How UM Made Me Conservative and Its Lessons

There are countless gifts I have received while being an undergraduate at the University of Michigan: inspiring professors and graduate instructors who taught me a love of Shakespeare, Existentialism, Nietzsche, Plato, Homer, nineteenth century French literature, and interpretations of quantum mechanics. The gift relevant here is that the University of Michigan made me love the diversity that dare not speak its name: the only diversity that really matters and that is intellectual diversity. I came to appreciate that the pursuit of knowledge often requires those who can disagree and still deliberate fundamental questions of human nature and the nonhuman sources of meaning and value. This University made me someone who disagrees with the conventional wisdom of postmodern politics and progressivism because my undergraduate education has turned me into a conservative.  And having that minority perspective opened my eyes to what is necessary and vital to a community of fellow inquirers – respect for different beliefs in the pursuit of truth – which is gravely missing from higher education.

I have seen how a hegemony of identity politics turns very cool and interesting friends into ideologues without that original personality they used to have. I have seen how ‘diversity’ is considered to be only skin-deep yet everyone shares the same social and economic bubble. I have seen what is left of the desecration of the humanities and abandonment of classical standards of scholarship. And I have learned it does not have to be this way. When I say the University of Michigan made me a conservative, for which I cannot thank it enough, I mean that as I entered this place as a social democratic with naïve pictures of the world, I was not given (save from those few beloved teachers mentioned above) other perspectives on how we ought to live or questions that were asked and debated before humane education was politicized. Everyone agrees on mostly everything politically important. So I had to turn to my private readings to uncover underrepresented views (Burke, Reid, Pascal, Scruton) to see a world of ideas alive outside the ivory towers.

Unfortunately, the challenge is that the university (despite all its talk of politics and progressive buzzwords) is becoming more technocratic when high culture and humane learning are scarce. As the late David Foster Wallace penned, “The college itself turned out to have a lot of hypocrisy about it, e.g., congratulating itself on its diversity and the leftist piety of its politics while in reality going about the business of preparing elite kids to enter elite professions and make a great deal of money, thus increasing the pool of prosperous alumni donors.”

There is another way: students can dare to be countercultural by considering all of the liberal arts, by reading deeply and widely the Great Books, by standing up against free speech restrictions, and by considering all the great clashes of ideas (conservative and Marxist, libertarian and socialist) other than the hegemonic progressivism on most campuses today. What little wisdom I have to impart from writing at the Review and my experience at UM is twofold: to all students, dare to be different by daring to consider what is intellectually different; and to all conservative and libertarian students, make the university a safe space for dangerous ideas. Things like the Review are the powder for nuanced intellectual dynamite—explode them and let a diversity worthy of praise be able to speak its name.

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