
achieving an education.
And then, when a few years later Dr. Quigley died suddenly, just months after
retiring from teaching, some remaining leftist students at G.U., who had so
strongly opposed Quigley's tough grading standards, his teaching of the detested
"canon of dead white males," and especially his insistent reliance on logic and
reasoning, rather than on emotion and intuition, decided they would have the
last word on this man by writing in the school newspaper a shallow obituary
criticizing Quigley for not having been more a part of their "real" lives.
Helen Veit wrote a most fitting and irenic reply, which we reproduce here:
To the Editor:
As a student, academic assistant, and friend of Carroll Quigley, I am unhappy to
think that Bob McGillicuddy's article, "Carroll Quigley: A Student's Elegy" (the
Voice, Feb. 8, 1977), should be the Georgetown student's last picture of this
Surely, after his long and dedicated service to Georgetown and its students, he
deserves a more sympathetic understanding in the personal sense, to complement
McGillicuddy's insights into his thought. I do not seek to make excuses for him.
He would be the last person to want that: accepting personal responsibility for
one's actions was one of his first principles. But a better perspective may be
gained by viewing recent events in the context of his whole career.
Until 1969-71, teaching Georgetown students was one of the most important and
rewarding aspects of his life. Then came the campus disturbances, which, for
reasons related more to his dynamic and outspoken personality than to any
substantive grievance, focused disproportionately on him. At that point, he did,
indeed, "turn inward," to concentrate on his writing and live his private life.
After more than thirty years of almost uninterrupted teaching, it seems only
reasonable that he should want time for other things, for activities made
difficult or impossible by his commitment to lecture to hundreds of students a
It is understandably difficult for a student to see that teaching was not the
only thing in Carroll Quigley's life, but anyone who listened to him must
remember his frequent references to the books he wanted to write when he had
time, and must know how much he loved and learned from his West Virginia farm.
As an undergraduate, I, too, believed teaching was all-important to him; later I
learned that he wanted his retirement to be virtually a second career, during
which he would write books summing up a lifetime of intense study and
experience. Sadly, in the event, his life of teaching was his only life.
Impatient he may have been; arrogant he was not. His emphatic manner derived
from his experience of teaching large classes and the need for catching and
retaining their attention. But he never believed that he had "answers"; what he
taught was methods of approaching problems. He often stressed how little we know
about the important things of life, especially human relationships. What he
sought above all was to help people to become mature, by realizing their
potentials and understanding that material things, however necessary, should
never be ends themselves, while what is important is seeking the truth in
cooperation with others, with the knowledge that one will never find it.
Nor was he ever cynical, much as he deplored inefficiency and ignorance. His
beliefs and principles were of the highest order; his greatest joy came from
finding people who could meet his standards, and from whom he could learn.
Students should grant to others the same degree of understanding they ask for
themselves; they should realize that even professors have private lives and the
need for intellectual activities outside the classroom. Carroll Quigley's
impatience came from his deep awareness that a man who wants to do so much can
never have enough time. He was a man in a hurry -- events have proved him right.
Helen E. Veit
Washington, D. C., SFS '69
original letter published in The Hoya