One frustration that feeds some of the conservative exasperation with campus progressives who insist on closing themselves off from non-liberal viewpoints can be traced to the shared experience of encountering almost nothing but liberal viewpoints during our time in college. Conservatives who graduated from liberal universities were forced to confront the ideas of their philosophical opposites on a near-daily basis for four years. Consequently, most understand the value of engaging with disagreement and are frustrated that campus activists justify depriving themselves of an experience that they know firsthand can be so productive.
In a recent conversation with economist Tyler Cowen, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., persuasively articulated the argument for engagement. Cowen and Sasse were discussing why the senator chose to tangle for so long with Rousseau's Emile. Here's how Sasse answered:
I am an Augustinian in my anthropology, but Rousseau is a romantic. I think he's wrong about lots and lots and lots of things, but I think he's really, really smart. You have to engage him, and you have to engage people who have ideas that are different than yours because you may ultimately be converted to their view, and you need to encounter things that are big and challenging and threatening to your worldview. Or you may sometimes come to believe you're right and be able to respond to the counterarguments, where your argument will be better. You'll grow through it, and you'll become more persuasive to others through it.
That's an experience to which almost every conservative who spent time on a college campus can relate. I learned more about my beliefs from reading Judith Butler, grappling with unfamiliar arguments and assessing the validity of my own, than reading most conservative texts. For those of us who've had that experience, it's frustrating when campus progressives actively work to prevent themselves from having it.
In Sasse's testimony on the value of reading Emile to better develop his own outlook, there is an important lesson for progressive proponents of intellectual safety. But will they listen?
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.