Liberty and Ideology

In his 1882 manuscript God and the State, Russian anarchist and philosopher Mikhail Bakunin wrote that “The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have bene externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective of individual.” While his thoughts regarding the state and other most important structures of mankind do not hold true in today’s society, I believe that Bakunin’s words are indeed applicable when looked at in the context of ideology – especially in today’s society.

Historically, it is quite clear where ideologies have proved enormously influential, both for better and for worse. The ideology of the American colonists — as Thomas Jefferson put it, the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness — led to revolution, independence, and the birth of the United States. Typically, however, ideology has manifested itself in more nefarious forms. The ideology of the National Socialists in Germany led to the Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust. Vladimir Lenin’s interpretation of Karl Marx’s ideas of communism led to the ideology of Bolshevism, resulting in the Soviet Union, the propagation of communism throughout the world, and the ultimate collapse of “history’s greatest experiment.” In the world of today, the most dangerous ideology is found in the form of radical Islamic terrorism — an ideology that threatens to tear at the very fabric of western civilization.

Ideologies, however, come in a range of sizes and scales, but these differences do not necessarily diminish their dangers. The ideology which is perhaps most influential on the College (and higher education in general) is what I refer to as the “ideology of social justice.” Unlike the aforementioned historical ideologies, this school of thought is disjoint, not unified by any dictating party or body. It propagates through social networks and liberal media outlets, and stews within the walls of university safe spaces — and, most importantly, does not seek true social justice. It is an amorphous cloud of ideas rather than a coherent structure; perhaps it is due to this reason that this student contingent has never found a stable foothold on campus in the way that The Dartmouth Review has managed. The various groups that make up this liberal contingent, for lack of better name, are not even themselves agreed on their tenets.

On the surface, the ideas preached by these groups do not seem to hold much danger. The Dartmouth Radical, a COSO-backed organization and “publication” with currently ambiguous status, recently released a manifesto in a campus-wide email under the banner of the Dartmouth Action Collective. Their message is not one that many would take issue with; the overall mission is stated to be fighting “to create a more just, inclusive Dartmouth, where all students… feel safe, supported, fulfilled and get the most out of their academics, extracurricular activities, and social lives.” It is an honorable goal, and not one that is wholly unachievable. Unfortunately, however, the Dartmouth Action Collective’s rhetoric often does not line up with their actions or the actions of Dartmouth’s greater liberal contingent.

It is evident in many spheres of student life. First and foremost is the “shut up and listen” dynamic (often manifest in the equally-radical “educate yourself” command) that is too often encountered when the left clashes with laypeople. This is damaging because it wholly rejects the exchange of ideas, and reinforces the claim that the words of the left are law, utterly unchallengeable and categorically true. As we at The Review often discuss, however, this is never the case.

May 2016: Black Lives Matter members deface a bulletin board honoring fallen police officers in Collis Hall.

May 2016: Black Lives Matter members deface a bulletin board honoring fallen police officers in Collis Hall.

It was also evident in the Black Lives Matter library protests, when protesters stormed the library during finals period, disrupting students’ studying during a critical period of the term and antagonizing students who refused to participate. It was evident in the misguided #Fight4FacultyofColor protests when Professor Aimee Bahng was denied tenure, despite a questionable academic record. It was evident when students destroyed a bulletin board celebrating National Police Week and honoring law enforcement in a time when law enforcement officers are demonized by such groups across the nation. It was evident in the egregious reaction to the election of President Donald Trump, and the inability to accept a fair defeat in a democratic election, and evident in the attempted burning of an American flag on the Green on Inauguration Day.

What role, then, does The Dartmouth Review and the conservative student contingent at the College play in this scenario? Our task is fairly simple in nature, but not so straightforward. In short, it is to counter this heavy-handed ideology that threatens the free exchange of ideas and the security of students who dare to challenge their beliefs. After all, ideology comes in many forms, and the right can be just as guilty as the left. Blind belief, however, ought to always be sacrificed in favor of Truth. There is an eternal intertwinement between liberty and ideology, complicated by the struggle to reconcile the two. Ultimately, trust ought to be placed with the enlightened individual rather than the masses of groupthink. In all cases, the liberated exchange of ideas ought to be upheld and defended to the bitter end.