James Spiegel | Contributor
In his classic work On Liberty, John Stuart Mill notes that essential to the search for truth is that a person keep "his mind open to criticism of his opinions." He adds that, "the steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it."
Mill urged this point in nineteenth century England when the issues under public debate were very different from our own. But one thing remains constant across the ages: people in every community disagree about important issues, and those who affirm the majority opinion are always tempted to silence those who hold minority opinions.
Today in the United States the silencing doesn't usually take the form of outright censorship (though sometimes it does). Rather, it usually takes the form of intimidation and demonization - representing conservative perspectives as "hateful" or "mean-spirited," characterizing liberal perspectives as "idiotic" or "evil," or branding views on either side as "extremist." This is unfortunate, because such condemnations diminish our capacity for thoughtful discussion and debate. Of course, this is not to say there is no place for strongly argued critique. On the contrary, this is essential to public discourse. But dismissive epithets are not reasoned critiques. Critical discourse - careful arguments, definitively stated positions, and incisive critiques - are especially crucial to the health of a university community, where teaching and modeling critical thinking skills are our intellectual lifeblood. This is no less true at a Christian university like Taylor, as Scripture is replete with examples of firm stances, bold argumentation and strong critiques, offered by numerous biblical writers and even Jesus himself. These are sometimes shocking to our anxious modern sensibilities and the pervasive coddling culture of safe spaces and trigger warnings. We must nonetheless strive to emulate our spiritual forbears insofar as we, too, deploy the tools of critical rational discourse in our quest for greater understanding. It is with this aim in view that those of us on the Res Publica team have resumed our posting of articles on assorted issues this semester - every Monday until finals week. We are excited to bring you essays on such issues as social justice (posted earlier this week), abortion, socialism, viewpoint diversity and the conservative political tradition. We are moral and political conservatives, and, since Taylor is a conservative Christian college, our perspective tends to synch well with those of many, if not most, members of our community. However, at any Christian college there is a contingent of advocates of alternative views on various issues. And that's good, appropriate and healthy. No liberal arts college should be monolithic in its opinions on all issues. We don't desire our perspective to be the only one represented at Taylor. After all, we could be wrong! But we do want it to have more substantial representation in the form of rigorous critical discussion, especially during these days of cultural turmoil when conservative views are increasingly under fire from many quarters of cultural influence. Hopefully this gives you a better sense of our rationale for Res Publica. We invite you to check out our posts at www.the-res-publica.org. You may also submit a piece of your own, whether supportive, critical, or completely independent of our perspectives. Or, if you prefer, pay no attention to us. We are, after all, the conservative voice you are free to ignore. James Spiegel, TU professor of philosophy and religion, is one of the founders of Res Publica - email@example.com