The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Prescription

As college students, we go to class and hear our professors spout their opinions about what is wrong with the world and how to fix it. We watch our peers get swept away by pandering politicians at rallies. It seems as if in every corner of Coates Library, students are huddled together, sharing their ways to overthrow the system and reach utopia. We conservative students may find ourselves getting swept away with these ideas. In his third canon, Russell Kirk warns us against getting caught up in modern ideas and suggests we instead have faith in prescription.

We normally use ‘prescription’ to mean a recommendation from an authority. Kirk’s definition deviates just slightly; more fitting is “a claim founded upon ancient custom or long continued use.”  Kirk’s ‘prescriptions’ are “things established by immemorial usage,” meaning the old concepts of our ancestors. He’s referring to the traditions, institutions and overall wisdom our society has acquired through generations of trial and error. Since the beginning of time, people have been experimenting to find the best way to live. Through this process, we moved from hunter-gatherer societies to settled civilizations. We established governments, from monarchies to absolute democracies to totalitarian dictatorships, and over time arrived at the democratic republic Americans live in today. The traditions we abide by today are the product of thousands of years of development, evolution, and evaluation.

Conservatives trust that prescription is almost always a better authority on politics and society than any ideas modern people can think up. Many of the rights we cherish today are prescriptive, such as property rights; it is an ancient concept that one ought to have ownership of the land, money, and objects he worked to obtain. Societal norms and morals are also largely prescriptive. For example, the belief that a man and woman in love should marry and stay in a committed, monogamous relationship and produce offspring is prescriptive. It took thousands of years before this was a societal norm, until finally our ancestors found that monogamous, heterosexual marriage was the best institution to build families and societies upon.

In contemporary American society, many people, especially college students, seek progress at the expense of tradition. Traditions are popularly seen as shackles that hold us back. Marriage, sex being connected to procreation, and gender roles are all examples of prescription that modernity is trying to do away with. Kirk, however, urges conservatives to understand these traditions and institutions as social goods.

“We moderns” (as Kirk calls us) tend to tear down traditions before we even consider why the tradition was set in the first place. The institution of marriage is a prime example of a tradition that “we moderns” are destroying piece by piece. For almost all of western civilization’s history, marriage has been the monogamous union of a man and a woman. Plenty of past societies accepted polygamous marriages or homosexual relations. But over thousands of years and with a little help from some divine intervention, our ancestors settled on lifelong marriage as union between one man and one woman serving the main purpose of continuing society through procreation.

Momentarily setting aside the discussion of truth behind the institution, traditional monogamous marriage is also successful for a few reasons. Most obviously, heterosexual couples can produce and raise offspring. Men and women are different and serve as complements, occupying the necessary roles in the raising of children. But contemporary American society twisted the meaning of marriage into the governmentally-recognized union of people who love each other, completely disregarding the religious and rational prescription that a marriage is centered around honoring God and raising children. So when people with homosexual attractions began to want to obtain marriage licenses, contemporary American society viewed the traditional marriage (that conservatives hold sacred) as a mere bump in the road to progress and decided to legally and socially redefine marriage. Because marriage is now only about love and governmental recognition, divorce seems to be the obvious solution for couples who do not love each other anymore.

As a result of not following prescription, divorce rates have skyrocketed. 50% of all American children born in 2018 will have divorced parents before they turn 18. These children face far more emotional and psychological troubles. They are twice as likely to drop -out of high school, and almost twice as likely to attempt suicide. The US Census Bureau reports that 1 in 4 American children live without a father. These children are more likely to drop-out of high school, commit crimes, live in poverty, and be addicted to drugs and alcohol. As “we moderns” disregard sacred traditions like marriage, the family unit collapses, and society begins to collapse along with it.

Although Trinity students come from diverse economic and geographical backgrounds, we all attend an expensive liberal arts school and many of us have grown up in a bubble. A lot of us have never worked to support ourselves, we are not married (yet) and do not have kids (yet), and frankly, we were most likely raised with the same ‘participation-trophy’ values of the snowflakes we sit next to in class. However, most of our parents – consciously or unconsciously – lived lives based on prescription. We live in the greatest, freest country in the history of the world because our founding fathers built it with the traditions of their forefathers in mind.  We live in a country based on prescription and were raised by people who follow prescription, but our generation lacks understanding of what prescription is and why we should follow it. Because of this, it may be easy for us to take these values that shape our politics and society for granted. It may be easy for us to believe a politician when he tells us that the solution to poverty is more government handouts. It may be easy to believe a leftist feminist when he tells us that casual sex is empowering for women. We can be swept away into believing that we do not need to follow prescription, that radical solutions can easily fix the world’s problems.

