College Republicans Ain't What They Used to Be

Discussion in 'Politics' started by William Joyce, Jan 9, 2010.

  1. William Joyce

    William Joyce Chemotherapy for PC

    Jan 23, 2004
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    Intellectually nimble, opposed to foreign wars that don't benefit us...

    Article is 4 years old but still probably relevant...

    I wonder if it's changed, given the rise of Ron Paul's popularity on campus and the obvious failure of the Bush/Obama approach of spend, spend, spend, war war war?

    The American Conservative -- GOP and Man at Yale
    November 06, 2006 Issue

    The intellectual dexterity that once distinguished campus
    conservatives has given way to mindless Republican boosterism.

    By Daniel McCarthy

    James R. Lawrence III doesn't look like a campus misfit. The North
    Carolina State University senior has the kind of clean-cut,
    buttoned-down appearance one expects of a major in biomedical
    engineering, a field whose academic rigors leave little room for an
    "Animal House" or Abbie Hoffman way of life. But Lawrence is more
    unusual than his demeanor might suggest. He's distinctly in the
    minority of a minority, as both a campus conservative and one who's
    against the Iraq War.
    In the eyes of some of his friends on the Right, that makes Lawrence
    really a kind of leftist. When he published an editorial for the
    anniversary of Hiroshima criticizing Harry Truman's use of nuclear
    weapons against Japan, one of his colleagues on the campus
    conservative paper, The Broadside, suggested he was its "token
    liberal." That isn't surprising--student conservatives across the
    country tend to resent any suggestion that U.S. foreign policy could
    be immoral. But it is ironic, considering that one of the classic
    texts of postwar conservatism, Richard M. Weaver's Ideas Have
    Consequences, was written in response to the horrors of the Second
    World War, including America's use of nuclear weapons. "The atomic
    bomb was a final blow to the code of humanity," Weaver wrote to a
    friend in 1945.
    Lawrence cited Weaver and Human Events founding editor Felix Morley
    in his article, but that counted for little. The young men and women
    of the Right aren't reading much Richard Weaver these days--nor much
    Robert Nisbet or Russell Kirk, to name two other seminal
    conservative thinkers critical of modern warfare. The time when
    Young Americans for Freedom wore badges blazoned with the slogan
    "Don't Immanentize the Eschaton" has long passed. Now College
    Republicans parade in shirts proclaiming "George W. Bush Is My
    Homeboy." The campus Right has almost always been more activist than
    intellectual, just as the wider movement has been more political
    than cultural. But where once students were at least familiar with
    the names Kirk and Weaver, or Mises and Nock, today they look to
    Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter for guidance. They're little acquainted
    with the wisdom of the contemporary Right's founding generation, and
    it shows.
    Campus conservatives are not just the future of the movement, they
    are its present as well. Alumni of the major right-wing youth
    organizations fill the ranks, and hold the commanding heights, of
    the institutions that mold conservative orthodoxy today. American
    Conservative Union Chairman David Keene is a former national
    director of Young Americans for Freedom. Ann Coulter and National
    Review editor Rich Lowry are veterans of student papers affiliated
    with the Collegiate Network, the breeder reactor of conservative
    campus journalism. Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff launched their
    political careers as leaders of the College Republicans National
    Committee, as did Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed.
    Reed might not like the look of today's conservative students.
    Journalists left and right have remarked upon how little they
    resemble the young Republicans of old; "there are plenty of ragged
    T-shirts, backward baseball caps and frayed jeans" among them,
    according to the New York Times Magazine, as well as the occasional
    instance of "full goth regalia." The Times labels them
    "Hipublicans." City Journal's Brian Anderson calls them "South Park
    Conservatives" and notes they differ from Ralph Reed on more than
    just sartorial questions: "For most of the conservative students I
    interviewed, traditional values did not extend to homosexuality--most are okay
    with state-sanctioned civil unions for gays." But
    that's a reflection of the mores of their generation rather than a
    sign of philosophical libertarianism, which appears to command as
    few Hipublican adherents as Kirkian conservatism does. "We have to
    use any and all means to defend ourselves from the terrorists, who
    hate the American way of life even more than the French and Germans
    do," one "mildly libertarian" Cornell student told Anderson.
    The odd nose ring or purple Mohawk notwithstanding, these students
