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Not-so-scary Larry

March 30, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

On Wednesday, conservative economist Larry Lindsey ’76 H’93 gave a talk moderated by President Rose in Pickard Theater. The event with Lindsey, an outspoken right-wing pundit, and the discussion that has followed provided a model for the sort of productive and respectful discourse that can and should arise from events that challenge our campus’ political consensus.

In Pickard, Lindsey faced tough, substantive questions from both the audience and President Rose. The questions addressed Lindsey’s views on this winter’s tax bill, President Trump’s new tariffs, the role of the political elite and racism in America. Assistant Professor of History Meghan Roberts, reading from a section of Lindsey’s most recent book, asked Lindsey to give evidence for his claim that a number of societal ills, including racism, are in part manufactured by the political elite. After Lindsey offered an equivocal answer both to Roberts’ initial question and to a follow-up question, Rose pressed him for a more concrete response, which Lindsey ultimately gave.

Rose has, for the better part of his tenure as president, championed the virtue which he calls intellectual fearlessness. He has argued in a number of venues, including TIME Magazine, that liberal arts students must be capable of engaging with and challenging a diverse range of viewpoints. Rose’s actions as moderator, even more than his decision to bring Lindsey to campus, gave form to his creed. In essence, Rose asked our predominantly liberal student body to hear Lindsey’s understanding of the world while marshalling his own sociological and economic expertise to model serious engagement. Rose showed that intellectual fearlessness entails more that extending invitations to controversial speakers. To be truly intellectually fearless, we must join knowledge to conviction to publicly and honestly defend the truth. We have to enter the ring.

In the Orient this week, Professor of History Patrick Rael continued this work in an op-ed demonstrating the historical inaccuracy of Lindsey’s book, “Conspiracies of the Ruling Class.” In his piece, Rael does what professors urge us to do every day: to use evidence and hard facts to support our claims. Instead of directly challenging the morality or ethics of Lindsey’s arguments, Rael examines the basic historical premises of Lindsey’s book, showing them to be erroneous or at least incomplete.

As students, we should work to become capable of challenging each other and our intellectual opponents in the way that Rose, Roberts and Rael modeled this week: by reading speakers’ published work, researching their methodology, knowing the facts and finally, tactfully holding speakers to account when they make spurious claims based on historical distortion or pseudoscience. Armed with these skills, we can truly fulfill our obligations as students, leaders and citizens.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Calder McHugh and Ian Ward. 

 

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