College students today seem particularly likely to be swayed by politicians and their solutions to society’s problems. We directly experienced this at Trinity last year when Senator Bernie Sanders spoke on our campus and an auditorium filled with Trinity students – who had no prior political interest or knowledge – cheered and shouted for universal healthcare. Though my fellow Tower writers and I are not likely to be riled up at a Bernie rally, we might be by a Chip Roy, Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul event. I will admit I have thought a number of times that if Ben Shapiro could be president, all would be well in the world. We can support political candidates and modern ideas, as long as we do not expect them to solve every problem. When we support candidates, we need to exercise a healthy distrust and remind ourselves that the combined wisdom of our ancestors is far more valuable than that of any politician.

Kirk warns us of this very issue. He says we need to be wary of “sophisters, calculators, and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs.” We need to exercise a healthy distrust of our peers, professors, and politicians, whether they are right- or left-leaning, and instead let the past keep us skeptical of the future. The traditions developed over thousands of years are almost always better than anything “coffee-shop philosophers” could come up with in one lifetime, much less one brainstorm session.

In college, most of our full adult lives have not yet begun. We are deciding our world view, our religion, our political stance, where our priorities lie, what we live for, and why we live. We are also making very direct decisions in our personal life: what to study, whom to date, what we do in our free time, and whether we will be law-abiding citizens. When we make these decisions, we should have the vast and rich history behind prescription in mind. We should think about the traditions and institutions our ancestors have set in place, and remember that they are there for a reason.

We college students tend to think we know everything. But we need to remember Kirk, who says “it is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality.” Before we destroy some tradition, social construct, or institution, we should consider that it’s there for a reason.

As conservatives we need to follow prescription not just for the sake of being traditional. We need to gain an understanding of why we follow certain traditions, and why our ancestors set up society the way they did. For example, we need to know why we believe marriage is between one man and one woman, reasons that go deeper than just longevity. While we learn about prescription and the deeper meanings behind the social and political constructs in place today, we also need to check to make sure we are following them. When politicians, our professors, our peers, or articles we read suggest radical changes to our society, we need to exercise restraint as to stand firm in our beliefs and not be swayed by modern ideas.

Prescription is as if thousands of years of human history looked us in the eye and said “this is what I think is the best way to live your life. I have made plenty of mistakes so you can learn from them and live a better life.” We must live out or at least deeply consider living the way our history has prescribed.

The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Transcendent Moral Order

The first and arguably most fundamental of Russell Kirk’s ten conservative principles is the belief in a transcendent and enduring moral order. Kirk was not the first to observe moral order; men have hypothesized that human nature is built with a certain order since ancient times. In Plato’s Republic, we find a theory of the tripartite soul, in which the psyche is made up of three parts: λογιστικόν (reason), the θυμοειδές (spirited) and the ἐπιθυμητικόν (appetitive), and it is the harmony of the soul which is true virtue and justice. A virtuous man “rules himself, puts himself in order… harmonizes the three elements together, just as if they were literally the three defining notes of an octave”.

Plato’s city-soul analogy shows that we may apply the order of the soul to society at large. Without an orderly soul, man cannot be wholly virtuous, just as without an orderly system of morality a society cannot be wholly virtuous. If everyone is using his own personalized system of morality and nothing is truly right or wrong, society will be doomed to fall into anarchy, which will later lead to tyranny. We must all have the courage of our convictions—the desire to do what is true and virtuous—in order to keep a just society.

Contemporary America has fallen far from Plato’s view of an orderly soul and Kirk’s assertion that a transcendent moral order is paramount in the creation of a good society. Moral relativism has been on the rise for decades as individuals shun societal norms and values in favor of the belief that morals are relative to their holders. In other words, right and wrong are not the same when applied to everyone, but instead are up to the individual to decide.

This moral relativism is everywhere, from media to legislation to personal relationships. For conservatives, the most striking examples are the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the redefining of marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. These two Supreme Court cases decisively changed the meanings of life and marriage. They altered American societal morals, as generations after these rulings have been indirectly or directly taught new forms of justice.

Millennials’ views on abortion show this principle strikingly. As this Pew Research study indicates, non-religious young people overwhelmingly (70 percent) believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. What used to be a highly contentious issue is much more one sided for non-religious millennials, as the gap is only widening for that demographic.

For Christian (both Catholic and Protestant) millennials, however, the picture is much different. It is either a near 50/50 split or a strongly anti-abortion result, showing the difference in opinion amongst young people who have some sort of belief in biblical principles. These young people are often extremely passionate about the pro-life cause and are joined by some non-religious pro-life activists as well.

This is only a small example of a larger notable trend in the relationship between young people and moral relativism. Pro-life activism comes from a place of very strong moral feelings which argue against relativism: all humans deserve the right to live and die naturally and not at the hands of any human being. However, it is not just the conservative religious young people who are making these sort of ethical appeals.

Just take a look at college activism. Yes, sociology professors are still making the argument that we must respect all moral systems equally, and the general university populace is still entrenched in hookup and party culture, but young progressives make values-based arguments all the time. The immigration debate largely takes place within a consideration of justice (on both sides), and the left often discusses racial issues in regards to atoning for the sins of the past.  

