I don’t claim that this op-ed, by a staff writer for Student Life, the student newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis, is typical of all college students. But this kind of dismissive attitude is spreading, and it’s not just mushbrained but positively dangerous. For it’s only one step from claiming that conservatives have nothing useful to say to banning or censoring their speech. And we’d be all the poorer for it. The editorial is, in fact, a call for fascism by the Left.
Click on the screenshot below to read the piece:
In a college atmosphere that rightly calls for “inclusion” (and by that I mean treating everyone with civility), it’s remarkable but telling that the one group that doesn’t get included are those with the Wrong Ideology—conservatives. Author Sean Lundergan first equates all conservatives with Republicans (not always true) but also with Trump supporters, which is definitely not true.
He begins with the Orwellian claim that censorship is freedom:
To say that conservative students somehow deserve special consideration is to misunderstand what an academic community is supposed to be. Rather than stifling debate, dismissing unproductive conservative ideas can open up our opportunities for meaningful discussion.
But the worst part is Lundergan’s imperious and complete dismissal of anything conservatives have to say:
It’s a logistical fact of living in human society that not every idea is fit for the public forum (Hey, that’s the name of this section!). We only have so many hours in the day. In general, it’s taken for granted that some belief systems are either unnecessary or detrimental to serious discourse, and that’s especially important in an academic environment.
We don’t make it socially acceptable for chemists to talk seriously about alchemy, for example. Our highly-regarded medical school isn’t highly-regarded because of its openness to using leeches to treat disease. This is true of political philosophies, too: Few serious people advocate absolute monarchy, and I think we’re all perfectly fine with that. We don’t feel the need to carve out a special space for Bourbon restorationists in our political science classes. Similarly, there’s no reason to actively accommodate conservatives—especially fans of the president—because their ideas add little value to our discourse.
Conservative ideas do not deserve equal consideration to that afforded liberal and left ideas, because conservative ideas are not equal to liberal and left ideas. There is no legitimate argument for supporting Donald Trump and his allies, at least not one that holds up in any academic community worth its salt. Advocating nativism, sexism, government by oligarchic graft and anything else the president represents is not productive in a space meant to contribute ideas to the world.
Equating conservativism with alchemy or the ancient use of leeches (Lundergan seems ignorant of the fact that leeches are indeed used today in some cases of microsurgery), or with absolute monarchy, is simply not fair. Not all conservatives advocate “nativism, sexism, and government by oligarchic graft.” In fact, conservatives do have ideas worth debating, including the value of affirmative action, the use of abortion, what to do about immigration, economic policy and taxation, and so on. I nearly always align with the liberal positions on these issues, but that’s largely because I’ve heard both sides. Lundergan doesn’t think that one side should even be heard.
In fact, he thinks that once there is a consensus on liberal issues—as there is in most colleges—it’s simply not worth continuing the debate. Just shut down the other side.
We’ve already reached tacit agreement on this. We’re an overwhelmingly left-leaning student body—73 percent of respondents to the Student Life survey mentioned in the original WU: In Focus piece identified as “very” or “somewhat liberal,” compared with only 8 percent who reported being any degree of “conservative.” Instead of propping up fringe ideas out of some sense of “bipartisan” openness, we should embrace the fact that so many of our students are liberal. Instead of wasting our time and mental energy on some right-wing argument no one really believes, we should spend time having meaningful conversations. How can we guarantee everyone health coverage? What’s the best way to redistribute wealth? How can we mitigate climate change, a thing we all agree is a problem?
Alas, Lundergan’s prescription—to adopt the liberal position, ignore conservatives, and then figure out how to implement liberal policy—neglects an important reason why conservatives (or anyone with unpopular ideas) should not only speak, but should be listened to. And that, as John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, is because without hearing the other side, how do you know your own ideas are well formed and rational? Have you considered the best version of the other side’s views before rejecting them? If not, then you are incompetent to hold your own opinions.
Further, shutting down conservative opinions means that each generation of students must, if they are to be rational advocates of their views, relearn conservative ideas on their own initiative, and not by hearing them from the conservatives who “aren’t welcome.”
Lundergan’s last paragraph is a masterpiece of snide dismissal and hauteur:
Of course, we can—we must—allow conservatives to have their conservative clubs and discuss conservative ideas. It’s also fine that lefties might have conservative friends—I have a few token right-wing pals myself. But we shouldn’t create an impulse among the student body to pretend, out of politeness, that there’s anything valuable in the Republican policy agenda. The Republican Party primarily exists to enrich a small group of already-rich people, and does so quasi-democratically by scaring old white folks about people with darker skin. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a party or an ideological flank that I’d like to offer a whole bunch of special treatment to.
Besides the wrongheaded analysis of why people are conservatives, Lundergan seems to equate “freedom of speech” with “special treatment”. It’s not. Letting a conservative speak is not the same thing as endorsing conservative views.
What we have here is a close-minded ideologue who simply stops his ears and cries “nyah nyah nyah” when a conservative speaks. Yet there are more conservatives than he thinks (after all somebody elected Trump), and some of them have power. Imagine if he were to encounter a related argument, but one made by conservatives, at a place like Bob Jones University. Would Lundergan even be able to defend his own views on abortion and immigration? I doubt it. But he wouldn’t be able to because he wouldn’t be allowed to speak.
Alternatively, what would happen if Lundergan’s speech totalitarianism were carried to the extreme? Well, one of the commenters on his piece tells us:
I have considered the possibility that this article might be satirical. But I don’t think it is.