Just Opposition

Among Aristotle’s many innovations in logic, the square of opposition illustrates logical opposites–contradictories to be exact; these relationships obtain of all general categorical statements. As introductory logic students often learn, most phrases outside of logic textbooks do not behave so logically and some–at times significant–translation is required. Take for instance the following contrast:

>Federal assistance to institutions of higher education was about $35 billion last year, so the schools flinch from the price tag on their gay rights principles, which in this case dovetail neatly with their anti-military prejudices. *The schools cite the principle that government cannot condition receipt of a government benefit on the loss of a constitutional right. The government replies that Congress frequently makes the receipt of federal funds conditional on the recipient’s doing certain things to further a legitimate government interest, such as recruiting.*

The italicized part is the alleged opposition. Before we get to that, I should note that it will come as no surprise to readers of George Will that the entire weight of his column falls on the government’s side and that his portrayal of what he takes to be the “academic” position is an obvious distortion (he doesn’t even bother to cite–let alone quote out of context–one of their arguments). It’s also not surprising that the column is peppered with the usual (and groundless) conservative attack line on the privilege of academia (my students–especially the many veterans of recent foreign entanglements will express surprise at his claims). My colleagues urge me not to bother with such arguments, and my friends tell me I expect too much of people. In deference to them I’ll not bother with these and other logical outrages.

The opposition, however, merits some brief attention. The school’s position rests on the claim that Miltary’s distinctions among types of people in recruiting is unconstitutional (some law students would not be welcome at their table simply in virtue of who they are). The government’s position as presented by Will hardly opposes this. Just because congress can make people do things for federal funds doesn’t mean that it can make people do anything or restrict their constitutional rights. The question–for the schools–is one of civil rights. Violations of civil rights by the government do not constitute a “legitimate” interest–such violations can never be legitimate as they violate the constitution. To insist they do simply begs the question (presumes what you’re trying to show) against the schools.

In the end, the government might have a good argument. But for their sake I hope that this isn’t it.

One thought on “Just Opposition”

  1. i am taking a momentary respite from the extant opulence of my academic existence to reply to this, so i’ll try to remain succinct. while will’s purposefully ignorant portrayal of the academy (of which, ironically, he seems to s consider himself a part, when it should suit his claim)is appaling, moreso is his completely Hamiltonian recasting of the givernment’s argument in these cases. the line used by most recruiters is the claim of equal opportunity; if a law firm can recruit in the institution, why should the military be excluded. this argument may be refuted on ideological grounds, but it makes perfect constitutional sense. we cannot exclude recruiters from the campus simply because we do not agree with their bosses’ foriegn policy (or lack thereof). these guys have a job to do just like the corporate recruiters-are we to assume that the narco-corporate structure is less insidious than the military? I’ve woorked for both and i’m not really sure! the point is that will readily manipulates arguments to fit his claims, be they the arguments of those he supports or of those he despises.

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