Although I do not agree with these progressive systems of morality, it would be dishonest not to call them moral systems. Instead of reverence for God and the family, college-aged liberals see tolerance and progressivism as the basis for their moral code. They become indignant when they see something is unjust—in their eyes—and they desire to make a change to fit their system of moral order. They fight for what they view as morally right and see moral wrongs as a form of injustice.

Sound familiar?

This is why the fight young conservatives carry out is no longer just about moral relativism. Although our parents and grandparents dealt with a world that was fully steeped in this toxic philosophy, we are in a space in which both sides are making ethical arguments.

Progressives do in fact believe in a sort of moral order, but that moral order has replaced God with the belief that man can become God.

Our morality is no longer derived from a higher power and a transcendent right or wrong, but instead the desire to climb up the ever-extending ladder of progressivism, constantly desiring to reach the apex of tolerance. Only this can never be reached, as by definition to be progressive we must constantly be moving forward, rather than considering why we’re even changing our moral values in the first place.

The key, I believe, is not to convince the other side that there is such a thing as right and wrong. They already know this (for the most part), but they are not guided by the same transcendent and enduring moral principles. It is up to us to share these values not by yelling and shoving them into their faces, but instead by living them out in our own lives. We cannot restore the order of society without first restoring the order of our own souls, as justice is “concerned with what is inside,” as Plato states.

We cannot solve all of society’s problems in a day. While we can spend our time hand-wringing and worrying about the fastly degenerating state of our universities and other social institutions, we should never succumb to the fear that the true transcendent moral order will be destroyed. As Kirk said, “human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent”, and to think that our generation will break apart this enduring fabric of humanity is simply self-centered and ignorant. We must cling to these moral truths with all of our strength, but also have faith in their lasting endurance.

Justice and virtue may be difficult to find in these murky waters of contemporary society, but they are still present—as they will always be.

Public domain photo / Banner image designed by The Tower.

The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Introduction to the Project

There are few figures as towering in contemporary American conservatism as Russell Kirk. To be a conservative in a philosophical, rather than political (or perhaps electoral) sense is to be grounded, at least partially, in the writings of Kirk. In the years following World War II, when the American conservative movement was still in its embryonic stages, Kirk did something invaluable in giving shape to the movement that has become arguably the most coherent and influential political philosophy in America. Conservatism has been given many definitions, and it’s hard to pinpoint which one we should use, because it is not only an ideology, but also an attitude. This series will look at conservatism as an ideology, as given definite shape by Russell Kirk.

G. K. Chesterton, in his 1929 book The Thing, wrote that the difference between reforming and deforming a thing comes from an understanding of why a thing was implemented.

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

He wrote about this attitude of wanting to change things for the sake of changing it in Chapter 3 of Orthodoxy as well.

It is true that a man (a silly man) might make change itself his object or ideal. But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable. If the change-worshipper wishes to estimate his own progress, he must be sternly loyal to the ideal of change; he must not begin to flirt gaily with the ideal of monotony. Progress itself cannot progress.

People today, even among those who claim to be conservatives, all too easily fall into the attitude of “change-worshipping.” People have lost sight of ideals they are striving towards, and instead promote progress for progress’s sake. They demand that the fence be torn down simply because it was built by people who aren’t around anymore, without any thought to whether the fence still serves an important purpose.

We believe that there are still ideals that we should base our political organization on: principles and values that are not tied to any particular politician, party, or era. From our perspective, these are what Russell Kirk distilled as “ten articles of belief [that] reflect the emphases of conservatives” in his essay Ten Conservative Principles. Many of them also find exploration in the introduction to The Conservative Mind as the “six canons of conservative thought.” We firmly believe that if our society embraces these ten principles, we will see many of the challenges of today become much easier to address.

These ideals of conservatism are:

1) Belief in a transcendent and enduring moral order.

2) Adherence to custom, convention, and continuity.

3) Faith in prescription, and “distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators, and economists’ who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs.”

4) Holding to prudence as the chief political virtue.

5) Affection for the “proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life” over “the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.”

6) Belief in the ultimate imperfectability of human nature.

7) “Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.”

8) Upholding voluntary community and opposing involuntary collectivism.

9) Acknowledging the need for prudent restraints on power and human passions.

10) Careful reconciliation of permanence and change in society.

These ideals seem obvious to many people (including, I expect, most of our readers), yet they are rejected in increasing numbers by more and more college students. Questions about issues that were agreed upon by nearly everyone just a few decades ago are now derided as outdated, wrong, and even bigoted.

Starting today and going every Friday until Good Friday, we will be publishing articles expounding on each of these ten principles, exploring what on Earth Kirk meant when he wrote them and how this idea is treated today. Specifically, we’ll be looking at what college students tend to think about this idea, how a re-embrace of this idea might serve to remedy some societal ills and why college students should move to adopt the ideal even in the face of cultural opposition. These ten articles will be longer than most of the other things we’re publishing, and that’s intentional.

