A Princeton Postscript

Over 1,500 people in the Princeton community (not all of them students according to one report) have signed on to the Princeton Open Campus Coalition to President Eisgruber reported here the other day. No word yet on whether Eisgruber has agreed to meet with the Open Campus Coalition, but this is a good sign that the silent majority of non-crazy students on the campus is going to be a bit less silent.

Several commenters on the previous post expressed disappointment with one passage in the letter: “Princeton needs more Peter Singers, more Cornel Wests, and more Robert Georges.” Let me suggest back that the students are not wrong in making this suggestion.

First of all, while it would be good to have more Robert Georges at Princeton or anywhere, remember this basic rule: One of Us is worth Ten of Them. A good conservative on campus is like the 300 at Thermopylae against the ten thousand Persians. The problem of course is that the ratio is much worse then 10 to 1. But given a fair debate, we run circles around campus leftists. The point is: we don’t need to purge campuses of leftists, which probably can’t be done anyway. But we do need to show up.

Second, the problem with Princeton, Yale, and elsewhere is not Peter Singer and Cornell West and people like them. Yes—they are deep leftists, but of a different kind than the identity politics left that is driving the campus craziness and trying to shut down debate and dissent. Yes—West is the chair of the black studies department at Princeton, which is likely a fever swamp of ideology, but West actually likes to debate conservatives. He team-teaches a Great Books course with George; West doesn’t think the classics are to be dismissed because they’re written by Dead White Males. (Actually West often turns up at conservative panels at the American Political Science Association, and asks tough but serious questions. I always do a double-take when I see him.) Likewise, although Peter Singer’s philosophy is thoroughly noxious, he’ll show up to defend it from all comers.

The students are on to something: if universities demanded that its leftist scholars have a level of seriousness and engagement of West and Singer, most of the radicalized “studies” departments would have to shut down, and their lightweight, jargon-spewing faculty laid off. It is precisely because they can’t actually survive an open debate that they resort to intimidation, demands for safe spaces, and the closing of all debate by declaring their ideology to be settled science. I think we should demand that universities only have leftists like Singer and West squared off against conservatives like Robbie George.

The problem with campus liberals and leftists isn’t as much their ideology; it is that they are cowards. Where is Princeton historian Sean Wilentz right now? He wrote a pretty good article in the New York Times disputing Bernie Sanders’s comment that American was “founded on racist principles.” I’ll bet Wilentz is privately appalled at the move to strip Woodrow Wilson’s name from Princeton buildings and programs, but he is too much of a coward to stand up and be counted. As their next move, the Open Campus Coalition should call out people like Wilentz and demand they go on the record.