Jonathan Haidt

Jon Haidt Hopes Libertarians Can Save Us From Coddled Campus Culture

The social psychologist openly admits he wants to create a schism in academia.


Jon Haidt at SFLcon
Stephanie Slade

At the International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC) in Washington, D.C., this morning, New York University social psychologist and The Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt suggested that libertarians have a critical role to play in combatting the victimhood culture that's been exploding on America's college campuses in the last few years.

In 2015, Haidt and Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education teamed up to write a blockbuster Atlantic cover story called "The Coddling of the American Mind." In it, they drew attention to just how spectacularly colleges are failing to prepare students to think critically and deal with adversity.

Since then, things have only gotten more insane. Over the course of an hourlong breakout session, Haidt detailed everything that's going wrong with campus culture and how worried he is about what it means for the future. "For the first time in my life, I think this could continue to escalate to the point that democratic institutions start to break down," he concluded.

Haidt plugged Heterodox Academy, the platform he started to bring together scholars to resist these developments, which features resources students can use to encourage the administrators at their schools "to do three things: adopt the Chicago principles on free expression, implement a non-obstruction policy—meaning you can't shut people down. You can protest, you can wave signs, but you can't stop a person from speaking. And finally, please, university, give us some viewpoint diversity."

The goal of the project is, he openly admits, to create a schism in academia.

"We have a gigantic market failure where almost all of the elite schools are going down this road," he said, "but most parents don't want their kids to go to such a school. Now, the parents are never going to sacrifice prestige, so no matter how far left they go, parents are always going to want their kids to get into the top schools. But if credible alternatives arise," that can shake up the scary status quo. "So at Heterodox Academy what we're trying to do is really praise the schools that say, 'We're going to produce a neutral platform and you guys can argue it out,'" he said. "Chicago and [the University of] Virginia are two of my top hopes, because they have long traditions on free speech. We're trying to create a schism so that Brown and other schools like it just become ever more like viper pits, where even the students are saying, 'This is insane.' And the students at Chicago are saying, 'Oh, it's really cool. We can argue about anything.' My hope is that students and parents will flock to the ones that aren't viper pits."

Haidt then said he thinks classical liberals like those at the conference are particularly suited, and situated, to be effective advocates on these positions. Looking at research on how different groups are viewed on campus, he noted that "conservatives are poison. They're seen as just racists [like] Milo and Trump. But as far as I can tell, libertarians aren't really hated. The left looks at you kind of warily. You confuse them, but that's good. That's an opening."

"At Heterodox Academy we've noticed that there are not a lot of conservatives out there in the academy," he added. "What there are are libertarians and centrists. That's the main kind of diversity we have to work with. And this is not about having conservatives in the academy. What we need is to not have orthodoxy. So the more you guys can raise your voices and question things, the better."

Follow Haidt on Twitter for more on all of this. Follow me on Twitter for more from ISFLC.