At the University of Dallas, 3/28/10

I’m trying to get the “vibe” of campus, and am trying to get to know as many people as possible. It does feel like things are more conservative here than when I started 7 years ago, but by “more conservative” I don’t mean people are busy putting up angry posters about liberals and health care reform and mumbling about revolution. They’re too busy with their work, their private lives at a private campus virtually no one knows about.

I suppose I should tell you what it was like here 7 years ago. There were lots of people that were into the Society of St. Pius X; at one group I was a part of, any time anything went wrong, we were encouraged by the other members to pray in order to fix problems. The sort of work I do in politics, of course, was looked at with suspicion by quite a few, because I didn’t quite sign on to the idea that Plato and Aristotle were logically completed by Thomas Aquinas. I need not tell you that the religious conservatism was complemented by a set of beliefs one would call “paleo-con,” and I can’t say I disagree with some of those beliefs on a political level.

In some ways, I might be seeing the future of conservatism here, and given that conservatism is more connected to the past than the present, the future is appreciably different from what generated it. These kids take their parents’ principles to logical extremes, but they don’t have the same spirit as their parents. They can’t afford to, literally: jobs aren’t just scarce nowadays, but for those dedicated to the liberal arts or their religion, they’ve been increasingly scarce for some time. The security one needs to be conservative in the same way as their parents isn’t there.

But that doesn’t mean the people I’m meeting are particularly liberal. To speak of campus as a bubble isn’t quite right. It is a bubble, but it’s also a series of bubbles: if the children of very conservative families are any indication, it looks like the factionalization within religious conservatism (and of course political conservatism) is increasing to unheard of levels. The sharp disagreements aren’t arising to the surface as much because people are staying in their bubbles within a bubble. But forget trying to bring us all together as “we’re all Americans;” I don’t even think you could get the Catholics on this campus to agree about the universal nature of Catholicism generally.

None of this is to say anything bad is happening here, or that I’m being treated poorly. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t report what I think I’m witnessing. A lot of people here think that this place works as a community simply – everyone’s polite and welcoming and seemingly open. It’s not that simple, not at all. Aristotle strongly implies in Book 1 of the Politics that the city (polis) is the natural limit of the household; without the polis, the household becomes a tyranny – one member thinks his duty acquisition, and starts seeing the other members as instruments of acquisition. It’s not a stretch to say that the fundamental problem of all modern political ideology – right and left – is that we don’t have a sense of what is properly public. We rant at the government because we don’t really know how to deal with each other, and don’t want to.

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