Monday, September 21, 2009

Advice for Young Libertarians Just Starting College (or About To)

Recently, the New York Times had a series of columns of advice for freshmen starting college. I'm hopelessly late to the party, I know. But I am a daughter of one of the most idiosyncratic quarter systems in the country, so I don't feel too badly about thinking that college should start in late September. Also, in keeping with my prior posts on whether libertarians should go to law school, I'd gear this post to libertarians and libertarian-leaning conservatives.

1)In choosing your university, weigh selectivity more than you weigh ideological fit. If you have the opportunity to go to the type of university that gets trumpeted in college guides as "highly selective" or the like, take it. I type this with some trepidation because I've had many friends go through majority conservative/majority libertarian schools like Grove City and Hillsdale and loved them. Indeed, these schools have excellent connections within the conservative and libertarian movements. Their curricula are light on P.C. fluff and heavy on the classics, and these schools also seem to have lots of small classes. So you'll probably learn to read and think better there than you might at more moderate schools posting similar selectivity stats.

I don't particularly to make the elitist case here at length. Pointing out that Harvard has an excellent alumni network or that Yale degrees are attractive to employers feels awfully dog bites man. I do want to highlight the benefits of going to college with lots of smart liberals. You will never have such a rich social life again as you will at college. You live with your friends, after all; eat meals with your friends, etc. You won't be surrounded by nearly as many friends and potential friends again after you graduate. Especially if you work in the D.C. conservative and libertarian community, your social circle will be dominated by other libertarians and conservatives. You'll never have as good a chance again to make friends with lots of smart left-liberals. By going to a Hillsdale over a Brown, you miss a great chance to figure out what the left is thinking. I will probably never quote Ann Coulter again, but actually she's right on here with her third point.

The Harriet Miers debacle brings me to a related point. Left wingers find it harder to dismiss people who have been successful in the universities they dominate. Let me say again: at the tedious chore of earning your adversaries' respect, there's no substitute for learning how to write and think well. Or so I repeat to myself over and over as I struggle to hit those lofty goals. Still, having a pedigree that liberals have to respect isn't a bad first step.

The left likes to criticize conservatives who exude a victim mentality. As they should. Don't fall prey to the victim trap yourself.

2)Don't major in government. Minor in something useless, like art history. Pnin and I split on the first point. I ran for my life after two classes in the government at Dartmouth. I found the prevalence of partisans spouting talking points insufferable. I have one or two acquaintances from there who did not seem to be so much attending college as racking up a slide show of college memories for the 2022 Republican Convention. History was much more bearable for me. If you're studying the ancient Romans, you can still have fun and lively debates. But the debates don't map as neatly onto left/right fault lines as they do in government. So you don't have to worry as much about your professors or classmates looking down on you for right of center views. Pnin, on the other hand, thought that the political science department at Amherst was actually less politicized than most of the other social science departments, including history -- his other major. So your mileage may vary.

As to minoring in something useless, I say this for several reasons. People who spend their lives fighting pitched ideological battles can become... brittle... and weird. Defining "brittle" here is a classic Potter Stewart problem, and I don't know that my time (or yours) is best spent trying to nail the type down precisely. But you ought to remember that there are real, beautiful, fascinating subjects of inquiry hors de combat. Minoring in something useless will let you daydream of the day when, after Obamacare is defeated and the Leviathan slashed, you can go be a classics professor or run a gallery in good Cincinnatus-like fashion.

Second, ideological battles are hard. They will take a great deal out of you. Our adversaries are strong, and you'll lose frequently. You need something else to nourish you through tough times. And no, "Miller Lite" is not a sufficient answer. Sure, it's fine in the short run. But it helps if you have a few paintings or poems in which you can lose yourself when the Leviathan just doesn't want to succumb.

1 comment:

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