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Why are we afraid of freedom?

Scott Wagner | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Well, Notre Dame, the twilight of my college career is upon me. It is difficult to believe that after four short years I am on my way out, and after only eight short months, Live and Let Live or Die is, well, off to die.

Maybe this column has been enough to set your philosophical wheels in motion. Maybe the readership of The Observer has taken that first, painful step away from the Republicrat Party, and has now begun the inevitable face-first slide towards libertarianism. (Yeah, right.) However, one must admit that it is difficult to dispute the wise words of P.J. O’Rourke: “There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.” Libertarianism does not make any claims on your life, your property or your happiness. We believe that as long as you leave people alone, they must leave you alone as well.

It was once said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. For the sake of consistency, then, a libertarian is a liberal who has been mugged by a roving gang of conservatives. We’ll call them the government.

Hopefully, the idea of a roving gang of conservatives is enough to make you laugh, because I think the idea is hilarious. The metaphor is also apt.

All the while, I have tried to paint a picture of politics (yawn) that is fairly bleak. I have attempted to point out the blatant hypocrisy of the Republican Party, or the silly quasi-socialism of the Democrats. I have drawn parallels between them, highlighted the lies they tell us and offered solutions that do not involve more government control.

The problem is, of course, that this is a college campus. Aside from the handful of students who actually care, politics is a mystical realm that exists outside the hallowed halls of Our Lady. Politics more aptly describes the drama of room picks, the ND hookup culture or some kind of drinking game. The things that matter here are much more benign.

The “academic freedom” battle has been raging since I came here in 2002, and it is something I was not expecting to encounter in college. Honestly, I thought, what kind of college student would presume to tell other college students what they may or may not see? Surely, I naively dreamed, such people would not exist at Notre Dame.

The fact is, such people exist everywhere, even at Notre Dame. My wild libertarian heart refused to believe it at first; here I was, a bright-eyed freshman with the first moments of pseudo-adulthood upon me, and people were telling me I should not be allowed to see a play?

After starting the College Libertarians (with the help of Catherine Kent, who still has two years left to tear it up as president), I have discovered that people are afraid of freedom. People are afraid of what might happen when they are not in control of every situation that arises, because they are afraid of what it might mean to be accountable only to themselves. In America, and at Notre Dame, we are afraid of being faced with consequences. We are afraid of what others might think or say, and so we do our best to control everything we can.

Why do we fear “The Vagina Monologues”? Why do we fear the Queer Film Festival? Not because outsiders will suddenly think that the Catholic Church is accepting of homosexuality, but because we are afraid of giving other people that little bit of power over their own lives. If we do not stop them, we are told, the students of Notre Dame will drown themselves in secular humanism. When we say “academic freedom,” “academic” is a just a contextual qualifier. We are really talking about freedom, plain and simple.

So here is the real question: How free should the students of Notre Dame be?

I am leaving this place now, so that question is not mine to answer anymore. But it is not just a question for this schoo – it is also pertinent to this nation. Is it best to err on the side of liberty and be forced to face the consequences?

Preserving what little liberty we have is easier than finding it again once it is gone. It may be scary, but as Edmund Burke wrote in 1899, “The true danger is when Liberty is nibbled away, for expedience.”

And make no mistake, there will always be people ready to nibble away at the liberty of others. Therefore, my final piece of advice for you is this: Don’t be one of them.

Scott Wagner is the president emeritus of the College Libertarians, and you might see him someday as the disinterested ruler of the world. Until then, he can be contacted at swagner1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.