What Liberty Demands

234 years ago today, our forefathers declared America’s independence from the British Empire.  For the support of that declaration, they pledged to one another “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”  And that wasn’t hyperbole – with their actions, they brought upon themselves the very real risk of death and imprisonment.

On this Fourth of July, compare that courage and sacrifice to the potential consequences of getting involved and standing for liberty today – some lost free time, maybe public embarrassment or the hostile words of your opponents – and ask yourself how many of us are living up to their example.

*     *     *

Further Required Reading: President Calvin Coolidge, “Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,” July 5, 1926

Speaking of Ignoring the American Founding…

Concluding NRB’s recent drug legalization debate is a post entitled, “This is What Happens When the Founders’ Philosophy of Government Is Ignored.”  Setting aside the fact that just how the Founders would have treated drugs remains very much an open question, it seems to me that, given another recent NRB debate, a reminder of what else can happen when America’s founding principles are disregarded is in order. (Content Warning) Read the rest of this entry »

Conservatism Can’t Survive Without the Pro-Life Movement, Part II

In Part I, I argue that it would be politically foolish for the Right to further backpedal or abandon the pro-life cause. Here I want to make the case that the right to life truly is inseparable both from core conservatism and from any meaningful effort to advance conservative ideas—that, in fact, pro-abortion tendencies actually endanger the prospects of those who value limited government, the free market, and strong national defense.

As I explained on June 15, abortion is an affront to the Declaration of Independence. As the unjust taking of a human life, it is wrong for the same reason slavery, theft, assault, honor killings, rape, eminent domain abuse, and individual health insurance mandates are wrong: they are all violations of human liberty and natural rights.  Accordingly, society justly protects its citizens from them via law for the same reason.  As long as conservatism still “holds these truths to be self-evident” that all men have “certain unalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and as long as conservatism still accepts that “governments are instituted among men” for the purpose of “secur[ing] these rights,” then philosophically-consistent conservatives have no choice but to oppose legalized abortion. Nobody can support abortion in good conscience without either honestly confronting this conundrum head-on, or asking himself what definition of “conservatism” he’s been operating under all this time.

That pro-choice views are an egregious exception to conservatives’ and libertarians’ pro-liberty rhetoric should be obvious. What may be less obvious—but is no less true—is that such dubious thinking cannot help but undermine other core conservative principles and efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

Pop-Quiz for Paulites

Who was the first president to go to war without making a formal declaration of war?

George W. Bush?  Nope.

Give up? Read the rest of this entry »

Lincoln Derangement Syndrome

Somebody named JD Longstreet is very, very upset that Southerners and Southern history are not given the respect they deserve in the media, schools and commentary class (hat tip to Ol’ Broad).  Given the Left’s infernal obsession with casting conservative views and traditional American values as racist, I would be inclined to sympathize with him…except for the fact that his post rapidly devolves into an unhinged, duplicitous tirade that is guilty of the very historical revisionism Longstreet claims to oppose.

Because I apparently didn’t have enough better to occupy my time with tonight, I decided to conduct a closer examination of this post.  Click on through to check out my findings – if you dare: Read the rest of this entry »

Conservatism Must Not Abandon the Cultural Front (Updated)

My NewsReal colleague David Swindle has been debating Pajamas Media’s Mary Grabar on the subject of drug legalization.  I side with the arguments made by Grabar, Ann Coulter, and others against legalizing drugs, but I’ve honestly never cared enough about the issue to explore it in depth.

I know there’s an argument that true conservatives should recognize that arresting people for voluntary drug use goes beyond the proper role of limited government.  But y’know what?  We’ve got plenty of cases of government overreach and violated rights in this country that don’t involve destructive behavior—stolen property due to eminent domain abuses, innocent babies destroyed in the womb, politicians constantly looking for new excuses to paw through their constituents’ wallets—that frankly, the tribulations of potheads fighting for the right to light up register pretty low on my sympathy meter and priority list.

