29 August 2014

The Problem For TWU Is ...

... totalitarian libertarianism. TWU, Trinity Western University (about which I've blogged here, here, and here) is a Christian university in Vancouver, British Columbia, that is planning to add the study of law to its curriculum. In order for a graduate of TWU to be admitted to practice, however, the bar councils of each province must accredit the law school. Accreditation would not be a problem if, as in the United States, the only matters at issue related principally to the quality of education. A number of Canadian bar councils, however, have seen fit to adjudge that no graduate of TWU can be qualified to practice law because the university requires its students to sign a pledge acknowledging that they will not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. (And marriage is defined as between a man and a woman.)

Go here to read the latest news release from TWU. The bar council of British Columbia, where TWU is located, voted overwhelmingly to accredit the school. Members of the bar council, however, have petitioned to reverse the decision, which will appear on the agenda of the bar council on September 26. In the minds of some, an institutional commitment to a position supported by thousands of years of historical tradition, and widely held until little more than two decades ago, renders university graduates unfit to practice law.

The petitioners' position drips with irony: In brief, freedom of sexual association means there can be no freedom of institutional association. Because persons of the same sex are entitled to marry, no one who goes to a school that believes otherwise is entitled to practice law.

Such a state of affairs would have been unimaginable as late as the early 1990s. So what accounts for such a widespread and rapid reversal of opinion?

For a superb answer to that question read Steven Wedgworth's post "And the Culprit Is ... Libertarianism!" Drawing from Mark Lilla's essay in The New Republic, "The Truth About Our Libertarian Age: Why the Dogma of Democracy Doesn't Always Make the World Better," Wedgeworth identifies the problem as a Western-culture-wide turn to "dispositional" libertarianism. (The addition of the adjective "totalitarian" is mine.)

I've previously decried political libertarianism here, here, and here. Dispositional libertarianism is far more toxic. Quoting Lilla,
[Dispositional] libertarianism is not an ideology ... It is a dogma. The distinction between ideology and dogma is worth bearing in mind. Ideology tries to master the historical forces shaping society by first understanding them. ... Our libertarianism operates differently: it is supremely dogmatic, and like every dogma it sanctions ignorance about the world, and therefore blinds adherents to its effects in that world. It begins with basic liberal principles—the sanctity of the individual, the priority of freedom, distrust of public authority, tolerance—and advances no further.
As Wedgeworth observes, dispositional libertarianism is a uniquely blind ideology (not that I have any truck with ideology in any form). Maximizing individual autonomy is the sum unreflexive total of the intellectual content of dispositional ideology. Anyone--and certainly any institution--that isn't committed to a project of such maximization must be excluded from the public square. Hence, while on the one hand committed to radical freedom, a dispositional libertarian is equally committed to not thinking about limits on such radical freedom.

Quoting Wedgeworth,
Most [dispositional libertarians] don’t ask about the unity of virtue in the commonwealth. They just see a problem, see a sort of solution in libertarian prescriptions, and, most of all, enjoy the outlet provided by libertarianism. It has a cash-value pragmatism about it, and so it can unite lots of people without ever reconciling their conflicting beliefs. It helps them to feel better.
Dispositional libertarians do not--indeed, cannot--see the irony noted above. They are so unthoughtfully committed to enjoying their individual freedom that they cannot perceive that freedom is built on a foundation of virtue and, in particular, the public virtues. The concept of virtue is empty in a world in which pleasure-maximizing individuals determine the use of public power.

If individual life has no end or purpose beyond pleasure, then public life is equally bereft of purpose. And an institution that dares to profess an-individual-limiting virtue--like TWU--stands condemned.


1 comment:

  1. Do you think it’s for much the same reason that the California State University system has barred InterVarsity for requiring that its officers subscribe to a statement of faith? My church is asking people to consider opening their homes for InterVarsity to continue meeting off campus.