We believe that, as Chesterton might have put it, most fences in our world are still needed. Maybe some need repair or updating, but very few ought to be torn down entirely. Over the next ten weeks, our writers will be giving an excellent defence of these ten ideals that define conservatism. It might seem like an overly ambitious project, and you might doubt whether a bunch of college students have anything useful to add beyond what Kirk himself wrote, but I think we can bring these ideas to new audiences and reframe them for a new time.

The first article in the series will be published next Friday, written by Maddie D’Iorio on the truth and importance of believing in a transcendent and enduring moral order.

Unity, from the Ground Up

Yellowstone National Park was my family’s home for three days in July this year. I remember craning to see it in the distance on our way there, watching the cloud shadows spreading across the rumpled mountains like thin gray silks. We spent the days seeing the lakes and cascades and geysers, one of which was a steaming, bubbling cave called “The Dragon’s Mouth.” (I had to search up that name—my dad, short of memory, kept calling it “The Devil’s Asshole,” which became the only name I remembered). A herd of Canadian tourists crowded the rim, conversing in their twangy French about the buffalo that was lying right by the geyser with all the regality and poise of a classical statue.

“BISON ARE WILD AND AGGRESSIVE. DO NOT APPROACH,” warned signs all across the park. The park service also heavily advised the use of bear spray (which, like bug spray, I thought you were supposed to apply all over your skin to repel them), but the only bear we ever saw was a black bear the size of my little brother that fumbled across a grassy swale alongside the road, causing a traffic jam of Asian photographers. The rangers also swore that hiking without two or three changes of wool socks would guarantee certain death and hung diagrams in the bathroom which sternly instructed people not to squat like a gargoyle atop the toilet while pooping.

Despite their fearful advertisements, the park isn’t all that strict on safety measures, because they don’t need to be. Hundreds of tourists sat around Ol’ Faithful every hour to watch it go off, but nobody ever left the benches around the geyser and stumbled into the blowhole. Only a split-rail fence stood between my family and LeHardy Falls, but nobody careened into the river. Along with the rest of the tourists, we just watched the rainbow glisten in the churning spray before going back to our campground for lunch.

Yellowstone’s fame and beauty bring in campers from all around, and they pack them in the campground like sardines. My mother helped an Australian college student wash his dishes; a Mormon from South Africa let my little brother borrow his maul to split wood; we met a family from Minnesota who played Frisbee with us and shared their firewood with the Chinese family next to them; I showed the son of an Indian immigrant couple how to start a fire with flint and steel while his dad talked with my Aggie older brother about Texas A&M, which turned out to be his alma mater.

Eventually I realized the great miracle: here before us was a diverse, safe, and friendly community, but guiltless and spontaneous. Here was the reality that progressives had been promising to create in America for decades, but free of the quotas, the protests, and the coercion that were all supposed to be part of the necessary sacrifice. Here was a fractured America made whole. All it took was a common love—in this case, a common love for the natural beauty of our country. Next to Kepler Cascade, I saw a paunchy, knife-sporting redneck straight out of a political cartoon cheerily letting a black family pat his German shepherd. I’m fairly sure I even saw a camo hijab. Watching elk graze beneath the mottled shade of pine trees, or feeling our lungs tighten in the cold blue water of the lake, or bending life into our fingers above the morning campfires that burned bright with the sap-soaked wood and sent smoke up to mingle with our steaming breath, we camped together at the convergence of uncountable paths all winding to the alluring majesty of the American West. It was not the park administration or social forces that compelled us, but a common love, hardly found and easily forgotten. I wondered what such common loves were left for us to gather around back home.

As we left the park, my father read Psalm 46 to the family while I struggled to hoard in my head the sights that I probably will never see again: the tufts of steam glowing atop the rivers in the cold dawn; the pillars of geyser smoke rising from the faraway woods like unmanned, eternal campfires; the buffalo watching us alongside the road, disinterested and hulking sentries. As we passed from the woods and into civilization over the golden slats of sunshine that beamed through the pine and lay across the road, the bristling mountains slowly became just purple paper cutouts pasted onto the distant skyline.

Vegetarianism and Conservatism

Growing up in a Catholic conservative household, there was always a right way to do things, from going to church on Sundays to turning the other cheek. I never found much hardship in following any of these standards in my life; they just seemed like the right thing to do. I rarely made any lifestyle changes that my parents did not approve. As I got older, though, I started to challenge some beliefs. Most of the time I would come to the conclusion that my parents’ takes on those beliefs were right. When the Bible and the Constitution are there to lay out the rules, they’re made pretty clear.

This routine went on for a while, and I hardly challenged any of my beliefs anymore. But, one day in my high school economics class, we had a guest speaker and she announced that our talk was going to be about factory farming. Naturally, I assumed the talk would be about animal cruelty and such. I had seen videos in the past where celebrities talk about why they stopped eating meat as they showed clips from gruesome slaughterhouses in the background, but I always just ignored these because, hey, I liked meat.

