Our Libertarian Future

by Patrick J. Deneen on February 17, 2012 · 2 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

I was invited by the good people at “Minding the Campus” to write a response to the recently released 2011 American Freshman Survey. My brief essay is now available on their website, and might be of some interest to FPR readers. My main point:

What the data also demonstrates is [not only an increase in libertarian toleration, but] a keen and intense emphasis on the self. Today’s students simultaneously urge toleration toward others, but also expect to be left alone. Their overarching emphasis upon individual achievement–particularly in the area of career advancement–suggests that the message of “toleration” and “diversity” seamlessly co-exists with a self-centered focus on material success and personal lifestyle autonomy. At risk is a cultivated belief in civic membership, a sense of shared fate and even forms of self-sacrifice.

One telling aspect of the survey has, to my knowledge, received no attention: while 72.3% state that the “chief benefit of college is to increase one’s earning power,” only 2% of current college graduates are enrolled in an ROTC or other military program. While likely career choices are fragmented among many possible choices (with the largest numbers of responses clustering around the choices of engineer, physician and business, together totaling 28%), only 1.5% responded that they foresaw a military career; 0.9% intended to enter government or public policy; and .1% stated an intention to become a member of the clergy. As many respondents indicated a likely future of unemployment (1.5%) as those willing to serve in the military!

Several disquieting questions should come to mind: what kinds of citizens will these people grow up to be? What kinds of parents and what kinds of neighbors? They will likely be willing to leave other people alone–but will they care about others? Will they love? Will they serve? Will they sacrifice? According Charles Murray in his recent book Coming Apart, it is the upper classes (which will be composed by the students in this survey) that have largely abandoned any idea of trusteeship and moral and civic responsibility toward those who have not won the meritocratic sweepstakes. The survey suggests that this divide will only deepen in coming years.

I fear that we are not ushering in a utopia of toleration and sensitivity, but one of indifference and self-absorption. Today’s young people have deeply absorbed the lessons that have been taught them by their elders. Do we truly think a civilization can persist when it teaches its young that the most important thing in life is indifference toward others and that the means to happiness is earning the most money?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Alan B March 5, 2012 at 7:38 pm

There is a big difference between indifference towards others and tolerance/respect for diversity. You seem to be equating the two and issuing a false red alert as a result.

avatar Tom April 18, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I wanted to respond to your article as a current college student and a member of the generation you are describing.

Why am I going to college? Yes, I want to make more money. More money means more choices and more control over what I do in my life, and what I can offer my family. But does the fact that I want to earn more money, broaden my options in life, and control more of what I do make me somehow selfish and indifferent toward others? Of course not. I see no logical connection between the two at all.

This semester, in addition to working 8 hours and attending class for 18 hours per week, I also volunteered in my community for 40 hours. I spent a portion of my money, despite my measly paycheck, on supporting various local causes and charities. I like being able to choose where my money goes. More money, again, gives me more options. You wrongly assume that I will then choose to squander all the money on myself. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I believe people should be able to live whatever life they want, without the government telling them what to do. I may disagree with everything they do, but the most I should be allowed to do (so long as they are not violating the rights of others of course) is persuade them to change and provide arguments and reasons for doing so.

As for the military, this should come as no surprise. The United States is currently involved in so-called “conflicts” in Iraq (we are still there, the pull out is hyped up), Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and have a military presence in 2/3 of the worlds countries. Why anybody would want to volunteer to be part of such an expensive monstrosity is beyond me. The best way to defend America to stop trying to get involved in every international conflict.

I will love, I will serve, and I will sacrifice. But I will not let some arbitrary law or ruler or anyone else control my decisions.

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