    are best understood not as Hipublicans or South Park Conservatives
    but as something altogether more prosaic--College Republicans. With
    over a quarter of a million members and chapters on nearly 1,200
    campuses, the College Republicans are the superpower of the student
    Right. No other organization has comparable reach or influence,
    though a few nonpartisan conservative groups, such as the Leadership
    Institute and Intercollegiate Studies Institute, do have campus
    affiliates. The predominance of the CRs predictably gives college
    conservatism a partisan slant--a CR chapter is an unlikely place to
    find criticism of Bush from the Right. What's more, the CRs
    naturally put a low premium on encouraging students to read the
    canon of intellectual conservatism--whose works, after all, are more
    concerned with history, literature, and philosophy than with
    practical politics. From the point of view of a campus activist,
    "Why should I spend my time reading about Albert Jay Nock or Irving
    Babbitt, when I could be out changing the world?" asks Emporia State
    University Professor Gregory Schneider, a historian of the
    conservative youth movement.
    Promoting the party's candidates and officeholders--and, by
    extension, their policies--is the College Republicans' raison
    d'etre. For most CR chapters that entails steadfast support for the
    Iraq War. To coincide with the president's State of the Union
    address in January, the College Republicans National Committee
    organized "Finish the Job! Support Our Troops!" rallies on 130
    campuses and in Washington. Pro-war and pro-administration lecturers
    like John Ashcroft and David Horowitz are among the most popular
    CR-sponsored campus speakers. Horowitz's hawkish arguments made an
    especially strong impression on students attending the CR national
    convention last year. "This isn't an invasion of Iraq, it's a
    liberation--as David Horowitz said," one attendee insisted to Nation
    reporter Max Blumenthal.
    So gung-ho are the CRs for liberating Iraq, their enthusiasm
    sometimes crosses party lines: in July, the Princeton College
    Republicans offered members a chance to campaign for pro-war Sen.
    Joseph Lieberman in his Democratic primary fight against Ned Lamont.
    Yet there are at least a handful of antiwar CRs scattered across the
    country. James Lawrence was one; he learned the Broadside was
    looking for a new editor from an e-mail sent through the NC State CR
    list. Joseph Grigoletti, a sophomore at the University of
    Illinois-Springfield, is another. Like Lawrence, he's been called a
    "left-wing loony" by other conservative students for his views on
    war. "Most College Republicans," he says, "have never heard of
    Richard Weaver or Russell Kirk."
    There was a time, before the College Republicans became the biggest
    and often the only conservative group on campus, when students on
    the Right could be expected to know who Kirk and Weaver were. Young
    Americans for Freedom, the pre-eminent conservative youth adjunct of
    the Goldwater and Vietnam eras, was activist in orientation. But it
    included an intellectual component strong enough that members could
    identify the brands of conservatism to which they subscribed with
    such figures as Kirk, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Frank Meyer.
    And even earlier, the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, the
    first national conservative student organization, unabashedly
    emphasized ideas over politics.
    In a sense the modern Right began as a youth movement in the person
    of William F. Buckley Jr. When the 26-year-old Buckley published God
    and Man at Yale in 1951, the pre-war Old Right was very old indeed.
    Its spiritual exemplar, Albert Jay Nock, had died six years before.
    Frank Chodorov, evangelist of Nock's gospel, was 64 and within a
    decade would suffer a career-ending stroke, a fate that had already
    befallen H.L. Mencken. These cantankerous individualists were
    neither a movement nor, arguably, conservative. But they were the
    vanguard of opposition to the welfare state--and the warfare state,
    too. By the '50s, their tradition was in need of a new voice. With
    Buckley, whose book called for Yale to purge its Keynesians and
    fellow travelers and whose father had been an ardent America
    Firster, it seemed to have found one.
    Buckley became the axis around which newly devised conservative
    institutions could spin. One of the first of these was the
    Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, conceived by Frank
    Chodorov in the early 1950s as an alternative to influence
    Intercollegiate Socialist Society founded by Jack London. Chodorov
    invited Buckley to become titular head of this effort, which would
    establish a lecture bureau--at first, just Chodorov and Buckley--and
    distribute literature extolling economic individualism. A third
    organizer, 29-year-old E. Victor Milione, a Roman Catholic (like
    Buckley) whose thinking had been informed by Jacob Burckhardt, would
