Last week’s images of student anarchy sweeping across America’s campuses should compel anyone who believes in a civil society and at least a modicum of intellectual liberty to ask a simple question: What have we wrought by what we have taught?
In 1948, Richard Weaver wrote his seminal work, Ideas Have Consequences. His premise, as he looked back at the horrors of two World Wars and one Great Depression, was quite simple: Ideas are directional. They always lead somewhere. It all starts with education. What we teach our kids will bear predictable results. Teaching our children good ideas will lead to good beliefs, good behavior, good community and good government. Teaching them bad ideas will lead to bad beliefs, bad behavior, bad community and bad government. As Adolf Hitler is purported to have said, “Let me control the textbooks and I will control the State.” Education always has a predictable, if not an inevitable, outcome.
The American university is imploding in its self-refuting duplicity. Safe zones are anything but safe. People are bullied by those decrying bullying. Rather than celebrate liberty, liberals now demand conformity. Campuses have become bastions for speech codes rather than free speech. Students are more interested in “trigger warnings” than they are in research and learning. Disagreement is now synonymous with hate. Personal inclinations now equal personal identity. Progressives think they are right in telling conservatives they are wrong for thinking they’re right. If you dare to challenge the party line or the politically correct, you will be excluded in the name of inclusion. Faculty and students alike chant, “I can’t tolerate your intolerance. I am sure nothing is sure. I know nothing can be known, and I’m absolutely confident that there are not absolutes.” The banner of tolerance has become a dark flag of tyranny almost overnight. What was academic freedom yesterday has become ideological fascism today. You must think as we think. Submit or be silenced!
The university is obviously in peril. Run by the State and its thought police, colleges across the land have become indoctrination camps more so than campuses of open inquiry. Propaganda and power now reign where there used to be a pursuit of truth.
But why are we surprised? Bad ideas will breed bad behavior as surely as an acorn will grow an oak or a hurricane will bring a flood. Ideas have consequences, and the lousy ideas we have been teaching in our universities for the past several decades are bearing themselves out daily before our eyes. Preaching victimization and fomenting class resentment; teaching moral nihilism while mocking moral absolutes; dumbing down the value of life by creating a culture of death; worshipping government rather than God; celebrating vice while mocking virtue … These are just some of the ideas we have been teaching for decades since Weaver’s prophetic treatise, and the outcome of our ideological temper tantrum has been as predictable as oak trees, hurricanes and even the sunrise. Bad ideas bear bad fruit. Garbage in, garbage out.
But a final word: There is a solution, and it’s found in the ideas of the historical liberal arts academy and in the Church that founded it; in liberty and liberation; in freedom and justice; in ideas that are self-evident, inalienable and endowed to us by Nature and Nature’s God. They’re the ideas that lead to freedom – freedom that is found not in the hubris of man but rather in the words of Christ: “You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.”