“And remember, no talking politics. Most of the people there will be liberals and you know how badly they react to opinions different from their own. Remember what happened last time.”
It’s really not that hard once you get used to it—bobbing your head up and down with a neutral grin on your face, tongue firmly clamped between your teeth—especially if the wine is good. But remaining silent in the face of a string of progressive inanities ending with the question, “Don’t you agree?” is nearly impossible. A friendly smile and a simple “no” never seem to suffice.
The room grows quiet as if someone just discovered a whiskey salesman in the middle of a temperance convention. Heads turn to the alpha dog, wondering whether he picked up the scent. He sizes you up before he speaks, gathering his audience to deliver a crushing rebuke, sure of the admiring glances that will be his as soon as he puts you in your place.
And then all hell breaks loose.
Like games of simultaneous chess or a bout between a lone musketeer and half a dozen cardinal’s guards, it doesn’t take long to work yourself into a fugue state of ardent disputation after you’ve parried the easy shots and your opponents realize that they’d better get their best game on. The good ones rise to the occasion—a delight as this is the only time you have the opportunity to both hone your arguments and maybe learn something new. The fact that this sort of thing never goes on in our college classrooms as impressionable undergraduates are fed a stream of unchallenged dogma is the saddest thing about so-called liberal education today.
OK, so we were never invited back. But it was worth it as I did learn an important lesson. As I said, these were smart people, frustrated that after an hour of escalating verbal fisticuffs they weren’t able to land a glove on me. But I finally got knocked to the canvas after making a point about the uniqueness of the U.S. Constitution when the university president saw his opening, turned to me and asked, “How many other constitutions have you read?”
Stopped dead in my tracks, I realized that my opinions on the matter were all formed by reading analyses written by others. I had never studied any constitutions other than our own. I bowed my head in submission. You got me there.
That next day, I Googled up and read 10 constitutions. It was an afternoon well spent poring over the blueprints for the world’s leading democracies. Sure enough, I was right. The doctrine of strictly enumerated powers enshrined in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution really is unique. Not that we follow it anymore, but such an experiment in limited government had never been tried before and hasn’t been since. I dropped a note to our host thanking him for a wonderful evening, and pointing out that, in fact, I was right.
“Yes,” he replied. “But you didn’t know it.”
And I still wouldn’t know it if I hadn’t spoken up. Keeping silent is the surest way to remain ignorant. Stifling intellectual diversity is the surest way to maintain liberal orthodoxy. As entitlement democracy teeters on the brink of ruin, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to remind all the well-fed people gathered around the dinner table not to take the bounty we enjoy for granted. If things continue on their present course, we may yet live to see it end.
Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.