Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Answering Columbia: A Healthy Respect for Politics

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speaking engagement at Columbia University has, among other things, focused attention on the exclusion of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) from Ivy League campuses. Isn’t it strange (as people have been wondering) that Columbia welcomes this political oppressor onto campus, giving him not only a voice, but a prestigious platform from which to address, by virtue of that platform, not only the university but the nation, and yet they are careful to shield their tender and impressionable students from exposure to the ROTC. They justify their invitation to the morally repulsive Ahmadinejad by citing free speech and the free exchange of ideas while they forbid ROTC access to the campus on specifically moral grounds.

ROTC has been barred from all the Ivy League campuses since the 1960s when the New Left anti-war student agitators drove them off. Those radicals now dominate the university faculties…and they loath the military. (Remember the early days of the Clinton White House, and how Hillary, a child of the 60s, was reported to resent the presence of uniformed military personnel, forgetting that her husband was commander-in-chief?)

These people are supposedly intelligent, learned and observant. Yet they cannot see their own dependence as citizens, and in particular as a thinking and speaking class of citizens, on the national armed forces that prevent foreign powers from taking away their freedom to think and speak. Has this intelligent, learned and observant class convinced itself that all the world is Mayberry? Have they honestly concluded from their study of man and the history of man that we can safely leave our national doors unlocked because all the neighbors are civil and decent, or would be if only we ourselves would behave as good neighbors?


I have seen this absurdity elsewhere. After the 9/11 attacks on our country, many people began displaying "God Bless America" signs. This seemed to me a natural and healthy response to what amounted to an attack on all Americans and on the foundations of the liberties we rightly hold dear. In that context, someone in my neighborhood put up a large, plywood sign saying, “God Bless the World.” In other words, “Unlike my neighbors, I am above these irrational, even immoral, parochial attachments which do nothing but divide people and lead to bloodshed.” It struck me as not only naively apolitical, but also hypocritical.

Rising above politics certainly has its time and place. But as a moral absolute, it is neither practical nor wise.

We have nations – separate and armed political communities – because there is bloodshed, not the reverse. We live in a world of scarcity, a world of competitive goods. There is only so much land, only so much gold. Glory shared is glory diminished. We need political communities, political life and political attachments because, in pursuit of these goods, people (or too many of them) are selfish and rapacious.

The sentiment expressed on my neighbor’s sign is, on one level, admirable. But as a denial and condemnation of political sentiments it is hypocritical. The person who posted the sign did so because he or she has the liberty to do so. Furthermore, the people in this person’s neighborhood are of such a character that they did not deface or remove the sign, much less turn violently on its author. In other words, to exercise the liberties that his sign presupposes, this globally minded neighbor depends on the same political community and on the coercive authorities that preserve it that he condemns.

The Ivy League universities are in the same position. I’m sorry to have to resort to seemingly uncharitable language, but those who oppose ROTC simply because it represents and advances the United States Armed Forces are either hypocritical or stupid. I suppose it would be more charitable to assume the latter.

1 comment:

Dilawar Khan said...

This is why people around here say that the Civil War isn't over...