A Student Comment on Social Justice, Rawls, and Chris H.

A Student Comment on Social Justice, Rawls, and Chris H. July 22, 2010

Professor H,

A student in your Political Philosophy course asked that these comments be forwarded to you since they could not fit in the comment box available on the Student Ratings survey:

This is from a student in my Political Science 309r: Special Topics in Political Philosophy. The special topic was “Social Justice.” No, this was not a response to Glenn Beck. His comments came out a couple months into the term and about 7 months after the topic had been chosen. The primary focus of the class had been, of course, John Rawls and contemporary writings about social justice. I was going to comment on the comment…but it is beautiful all by itself (I have only edited out my full last name). 

For the rest of my life, I will be grateful to Professor H for teaching me about the most powerful tools a political philosopher can use—smugness and sarcasm. Professor H taught by example, as well as by word. Dismissive snickering is far more effective than actual argument, as was vividly proven by the performances and demonstrations he integrated into his lectures.

Yes, Professor H. enjoys an abundance of excellent qualities as a teacher—his rather astonishing ability to understand texts he has never read; his pious refusal to argue (so difficult in a political science class); his ability to unite the class as a single, sulky, homogonous body of dissatisfied aristocrats (by applying the snicker method to any student who tried, however feebly or briefly, to defend—or discuss—property rights. Eventually such students were alienated, shunted into a corner of the room where they were remembered only when ridiculing them could further the day’s lecture. After a few months, they took to whimpering and shaking, groaning and rocking like Elantris’ Hoed, ravaged beyond sanity by the disease of having disagreed with the professor).

Yes, all of these are desirable qualities, and we enjoyed Prof. H’s abundance in them just as he did. Nevertheless, Professor H. is not without his flaws. The flaw that bothered me the most was the ease with which he dismissed the notion that God allows evil to exist in the universe as a way to test us, and the following notion that life is about choosing one’s own destiny. Certainly, I would never say that because God is in control we shouldn’t strive for justice on earth. This class was bafflingly unconcerned with justice—apparently slapping the word “social” on to “justice” stops justice from being an eternal good. The course proceeded as follows:

Professor H. presented the class with a problem: namely, that the world is an unjust place. Then he presented us with a solution: namely, that justice can only be achieved when a giant global government rises up, deprives everyone of everything, and dispenses resources among mankind according to the dictates of its awful omniscience. Then the professor retreated into the corner with the Hoed to lament the fact that this giant world totalitarianism seems unlikely to arise.

Alternative conceptions of just government were completely unwelcome. Alternative conceptions of the good life (alternative, I mean, to the conception of a human race which crouches in the dirt waiting for the next piece of food to be stuffed into its throat by an all-powerful public administrator) were mentioned only to be laughed at. The idea that one has a soul which exists in some way independent of earthly forces acting on it was briefly derided and then abandoned. The treatment of this was so brief that the entire occurrence can be represented here. “Some people,” Prof H. told us, “have this argument that says: ‘You can choose to be happy, no matter what your circumstances.’ Psshh. Well. Thanks. Great. That’s a helpful theory.” After this utterance, we returned to discussions of how we can use DNA tests to help us determine which students deserve to enter college and which deserve to be tossed into a dungeon full of starving wolves by way of punishment for not being genetically worthy specimens of our species.

The entire course revolved around H’s interpretation of Rawls and some lesser Rawlsian philosophers. Moreover, the entire course was in direct conflict with the notion (held by Viktor Frankl, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, C. T. Warner, C. S. Lewis, Hugh Nibley and a large host of thinkers far greater than Rawls) that mankind exists as an agent, not as a machine which responds automatically to outside pressures and commands. When confronted with this concept, H. chuckled but didn’t miss a beat in his lecture. He smoothly carried on with “ . . . clearly, people derive some kind of benefit from contact with nature, so the government should force them to go camping regularly.” Creating a list of activities which make us human beings and without which we are animals is ridiculous. Martha Nussbaum, of course, is the one who created the list; but it was Prof. H who would not allow any serious discussion of it. This entire course flew in the face of an earth history which includes Frankl’s discovery, made in a death camp, that love is stronger than death. It flew in the face of a human past in which Solzhenitsyn realized, while he was in prison, that there is an eternal ideal of justice. It flew in the face of a religion which believes that the son of God realized, through death, the fullness of his love for mankind. It flew in the face of our doctrine that we are free to choose salvation, eternal life and joy no matter what our situation, no matter the harm that can be done to us by other people.

It flew in my face with its refusal to let me say anything unless I was willing to sulk about the injustice of a world in which some people own sketchers and other people wear hand-me-down shoes from D. I. It flew in my face with its constant admonishment that I stop thinking and accept the hard “truth” that people are soulless and cannot be human unless a just government is created which allows them to be so. This class was nonsense. As a senior I’m not unfamiliar with frustration and disappointment. Nevertheless, I’m enormously disappointed that this kind of worthless garbage exists at BYU. Pl Sc 309 from Prof. H is an affront to God, frighteningly akin to Rome, fat-free milk and poser old men with dirty pony-tails.

This student’s comment may have been the highlight of my four plus years at BYU-Idaho and BYU. Thank you.

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