Postmodern Conservative

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Political Correctness?

I’ve read many a capable article in recent weeks about the assault on individual rights on campus by paranoid political correctness. They make many good points, and surely a strong argument can be made that there are now fewer protections for liberty on campus than there are in society at large.

My own tendency is to cast a wider net and blame the technophilia of “disruptive innovation” as, in the long run, a greater threat to intellectual liberty than “tenured radicals.” (I admit that administrators and bureaucrats now tend to be politically correct technophiles – incorporating the worst of both worlds.)

But, for now, I wish libertarians and conservatives would do more to understand political correctness as a feature of the libertarian securitarianism at the foundation of too much of campus life, including official institutional policy. To be clear, both conservative and libertarian intellectuals are repulsed by that semi-oxymoronic combination. Libertarian economists think of college life as a “bubble,” an artificial environment that insulates, at exorbitant cost, the students from the rigors of the competitive marketplace. The pro-choice (with the exception of health and safety) orientation of campus is driven by a perverse consumer sensitivity, enflamed by the desire to induce said consumer to max out on government-subsidized loans. Don’t think of your underemployed future saddled with debt.  Enjoy the secure “no rules” freedom graced by luxury amenities we can offer you right now.

Conservatives step in at this point and emphasize the lack of moral orientation on campus beyond being safe and consensual. Both the libertarians and the conservatives see the bubble as making young people worse than they would be if they were living somewhere else. The corruption is all about privileges without corresponding responsibilities. It’s the Marxist “end of history” — doing what one pleases in abundance without having to work or being stressed or obsessed or otherwise alienated. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but all the studies show that college is getting easier and, in general, more about what students want than what they need.

But not everyone is happy is paradise. Campus life is particularly hard on women. For one thing, there’s an unnatural scarcity of men, which distorts the sexual/relational competitive marketplace. And no-rules coed dorms are really the expense of the truth about natural sexual differences and proper relational boundaries We can’t forget the “maturity gap” that separates college-age women and men, especially these days. I could go on. So we can’t be surprised that political correctness would gain force through the emphasis on the securitarian dimension of libertarian securitarianism. I demand to live as I please without being assaulted, bullied, or even judged. And I demand that I never feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

Someone might object that it’s unreasonable to attempt to achieve said safety without relying on any virtue beyond justice understood as consent. Someone might respond that no one on many of our campuses is speaking of the other virtues as if they are real and should make demands on us all.

I say more here, mainly with the intention of instructing libertarians and conservatives about what’s really wrong.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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