Anthony T. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law and former Dean of Yale Law School, laments the post-1960s dÃ©gringolade of liberal education in America in Against Political Correctness: A Liberal’s Cri du Coeur in this month’s Yale Alumni Magazine.
Today’s defenders of diversity assume that the interpretive judgments of their students will differ according to their race, gender, and ethnicity. But at the same time they expect their students to share a commitment to the values of political liberalism on which the concept of diversity is based. These values may be the fairest and most durable foundation on which to build a political community. I believe they are. A legal and cultural environment marked by the freedoms that political liberalism affords may be the setting in which institutions of higher education are most likely to flourish. I think it is. But when a presumptive commitment to the values of political liberalism begins to constrain the exploration of the personal question of life’s meaning — when the expectation that everyone shares these values comes to place implicit limits on the alternatives that may be considered and how seriously they are to be taken — the enterprise itself loses much of its power and poignancy for the students involved and their teachers lose their authority to lead it.
Whatever fails to accord with the values of political liberalism fits uncomfortably within the range of possibilities that the prevailing conception of diversity permits students to acknowledge as serious contenders in the search for an answer to the first-personal question of what living is for. The political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, with their easy acceptance of the natural inequality of humans, offend these values at every turn. So, too, does the theological tradition that runs from Augustine to Calvin, with its insistence on church authority and its doctrines of sin and grace. And much of poetry is motivated by an anti-democratic love of beauty and power.
All of these ideas and experiences are suspect from the standpoint of liberal values. None represents the “right” kind of diversity. None is suitable as a basis for political life, and hence — here is the crucial step — none is suitable (respectable, acceptable, honorable) as a basis for personal life either. None, in the end, can perform any useful function other than as an illustration of the confused and intolerant views of those who had the misfortune to be born before the dawning of the light.
Today’s idea of diversity is so limited that one might with justification call it a sham diversity, whose real goal is the promotion of a moral and spiritual uniformity instead. It has no room for the soldier who values honor above equality, the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, or the thinker who regards with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life. The identification of diversity with race and gender has thus brought us back full circle to the moral uniformity with which American higher education began, nearly four centuries ago.