Buckle down, Machiavelli, buckle down

Recently the student newspaper at Georgetown, The Hoya, issued a brave call for the university to cease blackballing conservative candidates for faculty positions, but rather to seek them out and correct what the editors call an “imbalance.”

That’s a little like calling a boxing match between Joe Louis and Little Orphan Annie somewhat unfair, but I will let that pass. I congratulate the editors for attempting to introduce common sense into decisions regarding hiring and tenure, and for holding the preachers of Diversity to what they profess to believe.

Yet I doubt that the powers and principalities at Georgetown will alter in the slightest what they have been doing for decades. The reason why I believe so can be divined from the argument that The Hoya itself puts forth for reform. Here is the heart of their case:

The imbalance of ideological diversity [sic] in our faculty disadvantages [sic] students of all political persuasions: Liberal students fall into the trap of groupthink, while conservative students feel alienated by the absence [sic] of faculty supportive of their political ideals. Both sides lack an adequate model of reasonable, academic, respectful debate that professors often provide for their students, leading us to become more entrenched in our own ideas instead of learning how to disagree reasonably.

Aside from the clotted prose, what’s wrong here? Nothing, unless you remember what an education is all about in the first place: the pursuit of truth. We do not want a diversity of ideas for its own sake. The editors themselves subordinate diversity to what they consider to be a greater or broader good, or several goods, which they enumerate. We want diversity so that we do not fall into “the trap of groupthink.” We want diversity so that some of us will not “feel alienated.” We want diversity so that we will learn “how to disagree reasonably.”

I do not want people to think like lemmings, or to feel alienated, or to be unable to express their disagreements in a reasonable way. I certainly do not want to shrug while universities exhibit what the editors correctly call “dangerous levels of intolerance.” But if hiring conservatives serves a merely instrumental good, and if the ultimate good the editors can conceive of is but disagreement without people hurling bricks at each other’s heads, then I do not see why the principalities should bother. That is because they are not too concerned about such moderation. Had they been, they would not have turned higher education into a den of vipers in the first place. They profit by that den of vipers, and there’s an end.

Here we come to the great thing that is missing in the editorial. Let me put it in stark terms. You either believe that in human affairs, including those that fall under moral scrutiny, there is truth—and goodness and beauty too, for that matter—or you do not.

If you do, you have an immediately obvious reason why a university should hire people with a diversity of ideas; ideas, not ideologies, the latter of which are ersatz religions, by their nature narrow and intolerant. You want that diversity of ideas because you are keenly aware of human insufficiency. What I overlook may be noticed by my neighbor. What I stress too much may be corrected by his sane reserve. I may find the illogical leap in his argument. He may introduce me to writers I had never heard of. I may help him to see the greatness in a poet he had long disliked. All such things are good for both him and me, but only because he and I are devoted to the pursuit of truth.

Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are all oriented toward that greater good, which is not self-expression, an idol of a narcissistic society, but truth. But suppose you do not believe there is such a thing in human affairs? Let me assure the good editors of The Hoya: Most of your professors in the humanities and the social sciences do not believe in objective truth as regards moral and aesthetic value.

I remember once, at a pleasant faculty get-together, humorously assigning first rank in literary achievement to European languages, century by century: 13th (French), 14th (Italian), 15th (Italian), 16th (English), 17th (French), 18th (German), 19th (Russian), and 20th (Spanish). A French professor got the vapors and called the ranking “fascist.” I had not been aware that Benito Mussolini was an admirer of Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and Tolstoy, or that an appreciation for the immense achievement of the French romance writers in the days of Chretien de Troyes provided him with an excuse for invading Ethiopia. The professor’s point was simply to decry the idea that you could reach valid aesthetic judgments at all.

That was 25 years ago. Some years later I confronted the same attitude from a senior honors student, a major in sociology. She had been taught that all moral judgments were “socially constructed,” and when I demanded that she consider what the implications of her amoralism were, she ended by saying, “What was right for the Nazis, was right for the Nazis.” Of course, she was not herself a Nazi. Nor was I. We were not born in Germany when the Nazis were all the rage. What ought to protect you against the madness of your time is a commitment to the timeless: to time-transcending truth.

But what rushes in to take the place of Truth, once you have driven her from the throne? Something does. The throne will not remain empty. I think we know the name of that rough beast. Machiavelli knew: it is Power. If you are an academic and you are not in the pursuit of Truth, I guarantee that you will be either a reed in the political wind, or you will be in the pursuit of Power.

That is what the purveyors of “diversity,” that mask for uniformity, pursue. The editors of The Hoya perhaps harbor some residual sense that professors in English, politics, history, and philosophy are about truth. They are not. They are about power. Why should they hire a conservative professor of Shakespeare? Does Hillary Clinton hire people to assist the Trump campaign? Do Republicans seek out young Democrats for scholarships?

Oh, they will come up with the excuse that everybody knows that human truths are liberal, not conservative, but they do not actually believe it, because then they would welcome free and respectful debate; they would encourage students to disagree with them in class; they would, from a sense of noblesse oblige, grant to their opponents whatever shadows of the truth they have managed, despite their conservatism, to perceive. They do no such thing.

Power, my dear editors, power—that explains the policy your leftist professors and administrators have set in stone. You now must decide whether you agree with them in that regard. If not, then consider what a universe of meaning divides you from them, and act and write accordingly.

ANTHONY ESOLEN is professor of English Renaissance and classical literature at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H. He is a prolific author and has translated several epic poems of the West. He is a graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina. He is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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