Freedom vs. the Secular Seminary

Little did I know, when contrasting conservative freedom and liberal liberation, that a poster-girl for liberation was presenting herself at the Altar of the Victim, the remarkable Sandra Fluke, the toast of our Democratic friends.  For Ms. Fluke's belief system suggests to her that she cannot have access to her sexuality unless a big institution provides her contraception.  Moreover, since she is a law student with a degree in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Cornell, she is evidently well into a professional career in liberation activism.

Conservatives scratch our heads at the activist university and its characteristic products like Ms. Fluke.  But we are fools.  The university has seldom been an institution of higher learning devoted to science and disinterested scholarship.  More often it has been a seminary.  When young Fred Vincy, son of a Middlemarch merchant, went off to the University of Cambridge in around 1830, it was to study to be a priest in the state Church of England. 

Fred Vincy went to university a quarter century after the Prussians changed the tune by inventing the modern government research university.  It would serve not the national church but the national government with government-funded research to make the government strong.  Pretty soon, everyone would copy the Prussian model.  In the US it was Johns Hopkins that first made the transition.

In our day the university has combined these two roles.  It goes from strength to strength churning out research, from climate science to social science, that is pleasing to its government funders and, following the Death of God, it has turned itself into a seminary for secular religion.  For that is what a degree in Gender Studies or African-American Studies is all about.  It credentials you to be a minister in the liberal church of feminist liberation or the liberal church of racial advocacy.  With your degree in hand you are ready to go out as a missionary to the dark continent of the bitter clingers and advocate for "access" to government services.  While still in college you prepare for your major-league career by mau-mauing the minor league flak-catchers at your chosen university.  Then you go on to bigger things.

That is the story of secular seminarian Sandra Fluke's life so far.

While liberals worry about liberatory "access" to contraception, Roger Scruton wonders about how we can re-imagine freedom.  In a world where humans are predetermined not just by the implacable workings of biological evolution but cultural evolution as well, what space is left for freedom and choice?  The answer, he believes, lies in freedom itself, to "rewrite the book of freedom."

Humans have always responded to the awful powers of the world with the rebellion of freedom.  Perhaps that is why freedom is such a big deal these days.  In the old days, it was divine power that held humans in awe; now it is the vast power of human knowledge that threatens us.  When scientists set the world into fixed and eternally predictable orbit with Newtonian mechanics, humans came up with a grand apology for human freedom.  When businessmen discovered how to exploit humans for profit in sugar and cotton plantations, humans rebelled and ended slavery.  When Darwin demonstrated the working out of evolution as the survival of the fittest, political activists came up with the welfare state that insists on the survival of even the least fit.  There seems to be an eternal spark of rebellion in the human breast that refuses to submit to implacable power.

What is hard to accept is the liberal secular religion of victimism that Sandra Fluke represents.  It goes against the grain.  Instead of rebelling against implacable forces with a lust for freedom it seeks to resolve problems by supercharging the biggest force in the modern world: government.

That's why I believe that a new moral movement will arise to rebel against the overweening liberal culture of compulsion and its swarming army of secular seminarians.  Beginning with Adam and Eve, humans have always rebelled against doing what they are told, whether the master is God, a feudal lord, mechanical determinism, inescapable evolution, or liberal bullies and their well-trained poster children.

Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct: "Men like power and will seize it if they can. But if they can't rule, their next preference is that no one rule over them."  There is the source of man's eternal rebellion.

Which brings us back to Obama.  If the president had governed by consensus and produced stimuli and health care legislation that co-opted Republicans into a show of bipartisan agreement then maybe he'd be cruising for reelection right now.  But instead he has seized all the power he could as quickly as he could.  People hate that, and sooner or later rebel against the one that rules over them.

We are, after all, only human.

Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  See his and also  At he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.