“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days,” the great Solzhenitsyn told America’s intellectual elite at Harvard in 1978.
It was heartening, therefore, to read a letter of “Advice to Students in a Time of Strife,” published by First Things in late August; it was an open letter to students signed by 15 academics on the faculty of Princeton, including scholar Robert P. George. The letter addressed itself to students “whose beliefs are out of step with the dominant opinion on campus,” warning them that “sooner or later, if you think for yourself, you will contravene the reigning orthodoxy.” Its authors adopt an encouraging but practical tone, advising students to “stand your ground” and “hold your college or university to its own professed commitments to fairness.” Force of argument and the power of reason, they assure students, are “powerful tools.” While neither will get instant results, “both will work provided you maintain your composure, remain persistently polite, and never stop pushing back.”
It’s good to hear voices calling for courage. Since the brilliant signatories of this letter praise the critical exchange of ideas, I trust they will look tolerantly upon my only moderately lettered opinion: their advice is inadequate for the situation students face today.