PLOTT: The conservative manifesto

A lot of uninformed rhetoric exists today about what it means to be an American conservative — especially at Yale. We’re often challenged by those who feel we have a detached fondness for nostalgia or just an obsession with egoism. But I believe conservatism is neither. It is important that we conservatives, at colleges and in the wider world, recognize and explain to others the three key tenets that define our politics: history, logic and morality.

History is the essence of conservatism. From Alexander Hamilton onwards, conservative policies have revitalized the United States’ economy and kept it afloat in the midst of social upheaval. Conservatism’s deference for tradition, in contrast with liberalism’s rejection of it, provides stability. If people can’t be sure that their leaders are working within an efficient margin of ideology, then how can they have confidence in the future? Of course, only God knows what lies ahead. Conservatism, however, represents a body of earthly assurance not found in any other political ideology. Liberalism, in contrast, prides itself on its “progressivism” and ability to adapt and respond to various situations. But what does that mean? Where are the specifics? Indeed, there are none, and I happen to prefer a government with more sophistication than “play-it-by-ear.” Conservatism lets history inform and inspire responses to any and all possible issues.

Why is logic important to conservatism? Logic allows citizens to connect with one another through common rationale and natural law. In discussing logic, one must recognize that conservatives are realists — they believe in objective truth, regardless of an individual’s feelings. Realism allows for the logical approach to tackling a problem; liberal “normative” judgment becomes irrelevant.

Before I’m stoned to death for that statement, let me clarify that normative statements and ethics are vastly important to conservatism; the difference here is that conservatism uses objective values in decision-making instead of allowing an ambiguous assertion of “ethics” to cloud a true, rationally understood path. Economically, this could mean that welfare checks are provided to only those absolutely determined to be incapable of work. This could mean that the age for Social Security is raised, and people are responsible for their own livelihood just a bit longer. On Yale’s campus, these thoughts are deemed evil or backwards; in a rational world, they’re common sense.

The implications of the above hint at the most defining feature of conservatism: morality. Conservatism, I believe, entails living one’s life for a cause greater than oneself, whether for God or country — or in some special cases, maybe even for Yale. Whereas liberals deem conservatives immoral for denouncing progressive tax rates and the sixteenth amendment, conservatives believe that moral decisions, such as charitable giving, are best made by private citizens. Consider: if your chunk of tax dollars goes to fund governmental housing in inner-city projects, are you being morally charitable, or are you simply following the law? Conservatism makes morality meaningful by focusing on an individual’s free choice to give or choice to help — you can’t get that from mandatory tax hikes caused by the failure of the last big stimulus package.

The final and most important thing I’d like to say about my conservatism is simple, but powerful: an individual should be able to cultivate a livelihood for himself, with little to no assistance from the government — in essence, he should be willing and able to seek the American Dream. Amid an ever-growing welfare state, I believe the work ethic that was once so central to our country is diminishing.

Conservatism is the only school of thought that can bring our union back to its most perfect form. Through a freer market, a close recall of history, and the promotion of an objective approach to logic and morality, conservatism most aptly defines what it means to be an American. And that is something of which I am quite proud.

Elaina Plott is a freshman in Silliman College and director of sophomore affairs for the College Republicans.

Correction: September 18, 2011

This column has been corrected to reflect a missed edit, which changed the constitutional amendment mentioned from the tenth to the sixteenth.

Comments

  • bfa123

    Oh please. To quote the West Wing: “Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things ­ every one.” Conservativism is a valid ideology, but it’s overemphasis on morality and responsibility downplays the hugely beneficial things government does do.

    • silliwin01

      Did liberals win the Cold War or send the Great White Fleet around the world to establish American preeminence?

      • Yale12

        Those were the only two things you could come up with?

        • silliwin01

          Are they poor examples?

    • River_Tam

      > . Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals ended segregation.

      Nope. Nope.

      > Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act.

      Nope. Nope. You’re just stating things that are factually incorrect now, unless you redefine liberal to mean “things I like”. Factually, these were all supported and passed by conservatives, for conservative reasons, unless, again, you’re just defining conservative to be “racist” and liberal to be “whatever I like”.

      > Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act.

      And you make fun of “winning the Cold War” as being trivial?

      > Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals created Medicare.

      And you can keep them too.

      Here’s what else liberals did:

      Instituted a policy of eugenics in the United States in the early 1900s, sterilizing hundreds of thousands of “undesirables”, ending only when World War II and the association with Naziism made it politically untenable to continue.

