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Preparing tomorrow's conservative leaders
By Paul M. Weyrich
Recently, I addressed a meeting of students at Patrick Henry College. I was pleased to find how knowledgeable and interested they were in the conservative movement and its origins. Obviously, there is a great deal of interest among young conservatives in learning more about the history of this movement and how it has evolved over time.
One book I will gladly recommend to those who want to know more about the history of conservatism is Conservatism in America Since 1930: A Reader, edited by an up-and-coming young history professor at Emporia State University named Gregory Schneider. A staff aide at Free Congress Foundation had talked with Schneider last year when he had called to obtain permission to reprint my February 1999 letter that called upon cultural conservatives to start thinking about ways to separate ourselves from those institutions that had been captured by the liberals. Indeed, I cited home schooling as a movement that was very successful in doing just that. But I had all but forgotten that call from one year ago so I was surprised to receive a package from New York University Press containing Schneider's new book.
His book contains essays, articles, and speeches that demonstrate the range of conservative thinking and how it has evolved over time. It starts with the Old Right, before there really was a conservative movement as we know it today, and Human Events had just started to be published. It goes right up through the New Right, the more aggressive, truly movement-oriented, populist conservatism that developed after President Nixon's 1972 victory. It includes Barry Goldwater's famous speech accepting the Republican Party's 1964 presidential nomination but also the work of prominent and important thinkers such as Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, William Rusher, and Bill Buckley. Any young conservative, indeed any young person wishing to learn more about our movement and the various strands of its thinking, can profit greatly by reading this collection of essays.
Schneider is one academic who thinks it is time to reassess the political history of the 20th Century from a conservative perspective. As he puts it, "Academia is certainly a 'one party state.'" Political Correctness appears too often in the studies written by academic historians since they are only too willing to portray us as racist, sexist 'know nothings' or just to ignore us. Furthermore, the liberal academic vanguard have been prodigious in issuing book after book and study after study glorifying their heroes, usually with no real scrutiny about the downside of those "achievements."
After having spent a lifetime fighting to undo their work, I can't say that
liberals like LBJ or Jimmy Carter do not deserve to be subjects of scholarly
study. But from my viewpoint, LBJ's Great Society and Carter's policies,
such as the establishment of the Department of Education, had a corrosive
impact on our nation's adherence to constitutional principles, an argument
that many scholars would not even consider worthy of covering in any real
But just as the Berlin Wall came down, the liberal stranglehold on academia may lose its grip.
Schneider identifies several up-and-coming, young conservative scholars including Ken Heineman, author of a book on radicalism in the 1960s, Ian Dowbiggin, the author of a book on euthanasia, and Jonathan Bean, who recently authored a book that takes a tough-minded look at the Small Business Administration's history.
Furthermore, there is Donald T. Critchlow, a conservative-leaning scholar, who is working on a book about my old comrade in arms Phyllis Schlafly that is expected to be published by Princeton University Press next year. He has access to her private papers. I look forward to that book's release and I hope more biographies will be done on principled conservatives who waged often lonely fights against the status quo to preserve freedom and liberty in our country.
Two conservatives that I think time will show are deserving of fair-minded, academic biographies are James Dobson and Tim LaHaye. Thanks to Dobson, the pro-family movement achieved a level of sophistication and relevance that it previously lacked. Tim is a deserving subject too because of his helping to found Concerned Women for America and the Council for National Policy and his overall extensive involvement in the conservative movement.
As for myself, I know the liberals may not be in power officially in Washington. But they have defined so much of our country's thinking for such a long time that I still believe they are the dominant power in our country. Fox News has helped to restore some balance in television news. But the liberals still dominate our entertainment industries, CNN, the Big Three TV networks, nearly all large daily newspapers and the national news magazines.
What went on with the Medicare bill is another good example since conservatives, despite our power, not only failed to mount an effective criticism of the liberal status quo but really have become part of it. Disheartening as that particular situation is now, we should hope that what I saw at Patrick Henry College is no aberration and that there are many more up-and-coming young conservatives who possess a similar sharpness of intellect. If so, I hope they will read and think hard about the writings contained within this book. If they are motivated by those original precepts to right the course of our movement where it has gone astray, so much the better. If that is the case, then there will still be plenty of history to be made by our movement in future years. Let's hope so for the sake of the future of our children and our county.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
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