Weightlifting is essential to liberal education. By forcibly closing gyms these last six months, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer opposes excellence and moderation. Moreover, she violates citizens’ right to peaceful assembly.
Whitmer should recant her edicts and re-open the gyms. If she will not, Hillsdale College should open them anyway.
The elevation of the soul requires the strengthening of the body. Socrates argues in Book III of “The Republic” that those who study only music and poetry, without gymnastic, become “soft and tame.” For the good of the soul, exercise must be mixed with philosophical and musical education. As Socrates knew, honing the body elevates and moderates the spirited portion of man’s nature, making him courageous. Whitmer, by forcing the state’s gyms to close, denies Hillsdale students their right to pursue a full liberal education.
Exercise and martial arts are political, too. The ancient Greek orator and diplomat Aeschines, in his speech “Against Timarchos,” notes that the Athenian lawgiver, Solon, prohibited slaves from exercising in the gymnasia and joining the palaestra, or wrestling school. Aeschines says the lawgiver, seeing the “noble results” that stem from working out, refused to grant such honors to the slaves.
Whitmer banned gyms for the citizens of Michigan for the same reason. She knows, consciously or not, what the gym represents — bodily excellence, strength, and spiritedness. Such qualities make men resistant to tyranny. Whitmer has reason to fear the cultivation of such virtues. Her interminable and unconstitutional emergency powers rest on the willingness of the people to tolerate her edicts without resistance.
Hillsdale stands in opposition to such usurpations of power. The college’s mission proclaims dedication to self-government, liberal education, and the American constitutional order.
By opening its gym to students, without restrictions, Hillsdale would stand for freedom. President Larry Arnn has already shown tremendous courage in simply reopening campus for classes. In a time when fear characterizes virtually every institution in American life, Hillsdale stands apart.
Reopening the Roche Sports Complex would be a victory for normalcy and order. It could also mean, of course, mobilizing a panoply of state administrative agencies against the college. But that is unlikely. Karl Manke, a barber in Owosso, Michigan, who reopened illegally back in May, achieved a total victory against the state’s seizure of his business license. If the state government couldn’t defeat a lone small-town barber, it is unlikely it could defeat Hillsdale College.
Additionally, Whitmer’s orders are already out of step with the rest of the country, as 43 states have already reopened gyms. Liberal education is worth fighting for. Freedom is worth fighting for. By reopening the sports center, Hillsdale College defends both.
Josiah Lippencott is pursuing a master’s degree in the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship.