I confess to finding this article a disappointment. It isn’t that I disliked the political views presented or the people featured. It is that I learned little of value.
The article is structured around three tensions: 1. Has conservatism been wildly successful or is it dying? 2. The unity, then disunity between four conservatisms (political, aesthetic, academic, and elitist). 3. Brief profiles of seven archetypal conservative leaders at Princeton.
None of these devices helped me to understand conservativism, its prospects, or the people profiled. I would like to think that their thoughts and convictions run deeper than the tweet-like quotes and sartorial asides shared in this article. The four conservatisms did nothing to help me to understand the rifts within the most consequential today: political conservatism.
To my eye, the author cheapened the conservative movement. He also missed some important points:
First, conservative activists are not alone in feeling maligned, labeled, and attacked. I attended Princeton with Sally Frank ’80. I can think of few people who were treated more maliciously and who were more alone in the world. We might learn more from an article that considers the plight of any person or group that chooses to tilt at windmills.
Second, the author seemed unaware of a fundamental irony captured in this article: In one breath, many of those featured rail against indoctrination of students by those with other perspectives. A sentence later, they lay out their own agenda for indoctrination, thinly disguised by terms like “shared values” and appeals to founding fathers.
For example, Yoram Hazony is quoted, “Enlightenment rationalism was the construction of men who had no real experience of family life.” Wow. Was the Catholic Church any more experienced in family life? Were the founding fathers experienced in womanhood, servitude, or poverty?
The author, too, shares quotes that are dismissive of pronouns and the experiences of women and racial minorities. He does nothing to critically examine these. I (a trans woman) have sympathy with people who are bewildered by the recent explosion in pronouns. But we are a long way from the 51,000 varieties of Christian denominations in the world. I find those confusing. Maybe the younger generation’s emphasis on pronouns is a sign of their rejection of all the traditional institutions (religious, economic, and political) that have vied to colonize our minds. That would be an interesting article.
I don’t mind that these people have different perspectives from my own. I simply feel that the author did little to help me to understand their convictions. Nor does he help me to understand where their movements are heading.
After reading this article three times, I finally put it down. I wandered to my bookshelf and pulled out my dog-eared copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I thumbed my way to a favorite quatrain: “Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument about it and about: but evermore came out by the same Door as in I went.”