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What are young conservatives?

If conservatism is going to win again it needs to reform itself, etc. You hear this a lot.

I’m conservative, but I’m also young, so the side of this argument that interests me the most is the one unfolding among the under 30 crowd. There are a lot of young people who are anti-left in some amorphous way, yet hate the style of conservatism being offered to them by the mainstream right-wing political parties. This distaste occasionally manifests into one of the two following ideologies, which, near as I can tell, are the only uniquely “youthful” styles of conservative thought presently being offered.

1) Libertarian extremism that is never actually followed through in practice

Since the young people of today have been raised in a socially-liberal society, most of us take social liberalism for granted and cannot understand why anyone would oppose it. Social liberalism is seen as either supremely logical (for example,when it comes to gay rights) or a common-sense path of least resistance to fairly irrelevant issues (as in, being pro-choice but not necessarily passionate about what choice ends up being made).

A lot of young anti-leftists feel this way as well, and tend to get very bothered by mainstream right-wing parties who continue to put a lot of their intellectual energy into fighting gay marriage and abortion rights and other “losing battles.” This makes right-wing politics seem embarrassing and hickish. And nauseatingly religious, which is especially gross for today’s unprecedentedly secular youth.

These young anti-leftists still hate liberals, though. But with social issues off the table all they have left are the economic ones. Thus, to compensate for their lack of interest in social policy, a lot of self-identified young rightists eagerly embrace very extreme positions on the economic stuff. Unregulated capitalism, yeah yeah yeah! And then they get the added benefit of being able to support cool things young people like, such as the legalization of Marijuana, via free-market rhetoric.

It’s basically what you call libertarianism, and lots of young right-wingers like to proudly identify themselves with the label. The infatuation of young people with libertarianism is an age-old phenomenon, of course, and many smart people have extensively documented how the attraction is heavily bound up in adolescent feelings of selfish entitlement, resentment of authority, social exclusion, etc.

The biggest problem of all with libertarianism, however, is that it’s too weird and extreme to follow through in practice. In my experience, most people who claim to be libertarian aren’t really interested in restoring the gold standard or abolishing the fire department or any of those other crazy things libertarians are supposed to favor. They usually just really like money, and want to make money without a lot of taxes and rules to get in their way.

And members of my generation and class, the middle to upper-middle class echo-boomers or millennials, or whatever, are generally very obsessed with success and financial gain. We haven’t grown up despising the corporate sector as actively as previous generations because we know that’s where the good jobs are, and we’ve been taught that good jobs are the most important thing. So rebranding conservatism as an ideology of blind support of big business — with active indifference towards anything else in society not directly associated with making money — has an understandable appeal to young people.

It’s basically just a slightly different flavor of what I believe to be the primary appeal of liberalism to modern youth, except that liberalism increasingly markets itself as a way to endear oneself to the public sector and NGOs and other non-corporate sources of respectable employment.

2) Reactionary douchebag conservatism

The other side of the coin. Young guys of this strain of thought (and they are almost all guys) are more pissed off about social liberalism, because they view it as a threat to their douchebaggy lifestyle. Which is to say, a lifestyle of smoking cigars, eating steaks, banging chicks, driving fast cars, calling people fags, and so on. So their counter-philosophy is to raise the lifestyle of a douchey jerk to the highest embodiment of traditional masculinity (and traditional western culture) and to ague for its rehabilitation as the respectable and proper standard of life.

People who believe this often get bound up in a lot of other fairly reactionary stuff, like the principle of so-called “HBD” or “Human Biological Diversity,” which claims that the races are fundamentally different, biologically, and we should not be shy about acknowledging this, or some of that “Game” stuff about reclaiming male control over the art of dating through manipulative, pseudo-misogynistic psychological tricks.

They blame the left for feminizing the culture through nanny-statism and the rest, but also the right-wing establishment for tolerating all sorts of bumbling ugly morons as their leaders, like Sarah Palin and Bush and Gingrich and so on, instead of admirable, respectable people who actually have their lives and families in order, like real adults. They’re also likely to view things like abortion and gay marriage as side-issues in a larger culture war, a culture war that does not necessarily require the government to play an active part in.

I’m obviously describing both camps in a broad and unfair way, but these are the trends as I see them. I’m personally more inclined to the douchebag vein myself, only because they are the gang more interested in social-cultural issues, and I personally think that’s where the future of conservatism lies.

Economic issues are overrated. A lot of young conservatives who don’t want to talk about social policies claim that the economy is where the great left-right cleavage really lies, but I don’t think there’s much evidence for that these days. The extent to which mainstream liberals are supposedly “anti-business” and anti-capitalist is greatly exaggerated by right-wing pundits and politicians, who always want to be fighting socialism all the time, because it’s fun and easy. In practice, I think anyone possessing a degree of non-partisan calm will acknowledge liberal and conservatives are now broadly aligned on most economic matters (which infuriates the far-left, who validly condemn this), and their unity in support of a somewhat tempered, but still broadly free-market economy represents mainstream public opinion.

In contrast, I like the idea of a movement that admits there is something wrong with the mainstream culture of our society and government, but does so without a lot of crazy talk about the looming socialist dictatorship around the corner, or by thinking amending the Nebraska constitution enough times will somehow fix everything.

There are intellectuals in the douchbag camp, and they make some good arguments. Corrupt.org is a good site containing some of these. I like this essay by Alex Birch, a young dude from Sweden, who makes a genuinely unique and distinctly new-generation pitch for a new brand of conservatism.

Anang Mittal replies:

I agree with a lot of what you said in the essay. I’d put myself in the douchey conservatism camp, but I only think like a douche, I don’t act like a douche. I also happen to be a neocon, which puts me at odds with most people.

I used to be in the libertarian camp, and I still like them for introducing me to conservatism, but I don’t seriously think that the gold standard or abolishing the fire department will be good things. I still want to see the fed go away though and I definitely don’t like cronyism, which is what american capitalism truly is these days.
Did you know wal mart was able to provide better aid for its employees and for people in affected areas during Katrina than the state or local governments? Free market.

I don’t like a lot of things about Sarah Palin, but I’m not a stick my fingers in my ears kind of guy so I asked a farm-belt conservative whom I respect why he liked her so much. He said that from his point of view, if you’re a female who broke through the old boy network, raised a bunch of kids and struggled to provide for your family AND became governor of Alaska, you might have some innate qualities and experience within you than an Ivy league lawyer. As a farmer, if you mess up the proper ratio for mixing fertilizer or feed, your family might not get to eat next year. If you’re a lawyer and you lose a court case, you probably have more of them lined up.

Anyway, thanks for pointing me to corrupt.org.

A reader calling himself “a former young Republican activist with four years of experience at a state-wide level” adds:

My personal views are – heavy respect for bi-lateralism and internationalism, combined with a moderate social conservatism (legalize gay marriage, pot, prostitution and abortion, but don’t go teaching first graders how to have sex with each other), heavy respect/funding for the arts, heavy funding for public transportation

I am conservative because – I am against higher taxes and more government intervention, such as health care reform. I am also against extreme leftist social measures (gay pride parades, I feel, undermine the gay rights movement. Ditto pro choice women pasting pictures of vaginas all over my school’s campus.)

I am extremely pro immigration, I am rather anti-gun. So my question is, where do I fall? Douchebag? probably, I love my cigars and drink my whiskey straight. I sleep with a fair amount of women for a guy like me, and am not even in a committed relationship. So I feel, if not having the views, I certainly lead that lifestyle.

I feel that we were better off in many ways 50 years ago…people dressed better, had better respect for the arts and we had less crime. So I agree with that part of the douchebags.