We can see today the totalitarian impulse among powerful forces in our politics and culture. We can see it in the rise and imposition of doublethink, and we can see it in the increasing attempt to rewrite our history.
Colleges today are increasingly collections of hostile identity groups, each clamoring against the crimes of the other. Students are not invited to step outside themselves, to step outside their own time, and to look at things as they have been understood by the best over time. If they did that, they would then learn and grow not by invention but by discovery.
By constructing this Chapel, the College upholds the importance of its Christian roots, even as it respects the rights of each person to worship God according to his own conscience. Our country was founded on the view that a correct understanding of the nature of God and the human person is critical to preserving liberty.
It is a consistent characteristic of this country that we have always sought to rise above or move beyond the conditions that are given to us at birth—something not true of every people. To be an American is to believe that the status we are born into is never the final word. We have a spirit of striving, a spirit of hope that goes back to our very beginnings.
Academic institutions should be places where people are free to think and reason about important questions and issues that affect our society and our way of life—something not possible in today’s atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy.
The problem with identity politics is that it reduces us. We are no longer human beings with individual hopes and dreams. We are commodities. We are groups to be labeled and courted and pandered to. We have no shared values as Americans, because we are a series of interest groups.
These small lessons become the unplanned syllabus for learning citizenship, and your efforts to live them will help to form the fabric of a civil society and a free and prosperous nation where inherent equality and liberty are inviolable.
The chief purpose of a high school education in American history is as a rite of civic membership, an act of inculcation and formation.
The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Michael Ward on May 9, 2015, at Hillsdale College’s 163rd Commencement ceremony.