But hey, maybe the Founding Fathers really would side with the libertarians on this one.  I’ll read with open-minded interest David & Mary’s continued exchanges, but I have to strongly disagree with one of David’s assertions:

John McCain lost to Barack Obama because of politics, not culture. Obama was a more exciting candidate who ran a much more effective campaign. It’s that simple.

A conservatism that can win is one which understands itself and defines itself as a political movement, not a cultural one. To do otherwise is to begin to destroy a functioning coalition that has been vital to defending America since Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ronald Reagan brought it together in the 20th century. Conservatism must take the same approach to culture as the Constitution does — neutrality. Such an attitude worked for the document which has guided and protected our country for centuries and it will work for the Movement who has the same objective.

Far be it from me to read too much into the defeat of John McCain, the poster boy for almost everything a Republican shouldn’t be.  2008 was the culmination of years of GOP incompetence and lack of principle, and for reasons completely unrelated to ideology, Barack Obama was perfectly positioned to seize upon it.

But it’s another thing entirely to assume that culture played no part in Obama’s ascendance.  A culture that worships gratification (particularly sexual) without responsibility or constraints, that believes truth is personal and relativistic rather than grounded in permanent wisdom, that has been conditioned to expect everyone else to provide for their every need and clean up after their every mistake, that sneers at traditional morality and religious belief…these trends and attitudes cannot help but play into the Left’s hands.

Simply put, a narcissistic, relativistic, secular, ignorant culture will always be receptive to a political movement that promises to give them things paid for with other people’s money, affirms their “if it feels good, do it” mentality, and assures them that supporting statism and “environmental consciousness” are the only forms of morality or compassion they’ll ever really need.

A conservatism that disregards our culture will not win; indeed, its political prospects will only diminish further still.  I grew up in a public school system completely dominated by the Left.  I have seen time after time how easily the average apolitical teen, bereft of solid core values and spoon-feed the consensus of popular culture, assumes the Left’s claims on government’s role and conservatives’ evil to be true, to say nothing of every liberal myth from man-made global warming to the military-industrial complex.

More importantly, I have seen the Right’s feeble response.  This is a battle in which the conservative movement is largely—and the Republican Party is completely—AWOL.  How many conservatives are formulating strategies to break the Left’s stranglehold on education, both K-12 and college?  How many are drawing attention to the corruption of Church teachings on compassion?  How many on Capitol Hill are challenging the Left’s poisonous sexual dogma, or publicly illustrating the connection between the Democrat Party and the cultural forces it cultivates and feeds upon?

Republican electoral failures cannot be attributed to a nonexistent emphasis on culture; indeed, it’s far more likely that our woes are intimately tied to our dereliction of duty on this front.  The same old tactics—conservatives talking to the same radio audiences, writing in the same magazines, and posting on the same blogs, all mostly to each other—will win converts to the Right from time to time, but not in numbers that can even begin to compare to how many people are unwittingly fed liberal presuppositions about the world by stealth in their schools, TV shows, music, and churches, all of which form an echo chamber, reaffirming the messages for one another.

Republican strategists tend to think short-term: what will get us back into power in the next couple election cycles? Say what you want about Democrats (Lord knows I’ve said plenty), but they see the big picture, and play for keeps.  Conservatives need to open their eyes to it, as well, and settle in for the long haul. Any real, lasting return to the conservative values of the American Founding will require comprehensive strategies and solid commitments to oppose liberal encroachments on every front.

David invoked President Reagan in his post; let me conclude by doing the same.  In his Farewell Address to the American people, Reagan said:

I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins.

UPDATE: David has responded here. It seems the differences between our positions are less than they initially appeared, and I certainly agree with his central point, that the force of law is not an instrument of value enforcement.  I’ll have more thoughts later, but thanks to David for his thoughtful reply.

Exposing the Left’s Progressive Roots

“If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

Thomas Jefferson, 1802

“I believe in the people: in their honesty and sincerity and sagacity; but I do not believe in them as my governors.”

