DIEZ: Liberals for the status quo

It’s no secret that most self-identified liberal Yalies don’t question the political status quo that persists on campus. Most students accept issues like the immense inequality in New Haven and the fact that Yale is a bastion of privilege with little more than a shrug.

At the same time, the loudest and most revolutionary voices belong to the growing conservative presence on campus. Among all the liberals on our campus, where is Yale’s Left? There are two possibilities: It’s either far smaller or much less driven than we think. While a number of Yalies certainly wave the flag of progressivism, at a place like Yale, this strand on the Left mainly supports what amounts to the status quo.

But my point is not about which structures at Yale are unjust or about how terrible conservatism is. Rather, most of Yale’s liberals face numerous ideological problems and inconsistencies, which I believe are one factor to a thick mélange of problems with liberals not only on campus but in the rest of the country.

I’ve met many intelligent, self-declared liberal Yalies, but they tend not to question the foundations influencing their beliefs and where they come from. Instead, they opt to toe the Democratic Party line or parrot Howard Dean. If they want to take seriously the principles at the root of their beliefs — support of some semblance of social equality, for instance — they must be much more dissatisfied with the status quo. As it stands now, they help propagate a status quo little better than that many conservative students are willing to accept.

That said, plenty of groups at Yale — such as MEChA, the Liberal Party of the YPU and the Undergraduate Organizing Committee — do precisely what has to be done. Intellectually, they partake in the great tradition of critique instead of simple, unexamined action that can be so often misdirected or done for the wrong reasons. If people who consider themselves on the Left really want to transform what they see as wrong with the world, they need to realize that the political framework they work in could be very, very wrong. They must critique seriously and passionately. They ought to think and work in a manner that enacts serious alternatives to the broken system in which we live.

The problem with a student body so steeped in liberal ideas and assumptions is that the reality it faces is assumed to be liberal and just. If we who claim to be on the Left are to act in any way to secure long-term change, we have to try to understand how our privilege may blind us.

Almost all leftist traditions are those of dissatisfaction with the status quo and the frameworks that restrict people from positive freedom. We have an obligation to stay true to those traditions. Unfortunately, most of the self-proclaimed progressive values on campus don’t go far enough. The Left isn’t about ideologically uncaring pragmatism but about being loud and dissatisfied while providing real alternatives and solutions that break the paradigms entrenching terrible orders.

I acknowledge that the conservative movement has tremendous resources, but I believe the challenge faced by liberalism is something more deeply problematic: all too often, it is not serious enough.

Especially at Yale, the unfortunate truth may be it is in many liberals’ best interest to take their leftism lightly. It may be in their best interest to sympathize with those advocating for equality, but to stop short and think charity and NGO work is the best way to do it, while forgetting that the system under which they are working is one that hinders the implementation of their visions. We can’t patch up a bleeding aorta with Band-Aids.

Our models should not be charity and fair trade, but Eugene Debs, the student protesters of 1968 and groups like Students for a Democratic Society. If we are to work within a system, we must go in it with every intention to understand and reject what goes against our fundamental values. If we are to take our liberalism and our leftism seriously, we cannot proxy justice with a warm, fuzzy feeling of charity or occasional Democratic campaign work. We need loud, raucous political action.

Francisco Diez is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at francisco.diez@yale.edu .


  • Branford73

    I applaud your sentiment and passion and I am left of the current center of the U.S. population. I should say median point since the center seems empty now. I also admire Debs and his life. But asking your fellow students to model Debs, an avowed Socialist (back when the term meant something), is futile and doing so counterproductive. Better to emulate Darrow, who defended Debs.

    And the SDS? Yikes, a less admirable group can hardly be imagined, particularly the Yale version. The Yale chapter bungled it’s most salient activity during my freshman year of ’69-’70. SDS and BSAY and a few other kindred students occupied the Dining Hall Administration offices to protest and support an dining hall worker they felt was discharged for racial reasons. After several hours of negotiation, the Dining Hall Admins agreed to reinstate the employee and give her a hearing over her claimed insubordination. BSAY representatives agreed to this resolution but the SDS representatives wanted to continue the occupation. SDS looked ridiculous and never, to my knowledge, were heard from again as an organization at Yale. White leftists were too embarrassed by the SDS position to identify with it.

