At Princeton this week-end a national conference of college undergraduates will attempt to focus student opinion on the impending world court issue. Whatever its outcome, the experience probably will be a valuable one for the delegates themselves, and it is even conceivable that a certain force of intelligent thought may be brought to bear on Congress in its approaching decision of the question.
But however this may be, considerable significance attaches to the meeting as the single manifestation of recent years of the stirring of student interest in a political controversy.
Perhaps no other phenomenon of the post-war college generation is of greater import than this disappearance of undergraduate concern in matters of politics, government, economics, and social justice. A decade ago the philosophy of liberalism possessed a powerful appeal to college men; even radicals like Scott Nearing and William Z. Foster had their adherents by the thousand. But the post-war period has thrown these ideals into the discard, and students now have turned to other fields of thought. If the students of today are the leaders of tomorrow, as so often is alleged, then these facts augur poorly for the country's future leadership.
But in this respect, the college world is only a miniature of the nation at large, and Europe as well. War and reconstruction have discredited liberalism as a philosophy of government; nowhere is it in power. Only politicians pay even lip service to Demos. The prevailing method of government is the dictatorship of a single strong man or of an intelligent minority which maintains itself in power by obscurantist tactics.
Nor is this situation surprising. Majorities have proved themselves poor rulers; easily controlled by those clever enough, and wealthy enough to pay the advertising rates for propaganda; incapable of choosing able leaders, or making sound decisions on any but the broadest questions of policy. When the Machiavellian doctrines of the obscurantist replace the high ideals of democracy, small wonder that college undergraduates lose interest. International peace is almost the only field of thought remaining where ideals have any standing. If the Princeton conference represents an authentic manifestation of student interest in the world court, it is at least one encouraging symptom promising thoughtful, liberal leadership in the future.