Woodrow Wilson, 1891

*          *          *

Last weekend I wrote about American conservatism as the intellectual legacy of the finest political thinkers from the Enlightenment onward.  On Thursday I highlighted the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville & Abraham Lincoln.  Back in May I editorialized about the role of religion in American heritage.  Now it’s time to look at the other side of the coin: the foundations of American liberalism.

What’s In a Name?

Let’s start with a common area of confusion: the use of the term “liberal” to describe the American Left.  Common usage of “liberal” and “conservative” often identifies the former with a willingness to try new things and the latter with a desire to preserve that which came before.  This isn’t terribly useful when applied to politics (who among us is a down-the-line supporter the old just because it’s old, or the new just because it’s new?), but it does speak to one aspect of each ideology: conservatism seeks to preserve the principles of the American founding, while liberalism discards the founding in favor of newer ideas.  But this is also what makes “liberal” such a misleading moniker for left-wing thought: it suggests a relationship to the classical liberalism espoused by the Founding Fathers where none exists; in fact, modern liberalism is largely a rejection of classical liberalism.

Classical Liberalism’s Lockean Foundations

The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by 17th-century English philosopher John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government.  (Other thinkers, such as Montesquieu, played significant roles as well, but here we’ll elaborate on Locke, so we can understand progressivism’s repeated self-proclaimed deviations from Lockean thought.)  Locke first asked the reader to envision a theoretical state of nature in which we can observe man as he is essentially, outside of government.  This shows us two things: first, all men are equal in that none can be seen to have any sort of divine claim to rule over any other; and second, all men have perfect freedom over their own lives, liberty & property, and perfect freedom to defend them with whatever force they see fit.  But if everyone were to carry out justice on their own, the resulting chaos would be intolerable.  So to live in peace, men form a social compact with one another, in which they surrender to whole, in the form of government, the right to judge & punish transgressions against their rights.  Accordingly, the Founders crafted a government based on immutable principles of justice instituted among men for the sole purpose of securing the people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hegelianism

The early progressives were largely inspired by 19th-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel’s The Philosophy of History.  Hegel envisioned history as a transcendent, almost conscious, force, which is moving on a set course toward freedom, its every turn for the better, even if we can’t see the benefit. He defined freedom not as free reign over one’s own life, liberty & property, but as liberation from dependence on any material need outside of one’s self, a dependence which corrupts the individual’s will.  History has a rational, universal will that acts through the passions of people (not their reason), and can be discerned through the State, whose will is pure because it isn’t tainted by dependence on anything external.  The universal will is not to be confused with the majority’s will, which is no more than a collection of impure individual interests.  We become free to the extent that we recognize the universal will and adjust our personal wills accordingly, thereby becoming pure.  Hegel rejected Locke’s state of nature and determined that, because history is constantly moving to truer, better things, no political principles are truly universal; they are temporary, good for their time only until their usefulness to history is exhausted and they are replaced with something new.

Progressivism

Key texts—Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings and American Progressivism: A Reader, edited by Ronald Pestritto, The Promise of American Life and Progressive Democracy by Herbert Croly, Liberalism and Social Action by John Dewey.

President Woodrow Wilson echoed Hegel’s rejection of Locke—he saw no state of nature in which man enjoyed perfect freedom, concluding instead that, since only government can ensure freedom, government must also be the source of freedom.  Wilson also rejected Lockean social compact theory—he thought government had its roots in, and was essentially an enlarged or evolved version of, the family.  Wilson believed that our moral identity was defined by the relationships we make with one another, and consequently, man had no real moral standing outside of the state.  He fully embraced Hegel’s conceptions of temporary truth and historical progress working through passion—he rejected Aristotle’s observation that governments could revert to older & corrupted forms, instead believing that democracy was here to stay and that history would essentially iron out whatever kinks arose along the way for us.

He stressed that democracy was not government by consent of the governed (political questions were far too complex, and personal interests much too diverse, for this to be a realistic plan), but government by recognition of the universal will, as discerned and enacted by an unelected expert class trained in policymaking (as professionals attuned solely to this purpose, their will is pure).  Incredibly, President Wilson claimed the Declaration of Independence’s political assertions did “not afford a general theory of government to formulate policies upon.”  He believed there is “no doubt we are meant to have liberty, but each generation must form its own conception of what liberty is,” and saw the relationship between the individual and the government as a scale of competing privileges (not rights), which may be readjusted from time to time, as circumstances dictate.  In accordance with the Hegelian conception of freedom, Wilson saw government regulation in private affairs such as property & income not as meddling in the rights of some, but as removing artificial constraints on people.

Herbert Croly, former editor of the New Republic & influential progressive thinker, likened history to a journey in the dark.  Like a torch, the limited knowledge we possess at any given time only lights part of our path, and our temporary itinerary (latest political system) should never be confused for a complete map (final, eternal truth).  He embraced the universal will conception of democracy and the idea that the individual only gains meaning as part of a society, and spoke at length about how democracy’s true task was the equal distribution of society’s benefits.  Croly saw the individual’s dependence on income as an impurity in his will; a burden which forced everyone into the same material-gain mold and stifled individuality; therefore, it was the state’s task to liberate man from the profit motive, so man can pursue his dreams solely for their own sake.  In one of progressivism’s most drastic departures from classical liberalism, Croly believed that, through the state, essential human nature could actually be improved (of course, part of his plan to achieve this involved moving the goalposts—he was sharply critical of any conception of God that emphasized behavioral restraint as contrary to liberty and little more than excuses for the preservation of old social orders).

Progressivism gave rise to the idea that merely having a legally-protected right to do something was not enough; rights also entailed a social obligation on the part of government to facilitate the ability to exercise that right.  It saw government as a positive good with a proactive role, not a necessary evil with a limited role (effective government cannot really be limited, and besides, ever-improving human nature will eventually eliminate the need for such limits anyway).  It sought to close the debate on what government should do and refocus discussion strictly on how to go about achieving it.

The Folly of Progressivism

A simple description of early progressive thought raises plenty of red flags, and exposes just how diametrically contrary to the American founding the modern Left is.  Its take on moral relativism has no substantiation other than “history has decided,” which translates to little more than “might makes right”; its complete confidence in history’s trajectory is an article of unsupported faith that would make the most dogmatic Christian cringe, and to believe human nature is perfectible…well, that would require us to, shall we say, assume facts not in evidence.

As should be obvious, the expert policymaker progressives envision is but a man, subject to the same failings as the rest of us, including self interest (surely, power and job security are interests in the public sector every bit as much as in the private).  Furthermore, as economist F.A. Hayek taught us, no matter how well-versed in a certain field he may be, even a well-meaning expert cannot possibly know all the knowledge necessary—the circumstances, needs, desires, relationships, and other variables at play with all individuals—to make just, sound decisions on the wide scale the progressive dreams of.

The progressive notion of freedom as liberation from all constraints is impossible to effectively put into practice; as their own writings show (and as Tocqueville understood), attempting to do so puts equality and true liberty in direct conflict.

Ultimately, progressivism is utopianism, a rejection of reality’s constraints in pursuit of a fairytale world free of imperfections.  The Founders were neither as naïve or as arrogant as Wilson and his comrades: to them, invoking passion as society’s chief instrument of advance would be the height of irresponsibility, and as James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”  But they knew angels would assume neither role in society.  They were acutely aware of man’s limitations, power’s ability to corrupt, and the need to check both.

The Picture Comes Into Focus

Bizarre though the stroll through early progressive thought may be, it’s also remarkable—once you understand the foundations, every aspect of the modern Left—their policies, their tactics, their dogmas—suddenly falls into place.  The Constitution as a “living document,” judges and bureaucrats as unaccountable experts with tremendous power, the nanny-state mentality from healthcare to smoking bans, the thinly-veiled contempt for traditional religion, the disregard for personal responsibility, the routine practice of assigning ignorance & ulterior motives to dissent—it all follows from carrying progressive ideological presuppositions to their logical conclusions.

