Racial diversity is a high priority for college admissions officers across America these days, and now students have gotten into the act. At Amherst College in Massachusetts, the 2002 student government Constitution provided special Senate seats , labeled "diversity seats," to groups that have been "historically silenced" on campus. Naturally, the Senate found itself with petitions from gay and lesbian groups, Latinos, African-Americans, and Asians. But they got one request they didn't expect: the Amherst College Republicans demanded a diversity seat for themselves. Student conservatives, argued College Republicans Chairman Theodore Hertzberg, fit the criteria for "historically silenced" groups to a tee. The evidence was clear: one registered Republican professor out of 160, conservative magazines torched outside the Editor's dorm room, and members of the College Republicans ridiculed and threatened. The discrimination was worse than anything blacks, Latinos or Asians experienced on campus. But the Student Senate, while granting every other application, turned Hertzberg and the Amherst conservatives away without a second thought.
The whole affair was supposed to demonstrate the lack of tolerance and dissent on liberal college campuses. The thirty-two member Senate, already dominated by a liberal majority, used the seats to add like-minded voters to the fold without the hassle of a legitimate election. But conservatives, the student government believed (in typical liberal determinist fashion), though victims of discrimination, wouldn't vote along the same lines as homosexuals, blacks, Latinos or Asians. So, no diversity seat. Case closed.
But it's not that simple. The issue isn't college partisan politics (after all, political orientation plays virtually no role in student government decisions), but the larger practice of affirmative action, and beyond that, the idea and role of diversity itself. College campuses, most visibly the University of Michigan, increasingly envision a duty to right the wrongs of the past by granting special privileges to certain minority groups. Their opponents argue, with familiar rhetoric, that the content of one's character cannot be judged by the color of one's skin. And within these battle lines, forming the underpinnings of virtually every argument for and against affirmative action, lies the fundamental distinction between modern day liberals and conservatives.
The defenders of affirmative action see the United States as a collection of groups, each with its own interests, values and claims. The job of the government is to promote equality amongst all of the groups, and this can only be achieved by taking from some and giving to others. Modern liberals have taken this a step further with affirmative action: instead of merely distributing material resources amongst groups, they now believe that an additional purpose of government is to reallocate rights. To modern Democrats, the art of governing is a constant series of redistributive acts: welfare, progressive taxation, and now, affirmative action.
The problem with this neoliberal concept of government is that it runs directly counter to the first principles of our nation. The founders saw the new United States not as a conglomeration of groups but as a community of individuals. The purpose of government, they reasoned, was not to create rights or to apportion scarce resources but to secure the natural and unalienable human rights of the citizen. The rhetoric should be familiar: our founders held these truths to be self-evident: "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The implication is obvious yet profound: equals should be treated as such, and thus affirmative action, a program built not on respect for the individual but on consideration for the group, holds no place in our constitutional government.
Unfortunately, the idea that without government intervention, certain groups would prosper at the expense of others has become ingrained in the liberal mentality of our day. To Amherst's credit, a recent constitutional referendum did away with diversity seats, but discussions are already underway to uncover other ways to achieve diversity. The goal seems to be a multiplicity of skin colors, no matter what the cost. It is time for modern liberals to shed their condescending attitude toward tens of millions of Americans. It's too bad college campuses won't lead the way.