    Political action is needed and sometimes loud, directed protest is needed and effective. I wouldn’t call the Occupy Wall Street and its imitators examples of either, though.

  • hkayali
  • Yalie14

    Seems to me that your ideological purity and intolerance of more moderate views IS the problem.

  • River_Tam

    Ugh, really? You cite MEChA and the UOC as examples of serious, thoughtful groups? And you cite Eugene Debs and SDS? This is pathetic.

    > Our models should not be charity and fair trade, but Eugene Debs, the student protesters of 1968 and groups like Students for a Democratic Society.

    Why stop there? Why not the inexorable product of SDS and Eugene Debs – The Weather Underground (founded by the national leadership of the SDS) and the Industrial Workers of the World (founded by Debs)?

    IWW charter:

    > Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

    Weather Underground manifesto:

    > “The only path to the final defeat of imperialism and the building of socialism is revolutionary war.

    > Socialism is the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the eradication of the social system based on profit.

    > It includes mass struggle and clandestine struggle, peaceful and violent, political and economic, cultural and military, where all forms are developed in harmony with the armed struggle. Without mass struggle there can be no revolution. Without armed struggle there can be no victory.

    • Branford73

      I dumped on the SDS, too, but it’s a little unfair to smear them with the Weather Underground. That’s a bit like condemning the Democrats because Debs became a perennial Socialist Party presidential candidate. Perhaps the people who became Weather Underground did so because their compatriots at SDS were not willing to make bombs. But at least you reminded me of a group of the time even less admirable than the SDS.

      • River_Tam

        > I dumped on the SDS, too, but it’s a little unfair to smear them with the Weather Underground.

        The leadership of the SDS created the Weather Underground. The SDS was de facto dissolved upon the creation of the Weathermen because most SDS rank and file were just disaffected college students and not actually interested in terrorism. But the Weatherman ideology was a natural product of the SDS and the greatest successes of the SDS came from the eventual Weathermen (see: Mark Rudd).

        So, the Weather Underground was very much a product of the SDS. By contrast, Eugene Debs was forced to leave the Democratic Party when he moved out into cuckoo-ville.

    • SY10

      Saying the IWW was founded by Debs isn’t really quite accurate (I’d say Big Bill Haywood if I had to choose one person, but it’s probably just better not to treat it like the work of one individual), but regardless, the IWW of the early 20th century was pretty awesome – and I don’t only say that because they’re responsible for a lot of the best pro-union music (anyone who disagrees can take it up with my copy of the Big Red Songbook).
      But anyway, when talking about the IWW’s advocacy of violence, it’s worth remembering that they were formed at a time when one of the standard responses to union activities (particularly strikes) was to send in the National Guard or the Pinkertons to shoot workers into submission. Class struggle makes a little more sense when you’re actually being murdered for trying to exercise your basic rights – and lumping the IWW in with terrorists is pretty unfair.

  • tomago

    Very well put…as a lifelong conservative, I believe the points you made are applicable across political ideologies. Political apathy is rampant in today’s culture, despite appearance to the contrary. Involvement in political issues can be measured by both activity and knowledge. Unfortunately, those often considered astute in other avenues, rely on self-appointed stewards to frame discourse and public policy.

    The daily demands on one’s intellectual and philosophical reserves can leave little for investment in what we believe. Even when we come across those that aspire to effect change, they rely on hackneyed diatribes, soundbites, and well-worn venues that affect a “seen it, done it” climate that fails to inspire others to action.

    Apathy, or lack of controversy, is falsely interpreted by analysts [professors and politicians alike] as a fundamentally contented society; misinterpreted as a consensus of a stable majority, rather than an uninspired collective conscience, waiting for a leader or cause to stir action…or at least passion.

    We find ourselves comfortable among those of like mind, and thus rarely glean much from whom we agree. We can however, learn much from those that challenge our beliefs, as this succeeds in having us questioning absolutes, or make us steadfast by comparison. Sadly, most current political discourse is simply boring invective by ideological janissaries.

    I hope your passion stays true, as the absence of “spurs-to-action” tend to inhibit participation in the democratic process. We then just abdicate our destiny to others.

  • Locke

    You tell ‘em! Nothing changes the status quo like an editorial in the YDN!

  • yalengineer

    I think all of the hippies went to Brown.