Again, you cannot effectively fight the Left if you do not understand what they are, what they really believe, and what they’re capable of.  Today’s so-called liberals thrive on the historical ignorance of the average American, and they’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.  But relying on ignorance is a dangerous strategy, because you never know when someone might come along who knows better.  So take heart—the educated conservative is the liberal’s worst nightmare.  Arm yourself with the history of progressivism and the wisdom of our forefathers, and nothing can stop you.

What We Can Learn from Tocqueville & Lincoln

The following is a modified & abridged version of a paper I recently wrote after a week-long seminar here at Hillsdale College, regarding the wisdom of Alexis de Tocqueville & Abraham Lincoln.  Both men though deeply about human equality, individual liberty, and what it took to maintain a democratic society.  I think both are essential to a substantive, fully-formed political philosophy, especially today.

*          *          *

Having lost his grandparents to the bloody French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville knew all too well how volatile the passions of a people intoxicated by newfound equality could be, and as a student of human nature, he knew that belief in freedom, the essence of which is independence from control, and passion for equality, which can manifest as a desire to level the conditions of all, could easily come into conflict.  In the United States, equality of conditions reigned, but curiously, America seemed largely unscathed by democracy’s dark side.

In America, Tocqueville found several political and cultural influences that kept Americans agreeable to one another and obedient to their government.  The French thinker noted that the United States government had strong governmental centralization (the necessary authority of the national government to decide national affairs), but almost no administrative centralization (federal influence over the affairs of states or individuals), yielding an effective government whose proper prerogatives were respected because it generally did not give the people cause for concern about their personal freedom.  Tocqueville thought increased administrative centralization would be the biggest threat to liberty in democratic societies, leading to a “soft despotism” under which the federal government assumed ever-increasing control over the people’s lives in the name of providing for them.

On the cultural side, Tocqueville hailed several “habits of liberty”—Christianity, which turns man’s attention to his responsibilities towards others; civic associations, which teach men to know one another and to better govern; marriage, which calms man and counters excessive individualism; newspapers, which also promote social cooperation; and the doctrine of “self-interest well-understood,” or the understanding that it is in the best interest of every man to respect the rights of his neighbors, that his own rights will be respected.

Abraham Lincoln rose to prominence as tension over slavery reached its breaking point, with numerous southern states threatening to secede from the union to preserve the “peculiar institution,” and secessionists such as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens dismissing “the assumption of the equality of races,” on which the American Founders based government, as “fundamentally wrong.”  In contrast, Lincoln hailed the Declaration’s principles as “the definitions and axioms of liberty,” which inspired all of his political thoughts.  For Lincoln, liberty and equality were simple: liberty was the right to govern one’s self, and equality meant that all have an equal claim to the Declaration’s promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” regardless of race.  Lincoln believed that the Declaration established timeless, unchanging moral principles, as evidenced by his observation that declaring human equality had no practical use in the revolutionaries’ struggle against Great Britain, but could eventually be used to free slaves, as it would remain true in the future.  To Lincoln, slavery was an obscenity; he noted wryly that nobody who called it a good would think it good enough for themselves, and confessed that “whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Despite this impulse, however, Lincoln refused to support or enact any emancipation efforts that failed to pass constitutional scrutiny.  Though he loved liberty, he also loved “reverence for the laws,” which he saw as the nation’s “political religion.”  Slavery was unjust, but ignoring the Constitution whenever it suited one’s political desires, however noble, would be dangerous, for it would undermine the legitimacy of constitutional government and endanger everyone’s liberty.  It was this belief in the rule of law that led Lincoln to wage the Civil War to preserve the Union.  Lincoln understood that America’s peaceful democratic system had established ballots as “the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets” in the transfer of political power, and secession—the idea that any state dissatisfied with democracy’s results could simply ignore them and forcibly resist their enforcement—threatened to undo that great advance, and, if carried to its logical conclusion, would lead to anarchy.

