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At Notre Dame, Standing Firm For Liberal Education

Notre Dame professor Vincent Philip Muñoz explains why he invited Charles Murray to speak at his university next week, and why he will not rescind the invitation, despite some faculty and student requests. [1] Excerpts:

My class, “Constitutional Government & Public Policy [2],” addresses some of the most important and divisive issues in American politics: abortion, gay marriage, religious freedom, inequality, freedom of speech, death penalty, race and the meaning of constitutional equality, immigration, euthanasia, and pornography.

The class is designed to prompt students to think more deeply and thoughtfully about contemporary moral and political issues. I don’t assign a textbook or “neutral” readings that summarize the issues; I require students to read principled thinkers who advocate vigorously for their respective position. I want my conservative students to read smart, persuasive liberal thinkers, and I want my liberal students to read thoughtful conservatives. Educated citizens can give reasons for their beliefs and can defend intellectually the positions they hold. That requires that we understand and articulate the positions with which we disagree.

This week and next, the class is discussing inequality. Even the New York Times, which is certainly not sympathetic to Murray’s point of view, recognized [3] that on this subject Murray makes an important argument that should be heard. And we are not reading just him. I have also assigned selections from Robert Putnam’s Our Kids. Putnam leans left; Murray is a conservative libertarian. Putnam spoke at Notre Dame last year [4]. So this year, I invited Murray.

More:

I have no desire to inflict unwanted stress or anxiety on any member of the Notre Dame community, especially our minority students. I appreciate the concern for student wellbeing that motivates some of the opposition to Murray’s visit. But I believe what is most harmful to students—and, to speak candidly, most patronizing—is to “protect” our students from hearing arguments and ideas they supposedly cannot handle.

To study politics today requires handling controversial, difficult, and divisive topics. After discussing Princeton professor Peter Singer’s defense of abortion, one of my students told me she left class “deeply disturbed.” If you are genuinely pro-life, you probably should be disturbed by Singer’s arguments. But should I, therefore, not teach them?

And:

Given what happened at Middlebury, it would be cowardly to disinvite Murray now. Rescinding his invitation would communicate that violence works; that if you want to influence academia, sharpen your elbows, not your mind. It would tell those who engaged in violence—and those who might engage in or threaten violence—that universities will cower if you just appear intimidating. Rescinding Murray’s invitation would teach exactly the wrong lesson.

And it would teach it at exactly the wrong time.

Notre Dame is one of Charles Murray’s first post-Middlebury campus lectures. It makes our event a referendum on free speech and how universities handle controversial speakers. I didn’t intend for his visit to address these issues, but it now does. Given the trends [5] of cancelled lectures, ever-increasing calls to disinvite speakers, and ideological bullying on college campuses, we must take a stand for civil discourse and reasoned engagement. We must show that universities can host respectful conversations among people who disagree. If we can’t accomplish that minimal academic exercise, the university has lost its purpose.

Amen. A-men! Bravo, Prof. Muñoz. This is exactly the kind of principled courage we need to be seeing on every single university campus, in defense of liberal education — a cornerstone of our civilization — against the Social Justice Warrior barbarians. More, please.

By the way, has anybody heard if a single student or other person who participated in the violent anti-Murray event at Middlebury has been disciplined over it? Seriously, anybody?

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60 Comments To "At Notre Dame, Standing Firm For Liberal Education"

#1 Comment By kgasmart On March 24, 2017 @ 9:51 am

I think radical economic redistribution is a very good idea but it has to be coupled with efforts to provide work to everyone as well. I like basic income as a supplement to work, not as a replaxement for it.

UBI would in effect make us all wards of the state.

#2 Comment By Daniel (not Larison ) On March 24, 2017 @ 11:01 am

Siarlas, I think you misunderstood my question and comment–though I deserved to be misunderstood, given the caustic and snarky way I expressed myself.

Let me try to rephrase. I have no problem with the idea that the gifted have a responsibility to share the fruits of their labors. I don’t have a problem with the pragmatic arguments with economic redistribution being necessary to keep civic order and avoid rioting and eventual chaos. I don’t even have a problem with living wages and 100% inheritance taxes–I think all of these can be rationally discussed.

No, my main problem is saying that someone doesn’t “deserve” to benefit from winning the genetic lottery. It might seem merely semantic, but I see a world of difference between saying “those who are more talented ought to help the less fortunate” and “the more talentented don’t deserve to benefit from their talent.