Judging from the first few minutes, this class presentation was different. Instead of repulsive slaughterhouse videos, the presenter was showing us how factory farms impact the environment and people. No matter how you feel about animal cruelty, it isn’t sustainable for anyone. Producing food to feed and fatten up these 1 billion animals killed every hour in the United States (USDA 2015 U.S Slaughter Totals, by Species) is killing forests and that we’re running out of places to put the waste …and that they treat animals horribly. That day I decided to stop eating meat.

My parents were not enthused and insisted that I forget about it. They showed me passages in the Bible where it was seemingly evident that I was supposed to eat meat. However, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I lasted about three months as a full blown vegetarian until I compromised with eating meat once a week. This allowed me to feel good about my efforts while at the same time alleviating my cravings.

After a while, I figured that as a conservative, I should have some reasons why I can be simultaneously conservative and mostly vegetarian. It honestly stumped me for a long time, until I took it back to the basics of conservatism. What it really comes down to is the free market, where people can do whatever they want until they realize that it’s not personally feasible. This ties in well to vegetarianism, veganism, or even pescetarianism. When a person makes any decision to purchase or not purchase a product, it influences the market. It may be a small change, but it is a change.

There isn’t anything inherently conservative or liberal about vegetarianism. It’s all about how a person chooses to pursue it. If a person isn’t happy about how the animals are being treated or how the waste is being disposed of, then he should seek another firm or product all together. What shouldn’t be done is demand that these business be required to be transparent or request government regulations regarding anything someone sees wrong with the company.

In the end, I’m not a conservative vegetarian. I am a conservative that practices vegetarianism in a conservative way. Similarly, there are liberal vegetarians out there, but they really just practice vegetarianism in a liberal way- i.e., demanding government intervention.With the percentage of obese Americans being 39.6 in 2015-2016 (Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016) and the poverty rate being 12.7 percent in 2016 (Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016), the demand for cheap, accessible food is high and thus supply must be as well. Any government regulation that limits the amount of cheap, accessible food will not be very popular for the poor or obese. Rather than limiting these choices, people who see problems with the factory farming industry  should feel free to refuse service, spread the word, consult with the company, or all of the above.

The Importance of the American Nationalist Revival

The ultimate low point of Barack Obama’s presidency was perhaps his failure in easing the increasing cultural divide in his own nation. With the rise of extremism in groups like Black Lives Matter, the blossoming strength of identity politics, and the acceptance of social justice madness—the first black president doesn’t have much to show for in uniting the nation.

However, the Obama presidency is in the past. What has happened cannot be undone, only addressed. We now have another controversial leader in office: President Donald Trump. I will not claim that he hasn’t been a divisive figure, as even those within the conservative movement had mixed feelings on him. Many identify as Never Trumpers, believing that the Republican Party shouldn’t have to settle for someone like Trump for a number of reasons. While the ideas of Never Trumpers could be unpacked and discussed for hours, a more intriguing discussion revolves around the ideology that has accompanied Trump on his journey to the White House: Nationalism.

Claims that President Trump is a nationalist abound, often without constructive discussion about what that means and what he has done to earn the label. Is nationalism racist? Is it just a strong form of patriotism? If you’re not white, or are an immigrant, can you be an American nationalist? The concept has been tainted by extremists and mischaracterized by those who don’t understand it. Now more than ever, it’s time to set the record straight on nationalism. It’s time to acknowledge that it’s the glue that holds a nation together.

If we examine our nation’s history, it’s obvious that nationalism isn’t a new concept. Nationalism lit the fire that became the American Revolution. Those living in the colonies under Great Britain no longer identified with the Crown. Because of this, the first sentiments of being American, as an identity separate from being English, grew strong. Their experiences were unique and their conviction grew. Thousands died for the desire to be independent.

America, while having internal and domestic ups and downs, has still grown to be a true gem: a nation that values life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How has a nation with such strong and beautiful roots become so divided? It appears as though we’re less likely to view ourselves as Americans and more so as whites, blacks, immigrants, or whatever else it takes to make us feel special. Embracing heritage can be done in reasonable doses, but it is important that we think of the nation we call home first.

Accepting that America has a unique value system, culture, history, and language is crucial to leading a purposeful life in this nation. Embracing this will strengthen unity across all races and backgrounds. How phenomenal is it that there are no biological or ethnic parameters to being an American? Nationalism, when properly executed in America, does not exclude those who are not a certain color. However, Nationalism does encourage assimilation to our culture and shared values, such as free speech, the English language, objective history, and respect for the fact that God has blessed this country greatly.

I’m not suggesting that those from different cultures drop everything about where they came from, but it is beneficial that people here should consider themselves as Americans first. I’m suggesting that we support policies to elevate America on the world stage, respect our autonomy, strongly regulate our immigration to ensure the safety and prosperity of those within our borders, and preserve our current free-market economic system.

