A liberal professor has written a letter which explains why he’s afraid of his liberal students. Read that letter here.
The word “liberal” has changed connotation at least three times in our nation’s history.
The first use of it comes out the Enlightenment and the emphasis on freedom, equality and the use of reason.
The era that historians often vainly call “The Enlightenment” is usually presented as a period of attack on Christianity. Anglo-American historians used to arrange historical periods like this: Ancient history (Mesopotamian civilizations, Egypt and early Greece) followed by Classical Antiquity (Greece and Rome). Christianity comes on the scene then after Christianity came on the scene we get the collapse of Rome and the ensuing Dark Ages. The Medieval period begin around the 7th century and is followed by the Renaissance (looking backward to classical learning) and Reformation (purifying the Christianity of the Dark, Medieval period).
Then comes the Modern Age beginning with the Enlightenment which celebrates the use of reason over revelation, human liberty against religious and governmental oppression and, in principle, equality for all. The scientific enterprise was often placed in the early Enlightenment.
I’ve always marveled at the anti-Christian, especially anti-Catholic periodization scheme. The Enlightenment? For Christians, of course, the Enlightenment would be the Incarnation, when Jesus became the light of the world. But back to liberal professors.
So the Enlightenment became the era of academic freedom and the end of the divine right of kings and power to the people.
Not all the Enlightenments were equally hostile to Christianity. The French Enlightenment was far more hostile to Christianity than the Scottish Enlightenment which was quite compatible with Protestant Christianity. Most Enlightenments, no matter what nationality, were almost always, more or less, anti-Catholic.
This Enlightenment liberalism enters American higher education and is characterized by an emphasis on listening to all sides, academic freedom, letting one’s imagination go free in the arts, freedom of association and, supremely, freedom of speech. Unfortunately, the era never properly integrates faith and learning. Today only Catholic and Neo-calvinist thinkers are doing serious and good work on this.s
The second use of “liberal” is related but comes into its own in the field of economics. In 1776 when Adam Smith, published Wealth of Nations, he was talking about “liberal economics” because he championed free markets with less government interference than was common at the time. A little aside: We think of him as an economist. But during his life he was called a moral philosopher because economics was, at the time, just one aspect of the discipline called moral philosophy; it had not yet been split off into its own discipline.
The third use of “liberal” becomes a person who believes in activist government to end poverty, racism, and create equality for all. Unfortunately, this liberalism generally rejects the social morality offered by Christianity. At the same time, it maintains an emphasis on free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion. This is the liberalism that conservatism decided to fight. Conservatives claimed that the liberal use of government would, in the long run, become oppressive and illiberal.
The fourth use of “liberal” is the focus of this professor’s terror. This is a liberalism so self-righteous in its call for equality that it sees microaggressions against homosexuals if a Chick Fil A opens on a college campus. It is the liberalism that won’t let Ann Coulter or Hirsi Ali speak on college campuses. It is the liberalism that believes hurt feelings are acts of injustice. It is the liberalism of university and cultural speech codes. It is also the liberalism that believes we all deserve to define our own universe of meaning as long as it agrees me. It’s the liberalism that fires college professors for recommending Huckleberry Finn or conduct a debate on abortion or homosexuality because it might hurt the feelings of post abortive women or homosexual students. This is not new and you can follow the recent history of it by reading Dinesh D’Souza wrote about the Illiberal Liberals, followed by Juan Williams’ Muzzled from a few years ago. But the best and most up to date is Kirsten Power’s recent Silenced.
One last point: Note this professor’s awareness of how government and university linkage has produced the idea of student as customer whose complaints need to be treated as though they had a bad experience with a product from Target. Students are there to learn not be pandered to. They ought to be exposed to ideas that challenge them to think and appropriate the methodology of honest research and not just listening to the opinions of those who agree with you.
Once again, the professor’s letter can be found here.