I guess it comes down to your view of an individual’s rights over his or her own body and mind, and the fruits thereof. Yes, it’s true that a great deal of who we are does not arise from our own choice and hardwork (indeed, I have a pretty low view of the entire idea of free will). But that doesn’t mean that others “deserve” my body, mind, or it’s labor more than I. I mean, they weren’t reaponsible for my talents and abilities, either. But my body and my mind are, in a very real and most absolute sense possible, me. If anyone “deserves” what my body and mind are capable of doing, it’s me. That really is the whole principal behind why most view slavery as wrong. (It’s also very much the pro-choice position, though I think they miss another very important consideration.)

So really, it’s the word “deserve” that struck me as odd, and how that could fit into a coherent view of human rights. Again, maybe it’s semantic, but I can’t see the logic behind it.

#3 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 24, 2017 @ 1:33 pm

I concur that the word “deserve” is an unfortunate choice, although I am a fan of Paul Allen’s statement, as he cashed in his Microsoft fortune, nobody EARNS this much money. (The context is different).

We have what we have. We are what we are. And we are a gregarious species, for the most part. We need each other.

American workers don’t seem to think so.

I know some union organizers who have made great headway at organizing new contracts. They take innovative approaches that actually relate to current American working conditions. American workers don’t have a lot of options like that right now.

When it comes to automation and Basic Income, I think we should start with the model of a single family unit that is the entire economy. A one-family economy could automate anything that can be automated, because the family would get all the benefits in greater leisure time, etc., and greater productivity. The problem is when one class of people get all the benefits, and another class is simply excluded from the economy entirely.

Now the one-family economy might make a decision, nah, we don’t need a machine to do that, we can just do it. Its actually easier in the long run, we don’t have to maintain all those machines, and we don’t want to get flabby or bored.

Basic income in a large national economy, or a global one, would reflect that a large part of production is automated, everyone in the population should get at least a certain share in the benefits, and if you want more than the basic, you find some productive work that still requires human beings to do it.

That leaves a lot of problems on the table, like those who would rather take their basic income, lie around all day, maybe drug themselves to avoid sheer boredom, but are not motivated to seek more by working for it. But in the economy we have, it is a starting point.

#4 Comment By Annek On March 24, 2017 @ 5:11 pm

Elli:

“Whether the races differ in intelligence is hardly relevant. Half is half is a hundred seventy million people.”

If races differ in intelligence, then race is very relevant because of disparate impact.

#5 Comment By Annek On March 24, 2017 @ 5:20 pm

Daniel (not Larison ):

I know it’s incredibly trite, but life isn’t fair. People have different abilities, and much of that is due to inborn talents that no amount of desire and work can gain. …

If you want radical wealth redistribution, fine–make your case. But I do not see that anyone has a “right” to demand that winners in the genetic lottery must share their wealth with others simply to satisfy some philosophically nebulous concept as “fairness.” Maybe they should pay more taxes to keep the genetically stupid and weak from starving, but I do not see an inherent need for them to share the wealth.

To a degree, we should turn down the rhetoric on the idea that our country is a meritocracy. Yes, success has to do with effort, making good decisions, etc., but a lot of it is based on inborn talent. Therefore, our elites should have a greater sense of noblesse oblige and greater humility that they didn’t end up where they are simply because of merit. A lot of their success has to do with inheriting good genes. So, some humility by our elite for their good fortune could potentially go a long way to improving relations between the various factions of people in our country.

#6 Comment By Albert On March 24, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

Cornell West and Robert George have written a statement defending academic freedom in response to the Middlebury incident. I’m pleased to hear it is getting signatories from across the political spectrum. You can read about it here: [6]

Ultimately, because they are both liberals, I don’t believe their position can hold long term. However, it’s a good stall for now.

#7 Comment By Tim On March 25, 2017 @ 12:22 am

One slight critique, but Charles Murray spoke at Patrick Henry College since the event at Middlebury.

#8 Comment By Kelvin On March 25, 2017 @ 12:51 pm

Albert, Robert George is not a liberal; he’s a major conservative intellectual. He was a primary drafter of the Manhattan Declaration (a manifesto in defense of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty). The whole point of West & George releasing their joint statement was that while they disagree on positions, they agree on the importance of open discourse (and thus the headline reference to the “ideological odd couple”).

#9 Comment By connecticut farmer On March 26, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

At last, a professor with guts! On the other hand, it’s a sad time indeed when we need to be reminded by a university professor why his and other institutions of higher learning were established in the first place.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 26, 2017 @ 4:59 pm

Albert, Robert George is not a liberal; he’s a major conservative intellectual.

As a socialist, I’m not sure that’s much of a distinction.