There is the question of nationalism versus patriotism and how they differ. Being patriotic is easy, but does not have much value. Patriotism is identified by love and respect for a nation. However, American nationalism is stronger. It honors history, values, and people in an exclusive sense, recognizing that no other nation has topped what the United States has accomplished. This is not to say that individuals from around the world are by any means lesser people than Americans, but recognizing that American culture as whole has impacted the world in a unique and excellent way. Some are quick to use words like “racist” and “hateful” to describe this ideology, though this is an incorrect and lazy assessment of a rich concept that is centered around love: Love for a country that serves the people.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Should we properly reclaim and implement nationalism into our sentiments, we can equip ourselves with a tool against the rampant division we are faced with. We will see fewer threats to our democracy. Peace will emerge if we can look past the threat of rifts in the modern political scene.

We have thrown nationalism to the side as an outdated concept for too long; now is the time to understand and fully embrace it. We are currently riding a wave of economic prosperity, a return to mainstream nationalist figures, and a break from the far-left “social justice” policies of the past administration. For the sake of healing the social division our great nation is faced with, let’s reclaim nationalism and embrace it for the positivity it holds. For God and country, let us protect our land from all threats, foreign and domestic, tangible and intangible.

Compassion, Truth, and Transgenderism

Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Zach Neeley, here.

All mental illnesses are painful in their spiritual, emotional, and physical manifestations—and in dealing with people who suffer from mental illness, ignoring the problem never leads to a solution. For example, if someone is suffering from the delusion that he is, in fact, a car, it wouldn’t be compassionate to just allow the person to run down the freeway. Rather, it would be compassionate to try to help the suffering person to get therapy or medication so that the incorrect thinking can be fixed.

However, in today’s culture, people are rejecting the fact that it is delusional to think one can change his or her gender. They even frame people who think that gender dysphoria should be treated as a mental illness as evil and unsympathetic to the problem. But this is irrational. If a person thinks changing one’s gender is impossible, then why is it evil of him to try to prevent someone else from delusionally trying to?

In fact, it would be quite the opposite of evil, as if someone thought that another person is suffering from a mental illness, then as I said earlier, one should not ignore the problem. To ignore the problem would be the evil, not to treat the problem for what it is.

That being said, one can clearly observe the pain transgender people experience. To go about life feeling like you are in the wrong body is a terrible tragedy. But one can have this sympathy without giving in to the delusion that the person is, in fact, the opposite gender of what he or she really is.

Just as any reasonable person would not let someone who suffers from the delusion that he is a dog pretend to be a dog, no one should ignore gender dysphoria. It would not be compassionate to them to go along with this delusion and help them to permanently mutilate their bodies. Instead of being fatalistic with the problem, one should try to help them reach out for psychological counseling.

Just because society says something is acceptable doesn’t make it so. For example, slavery was legalized for many years and there were certainly doctors who thought that black people were biologically inferior to white people. Now, just to address what you might be thinking, I am not equating slavery to the transgender problem in a broad way. My precise point is that people have held opinions on a wide scale which were later judged as morally unacceptable.

Similarly, just because there are many doctors who want to deny the reality of the human body and human genetics and the real differences between men and women, and just because it makes some members of society feel good to agree with them, doesn’t mean the biology of gender and the reality of man and woman are mere fantasies. Truth and moral goodness are independent from popular opinion.

Just think for a moment about how illogical the transgender worldview is: people who hold this view say that the real self, one’s gender, is something immaterial, or independent of one’s body. But at the same time, they embrace a reductive-materialist worldview where there are no immaterial realities.

They say that gender is a social construct, but then they say that a person can be stuck from birth in the wrong biological gender. They deny the differences between men and women, but then use gender stereotypes to argue that gender identity is real and the embodiment of the human person is not. The most irritating contradiction about the transgender ideology is that it stems from a radical individualism where truth and gender are relative, but a traditional view of gender is wrong in an absolute sense, not a relative one. This self-referential incoherence shows the bias and double standards of transgender activism. None of it makes any sense, and it only takes a couple of sentences to show this.

The problems with transgender delusion hurt everyone. They hurt individual members of society’s ability and willingness to use the intellect God gave them, and they hurt transgender people’s long-term well-being. I agree with Saint Thomas Aquinas, who states, “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”

While we must hear falsity to come to the truth, it is ultimately the decision of every person as to whether they would like to follow their own opinions or come to a real knowledge of the truth once it is sufficiently revealed. Are you going to just believe what some of your friends say or how you feel, or are you going to pursue truth? You must decide.

When My Twin Brother Became My Twin Sister: A Personal, Political, and Religious Perspective

Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Alex Jacobs, here.

For me, it all started one afternoon after school last May when my then-brother asked me to come meet with him and my mom downstairs in my parents’ bedroom.

“What I’m about to tell you will change the way you see me forever,” he told me. Within ten minutes, he proved himself right.