      * Interned a hundred thousand Japanese citizens during World War II.

      * Passed anti-sedition acts during World War I, making it illegal to criticize the President or use the Post Office for anti-war publications.

      * Opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and supported the continuation of Jim Crow laws.

      * Invented the Gulf of Tonkin incident to incite the Vietnam War.

      Yeah, overemphasizing things like morality and responsibility sure leads to a lot of problems.

      • bfa123

        Supporting eugenics, Jim Crow, sedition, even Nazism…those are CONSERVATIVE policies. What are you talking about? Your bizarre response makes no sense. How does “Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act” relate to the Cold War? Who would oppose “lift[ing] millions of elderly people out of poverty”? Conservatives in Roosevelt’s cabinet interned the Japanese. And, above all, liberals DID pass Civil Rights and get blacks the right to vote. Even conservatives don’t dispute the historical record! I mean you have Tea Partyers today who still want to repeal the Civil Rights Act. In conclusion…what the hell are you talking about???

        • River_Tam

          Oh right. Even though Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, interned the Japanese, invented the Gulf of Tonkin, and sterilized retarded people, they were all really conservative policies because liberal just means “good” and conservative just means “bad”.

          Learn the history of your own ideology, and you can avoid the mistakes your predecessors made.

          • bfa123

            Again, you imbecile, Democrats is not the same thing as liberals! Are you kidding me? This is history 101

      • gzuckier

        Good call on eugenics; I wouldn’t characterize your other bugaboos as liberal causes.

        In fact, for all the conservatives’ verbiage in favor of freedom and liberty, whatever progress has been made by blacks, women, Hispanics, Jews, children, the poor, the disabled, the chronically ill, single parents, coal miners, any other out-of-power minority (obviously excluding wealthy white Christian men) has been due entirely to “liberals”. For instance William F. Buckley Jr., the most preeminent conservative thinker and writer of the late 50s, author of “God and Man at Yale”, the seminal critique of the “liberal slant” of our prominent universities, couldn’t find it in his “morality and responsibility” to support Martin Luther King Jr. until years after the fact. For instance, his typically acerbic imagining of the trial of a rioter, in his column in 1967:

        “Judge: ‘You do realize that there are laws against burning down delicatessen stores? Especially when the manager and his wife are still inside the store?’
        Rioter: ‘Laws Schmaws. Have you never heard of civil disobedience? Have you never heard of Martin Luther King?’”

        This attitude was endemic to the “conservative” wing in those days. My classmates reported having had high school teachers musing over the desirability of randomly shooting into civil rights demonstrations, specifically including nonviolent ones. I had professors musing over the desirability of getting down to the demonstration and breaking some heads. The lack of the courage to do so does not in any way suggest a lack of antipathy to the cause espoused.

  • silliwin01

    If I interpret your article correctly, you would support the legalization of marijuana?

  • The Anti-Yale

    *an individual should be able to cultivate a livelihood for himself*

    And if “he” is part of the white/male power structure it will be a lot easier to do so.

    • River_Tam

      Yes, and non-white non-male conservatives are just deluded into thinking that they are self-sufficient individuals.

  • dalet5770

    NOTHING ON GODS EARTH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN A UNIFIED MEDIA TO PRESENT IN THE NEXT ELECTIONR AND EVERY YEAR A DISSERTATION ON THE MOST IMPORTANT FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT – THE CENSUS -BUT I SUSPECT MOST OF THE BLOOD THIRSTY AMERICANS WOULD RATHER REHASH FRUITLESS EXCESSES LIKE 9/11

  • jnewsham

    *Whereas liberals deem conservatives immoral for denouncing progressive tax rates **and the tenth amendment**…*

    So conservatives now oppose the tenth amendment. An editor didn’t catch this?

    • Jerry

      Epic win.

  • River_Tam

    Conservatives *love* the tenth amendment.

    • jnewsham

      Uh, yeah, that’s my point. But the author lumped it along with progressive taxation as an evil. What gives?

      • Elainaplott

        Check my note a few comments down!

      • River_Tam

        I was agreeing with you, Mr. Newsham. I’m not always out to get you, believe it or not.

