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Try argument, not extortion

<h5>Snow began to coat campus as night fell on Monday.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Aarushi Adlakha / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Snow began to coat campus as night fell on Monday. 
Aarushi Adlakha / The Daily Princetonian

Are far-right conservative viewpoints nothing more than an emotional reaction to progressivism? Yes, suggests Adam Hoffman ’23 in a recent New York Times guest essay. More importantly, through his much-discussed contribution, Hoffman entirely gives up on arguing for conservative values. Instead, he threatens academia, arguing that it must shift its viewpoints, or else it will be met with the virulent anger of the “conservative firebrands” it is apparently producing in bulk. 

In the concluding paragraph, Hoffman remarks that “campuses that are more welcoming to conservatives are in universities’ own interest.” He argues that this is due to the so-called “dominant” liberal culture forces conservatives to “embrace a less moderate, complacent[,] and institutional approach to politics.” But how could this be the case? Hoffman alleges that “pervasive progressivism” is self-destructive, pushing those in opposition further away from — rather than closer to — a middle ground. He asserts that it is on the left to change their messaging since they risk alienating “freethinkers.”

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It is not entirely unreasonable to say polarization on campus may push ideologically neutral students to take a side; the divisiveness of political parties is currently greater than at any point during the last 50 years. But unlike what he has said in the past, Hoffman does not suggest bipartisan discussion or diverse exchange as a rational or defensible ideal for which one should strive. Rather, he lays down a clear line for the University: The only way you can defeat the far-right ideologies you hate is by acquiescing to ‘moderates’ in stopping the construction of the ‘woke cathedral.’

Yet the self-admitted faults of this conservative group make it impossible for Princeton to take them seriously. Why would the University submit to an ideology which Hoffman admits becomes extreme in the mere presence of opposing views? It would not in any way be responsible for this institution to bow down to conservatives who shift to the right because they refuse to entertain the reasoning of liberals. A group whose values are so fragile that their very core is attacked when stating their pronouns is not an example of the intellectual heft this University seeks to promote. If Hoffman wants to see products of liberal-leaning institutions — DEI offices, sex positivity trainings, and gender-neutral bathrooms —  disappear, he’s going to have to be a lot more persuasive. I’m not sure the last time a student tried to use fear tactics to shift the character of a $35.1 billion institution, but I don’t think it is likely to be successful, even if it is in the New York Times.

If Hoffman really wants to change the University, he’s likely to have much more success with argument rather than manipulation. Take recent debates on institutional neutrality: various University bodies have taken to facilitating exchange and offering opinions on the subject. The James Madison Program hosted a conference on institutional neutrality and the importance of the Kalven Report. Four days earlier, President Eisgruber ’83 declared his intention to consider institutional restraint, which does not give an “absolute” ordinance against commenting on “values that are fundamental to our community or mission.” These actions do not indicate an oppressive and anti-dialogue campus. 

What is anti-tolerance and exchange is elevating internal campus matters to a sphere in which no other member of the community can engage. Hoffman participates in the very steam-rolling he criticizes the University of by publishing this inflammatory debate in the New York Times. It’s another example of Hoffman’s tactics: rather than arguing for the merits of a less liberal university on an open forum, he insulates his criticism from conversation, making his points not suggestions but demands. He claims to despair that “students are not invited to debate” at Princeton, but internal change does not come from menacing liberals in national newspapers. It comes from submitting propositions to be discussed and worked upon — conversation always precedes implementation. Every time a Princetonian defames the university community in external publications — and the examples are numerous — they demonstrate a lack of willingness to actually engage in campus dialogue to work on its improvement. 

So how can activism actually connect with its intended audience? It seems that conservatives recognize the inability of progressives to change conservative minds, and have also realized that they in turn will not be able to change the minds of progressives either. Thus, conservatives are left with only extortion to get what they want. 

Abigail Rabieh is a prospective history major and sophomore from Cambridge, MA. She is the Head Opinion Editor at the ‘Prince’ and can be reached by email at arabieh@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @AbigailRabieh.

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