For my twin, it had started long before.  What he revealed that afternoon was that over the past two years he had slowly begun to realize that he was a transgender female. My brother talked about the private and group therapy sessions that he attended with my mom to help with the gender dysphoria he had been dealing with for the past several years.

To cope with these feelings, he had gotten a separate room in our house not because he wanted his own room (which he told me at the time), but because he wanted to crossdress in private. Additionally, my brother said that he prioritized trans-friendly dormitories on college tours.

Before that day, I had given little thought to transgender issues. It would have been easy for me to say to a transgendered individual, “I’m fine with you identifying as whichever gender you choose.” But it’s quite another thing to say that to your twin.

At first, I was open to it, but as time moved on and as my sister’s transition moved forward, I realized that my adjustment was going to be hitting speed bumps very quickly.

The first time I saw my sister dressed as a female was when we went to her therapist as a family. She was determined to cosmetically resemble a female. She wore her most feminine-looking clothes, put on some makeup, and wore a wig. On the way to the session, my sister kept asking me how she looked and if she “passed” (successfully looking the part of her desired gender).

I was torn, and for the greater part of the car ride and the session, I didn’t want to look at her. I just couldn’t; it was too much to digest at once. I chose to stay silent and look the other direction. I remember thinking, “This is going to be a lot harder than I expected.” That was putting it lightly.

After the session with her counselor and throughout the summer, my sister rarely dressed as a female, which made it more difficult for me to begin to understand and accept her for when she would begin to physically transition to being a female. She still went by her birth name and male pronouns, which made me doubt her commitment to her transition. Perhaps I needed another perspective.

I consider myself a political activist, so it was not enough to simply accept my sister as transgender. In other words, my aspirations to be involved in politics would become more complicated as others might see my twin as a source of controversy. I wanted to be educated to prepare myself for the inevitable debates I would be involved in, so I delved into reading various articles and even attended a transgender family support group. My goal became to know as much about the issue not only from a personal perspective, but to understand transgender political and cultural issues.

I watched debates on YouTube. I started seeing a counselor at my university. I looked at peer-reviewed studies from top scholars. I prayed to God, asking Him for help and guidance on an issue that my church has failed to adequately and extensively address—much less accept. My inability to make headway with reality coupled with my own grief over ‘losing’ my brother translated into more anger. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. I started to resent being a member of the 6% of American adults who have a transgender family member. I realized that turning to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community would not help; after all, I believed in the gender binary (a thought crime in LGBT circles), so that avenue wasn’t an option.

Eventually, I expressed this emotion to my sister; I had to let her know how I was feeling, and I needed somewhere to vent. I was driving us both back from a restaurant when I voiced my anger about my shortcomings in coming to grips with her transition. I will never forget what she said to me in reply: “Original thought is not easy to come up with, and I can only tell you to do more research.”

It was the last thing I wanted to hear; it pissed me off, but she was right. I had to think more. But, not just that: I had to think smarter. I happen to be someone who believes in the “live and let live” mantra, so I worked from that approach.

I tackled the issue from a religious point-of-view. I am a Roman Catholic, so I looked to the Bible for support, and, since it has nothing explicit to say about transgenderism (although Genesis 1:27 says that God created “male and female”), I looked to its teachings about tolerance, of which there were plenty.

One verse stood out to me: Luke 15:2, which reads: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” There is also a point in the Gospels where Jesus sits down with several people whose lifestyles were considered abhorrent at the time and has dinner with them (Matthew 9:10). What’s striking about these people is that, in society’s view, they were considered the lowest of the low: thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors. I realized that no matter how many genders I believe exist, I had a civic duty and a religious obligation to see my sister as she has always been: a person with the same inalienable rights as every other human being. That’s how Christ viewed the so-called ‘social deviants’.

Over the past several months, I have realized what tolerance is and is not. Tolerance is recognizing another person’s right to exist, regardless of differences of opinion or belief systems. I made it clear to my sister that I would not play an adult version of ‘pretend’. An effort had to be made on her part to look, breathe, act, and talk like a female. If she was to be treated and addressed as a female, she had to look the part.

We mutually agreed that I would address her by her proper pronouns whenever she presented as female and that I would respect her decision to transition, despite my viewing her transition as morally questionable. This, I believe, is tolerance at its best: a compromise that is founded on mutual respect for one another’s opinions and livelihoods.

Furthermore, tolerance is what I believe our country is about—people with mutual respect and acceptance for one another who recognize every other person’s right to live their own lives as they see fit without interference from anyone else.

Nowadays, I would say that my sister and I are much closer in our relationship as siblings than we were before she transitioned, and we get along well. This is what I want to reflect in our society, one that is predicated and built on individualism, human rights, and tolerance. I want to work for a future for my sister, myself, and my country which is more tolerant, more understanding, and more free for all of us.