  • SY

    The Classes of 2015+ and 2010- will seem like different generations, though they are not. I noticed this shift starting with 2014 and 2011. One op-ed piece on conservatism is not proof, but I expected from the title that I would find a freshman at the end. In part, the reasons for the differences are (1) 2010 parents are Baby Boomer generation, and 2015 parents mostly are Gen X, and (2) 2015 are post Clinton, 9/11 and 9/15/2008. Freshman became teenage in serious/crisis times. 2015 and younger still will get drunk, etc., but the binge drinking/hospital runs/sexual assault issues are becoming recent history. Without knowing, I’d bet freshmen are taking more math and computer science courses than 2010 freshmen. They are a new wave (and the new guys will have no idea why they must sit through weekly training in alcohol abuse and sexual consent, among other issues of the old age).

    • River_Tam

      This is a good point, but let’s not forget that the 2015ers don’t remember life before mobile internet. As Louis CK once said, everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.

  • glibmonster

    I wonder what we are to make of the conservative audience at this week’s GOP debate, the one that cheered at the thought of a young man left to die without healthcare. Is this morality? Is this reason? Is this history?

    I suppose, in a way, it is history. It is history in the the stoning of women or the subjugation of African-Americans are history. But a better way to describe might be barbarism. It’s one thing to learn from history (something that liberals and conservatives alike should do, mind you). It’s another to embrace it unflinchingly and uncritically.

    Maybe the op-ed page is simply unsuited to nuance, but it’s troubling to read an editorial that so wholeheartedly refuses to engage with the opposing arguments. And that, perhaps, is the biggest problem of conservatism at Yale. So long stuck in a corner, conservatives no longer understand how to speak to the rest of the university.

  • ldffly

    If I had written this article, I might have included fundamental suspicion of human nature being at the rock bottom of American conservatism, American history, and American 18th century constitutional thought. That fundamental suspicion one finds within John Calvin and even within the thought of Mr. Hutchins, an atheist if I’m not mistaken.

    • SY

      Liberals try some nice things, and then almost always take them to destructive excess. That’s where we are now in the breakdown of the old economic and social order, in Greece and here too.

      Cotton Mather wrote about human nature and the need for limited government: Tether
      a beast, and he’ll know the length of his tether by morning. Most governments don’t have any tethers. Liberals also don’t like tethers on their good work.

      Sometimes, major change is necessary to conserve, but liberals can’t stop themselves. (From civil rights, then to forced busing and destruction of public school systems; from feminism–which would have evolved anyway, then to aff. action to 57% of undergrads now women; from Nixon’s EPA for dirty rivers and air, then to endless court cases or regs. enjoining power transmission lines even for wind and solar energy, and delaying new coal, oil sands, shale and nuclear energy, any energy source that works.) I think Hume held the same enlightened view of untethered human nature.

      • ldffly

        Thanks. Hume would’ve been at least as good an historical example as Mr. Hutchins. Interesting, too, that Hume, being a Scot, might have been reflecting ancestral Calvinist (possibly refracted through John Knox) leanings in his political thinking.

        One other thinker to mention in this connection is Reinhold Niebuhr in “Moral Man and Immoral Society.” Original sin is real and it inheres in collectives as well as in individuals. Deny it and reap the consequences.

  • silliwin01

    Ugh, I miss the freshman from last year who would come here and defend their articles.

  • redman

    It’s funny how liberals like to brag about failed ideas.

    Liberals a Social Security that is bankrupting the country and refuse to reform it.
    Liberals ended segregation,Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. at the cost of broken black families and a welfare culture. Would you believe that in the 50′s black men and black women used to be married?
    Liberals created Medicare which is bankrupting the country and refuse to reform it.
    Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act leading to manufacturing going to other countries.
    Liberals refused to reform Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae leading to our current financial meltdown
    Liberals support a woman’s right to choose over a babies right to life leading to a million babies be killed every year in the U.S.

    • gzuckier

      And this is why nowadays we either laugh at “conservatives” or view them with alarm.

      There used to be a difference between “conservative” and “cognitively challenged”, but that’s been erased over the past generation or two.

      • LtwLimulus90

        you’re an idiot

      • River_Tam

        You know, the real irony is that you would never say that to a conservative friend – someone you actually knew outside of the Internet.

        Everything I write here I will say (and have said) to liberal friends of mine. There are thoughtful liberals, idiotic liberals, and smug liberals. Some of my friends are each of these. But the dismissing of an entire ideological movement as being “cognitively challenged” just means you have a lot of maturing to do.