    bring to ISI an increasingly traditionalist emphasis.
    Within a decade, some 30,000 students had been involved with ISI. By
    design, the organization appealed to a self-selective elite, of whom
    "nothing is required ... other than that they read the literature,"
    Chodorov wrote. "Among the books ISI distributed to students, free
    of charge or for a minimal fee," Gregory Schneider notes in Cadres
    for Conservatism, "were Hayek's Road to Serfdom, Felix Morley's
    Freedom and Federalism, Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences,
    and Buckley's and Brent Bozell's McCarthy and His Enemies." Chodorov
    hoped that through ISI, "the individualist would become the campus
    radical, just as the socialist was forty years ago, and the halo of
    intellectualism would descend on his brow."
    Yet for all of ISI's success, another group would become the face of
    the campus Right in the 1960s. Once again, Buckley was present at
    the creation: the organizational meeting for Young Americans for
    Freedom was held at his family home in Sharon, Connecticut over
    Sept. 10-11, 1960. The gathering brought together students and young
    activists from a plethora of other organizations, including ISI and
    the Young Republicans, at the instigation of Doug Caddy--who as a
    Georgetown University School of Foreign Service student had created
    the nationwide Student Committee for the Loyalty Oath with George
    Washington University student David Franke--and fundraising guru
    Marvin Liebman. YAF was to be an activist group, an explicitly
    conservative alternative to the Young Republicans then dominated by
    their Nelson Rockefeller wing. Out of the meeting came not only YAF
    but also the Sharon Statement, a credo for the group drafted by M.
    Stanton Evans, 27-year-old editor of the Indianapolis News. The
    Sharon Statement was an early example of Cold War conservative
    orthodoxy, combining staunch anticommunism with the economics of
    classical liberalism.
    Early YAFers took their ideas and principles seriously. So much so
    that from the beginning there was tension between YAF's
    anticommunist and traditionalist side and its libertarians. The word
    "God" only made it into the Sharon Statement by a narrow vote of
    40-44. Before long, the New Individualist Review, a libertarian
    student journal at the University of Chicago, was questioning the
    military measures implied in the Sharon Statement's anticommunism.
    > From the other direction, traditionalist Notre Dame Professor
    Gerhart Niemeyer objected to the document's classical liberalism,
    which he believed, "divorced the public order form the historical
    world of Western culture, positive law from natural law, political
    theory from religion." But for almost a decade, the center held:
    membership soared, chapters proliferated, and YAF played a crucial
    role in securing the 1964 Republican presidential nomination for
    Barry Goldwater.
    War in Vietnam and the campus unrest accompanying it finally drove a
    wedge between YAF's conservatives and radical libertarians. The
    battle of ideas that simmered in YAF's early years became a battle
    of fists at the organization's 1969 convention in St. Louis, where
    bedlam erupted when a libertarian student burned his draft card--or
    rather, a convincing facsimile--on the convention floor. Fusionism
    became fission as the radical libertarians split from YAF. Some YAF
    chapters switched affiliation to the newly formed Students for
    Individual Liberty or the California Libertarian Alliance. Yet YAF's
    dwindling momentum and membership in the '70s owed less to the
    libertarian schism than to the decline of campus activism in
    general, according to Gregory Schneider. And as the conservative
    movement became institutionalized in Washington, YAF increasingly
    came to resemble the College Republicans. There was room in the
    movement for only one youth adjunct to the GOP, and it wouldn't be
    Then as now, there were few outright antiwar conservatives--as
    opposed to libertarians--on campuses. All along, YAF had been
    supportive of the Vietnam effort. The student Right of the '60s was
    well-read compared to the Sean Hannity generation, but what it had
    been reading was National Review, whose steady broadsides against
    the antiwar Left were more than enough to compensate for any doubts
    the works of Richard Weaver might have sown. (Weaver himself died in
    '63, too soon to address the conflict in Indochina.) The
    Kennan-esque realist conservatism of Robert Nisbet and John Lukacs,
    meanwhile, was still developing; neither man's stature as a giant of
    the postwar Right was yet indisputable. As for the
    anti-interventionist Old Right, it "was pretty much forgotten,"
    according to Schneider. "There wasn't really this sense that Albert
    Jay Nock or John T. Flynn had any bearing on [YAF's] thought at
    One exception was David Franke. "He told me that one of the things
    that drew him to conservatism was John T. Flynn," Schneider relates.
