Whitman and the end of politics: A conservative farewell

Alex Potter

I owe a lot to Whitman. During these years I have traveled all over the Middle East, China and Latin America and studied the languages of those areas. The texts and authors I have read in class have been a jumping off point into my own reading and intellectual journey. My professors have on the whole been excellent. I have met some people here who I consider life-long friends.

Yet, I have never seen a worse case of group-think than the Whitman campus. There is something about the Northwest culture of politeness (or just aversion to conflict) and the dominant environmentalist-postmodernist-globalist mindset that combines to make for a rather stifling public intellectual atmosphere.

What is an education if not an intellectual debate? Debate presupposes difference. If I have one great problem with Whitman, it is the incredible homogeneity of belief, and thus a lack of genuine public discussion.

I know of at least two students who left Whitman because they simply could not stand the homogeneously leftist and secular intellectual atmosphere.

Whitman is a less diverse campus than when I came four years ago, despite now boasting an intercultural building. When I came to Whitman, I encountered a handful of people seriously concerned with publicly questioning the dominant mode of thought on campus.

Today, however, I can seriously say that I am the only person who publicly identifies and engages in public debate as a conservative. There are other conservatives, of course, but try getting one to write an article in The Pioneer or start a conservative group and it is quickly a different story. Maybe Whitman, an intellectual and academic institution, should start spending its money to encourage intellectual and academic diversity.

The world of ideas is one of combat. There is no combat at Whitman. There is not even a College Republicans or a College Democrats, let alone an institutionalized system of political discourse like the Yale Political Union. This kind of environment is crippling for Whitman students, who will encounter an America and a world with drastically different values then they have and where high stakes mean taking few prisoners.

The problem isn’t just about conservatism, but also about liberalism on Whitman’s campus. I was at Seattle University over the weekend and saw posters advertising a public discussion about the possibility of (and advocating) socialism in America today. Clearly at least some college students still consider social injustice serious enough to advocate for something more than the bourgeois liberalism of the Democratic Party. The liberalism at Whitman strikes me not as a philosophical or ideological one, but as a cultural one, which arises not from critical thought but from conformity with the dominant discourse of most Whitties’ class and cultural background.

This column is not a prelude to “God and Man at Whitman,” my illusions of Buckley-like grandeur aside (I don’t expect many Whitman students to get that reference). This is, however, my last column in The Pioneer, after years of sporadic writing and editorships. I had high hopes for my columns. I wished to challenge Whitties’ assumptions about politics and hopefully stir debate by taking controversial and conservative positions. I may have challenged, but there was little debate. I got some letters to the editor, some comments online, but largely, there has been little response to my writing. Conservatism at Whitman is such a minority position that it appears ignoring it is far more effective than debating it.

For example, during the presidential primary I put up a Ron Paul sign on campus and the only response was not a competing candidate’s sign, but one calling Ron Paul a white supremacist. Behold the product of a liberal arts education?

Or perhaps last month, when I was asked to sign a thank-you poster in Reid for “National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers,” not merely to celebrate a woman’s right to choose, but to celebrate the actual individuals who physically abort fetuses. I wonder what would have happened if I held a “National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Provider Assassinators” in response. Both glorify what millions of reasonable American citizens consider violent and murderous acts. Yet I probably would have been reprimanded or expelled.

Thankfully, Whitman seems to know it has a problem. There have been a couple very good libertarian speakers this year, which hopefully indicates a trend towards greater intellectual diversity. This year Whitman also offered a politics seminar called Conservative Political Thought, which was an excellent class and puts Whitman at the cutting edge of a growing trend: the academic study of conservatism in political science and sociology.

Whitties seem solely concerned with solving other people’s problems. Yet I look at my four years (or three minus one in Egypt) at Whitman as an incredible lesson in the problems of America’s own elite. Since we will be called upon to solve the immense fiscal, moral and military problems facing our nation soon enough, I find this lesson in self-awareness more important than any.