Online Book Club: Letters to a Young Conservative

September 5, 2012 | Elizabeth

Hello everyone! My name is Elizabeth Hebeler and I will be running the online book club this year with Marian Hoff. We are both so excited about reading Letters to a Young Conservative with you. It was actually the very first book that I read when I joined NeW over four years ago so it is very special to me. You are going to enjoylearning about conservatism from Dinesh D’ Souza. He has written the books Illiberal Education, The Virtue of Prosperity, and What’s So Great About America.

Each week we will let you know as to what chapter or chapters we will be reading for the following week. Some of you may or may not have started reading, so in this post we will just focus on Chapter 1: Conservatives vs. Liberals. I’ve added more of an overview of the chapter in case you didn’t read it yet. I hope that while we read this book you are able to offer great discussion so that we can all learn from each other and become stronger in what our conservative beliefs mean.

Many people will answer the question “what is the difference between conservatives and liberals” in different ways. One could say, red states and blue states. Others could say there are too many differences to count. And some will focus on a particular issue that is important to them and what their party believes. This chapter gives D’Souza’s response to that question is from a letter he is writing to a student after he made a speech at a liberal college campus, which resulted in protesting.

 The term liberal, in its Greek meaning, refers to the free man, as opposed to the slave…In their (the founders) classical liberal view, freedom meant limiting the power of the government, thus increasing the scope for individual and private action.

What do you think of the basis of the word liberal? Is it something you agree with?

D’Souza goes on to explain that classical liberalism went through two revolutions: one in the 1930s when Franklin D. Rooselvelt argued that “people who lack life’s necessities are not free.” The other revolution occurred in the 1960s, when,

They fought for a new ethic that would be based not on external authority but on the sovereignty of the inner self.

This is when the idea of being true to yourself was born. Can you see how the definition of being a liberal changed? What about conservatism?

 American conservatism seeks to conserve a certain kind of liberalism. It means fighting to uphold the classical liberalism of the founding from assault by liberalism of a different sort. Classical liberalism, however, does not wholly define modern American conservatism. There is an added element: a concern with social and civic virtue.

According to D’Souza the conservative virtues include:

Civility, patriotism, national unity, a sense of local community, an attachment to family, and a belief in merit, in just desserts, and in personal responsibility for one’s actions.

The liberal virtues include:

Equality, compassion, pluralism, diversity, social justice, peace, autonomy and tolerance.

What are three main things that make conservatives and liberals so different?

  1. Both believe in freedom, but a certain kind of freedom.
  2. Conservatives focus on equality of rights where liberals focus on equality of outcomes.
  3. Both political ideals have different perspectives on human nature. Liberals believe humans are intrinsically good and when things fail, it is due to society’s constraints so they seek social structure that defends and provides for individuals. Conservatives believe that humans have good attributes as well as some that are not so great, so they seek social structure that emphasizes personal responsibility.

What was your reaction to this chapter? Do you think D’Souza has the answer for what the differences are between conservatives and liberals? Or, do you have another difference he missed?

Looking forward to discussing Letters to a Young Conservative with you!


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