  • Elainaplott

    Just a quick note-
    I’m not quite sure why the tenth amendment is in my article; I specifically asked that it be changed back to my original assertion-the sixteenth amendment. I suppose that email was disregarded. Rest assured, I am a huge proponent of the tenth amendment (although to paraphrase Lincoln, states do not have the right to do wrong). To those commenting on this article in the future-I ask that you read my line about the tenth amendment instead as the sixteenth. Thank you!

    • silliwin01

      Can you respond to my question above regarding pot legalization? I’m simply curious, because everything you argue suggests you don’t mind it, but it’s not exactly something supported by the majority of “conservative” politicians in America.

    • River_Tam

      Sorry, states *do* have the right do wrong, because otherwise the Federal Government is the arbiter of what is “wrong” and that basically defeats the purpose of the 10th Amendment.

  • RexMottram08

    Not a bad start… keep reading, keep writing…

    To add to the liberal pile-on, I add the example of public education.

    Liberals have had exclusive control of public education. The teachers, the administrators, the union leaders, the Federal, State, Local bureaucracies… Congress funds every liberal education pipe dream. What has it gotten us? A completely failed school system more concerned with teaching 3rd graders about the beauty of sodomy than with math and literacy.

    • gzuckier

      ” A completely failed school system more concerned with teaching 3rd graders about the beauty of sodomy than with math and literacy.”

      Just where did you go to school? Apparently, not in CT.

      • River_Tam

        Where did you go to school? Apparently not in the poor parts of CT.

        • Yale12

          You honestly believe that in the poor parts of Connecticut, they are teaching the “beauty of sodomy” first, and literacy and math second? I work in a New Haven school and can tell you that’s absolutely not the truth.

      • RexMottram08

        Thanks be to G-d!

    • bfa123

      What????? RexMottram08′s last line…makes NO sense…

      • RexMottram08

        You are unfamiliar with my home state of California’s curriculum!

    • Yale12

      You cannot seriously believe that. You’re a parody of yourself.

    • Hunch

      The beauty of sodomy, Hitchens tells us, is overrated anyhow, Rex. I’ll take him at his word, you make up your own mind. But, yeah, I thought we all agreed that the public school system is not working. Is Rex wrong?

    • River_Tam

      Rex, it’s very clear – we’re leaving too much up to the states! We need to have more federal regulation on education – that will definitely solve the problem.

      • bfa123

        Damn right we need more federal regulation…otherwise we’ll have bible-thumping bigots teaching whatever they want in idiotic, reactionary, conservative-centered, provincial towns.

        • RexMottram08

          So you admit your totalitarian streak and have moved on to haggling over the specifics of how big our cell blocks should be?

          What a horror! Removing education from the state and Federal governments and allowing PARENTS to choose schools for their kids!!

          • bfa123

            I don’t understand your first sentence at all. Wtf. And if we’d let parents where I’m from decide the curriculum, we’d be teaching creationism and the evils of homosexuality…or would you be ok with that…?

  • Hunch

    Are you sure that you’re not adding to the uninformed rhetoric?
    History, as you can see from an above comment, is as easily attributed to a television series as to what has been passed on and “updated” in our schools. And perhaps well it should be. One of the bumper stickers from the 60′s, ubiquitous on Volkswagen vans, was “challenge authority”. Tightly said, but golly, there is no such thing. It should have said, “challenge those who purport to speak from authority”, but then the print would have been small and difficult to read.
    Which of course leads to the morality deal; I’m truly sorry you included that. Those who think they have found a “cause greater than oneself”, have only found it within themselves. But then finding it in oneself is admirable, more so if recognized as such.
    “Damned and excommunicant” as I am, and willing to make my own assessment of what has come before, I had still occasionally defined myself as conservative.
    This stool never needed three legs, logic alone should have been adequate. I now lack a label.

  • The Anti-Yale

    WOW!

    There’s a recipe for education. If you bake students at just the right temperature with just the right ingredients, combined in just the right way, they’ll come out well done. Why hasn’t this educational miracle of culinary accomplishment been discovered before in our 200 year history?

    • River_Tam

      Saith the teacher: “there’s no way to evaluate me or my performance! You just need to trust me – I’m a good teacher, I promise!”

  • LouieLouie

    Liberal or conservative or somewhere in between…, hard to say. Three important points that have been steadily disappearing over the last decade or so.
    1. No politician should use the word GOD for anything to do with government or governing except maybe “God Bless America” because we surely need something radical to happen soon before we go the way of the Roman Empire; we’ve all become fat, stupid and lazy and it’s only getting worse.
    2. No government, state or federal, has any right whatsoever to tell me what to do with my body.
    3. No government, state or federal, has any right whatsoever to tell me who to marry or not marry.

