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…)
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.