In February, Harvard University suspended its campus’s largest evangelical organization. The reason? The group had asked a student to resign from a leadership position because she was in a same-sex relationship, thus running afoul of its “character standards.” A month later, the Harvard student council voted to withhold the organization’s funding. Sohrab Ahmari comments:
The move is of a piece with the wider progressive crackdown against liberty on campus. But for orthodox Christians and other people of tradition, the episode has a deeper, and darker, meaning. For several years now, orthodox Christians, Catholics especially, have wondered whether it is still possible to come to peaceable terms with the liberal state. The debate has usually been framed in terms of intellectual history and genealogy, pitting thinkers who believe that today’s politically correct despotism is a perversion of the liberal tradition against those who argue that illiberal liberalism of the kind on display at Harvard is, in fact, the fullest expression of the liberal idea.
The former camp—those who have seen liberal excess as a bug and not a feature—has been the more optimistic. The “compatibilists” (like yours truly) argue that liberalism’s foundational guarantees of freedom of speech, conscience, and association have sufficed to protect Christianity from contemporary liberalism’s censorious, repressive streak. The task of the believer, they contend, is to call liberalism back to its roots in Judeo-Christianity, from which the ideology derives its faith in the special dignity of persons, universal equality, and much else of the kind. Christianity could evangelize liberal modernity in this way. Publicly engaged believers could restore to liberalism the commitment to ultimate truths and the public moral culture without which rights-based self-government ends up looking like mob rule.
The latter camp—those who think today’s aggressive progressivism is the rotten fruit of the original liberal idea—is more pessimistic. They argue that liberal intolerance goes back to liberalism’s origins. . . . Liberalism’s anti-religious inner logic was bound to bring us to today’s repressive model: bake that cake—or else! Say that men can give birth—or else! Let an active bisexual run your college Christian club—or else! . . .
With each fresh instance of liberal despotism, such as the one at Harvard, the compatibilists are likely to adopt a practical non-compatibilist position, even as they continue to revere the American Founding and all the myriad material benefits of liberal order.