In concluding this survey of conservatism, our author takes his last moments with us to add two arguments, essentially his own:
Why Conservatives Should Be Cheerful
Among young people, there is the perception that conservatives are stuffy and lugubrious, and that liberals are easygoing and fun loving. (219)
This analysis resonated with me. Back on November 3rd, 2004, I saw Barack Obama give a victory speech. It was aired as network filler, thrown haphazardly on screen while panicked reporters hastily researched the Florida Recount crisis.
I’d never heard Obama speak before. With nothing else to do, I watched his whole speech, and was genuinely impressed. I remember thinking irritably, “Why aren’t conservatives this charismatic?”
I felt jealous of his optimistic-sounding rhetoric; it was truly compelling, even though I knew I disagreed ardently with his policies. And four years later, that rhetoric was compelling enough to get him elected President.
However, liberals aren’t actually as positive-minded as they seem, our author asserts.
The predominant liberal emotion is indignation…. By contrast, the predominant conservative emotion is the horselaugh. (219)
He argues that while liberals routinely whine and feel wronged, conservatives have a genuinely confident, hopeful attitude.
According to our author, there are several reasons that conservatives ought to be cheerful.
… Because we know that we are in the right, and that the right will eventually prevail. (220)
Already conservatives have won stunning victories… (220)
Conservatives have also discovered that a few people can change the agenda, and the country, with a powerful idea. (221)
… Because conservatives believe that human nature is flawed… they have modest expectations about people, and politics. Thus, when things turn out not so badly, conservatives are pleased. (222)
This letter wraps up with a ‘Saint Crispin’s Day Speech’ ending, a call to endurance and assurance of success – if not soon, well then eventually.
Since conservatives feel a bit discouraged right now, this may sound a little like the cliqued pep talk your dad gave every time your team lost their soccer game.
Still, he may be right. Now might be an ideal time for us to follow that parental advice, think long-term, and not hinge our morale on one election any more than we should on one soccer game.
Which Books Conservatives Should Read
To be an educated conservative, you must be familiar with the best that has been thought and said of modern conservative thought. (225)
Here, our author compiles a list of his favorite “books from the past half-century or so” which he strongly urges us to read, gradually.
He describes these works as “persuasive and profound” and openly states that:
Some writers who would not call themselves conservatives, including Margaret Mead and George Orwell, are on the list. (225)
It’s not a comprehensive list, but contains a wide range of genres and titles – from Witness
by Whittaker Chambers, and The Tempting of America
by Robert Bork, to Animal Farm
by George Orwell, and What I Saw at the Revolution
by Peggy Noonan. Any of these books can be purchased by going through the NeW bookstore
He finishes with a comment that made me smile:
“Finally, I have kept the list brief, because life is short.” (225)
Somehow, this phrase seemed like the perfect ending to this primer on conservatism. It fit with our author’s style – a bottom-line oriented, tightly prioritized approach to ideas and solutions.
Even more than explaining his final booklist, it seemed to capture why he wrote this entire collection of letters to a fictional student named Chris:
Because life is short, so here – have cliff notes, and a philosophical head start. Jump on in, kids. There is a lot to do. Get going.
This last letter felt like the baton pass, in a relay race.
I think every college student should read this, if only for the sake of mental stimulation and ideological broadening. Although no book could encapsulate modern conservatism in all its variety, Letters to a Young Conservative
is a courteous, heartening, and thought-provoking read which I’d highly recommend.