    Franke didn't oppose the war, but he did come out against the draft
    in 1967, and as editor of YAF's journal, New Guard, he commissioned
    anti-conscription essays from libertarians and traditionalists
    alike, including Russell Kirk. He won over the group's national
    board: at the '69 convention, although a radical libertarian
    proposal to support draft resistance was defeated, YAF did endorse a
    call to end conscription. But the draft was a separate issue from
    the war, however intimately linked they were. Franke later stated
    what, more than anything, sustained conservative students' support
    for the fight: "Because SDS and the Leftists were against the war in
    Vietnam, [Lyndon Johnson] effectively got Republicans and
    conservatives to back him in waging it."
    Much the same holds true today for the war in Iraq, according to
    Daniel Flynn, author of Why the Left Hates America and a man of wide
    acquaintance with the student Right as a campus lecturer and former
    organizer with Accuracy in Academia and the Leadership Institute.
    Flynn himself is a critic of President Bush's foreign policy: "I
    gave a speech the night the war broke out, at St. John's College in
    Minnesota. In pretty much every speech I've given since then I'd
    mention my opposition to the war in Iraq." In his experience, the
    campus Right is overwhelmingly pro-war because "it's anti-Left."
    Moreover, "students are coming into the conservative movement
    without the intellectual grounding, with no real basis for
    disagreeing with popular politicians" like President Bush.
    In making his case against the Iraq War to conservative students,
    Flynn argues that "it wasn't a liberal/conservative issue," pointing
    to antiwar conservatives and pro-war liberals. He also recommends
    re-examining conservative principles: "I would look back to the
    Sharon Statement"--with its emphasis on "America's just
    interests"--"as a clear and succinct statement of what the
    conservative attitude to foreign affairs is." But Flynn doubts
    whether the canon of intellectual conservatism provides much
    guidance for today's foreign policy: "The present historical
    situation is new. Even 20 years ago, no one would have thought of
    having these humanitarian interventions. If you're looking back to
    Kirk and Nisbet, I don't think you're going to find a whole lot. It
    wasn't an issue because there was little demand for intervention
    from the Left or the Right."
    Yet it can be surprising just how much effect reading Russell Kirk,
    for example, can have on students' ideas about war and foreign
    policy. The New York Times provided a case in point on July 31, in a
    story reporting on a Kirk seminar organized by Young America's
    Foundation, a student-oriented conservative nonprofit. The piece
    suggests both the relevance and ambivalence of the canon. One
    student, University of Baltimore senior Ann Lightle, concluded from
    her reading of Kirk's Korean War-era work The American Cause that
    the Iraq War was indeed grounded in conservative philosophy.
    Hillsdale College junior Matthew McCorkle thought otherwise on the
    basis of Kirk's Roots of American Order--"My impression is that Iraq
    doesn't have those roots," he said.
    Are both readings equally valid? Students who delve deeper into
    Kirk's life and work will find an answer. While he never openly
    dissented from the Cold War, Kirk left little doubt about his
    feelings toward more recent foreign-policy developments, saying at
    the time of the first Gulf War, "Not seldom has it seemed as if some
    eminent neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the
    United States." Young conservatives who turn to George H. Nash's
    Conservative Intellectual Movement in the United States Since 1945,
    meanwhile, will discover Kirk writing in a 1946 letter that "there
    is no tyranny more onerous than military life" and warning against
    perpetual war for perpetual peace.
    No single work by Kirk or Weaver or even Robert Nisbet--whose last
    books, Conservatism: Dream and Reality and The Present Age are
    strongly anti-militaristic--makes a comprehensive case against
    preventive war and interventionism. A casual acquaintance with the
    conservative canon wouldn't change any College Republican's mind.
    But students who seek a fuller knowledge will find little in the
    conservative intellectual tradition that accords with George W.
    Bush's view of the world and America's place in it. Increasingly,
    conservatives over the age of 65--including George Will, Milton
    Friedman, Jeffrey Hart, and Bill Buckley himself--have come to see
    the Iraq War as folly. If students critically engage the works of
    the wisest men of an even older Right, they too may be forced to
    conclude that George W. Bush is no conservative all--or else that
    Kirk and Weaver, like James Lawrence, are really leftists.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2010

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