The Columbia University Libertarians are writing this letter to express our outrage at the current political situation on campus. Since others have “gone low,” we will “go high” by introducing our sentiments with the following quote:
“You are forgetting again that it isn’t the law’s concern to make any one class in the city outstandingly happy but to contrive to spread happiness throughout the city by bringing the citizens into harmony with each other through persuasion or compulsion and by making them share with each other the benefits that each class can confer on the community. The law produces such people in the city, not in order to allow them to turn in whatever direction they want, but to make use of them to bind the city together.”
Those who have been studying for their CC midterm might recognize the above from Plato’s Republic. Socrates expresses this sentiment when he explains to Glaucon that, although the rulers of the ideal city seem to have a miserable job (since it makes their lives austere), the point of each occupation is not to make the individual happy, but rather the whole community.
To extend this analogy, let us consider Columbia as the “city,” university policy as the “law,” and the students as—you guessed it—the “citizens.” However, Columbia’s dynamic between these three entities is nowhere close to Plato’s ideal. The point of diversity—racial, economic, and political, among others—is to make our citizens “share with each other the benefits that each class can confer on the community” and, ultimately, “bind the city together.” Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that we are fractured, Columbia. And, while the Columbia University College Republicans are being condemned for producing such an effect on the community, here is a wake-up call to all of our fellow students: You are the problem.
The “harmony” of our intellectual citizens requires everyone’s consent, and attempts by some to shut down and prevent other citizens from providing their diverse opinions is a fundamental rejection on their part to contribute to a “bound” city. To be crystal clear, we do not support the views of these CUCR speakers, but “harmony” does not require agreement. In fact, Plato would probably argue that harmony is more about maintaining a respectful approach to a diverse dynamic. And your behavior has been far from respectful.
In response, you’ll say to us, “But since speakers like Tommy Robinson and Mike Cernovich have views that aren’t respectful, why should we treat them as such?” We’ll answer with this fanciful scenario: Let’s say you’re vegan. And we’re not. And we order, right in front of you, a gigantic roast beef sandwich. Everything about this sandwich conflicts with your entire belief system. Now, being hungry, we eat it right there. Would you now walk up to us, slap the sandwich out of our hand, and say, “Sorry, your sandwich offended me and I wouldn’t want to normalize your food choices by ignoring you eating this abomination?” Of course not!
Well, here’s the sad part: this is precisely how you’ve reacted. In the Spectator article announcing Robinson and Cernovich as speakers, the Columbia University Democrats media director said exactly this, substituting the sandwich out for real politics: “As a group, we do not want to normalize their speaker choices by ignoring the events.”
“But this is different,” you’ll say. “We’re talking about provocateurs here, not a sandwich.” Yet the absurdity of our analogy (sadly) finds common ground with the situation at hand. If something is uncomfortable for you (as some things rightly should be), take issue with the idea. Understand why such viewpoints exist. If doing this would make you uncomfortable, don’t go to the event. Your actual response to our sandwich scenario would be to let us engage in the action of eating it while intensely disagreeing with our choice to do so. Why can’t this apply here? Voice your opinion, write an op-ed to Spectator condemning such speakers—it’s your right!
But just like you wouldn’t throw our sandwich in the trash, don’t prevent such speakers from speaking. CUCR’s speaker lineup is not a personal attack against you: To paraphrase CUCR’s president, their speakers are meant to present varying viewpoints within the conservative movement. They have a right to do so, and they have the right to receive the appropriate amount of funding, since one group’s opinion is and can never be more valid than another’s. What, since you don’t like our roast beef sandwich, now we can’t eat it?
Thus, criticisms from the Columbia University Democrats confuse presentation with realization: CUCR is bringing “these individuals to campus for the purpose of ‘discourse,’” by the very definition of the word. Whether or not the views of such speakers will have an “undermin[ing]” effect is up to you, Columbia. But since students, as demonstrated by the protests, do not wish to “intern select Muslims,” these ideas will never be brought to fruition here, and they will therefore have no effect.
As a community devoted to obtaining the highest education possible, it is our collective duty to welcome such diversity at Columbia, even if it shocks some to their core. We can only achieve the “Form of the Good” with respect to education when we understand that our goal isn’t to make “one class in the city outstandingly happy” but to “spread happiness throughout” by enriching our communal education and promoting intellectual dialogue about all issues, even when we’re uncomfortable. Otherwise our intellectual institutions fail us and “Morning in America” transforms into its fatal counterpart.
We must stop writing now since we’re getting hungry. It’s time for a roast beef sandwich.
The authors are members of the executive board of the Columbia University Libertarians.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.