Mitch Daniels is said to suffer no fools. With diplomas in hand and the federal student loan money in the bank, it is a good time to reflect on what that might mean for Indiana higher education.
Daniels is sympathetic to the thinking behind the “Chicago Principles,” a letter drawing the line on student protest. “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” the letter reads.
Let’s hope that line holds. Otherwise, the discussion on our campuses is too silly to follow. “I think we owe it to our students to have that kind of environment,” Daniels says. “You’re here to be exposed to new things, new ideas, different ones, and to learn how to evaluate which ones seem right and which don’t.”
One of those new ideas that needs testing is the assumption that all cultures, all well-meaning activist groups, ownership structures, social constructs, mercantilist schemes, official intrusions, etc., given time, special consideration and a little more money, are headed for the same happy outcome — that is, freedom and prosperity for everyone.
This vision of how the world works, conveniently for college sophomores, requires no critical thought. Indeed, it cannot withstand any intellectual evaluation whatsoever. You don’t have to read history objectively. You don’t have to analyze economic incentives or disincentives. You don’t have to understand why Venezuela has no toilet paper or why Pol Pot killed everyone who wore eyeglasses. No hard thinking about the validity of Shinto or Islam. You can dismiss private property as an interest of the greedy. You don’t have to look into the darkness of your own heart.
It is the idea that closes every late-night dormitory debate. Anyone who disagrees is a bigot, sexist, racist, nationalist, populist, xenophobic or whatever marginalizing characterization is useful in fending off a pointed question or an array of data.
But the contrary needs examined as well. What if, with all respect to multiculturalism, there was only one idea that led to American freedom and prosperity? And, horror of horrors, what if it arose first in the minds of English-speaking white men sitting far, far outside those campus “safe spaces”?
Now, before you sound one of your trigger warnings, understand that, if true, it might have had nothing to do with the particular intelligence, morality or altruism of English-speaking white men. The idea could have easily arose from Czech-speaking Morovians. Its benefits to the world would be no less profound.
But it did not, and those of us descendant from other than the Anglos, the Saxons, et al., must live with that. Moreover, know that if all the English-speaking white men could be expelled from campuses, our situation would not change. The idea has taken hold in the most diverse places throughout the world. Its defense would be taken up by someone else — those Czech-speaking Morovians perhaps.
And what is the idea? In a few sentences, it is that English Common Law, which, unlike the ancient Roman Law still enforced in most parts of the world, is not justified by whatever pleases the ruler or what is specifically listed by government. Rather, it comes from the opposite direction: Kings and governments need the permission of the governed, and all is legal that is not specifically made illegal in accountable democratic assemblies.
Masked students and faculty destroying property, knocking bystanders on the head and preventing free speech are illegal under this setup. That is regardless of how much it might please the majority of the Democratic National Committee or the directors of corporate media.
Mitch Daniels, again, a man who is said to suffer no fools, may know all of this. If so, he needs your support. He will be badly outnumbered next fall.
Craig Ladwig is editor of the Indiana Policy Review.