Letter to the editor: A response to ‘The Isolation of College Libertarians’

To the editor:

On Feb. 28, Tom Ciccotta ’17 got an article entitled “The Isolation of College Libertarians” relating to Bucknell published online in the Op-Ed section of The New York Times, and, since the Times does not publish responses to Op-Eds, I thought it pertinent to publish a response here.

Richard Hofstadter recognized decades ago that there has always been a paranoid style in American politics. He noticed in many types of political operatives a “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that dictated not only their political beliefs but also their political actions. The modern conservative and libertarian movements are indebted heavily to these earlier movements—especially on campus, they seem committed to organizing themselves against the prevailing political culture of the academy, if you can even synthesize one without severe reductionism, as much as they are committed to fantasies of “small government” and “individual rights.”

So when the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) invites speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos or Dinesh D’Souza, as they did last year, both of whom only share a tangential relation to “conservative” causes in the sense that they seek to provoke the prevailing academic community, it should be no surprise that there will be pushback from faculty and students. When a speaker like D’Souza comes, having published an incredibly incendiary book entitled “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” stating that former President Barack Obama has some primal, anti-colonial anger that he inherited from his father and seeks to use our country to settle his own score, it should also be no surprise that people that devote their lives to research and knowledge should see such a figure as divisive, opportunistic, and cynical to a degree in that he sought to exploit the type of work these professors do for professional or monetary gain.

There is no stifling of ideas on this campus; there is no grand design to wipe conservative or libertarian thought from this country’s political landscape. One of the best parts about being at a university is that people do not care what your views are or where you come from as long as they are treated with respect and given a platform and time to voice their own thoughts.

The campus is indifferent to the political views of students until those students start trying to provoke reactions in faculty and students, a reaction that comes from being agitated and riled by the vehemence of speakers like D’Souza or Yiannopoulos who do not want to advance an agenda but want to seek admiration from a few who also see themselves as persecuted. The few insensitive students or faculty members that respond in kind represent me and others no more than Yiannopoulos represents a broad swath of conservatives that I know and respect.

In reality, my experience at Bucknell has been largely positive. The school has encouraged me to think clearly and deeply about what I believe, and has provided me with immense resources to head out and take courses and attend lectures that challenge my personal thoughts and beliefs. It has only been in the last year and a half, when the toxic national political culture began to seep into our small school, that I have begun to feel uneasy and disturbed.

The same partisan divides that grip national leaders are now working their way into academic departments, into the administration, and into student groups, and I think it is in part because there has been this push to try to inflame the students and faculty and force them to take political stances, one way or another. If one really cares about libertarian causes, it should be their goal to try to prevent this excised social and political control coming down from above—not only from the federal government but from media outlets such as Brietbart that seek to excise this type of thought on campus.

It is this increasing politicization of everything that has come out of trying to provoke students and faculty, and so when things become overtly politicized, other students should not be criticizing those very people when they express beliefs that run contrary to their own. There is a reason most people try to keep political and religious views private—they tend to inflame existing personal tensions. To reduce an entire institution, and thereby its student body and faculty, to a single, static, one-dimensional political leaning is unproductive and reductionist to an extreme degree. It does the entire idea of a university a disservice and overlooks the tremendous value that higher education provides for this country.

There is a difference between being isolated on campus because of your actions and being isolated on campus because of your beliefs. If BUCC had brought rigorous conservative thinkers, ones that publish credible, serious books or articles that seek to advance causes and help people, rather than speakers that seek to glorify their own egos, to rant and yell on the internet and seek to inspire racial hatred against a sitting president, then maybe our school would be a little more inviting to people who want to identify as such.

Tom Bonan ’17

Former Opinions Editor of The Bucknellian

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