Today, America is governed by an ever-expanding federal government, proactive in every level of society; and progressive ideology, which views the Declaration of Independence as outdated and the Constitution as a “living” document to be reinterpreted by each generation, is very much in vogue.  Tocqueville’s fears about soft despotism and Lincoln’s fears that Americans could forget her founding creed have both come true.  But we need not lose hope: Americans longing to learn the principles liberty needs, and how to restore them, have all the tools they need in the wisdom of our forefathers; we just need a renewed focus on educating our countrymen in their timelessness.

*          *          *

Further resources on Lincoln & Tocqueville:

Abraham Lincoln Online—has many of Lincoln’s writings & speeches

Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of America’s Greatest President by Thomas Krannawitter (review here)

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (full text available online here)

Generation Y Conservatism

David Swindle has graciously linked my reaction to his Conservative Chessboard piece on NewsRealBlog, but notes that I didn’t opine on “the piece on the board which he and I both fall into,” that of Knights and/or Pawns:

As those of us from Generation Y (born from the late ’70s through the mid ’90s) are beginning to emerge into the political culture it’s time to start the discussion: what will be our role in helping articulate Conservatism? What distinguishes those of us in Generation Y from generations past? What sensibilities and life experiences do we bring to the project of defending American Freedom that differentiate us from those who came before us? In other words, what is Generation Y Conservatism?

An interesting question, though one I’ve honestly never given much thought to.  I may be a bit of an odd duck among young conservatives (I’m a 22-year-old college junior, for those just tuning in) in that I tend not to think in generational terms.  (In fact, one of the things that most grates me about Meghan McCain is how every other sentence she writes seems to be “as my generation knows,” or something similar, as if there’s something intrinsic in youth that somehow confers heretofore-unknown wisdom on someone.  But I digress…)

Conservatism

I suppose a good place to start would be with what I understand conservatism to be.  With paleocons, neocons, libertarians, value voters, and assorted mix-‘n-match varieties vying for control of the Right, we can pretty much forget about pleasing everyone.  But in short, the conservatism I espouse can be defined thusly:

“Firm belief in the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the form of government established by the US Constitution and explained in the Federalist, the arguments for union and human equality made by Abraham Lincoln, and the observations about human nature and democratic society made by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America; and following this wisdom to its logical conclusions.”

This means that truth is neither bound to the passage of time nor relative to any given place or culture, that essential human nature does not change, and that the Founding Fathers were right then, right today, and will still be right tomorrow.  This means standing for government by consent of the governed, not the progressive notion of rule by an unelected, unaccountable expert class.  On the other hand, constitutional government also means that we have the rule of law to check the passions of the people, because there are things neither majority nor minority should be able to do to one another.

This means that all men are created equal, endowed by God with an inalienable right to life (from conception to natural death), liberty (free of government control over actions or property, so long as one is not violating the rights of another), and the pursuit of happiness (it is not the role of government to enforce anyone’s conception of morality; however, this does not mean individuals or private groups should be indifferent to such concerns).

I believe in the free market, low taxes, law & order (though I lean against capital punishment), the right to bear arms, and an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.  I believe in ending abortion, an injustice every bit as odious as slavery; and defending true marriage, an essential institution for a healthy society.  I believe that government efforts to provide for the people foster dependence on government rather than improve lives.  I believe in the separation of church and state, but not of religion and public discourse; like Washington, I understand that, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

I believe we should welcome immigrants who long to better their lives and truly join the American experiment, but not at the expense of national security or societal stability.  There is no “right” to US residency or citizenship, especially for those with no intention of truly becoming Americans or giving back to this country.  I believe in a truly color-blind society where all are judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I believe America has real enemies in this world, and cannot protect herself via isolation or appeasement.  I believe in peaceful conflict resolution if possible, but I also believe our words are worthless if our enemies know we lack the will to follow through with action.  I support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (if not their execution), President George W. Bush’s national-security and intelligence-gathering measures, and comprehensive missile defense.  I believe America must consistently maintain the most powerful military force on Earth, should never waver from her support for Israel’s fight for survival, and should never concede our sovereignty to foreign nations or entities.

