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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 10-29-2006, 09:39 AM Thread Starter
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Brainless in Seattle

GOP and Man at Yale

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.

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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 10-29-2006, 10:18 AM
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