‘Forbid it, almighty God!’
Yesterday was July 4th, a national holiday more or less unique among the countries of the world. America, as Daniel Hanan once wrote, is “the world’s only propositional state,” founded not upon a basis of ethnicity or religion or class but upon a particular set of ideas that set it apart from everyone else. The animating principle of the American experiment—that the people are ultimately sovereign, and that they possess certain rights government cannot take away—is still, to this day, something of a novelty, even across the Anglosphere, let alone the rest of the world. Our foundational document codifies an explicit right not just to freedom but to rebellion against any government that would take that freedom away; our national charter, meanwhile, codifies and solidifies a set of rights that are the envy of the planet. There was plenty of reason to celebrate yesterday, as there is today and will be tomorrow.
These truths, alas, have as of late lost purchase, and in no place more so than the academy, which over the past forty or fifty years has undertaken an aggressive campaign to rid the world of students educated in the rightness of the American constitutional order. The results are rather horrifying. A full third of college students, according to a recent poll, “could not identify the First Amendment as the part of the Constitution that dealt with free speech.” Thirty-five percent believe that “hate speech,” that eternal boondoggle of the young college mind, is not protected by the First Amendment (spoiler alert: it is), while a third of the progressive students polled claim that “the First Amendment is outdated.” It does not take a genius to recognize what these numbers potentially signify for the future of American free speech freedoms.
First Amendment liberties are not the only thing under assault on campus. The Fifth Amendment’s due process protections have taken a drubbing in recent years, with feminist-inspired sexual assault tribunals popping up at colleges across the country, subjecting countless young men to ridiculous kangaroo courts in which many of them end up suspended or expelled on flimsy and unsubstantiated evidence. The Second Amendment, of course, is verboten on most campuses across the nation; God be with you if you attempt to exercise your constitutional right to carry a firearm on a taxpayer-funded public institution.
These are not accidents. There has been a slow, purposeful, deliberate attempt to inculcate this type of environment and these types of beliefs at colleges across the country. We don’t flatter progressives to point out that they are exceptionally good at this type of maneuvering, and that their efforts have been, by many metrics, quite successful. What we might recognize is the need for a genuine campaign to reverse the effects of the Left’s slow march through our institutions of higher education. This means inculcating in our students a deep and abiding appreciation for the preciousness of the American experiment, the profoundly important novelty of the American Constitution, and a great respect for the liberties that that experiment and that constitution impart upon us. It is not an easy task to contemplate. But neither it is easy to imagine a world in which more and more young men and women are inoculated with an open contempt of the very things that make America the shining city on a hill that it has been, is, and hopefully will remain.
There was plenty of reason yesterday to celebrate what Patrick Henry called “the glorious object of our contest,” the rights and freedoms due to us as freeborn citizens and children of God. That glorious object, however, is not something that just magically appears out of thin air; it must be taught, instructed and passed down from one generation to the next. We must commit ourselves to doing as much; the precious American way of life cannot survive any other way.