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 firstname.lastname@example.org .