Letters to a Young Conservative: Chapters 2-4

September 12, 2012 | Marian

I Think I’m A Libertarian (Chapter 2)

 After reading D’Souza’s first letter, articulating the difference between conservatives and liberals, the student Chris protests.  Chris identifies more with libertarianism,

A ‘leave us alone’ ideology that calls for the government to stay out of our pocketbook and private life. (page 11)

In his response, D’Souza notes that both libertarianism and conservatism desire to decrease government control and increase personal liberty, however conservatives would specify how personal liberty ought to be used, while libertarians would remain silent.

 … To defend freedom, some libertarians find themselves arguing that whatever people choose is always right.  But, one could only arrive at this view only from the premise that human nature is so good that it is virtually flawless.  In reality, human nature is flawed, and freedom is often used badly.  Conservatives understand this. (12)

Additionally, D’Souza says that conservatives view liberty as a precondition or means to choosing the good.

 Without freedom, there is no virtue; a coerced virtue is no virtue at all. (12)

However, libertarians view freedom as a sufficient end result.  Thus,

 Although many libertarians live virtuously, libertarianism as a philosophy is indifferent to virtue. (12)

D’Souza acknowledges that  many young people have strong libertarian instincts, and I agree.  I’ve felt the same flinch, the temptation to embrace freedom alone and simply let everyone’s choices play out unabated.  It’s messy to do anything else; it’s hard to discern when to curtail another’s freedom and when to trust an individual’s conscience.  I’d love to assume the world will just regulate itself, somehow.

But, D’Souza’s dissection of human nature is compelling; I see abuses of freedom every day – I think we all do.  So evidently, we can’t blithely leave ourselves to complete self-regulation.  We must meld some ratio of freedom and governance, together.  Wisely enough,  D’Souza doesn’t even vaguely hint at what ratio he might recommend.

 * * *

College Exploits (Chapters 3-4)

Having sufficiently discussed political affiliations, D’Souza spends his next several letters recounting insightful and humorous tales from his college days.  He begins by telling how and why he converted to conservatism at Dartmouth, although there were few conservatives there at all.

I don’t want to say too much about these chapters, lest I spoil your fun in reading them, so instead I’ll just outline a few high points.

I am not even sure I had heard of Dartmouth when I applied. (15)

My views were mostly liberal.  [But,] “I was by no means a radical…I was offended by much of the radicalism [homosexuality, feminism, anti-Americanism] on campus, but I had no coherent way to think about it or express my dissatisfaction. (16-17)

After joining the Dartmouth Review, he discovered “… a conservatism that was alive; that was engaged with art, music, and literature, that was at the same time ironic, lighthearted, and fun. (21)

… I proposed a break for dinner, and was greeted with the response, “We haven’t resolved the morality of U.S. foreign policy and you want to EAT?” I realized that these students, who were not much older than I was, had answers before I had figured out what the questions were. (21)

The first year, I was considered a moderating influence on the Dartmouth Review.  The reason I became radicalized is that I saw how harshly the conservative newspaper was treated… (24)

I am sometimes amazed to realize what social and intellectual renegades we were. We were not above using ad hominem attacks. (27)

Facing a lawsuit, being bitten while distributing copies of the newspaper, getting more than one professor fired, hiring a plane to fly over football game pulling an “offensive” banner – these are stories of a strategic audacity that effectively

Succeeded where countless tenured professors have failed’ in fostering ongoing debates on campus about free speech, affirmative action, the liberal arts, and politics. (33)

One part comedy and one part advice, these chapters make it feel like D’Souza is our friend, a peer just a few years ahead of us, laughing through his own candid storytelling while dipping into the chip bowl and drinking from a can.

Whether or not you agree with his impish tactics, these letters are an amusing and provocative account of conservative, collegiate pioneers.  Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss Chapters 5-7!

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