Combating illiberalism in higher education, by Véronique de Rugy


I consider my children to be incredibly lucky to be born and live in the United States. When I moved from France in 1999, I believed that, while far from perfect, America still adheres to the values ​​of its founders, especially respect for pluralism and diversity of viewpoints.

In fact, I have long believed that the First Amendment protections for freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition are essential ingredients for the success of a country with hundreds of millions of people. various whose ancestors arrived here from all over the world. . By the time I moved here, many battles to extend freedoms to blacks and other minority citizens, as well as religious associations on American campuses and elsewhere, had already been won by First Amendment litigators. As a result, I took this extension of freedom for granted. But I now know that it has taken far too long for these rights to be extended to everyone, and there is still a long way to go.

As my eldest daughter had just started college, I found myself worried that academic freedom and diverse viewpoints were now threatened. The deterioration of the culture of free speech is documented by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in their 2015 book, “The Coddling of the American Mind”. They explain how students, who not long ago had to be protected from voice codes on campus, are now asking administrators to protect them from words they don’t want to hear. They believe that words that do not conform to their ever-changing standards are a form of violence. As a result, incidents on college campuses have escalated, leaving many students and faculty terrified of saying the wrong thing.

Unfortunately, some conservatives fight this left-wing illiberalism with their own illiberalism. Some even claim that the time for liberal democracy is over. They are adopting nationalists like former President Donald Trump and Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban as role models in the hope of saving America from what they see as the degenerate culture of the left. In response to the mask’s abusive mandates, they are imposing anti-mask mandates spanning the private sector, and they are fighting the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools with their own problematic and illiberal bans.

No matter who wins this illiberal showdown, our liberal culture will be lost. Unfortunately, this illiberalism also limits the production of knowledge in academia and in public policy. The sum of all this means that my daughters, along with all of us, will be in a worse situation.

But I haven’t lost all hope. Many people left and right are standing up to fight for our liberal democratic values. Organizations like Freedom and Individual Rights in Education defend students and faculty of all stripes from persecution by fellow students and overzealous administrators.

Recognizing the threat of growing illiberalism, five groups of alumni from Cornell University, Davidson College, Princeton University, University of Virginia and Washington, and Lee University have just established the Alumni Free Speech Alliance to fight for an open inquiry on campus. In addition, to date, 82 institutions or faculty have adopted or endorsed the Chicago Declaration or a substantially similar declaration to demonstrate their commitment to free speech on campus. In addition, Princeton University is hosting a lecture by Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago, whose lecture at MIT was canceled under pressure from activists who opposed his political views.

My own employer, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, started a program on pluralism and civil exchange aimed at restoring liberalism in America. Writing for The Dispatch, former First Amendment lawyer David French argues almost daily that fighting left or right illiberalism is better against liberal values ​​and federal civil rights laws than against intolerance. Left-wing writers like Jonathan Chait and Matt Yglesias are also doing their part. Finally, there is a courageous and persistent battle against illiberalism waged by widely diverse thinkers such as Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, Bari Weiss, Columbia University professor John McWhorter, Harvard economist Glenn Loury and Andrew. Sullivan. This is only a small sample of those who take up the challenge.

The late Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis said, “Get in good trouble, needed trouble, and help redeem the soul of America. While the situation may not be as bad as when Lewis said these words, there are many people doing it right now, and on behalf of my daughters, I thank them.

Véronique de Rugy is the George Gibbs Chair in Political Economy and Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. To learn more about Véronique de Rugy and read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: Sleepy enough to Pixabay


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