  • abba

    Oh, I love it. Well, I have to hand it to you. More literate than the conservation opinion columnist at my daughter’s Ivy school, where she (the liberal columnist) and the editor had to ‘splain to Mr. C. who Ayn Rand was, not that it sunk in…

    Excuse me, killing babies is murder. Terminating the pregnancy of a fetus is an abortion. A fetus and a baby are NOT the same.

    Alexander Hamilton, the famous conservative!!!??? Who’da thunk?? Mr. Taxation? Mr. Federal Control of the States? Mr. Federal Treasury? Mr. Columbia University? Too bad that sleazy Burr, distant relative of my slimy X, had to off him.

    And last but not least, can any occurence be complete without blame or credit going to the homosexuals? I don’t recall my daughter coming home with Harry Potter and the Homos in 3rd grade, although she read all the other HP’s, but I’m a bad mother.

    The best use of blame of homos lately has been in the NY Times during hurricane Irene, where some nut linked passage of the gay marriage bill to being hit by a tropical storm. It reminded me of the recent Jon Stewart riff about Jews controlling the medians….

    Whenever it rains I’m tempted to call a gay friend and ask him or her to get with it and do something about it. Hey! You gays out there! Make the weather better, why don’t ya! I’m with ya all the way if being married is really your idea of a good time.

    Non-Tiger Mom

    • River_Tam

      For someone who claims that conservatives are the bigots, you sure use the term “homos” a lot.

  • abba

    It’s called “irony,” and it’s taught at lesser colleges. But thanks for the tip. I’ll be more sensitive, like Vladimir’s mother in The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. It’s also riffing off her frequent inquiries to him… when he’s always so loonily, pathetically in love.

    • River_Tam

      Yes, I know your type. Using parody and irony as a cover for being able to say deeply offensive things anonymously you would be afraid to say in polite company. Bravo, you are quite the ironist.

      • abba

        No, if I’m a type, it’s a deeply caring, committed person type. When the person in the Times blamed gay marriage for Hurricane Irene, I pointed this out to my gay friends both with a sense of frustration and of the pure lunacy that’s out in the world. As far as I can tell from this column, there’s very little polite company left in the world. And YOU always must have the last word, yes? little girl? Respect your elders. I’ve seen it all, way too much.

  • ldffly

    Well, abba, I’m sure we disagree about many things, but I agree that Alexander Hamilton was no progenitor of American conservatism. That part of the article was odd. You hit many of the high points yourself. Here’s one more. If Hamilton had had his way, this country would have had state dominated monopolies. Study the Whiskey Rebellion in detail, meaning go back to the documents and see what Hamilton had in mind. That taxation plan was in part a means to create a whiskey manufacturing monopoly. Talk about picking winners and losers!

    • abba

      Yeah, I don’t get this about Alexander Hamilton being a champion of the tea baggers! If he were alive to see what they stood for, he’d die all over again. He was one of the most intelligent and rational of the founding fathers; an accomplished essayist and writer; a brilliant economist; a man who believed in a strong central government AND taxation. He was advisor to many in higher power (e.g., Washington) and while opposed by Jefferson, there existed a respected between them.
      That said, I’ve long been able to tolerate differences in others’ opinions, as long as they weren’t shrill or dangerous or too close for comfort. I did have to laugh at my daughter trying to explain to the conservative editor at her school who Ayn Rand was. I thought she could have taken the opportunity to mix in some non-conservative ideology. It’s not like he would have known.

  • Branford73

    Ms. Plott‘s effort is not horrible for a freshman but does suffer from some ignorance or misinterpretation of significant occurrences and developments of the 20th century, as some other commenters have pointed out. She would have benefited from a kindly editor’s suggestion that she characterize her essay as an explanation or defense of a brand of conservatism she endorses. She fails to address, and thereby includes in her admired conservatism, the large segments of the 20th and 21st century version of conservatism that is plagued by racism, anti-science, anti-intellectualism and hostility towards women’s equality, particularly regarding sexuality.

    Abortion is a useful example of the last. I accept conceptually that there there must be anti-choicers who sincerely wish to preserve more lives of fetuses or “unborn babies”. However, all that I see written and hear said by anti-choicers indicate they are much more interested in punishing women for having sex, particularly unmarried sex, than they are in reducing the number of abortions performed.