Speaking to a packed house in the Minor Hall auditorium at the University of Virginia last night, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will traced the rise of the totalitarian movement on college campuses. Contemporary totalitarian thought, which arises from the conviction that human behavior is infinitely malleable and that all ills in society can be traced to flawed institutions and pernicious cultural traits, seeks to control every aspect of human culture. Only by ridding society of those flaws can humanity be perfected and justice achieved. Those hewing to this view, Will opined, invariably seek to enhance the power of government at the expense of individual liberty.
Will contrasted the view of a malleable and perfectible man with the notion that there is such a thing as human nature, and that that nature makes humans stubbornly resistant to the efforts of intellectual and political elites to perfect them. From this view arises the doctrine of natural rights and the Jeffersonian idea of government instituted to secure those rights. In this tradition of thought, the rights of individuals supersede the will of the majority.
The perfectibility paradigm rules in higher education today. The increasing threats to free speech and free inquiry in academia flow naturally from the conviction that undesirable ideas and cultural traits cause harm by thwarting progress toward a progressive utopia.
Read the written version of Will’s speech (without digressions) here.
UVA TODAY covers the Will speech: “‘Free and Fearless Inquiry’ Must Prevail on College Campuses, George Will Urges“