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Libertarian confusion

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 6, 2006

Although I have very much enjoyed reading the recent string of Notre Dame Libertarian viewpoints and letters, I feel that each of these writings has consistently misrepresented libertarianism in some way.

For example, the most recent letter to the editor, sponsored by the group itself, confuses political libertarianism with personal preference. The article begins with an accurate explanation that Notre Dame can “censor” all that it wants as a private property owner. This is where libertarian political doctrine stops. Its purpose is to emphasize self-government, so that any individual can censor or not censor to their heart’s desire.

However, the letter devolves into a advocating a fairly subjective social opinion that Notre Dame should allow all kinds of expression, no matter the type. This statement is woeful because of two glaring problems. First, it has nothing to do with political libertarianism and thus the “Libertarian” group on campus is wrongly identifying a social opinion with the political party. This will only confuse those unfamiliar with libertarianism and will drive away good moral people who believe in certain kinds of “censorship.”

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, the letter is attacking a straw man. Notre Dame is not censoring anything. The students can form any number of groups (unofficial or not), wear any shirt they want (barring extreme offensiveness or lewdness), study any kind of play no matter how libertine, and even perform that play for the purposes of study and reflection. They are only denied the affirmative use of University sponsorship through the grant of its facilities when the University disapproves of the subject matter. Even this is qualified, since Notre Dame really just wants to limit such activities from being open to the public through its own facilities. It would be morally and intellectually dishonest if the administration sponsored groups or activities that it truly felt were harmful to Catholicism or Christianity. This is no different from me refusing to allow students to perform the Vagina Monologues in my home. Criticism that the University should change its decision making apparatus is of course valid, but should be well-reasoned and avoid misdirected platitudes about censorship and free-speech.

This second point seems to be lost on far too many students. I have to wonder if they even read Father John Jenkins’ speech, which covers the issue quite thoroughly.

Steve Torellograduate studentFeb. 3