VISION & VALUES: Maintaining Liberty: A 21st Century Challenge

EDITOR’S NOTE: On January 25, 2003, Dr. Walter Williams delivered these remarks at Grove City College in the Sticht Lecture Hall at the dedication of the new Hall of Arts and Letters, a $21 million, 40-classroom building, which also houses the faculty of the Alva J. Calderwood School of Arts and Letters.

Parents, students, friends, faculty, Board of Trustees and Dr. Moore, I am honored to have been invited to give the dedication address for the new Hall of Arts and Letters building. I have had a long and warm relationship with Grove City College that goes back at least twenty-some years. Grove City College is a place where parents can rest assured that their children will be educated, be safe and get a good start along the road to intellectual maturity.

Reflections on the 20th Century

As we begin the 21st century, there are some reflections we might make about the century just past. We can safely conclude that the 20th century was at once mankind’s most brutal century and at the same time a century of mankind’s greatest achievements. It was brutal because of a war toll of nearly 50 million lives and another 170 million murdered by their own governments, not to mention the hundreds of millions living under cruel totalitarian regimes.

The 20th century was also one of remarkable human achievement that included unprecedented gains in life expectancy, health and standards of living, as well as technological advances that could not have been imagined by those who lived in the 19th century. As we stand just inside the door of the 21st century, we might ask: What is the greatest challenge we will face? In a word, I would say the maintenance of liberty. That’s where Grove City College and the values passed on to its students stand out.

Grove City College and a precious few other institutions of higher learning must survive, flourish and lead the way if our nation is to remain free and prosperous and recapture the moral values that made the American experiment so successful in the first place. Some of you might be tempted to think, with some three thousand colleges in our country, what is so important about Grove City College?

Higher Education’s Plight
Many college campuses are home to elitists who are out of touch with and have contempt for American values. Let’s sample some of the statements made by their professors and students after September 11, 2001, one of the darkest days in our history.

* Hours after the terrorist attacks, University of Mexico History Professor Richard Berthold told the students in his Western Civilization and Greek History classes, “Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote.”

* At the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, a teach-in featuring Professor William Blum equated the United States with the terrorists saying, “There are few if any nations in the world that have harbored more terrorists than the United States.”

* A student columnist for the University of Michigan student newspaper said, arguing that the United States deserved to be attacked,”… the actions taken by the terrorists on Tuesday are not completely unwarranted. We try to forget about the way this country behaves internationally – that we too often behave as terrorists.”

* A California Chico State College professor said that President Bush wants to “kill innocent people,” “colonize” the Arab world and capture “oil for the Bush family.”

* University of Texas Professor Robert Jensen said that the terrorist attack “was no more despicable than our massive acts of terrorism.”

* At Lehigh University, the Vice Provost ordered removal of the American flag from the campus bus. After adverse publicity the flag was replaced and the Provost apologized.

These actions and remarks should not surprise us, for they represent the prevailing attitude on far too many college campuses across America. As such, coupled with gross academic dishonesty, they constitute a betrayal by people to whom we entrust our immature, impressionable 17 and 18-year-olds. In many classes, U.S. students are taught that America is not only a racist, sexist and homophobic nation, but a terrorist nation as well. Moreover, according to the prevailing views on many campuses, the United States is an international monster creating world poverty and destroying the planet.

Western Values Attacked
Among their preachments they pronounce that Western values are no better than other values. This is where we differ with them fundamentally. Western values are superior to all others. Why? The indispensable achievement of Western civilization has been and continues to be the concept of individual rights. It is the idea that individuals possess certain inalienable rights. Furthermore, individuals do not exist to serve government. On the contrary, governments exist to protect the inalienable rights of their individual citizens.

Unfortunately, the idea of individual rights did not fully develop until the 17th century. We are indebted to English philosophers John Locke and David Hume for providing the West with such concepts. Only a few nations in the world, mostly in the West, honor at least partially the idea of individual rights. Their fortunate citizens enjoy the blessings of liberty.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. One need not be a “Westerner” to embrace Western values. A person can be Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, African or Arabian and still hold Western values. In other words, individual rights, although developed in the West, have a universal appeal. By the way, I would enjoy seeing those leftist professors whom I referred to earlier stand up and make the case for the moral equivalency between the Taliban’s treatment of women and the American treatment of women.

However, Western values are by no means secure. They are under ruthless attack by the academic elites on college campuses across America. These people want to replace personal liberty with government control; they want to replace equality with entitlement; and they want to halt progress in the name of protecting the environment. They use multiculturalism and diversity as a disguise for much of their attack on Western values. They pose a far greater threat to our way of life than any terrorist or rogue nation because they seek to undermine the ideas upon which Western progress is based.

Champion of Liberty
Grove City College stands in stark contrast to most colleges in a number of ways. It accepts no government money. Thus it has the independence to do the right thing by not having to compromise moral values in order to satisfy government mandates. It produces graduates with an excellent preparation in the liberal arts and sciences. As such, these graduates are immune to and can challenge the socialist propaganda that has become so much a part of today’s America. Further, because of superb management and plain common sense, Grove City College can offer its superb academic product at a reasonable price, so reasonable that U.S. News and World Report and others who do such ratings, list it as a number one “Best Value” or close to it.

This wonderful, new state-of-the-art building is just another tool which will advance Grove City College towards its mission of academic excellence. However, it is the people here – faculty, administration, trustees – and their vision of what a good liberal arts education is that counts the most. I am proud of both my association with Grove City College and the opportunity to be here for the dedication of the Hall of Arts and Letters building.

About Walter Williams

Dr. Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, a member of the Grove City College Board of Trustees, and a contributor to the Institute for Faith and Freedom. (The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Grove City College or its Board of Trustees.)

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About Walter Williams

Dr. Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, a member of the Grove City College Board of Trustees, and a contributor to the Institute for Faith and Freedom. (The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Grove City College or its Board of Trustees.)