Fostering a safe environment for liberal thought

By Kat Sachs

Last week’s Mac Weekly featured an opinion article from Scott MacDonell, entitled “I used to be a Liberal, then I came to Mac.” I read the article, after being seduced by its provocative title that embodied a sentiment that I think many Macalester students have felt to some extent, and overall was unimpressed by MacDonell’s argumentation and critique of Macalester’s liberal loudmouths.

Macalester is an undeniably liberal environment. Liberal to the extreme. Liberal enough to make many liberals question their own values and perhaps even re-evaluate them. This is a sentiment that I have heard echoing in the halls of Macalester buildings since I was a freshman. I agree with MacDonell that at Macalester, the congregation of like-minded individuals allows our student body to overlook some of the key components of making a good argument because there is little resistance to or questioning of our “liberal” agenda. Awareness of these critiques is important to creating a strong student body of critical thinkers who have fully evaluated their beliefs and come to strong, well reasoned conclusions about them. Unfortunately, strong and well reasoned conclusions are not the only basis behind political leanings of either the liberal or conservative variety.
MacDonell seems to have beef with the fact that “loud and opinionated” liberals who “aren’t willing to put a little bit of care into [their] arguments” are able to dissuade others from listening to or accepting valid liberal arguments. While this criticism is valid, it is important to consider what factors do play into our political beliefs. I would argue that well-reasoned beliefs and arguments are influential but can hold little sway against the raw values a person holds dear. Appeals to values and morals, and not necessarily credible argumentation, have been the foundation upon which the Christian coalition was built and have backed the growth of a highly conservative sector within American society. These values may or may not have valid reasoning backing them, but they do have the ability to mobilize support among like-minded individuals. The level of care put into these arguments, therefore, is less relevant than the degree to which the cause/issue incites a moral reaction. As such, perhaps MacDonell should be focusing on what it is about liberalism that can no longer appeal so completely to his base of values.

I cannot deny the importance of coming to political conclusions using the power of reasoning and thorough evaluation of the positives and negatives of any given issue. I can however, find fault with a criticism of Macalester’s liberalism which fails to see the importance of fostering an environment where people of similar values and beliefs can congregate, interact, and feel that their values are not under constant attack.
Macalester’s safe environment for liberal thought pushes liberalism to new heights and paves the way for novel, creative, and better critiques of the broader social environment in which we live. Day to day immersion in this stew of liberalism can at times feel oppressive and even cause Mac students to want to reject the values of liberalism. Nonetheless, the liberal milieu in which we steep for four years while at Mac allows for and fosters a re-evaluation of our beliefs as well as provides a base upon which to rest the core values of liberalism.

While embracing the extremes of liberalism that some Macalester students adopt may not be for everyone, we should appreciate and foster the climate at Macalester which allows us to look past the dominant social paradigms. Furthermore, we should evaluate them using perspectives informed by and cultivated within a progressive environment that values liberty of thought and action, and equity in treatment of the various beliefs, arguments, and feelings held by Macalester students. While MacDonell may be unsure of where he stands on the political spectrum, his advice to other Macalester students with uncertainty in their political arguments to “just not say anything at all” does little to impel the social interactions that incite critical or evaluative thinking, foster liberty of thought and speech, or embrace equity among the beliefs and opinions of others. This is a threat to the very foundations upon which his abandoned liberalism stands.

Contact Kat Sachs ’06 at [email protected]