Generation Y Conservatism: New Strategy, Same Substance

What, then, is different about Generation Y Conservatism?  For me, at least, its substance is unchanged.  I agree that David’s observations about distrust of non-government institutions, not putting all our eggs in the GOP’s basket, and distrust of elites are healthy, and should be aspects of everyone’s conservatism (though we abandon social issues at our own peril); but I’ve never understood these things to be lacking in past conservatism (inconsistently followed by self-described conservatives, yes, but not deficiencies intrinsic to the ideology).  Likewise, I believe open-mindedness is essential, but I’m always mindful of Chesterton’s reminder that the point of opening one’s mind “is to shut it again on something solid.”

Conservatism is that something.  I believe those who came before us—among them Locke, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Tocqueville, Lincoln, Bastiat, and Reagan—got it right.  We Generation Y Conservatives are the inheritors of an incredible moral & intellectual legacy, and our task is not to remake conservatism in our image, but to faithfully pass it down to the next generation and proclaim its timelessness.

Generation Y can contribute its energy, its vigor, and its familiarity with the contemporary “lay of the land” in finding the most effective strategies for bringing our message to the next generation.  We can keep conservatism attuned to the latest communication technology.  We can fight the stereotype that conservatism is only the domain of the old, prejudiced, and affluent, and show our generation that the Left doesn’t have a monopoly on vibrancy, fun, and individuality.  We can apply our energy to keeping a critical eye on those in power, fighting the Left at every turn, and holding the Right to its own standards.  We can remain ever vigilant for ways to show our generation the real-world consequences of liberal promises, and demonstrate how conservatism has already passed the test of time.

Perhaps our biggest contribution can be fighting back against the Left’s stranglehold on American education, from public schools through college.  The nation’s youth are, at best, given an education that doesn’t include an understanding of why the Founders established the country they did, or, at worst, actively taught falsehoods that tear down the Founders, slander America’s character, and distort the very meaning of freedom.  Leftist academics are reinforcing youth’s natural tendency toward arrogance and turning it into a religion that rejects the wisdom of the past and casts old, dead, white guys are the enemy—and we all know how well that turned out with the Flower Generation.

It is up to us to pull the curtain away and show the world the Left as it really is.  David is absolutely right that understanding the Left’s true nature—its origins, tactics, and character—is essential to effectively countering it.  If you think liberals and conservatives are operating from the same premises on human nature, belief in the Founding Fathers, or even the same definition of freedom, you’re in for a rude awakening (Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is essential in this regard, as is familiarity with the writings of Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Croly, and other works of the early progressives).  The same goes for knowing how they fight and what they’re capable of (many people have documented and analyzed these things, but of particular value are Ann Coulter’s Slander and Guilty).

In short, I believe Generation Y Conservatives can embrace and reinforce our generation’s potential while countering the arrogance of youth and fighting for the timelessness of truth, justice and the American way.

Review: YAF 2009 Student Conference

Me at the YAF Student Conference in the nation's capital

I’m back from the YAF Student Conference, and it was tremendous experience.  The impressive lineup of speakers covered nearly all the bases—social, economic, and foreign policy conservatism; what to look for in higher education, how to get involved in the conservative movement, fighting back against campus discrimination & indoctrination, and more.  I urge you all to watch most of the videos of the speeches here, but here are some highlights I think are especially noteworthy:

- British statesman Daniel Hannan gave a stirring speech detailing the devastating effects of socialism in his country, and imploring us not to follow down the same road.  Hannan spoke with a sense of clarity, purpose, and urgency that puts every single one of today’s Republican officeholders to shame.  It was clear that the only things motivating him were a deep love for liberty and an understanding of what is at stake—not political self-preservation or some arbitrary rubric of acceptable political decorum.  Further, I can’t describe how compelling it was to juxtapose the heartfelt ode to America’s Founding Fathers given by this Englishman with the tumultuous early relationship between our two nations—Great Britain clamping down on the liberties of thirteen colonies, who committed outright treason leading to bloody conflict in response.  Mr. Hannan is one of today’s finest testaments to the bond of friendship that our two countries have shared since then, and I pray that that bond may once again be restored in full.

Dr. Burt Folsom, Professor of History at Hillsdale College

Dr. Burt Folsom, Professor of History at Hillsdale College

- Irish filmmaking couple Phelim McAleer & Ann McElhinney screened two documentaries: Mine Your Own Business, a look at the environmentalists’ anti-mining crusade; and Not Evil, Just Wrong, a rebuttal to liberal lies about global warming and DDT.  Both films are devastating indictments of the Left, not only offering effective & accessible explanations of the falsehoods in environmental hysteria, but also revealing the very real suffering caused by Al Gore’s & Co.’s chosen policies.  I defy you to watch these films and walk away believing that the Right’s biggest problem is that we’re too “negative.”

- One of the most powerful events of the week was Friday’s “Socialism Rebuffed: Young People’s Experiences with Tyranny” panel, in which representatives from Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Cuba, and the former Soviet Union shared their experiences living under socialist rule.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and these four offered a chilling vision of what happens when not even the good intentions are left.  While listening, I could not help but wonder how many times mankind will have to run the same failed experiments before the lesson sinks in and we finally relegate socialism to the ash heap of history, and leave it there.

Me meeting Ann Coulter

Me meeting Ann Coulter

- A panel on the current state of the young conservative movement showed more cause for concern within the movement than was probably intended, thanks to a few words from Zach Howell, chairman of the College Republican National Committee. He stressed the importance of presenting ourselves as “calm and rational,” rather than “shrill and loud and, frankly, not too educated.”  In theory, this is defensible advice (and he was right about the example he gave—a few college conservatives celebrating Earth Day by idling their cars & wasting electricity for hours)—of course our message needs to be intelligent and clear, though it’s worth noting that it ain’t Buckley-style editorializing that has turned the tables on public support for ObamaCare, showing that while reason and prudence are important, passion is also important, as is recognizing that sometimes anger is not only warranted, but necessary, as in the cases of policies that hurt people or dishonesty from politicians.  It also begs the question: who on our side is shrill and irrational?  When asked to defend his assertion that “there’s a lot of shrillness and anger that comes from the right wing,” Howell took the coward’s way out, saying he wouldn’t “get into naming names,” yet there are “a lot of voices on our side” who are shrill and detrimental.  Why not name names?  Howell’s claim is only meaningful and useful if it can be substantiated with examples so that we can evaluate its substance.  Otherwise, it’s empty smear-mongering more suggestive of wanting to win the good graces of non-conservatives than clearly & honestly identifying problems on the Right.  One would hope for better from the leadership of the College Republican National Committee, but we shouldn’t be surprised to see this instead.

The main message I took away from the conference: Reports of conservatism’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  I saw last week a smart, vibrant assemblage of young conservatives.  Across America, scores of patriots are working to educate their communities, beat back the forces of liberalism and restore America’s founding principles.  But we need more.  No matter how much you see somebody else doing, no matter what the polls may say or how they change, no American should be content to sit on the sidelines.  The old adage that one vote can’t make a difference shouldn’t be an excuse for apathy but a clarion call to ensure that your contribution to your country doesn’t begin or end in the voting booth.  To quote Abraham Lincoln, “How hard, oh how hard it is to die and leave one’s Country no better than if one had never lived for it.”

The future

The future

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers