June 12, 2009

'Liberty' on Campus

"The first thing to know about On Liberty is that it isn't the uncomplicated paean to individuality it's often described as being," Barton Swaim writes in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.
So it is always with those who suppose that diversity of belief is, in all circumstances, a good thing, that dissent is always healthy, and that beliefs, no matter how widely assumed to be true, must always be questioned. The trouble with that line of thinking is that it always applies to other people, never to oneself. Its adherents naturally believe their views are in the minority -- who doesn't? -- and that views they detest are everywhere prevailing. And the only way to uphold their commitment to "diversity" is to impose, within their sphere of influence, a rigid ideological conformity.

The world envisioned in Mill's famous book exists in its purest form on today's university campuses. It's a world in which entire departments are composed of faculty who hold exactly the same views on all important questions, and in which democracy is countenanced only insofar as it affords power to busybodies with postgraduate degrees. And these, of course, are the same citadels of sameness in which young people are censured and ridiculed if they fail to embrace the virtues of "diversity" with sufficient zeal.

Rather a curious legacy for the philosopher of liberty.
And rather unsurprising that a modern university president would list On Liberty as his favorite book.