What is the meaning of the Great Debate? Do we not enter into the halls of academia to discuss the spectrum of political thought and ideas, regardless of how absurd, extreme or how lenient they are?
"Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom - and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech." - Benjamin Franklin
Whether it is the conservative excoriating the idea of an increasingly powerful government that exercises tyranny over its people, the liberal who excoriates the conservative and highlights the alleged importance of progressivism in the formulation of policy and a disbanding of traditional principles, or the nationalist debating the internationalist or the internationalist debating the neorealist, ideas of any and all kinds used to all be considered plausible theories that should be critiqued and de-constructed in the realm of public opinion and in the intellectual market.
Is that not how this nation was founded on the floor of a Great Debate? Need I refresh this generation on the fierce debates that took place between the Federalists/Anti-Federalists during the Continental Congress or between the Radical Republicans and the Democrats during the debate before the passage of the 13th Amendment in January of 1865?
The vitriol that we see rearing its ugly head in the mindlessness of degenerate hooligans such as the Communist Antifa Movement or the reprehensible fascism of the amoral Alt-Right Fascists is indeed not an entirely new creature, even as metastasized as it has become following the November election in 2016 of President Trump.
In my opinion, the war between alt-rightism (New Fascism) and antifa-ism (the New Communism), as was perfectly on display in the tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia, is the modern-day example of two factions of revisionist branches of thought battling it out for power through fear and violence. It was as if the Nazis and the Soviets possessed the belligerents and orchestrated a quasi déjà vu of the atrocious bloodbaths that occurred between the two ideologies in the 1940s.
Not surprisingly, much of the violent identity politics that have plagued the debate in the past to the present came from those whose rhetoric was saturated in radical authoritarian/totalitarian ideology, or the idea that individuals are naturally inferior, whether by the color of skin or by the values to which they lay claim to. Such blatant idiocy of the sewer-rats who adhere to this line of thinking!
If there was one thing that both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists agreed on, despite their sharp differences on the federal powers and states' rights in the late 18th Century, was the preservation of individual liberty and the sovereignty of the citizen above any power of government. That debate in today’s era of millennial infatuation with socialism has long since died off, in my opinion to our peril as a nation.
There is a danger in allowing leftism on its face to win the cultural war, because any other idea or point of view is written off as extremism and hatred, whether it’d be Christianity or conservative principles on liberty. I would challenge anyone reading this to follow the history of the East German state following WWII, the history of the Berlin Wall and how one culturally dominant ideology (Communism) violently suppressed any opposition to its politically hegemonic structure.
I worry that such nostalgic “revolutions” among today’s millennials may be attempting to do the same in the United States, especially through its numerous halls of academia, if one can even call it that nowadays.
Intellectualism as an academic philosophy is the most plausible method by which any ideology, extremist or not, is given a voice in the public square, to be openly critiqued and scrutinized by the people themselves and not suppressed by policy through government.
Intellectual superiority comes at the behest of being able to withstand scrutiny, and setting one ideology (in today’s academics, liberalism) above the rest as impervious to scrutiny is not so much as an indicator of strength as much as it is an indicator of perpetual weakness. To avoid humiliation the ideology sets itself over the culture as the primary arbitrator between what is right and what is wrong and demonizes any other theoretical way of thinking that may differ with its premises.
I remember being asked once as a Puerto Rican why I have chosen to be a conservative and why I am a Christian. The short answer to that is “I’m a conservative so that other people can be liberal and I’m a Christian because I believe all men are created equally into the image of God”.
Is such opinion wrong? Did I not have to view numerous arguments in my lifetime to come to the conclusion of what my beliefs will be based on the natural and social scientific arguments presented to me? Don’t liberals do the same thing? Even the liberals claim to be advocates for the rationality of human reasoning, so why such contradiction when it comes to those who think differently than they do?
Why then do conservatives, especially minorities like myself who find solace in the principle of liberty, get castigated as irrational for departing from the liberal hegemony that rules academia with an iron fist (See East German policy pre-1989 on education and religion)? The ideology of individual liberty respects the intrinsic worth of every human being and their beliefs by virtue of their individual liberty; and I think the Framers, for all their shortcomings as flawed individuals (just like the rest of us), outlined this principle brilliantly.
It is because I respect those who differ in opinion from me well enough that I believe their ideas and values should be critiqued in open debate as if they were “credible” enough to critique in the first place. Isn’t this one of the sole and primary purposes of education to strengthen our own individual positions to make our arguments more formidable?
“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” - Thomas Jefferson
Notice Jefferson's emphasis on “every fact, every opinion" in the quote above. He doesn’t qualify “opinions” to simply those that are acceptable to society, because in other breath he says,“errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
Any opinion, any worldview, should be open to critique and students of all theoretical positions should be given their due diligence as American citizens and as aspiring academics to judge the logic and accuracy of information being dispensed to them from their professors. A worldview’s strength is founded in resilience against criticism.
The liberal Marxist hegemon in American academia has done anything but prove itself formidable as it attempts to silence any and every critical voice as “hate speech”, “racism”, “fascism”,“extremism”, “homophobia”, “xenophobia”, “misogynist” or whatever other label the radical left likes to attach to opinions different from their own nowadays to conceal their own cowardice. The default strategy to demonize every opinion separate from their own is really a symbol of their own weakness. If they think themselves to bear the monopoly on wisdom, let them prove it by letting the “inferior” theories take a shot at deconstructing their intellectual prowess.
If they are indeed “warriors” in social justice, let them prove their skill by coming out of their cushioned safe-spaces and strapping on their weapons of intellect. One of the intrinsic aspects of American education is its emphasis on the Great Debate and any and all opinions and narratives should be welcomed into the arena of thought. Just don’t be surprised if some theories manage to prove more formidable than others.
American education has transitioned into something dark; indoctrinating rather than educating; an apostasy to those motivated students who actually seek to challenge the ideas of the academic elites . The students of The George Washington University themselves are proteges of one of the oldest academic institutions in the D.C. area and one of the most prestigious universities in the country. If anything, GW should in essence be the epicenter of the Great Debate and intellectual diversity, not a front for liberal/socialist hegemony. Such cardinal ethics of academia should even transition into the political and ideological makeup of the faculty, with the students themselves being the judges and juries making their own autonomous decisions about the information and facts being presented to them.
The Art of Persuasion in the influence of Aristotle is one of the most important aspects of American academics and should never be surrendered to tyranny of orthodoxy. As George Washington University Professor and my academic mentor Henry R. Nau once said,
“If we are concerned about diversity of skin color, if we are concerned about gender, if we are concerned about the diversity of culture, shouldn’t we also be concerned about the diversity of the mind?”
Ideas were designed to be scrutinized, and making one set of ideas above reproach (in this case liberalism) is an embarrassment to the concept of education. Persuade me, convince me, battle me in the field of debate and let fate decide whose views are superior and worthy of adherence. In doing so we make our appeal to those listening to us as Aristotle himself did in the conclusion of his book Rhetoric, "I have done. You have heard me. The facts are before you. I ask for your judgement.”
This is liberty. This is reason. This is academia. Your views are not above reproach and scrutiny. Challenge the hegemony of the elites in the field of the Great Debate and may the superior position prove its dominance. Let the Great Debate begin!
Joey Vazquez is a columnist for the GW College Republicans' website. The opinions expressed on this blog are his own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official views of the GW College Republicans.