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Conservatism in Decay: Student Opinion

By: Andre Chang

My first real opportunity to view conservatism in action came about in September of 2021. An event was being hosted with various local Republican politicians along with US House Representatives slated to appear and give a speech to the youthful crowd.

As the reception began in earnest, a Congresswoman stepped onto the stage, microphone in hand, to deliver her inaugural speech of the evening. Starting with the standard tirade of “Democrats bad”, the direction of the speech shifted as she began to proudly proclaim that today’s Republican youths are the party and generation of cynicism. To my horror, the entire room lit up with cheer and applause. This hostility towards aspirational principles reflects not a sign of triumph, but a symptom of a deep sickness that has infected the very soul of America on both the left and right.

Some may ask: if not cynicism, on what grounds are conservatives supposed to oppose malignant and overzealous social engineering? Rather than focusing on what conservatives ought to oppose, the more appropriate question ought to be what conservatives ought to uphold. Only by providing a competing vision of the future that can appeal to the American imagination with a coherent structure of justice can conservatism once more hope to inspire a new generation.

When reading Federalist Papers 9 and 10, one cannot help but notice the Founding Fathers dedicating these seminal essays to the recognition of the dangers and past failures of republicanism. Even a brief historical overview of past republican experiments such as those in Greece and Italy prior to the American founding reveals an uncomfortable legacy of civil wars, tyranny, and anarchism. Yet despite this overwhelming mountain of evidence of past failures, the American Founding generation still pressed onwards to answer the question of ”whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

In doing so, can a party and generation supposedly comprised of cynics be able to conserve the principles of the American founding? If Americans wish to conserve America, we must resolve ourselves to rediscover what distinguishes our nation from all others. Is it a Bill of Rights? But so too does the authoritarian People’s Republic of China. Is it the holding of democratic elections? But so too do 191 other governments in the world. The only justification for American exceptionalism rests solely upon the principles of the natural rights philosophy. This theory finds itself grounded in our Declaration of Independence which Thomas Jefferson would aptly call the expression of the American mind and what James madison would write as the fundamental act of union of these states.

Unfortunately, the contemporary conservative movement has scorned intellectualism, theory, or matters of genuine reflection of the American founding; preferring instead to uphold traditions for tradition's sake, history for history’s sake, and patriotism for patriotism’s sake. But all of these shallow motivations can do little else but spawn shallow arguments in America’s defense and the court of public opinion takes careful notes accordingly.

Contemporary conservatism’s nominal embrace of the Constitution serves not to uphold the fundamental principles enshrined in our founding but merely as a pretext to rationalize their irrational prejudices. To these ends, contemporary conservatism has subverted prudence into cowardice and temperance into ignorance.

What is the inevitable consequence when cowardice and ignorance drive the machinations of statesmanship? The inconvenient truth is that the Constitution when isolated from the Declaration is marred with contradictions and when the political left justifiably points out the systemic flaws within the document, the political right has no recourse other than blindly defend these horrific actions of the past as “being a product of their time” thus further submerging a sinking America into a sea of moral relativism and nihilism.

To these ends, we must strive to establish a credible and intellectual defense of the unique principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence or forgo them under the intellectual failures of cynicism. The answer to this pivotal crossroads will determine whether American conservatism can truly conserve the soul of this nation or destroy it in midst of reactionary and revisionist fervor. Consequently, conservatives must ask themselves the paramount question: Why is America worthy to be conserved?

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