At the end of the day, we’re all Americans with the same inalienable rights. As St. Paul said to the Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Our Conservative Future

By Mandfred Wendt 

I fear that recent trends in the conservative movement may be for the worse, that we may be losing focus. Since I began my involvement in May of 2015 when Ben Carson announced his candidacy for President of the United States, one trend in the conservative movement has continued to bother me: the obsession young conservative activists, including myself, have developed towards “triggering.” I must admit that I was a part of this trend, as I did bring Milo Yiannopoulos to my quiet liberal campus.

Over time I matured, evolving from a “constitutional conservative” my freshman year of college to a raging libertarian my sophomore year before setting on Natural Law Conservatism: the belief that the world is governed by universal norms that we all know.  I have led a campus club for libertarians and conservatives for almost the entirety of my time at college.

Over the same time, the way I carried myself on campus changed as well. During my younger years, much of my focus went to figuring out which methods would be most effective in “triggering” the other side. From setting up a table in the campus commons to attract new members, to the quality of the speakers I brought to campus, to submitting a rather brash opinion column in the post-Trump election issue of my school newspaper, I came up with a plethora of ways to make students on my campus uncomfortable.  I regret the way I went about some of these activities. Sometimes, it made people in my camp who were less confident or comfortable being known as a conservative on campus decide not to join my organization.

Making the other side uncomfortable can be an useful way to get them to see a situation in a different light. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, it can also infuriate them and ensure they vote against your side the next time an election occurs. “Triggering” the campus left has its uses, but it also has consequences. On a college campus, conservatives are severely outnumbered. Upset them enough and the left  will organize and turn your college into the next Evergreen.

Our time could be better spent informing the other side about the value of our ideas. Yelling that abortion is murder could easily be replaced by politely informing the person you are conversing with about the biological facts that one must ignore in order to be pro-abortion without a guilty conscience. Yelling about safe spaces could be replaced with explaining the importance of the free exchange of ideas.

As college activists become more obsessed with triggering the campus opposition, we fall further from the ideological bedrock on which conservatism stands on. Conservatism works because it is a set of ideas that properly interprets human nature as found in Natural Law and set in a belief in a transcendent moral order. Triggering people doesn’t impress this truth on them. Conservatism works because it echos deep truths.

Conservatives waste valuable time attempting to trigger campus opposition instead of conversing and exchanging ideas with their ideological opponents. When it comes to ideas, our ideas win. Most political interactions with progressives result in a drone-like recitation of the progressive hat dance, that is declaring whatever the conservative stance is to be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or any other number of conversation-stopping words.

Up until this year, my organization thrived off of controversy. Every semester we would start with a group of 20 students and be whittled down to six or seven by the end of the semester. This semester, instead of focusing on generating controversy, we focused on facilitating discussion. We asked our members to think outside the box, and to question their own ideas. We encouraged them to never let a talking point suffice for an answer, and instead to respond with a “yes, but why?”. This approach helped our members develop their own thoughts on a plethora of topics instead of rehashing talking points.

At the end of the semester, we still had 15 active members, a massive increase over the previous semester. Over the course of the semester, I made sure to take time to encourage my members to intellectually sustain themselves on by reading great conservative texts and seeking out alternative opinions beyond Fox News or National Review. This winter, I offered every member the opportunity to take a book home from my library so that they could come back to campus in January more informed than they left. Most took me up on it.

As a movement, we need to be in the business of creating what one might call “warrior-monks,” not trigger-happy trolls. The warrior-monk of today should aspire to be like the warrior-monks of old, that is the Knights Templar, the Naga sadhus,  or the Japanese sohei. We need to create individuals who understand the ideology and are willing to engage the other side—individuals who emulate the qualities of warrior-monks. These warrior-monk conservatives bring about a whole host of benefits, as they not only know why the other side is wrong, but also why their side is right.

They can discuss issues of taxation, government intervention, foreign policy and social welfare with ease. But the warrior-monk must also be able to discuss deeper truths. He should possess an ability to defend the great tradition of western civilization, natural law, and the nature of man.

Learning about these deeper truths places the warrior-monk in a prime position to seek employment in the conservative movement after graduation. Beyond dedicating one’s life to this cause, there are other benefits to the warrior-monk if he decides not to go a different route. By understanding the deeper truths, the warrior-monk can raise children with conservative values and improve society by creating good citizens. The path of creating a new generation of conservatives is just as important as fighting for the current conservative movement; we must all keep the future in mind. Every coming generation is just as important as the one that passed.

As young conservatives, we stand at a pivotal time in our movement. Down one path lies continued and increased devotion to triggering, on focusing solely on upsetting as many people as we can possibly upset within our college communities. The other path is that of the warrior-monk. We should become informed and well-read on what we believe and why. We should be people whom others respect because we are informed on a plethora of issues and can defend the stances we hold.

I would encourage all conservatives to take time to read the intellectual giants of conservatism, like Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and William F. Buckley—to name a few. If you are wanting to dedicate your life to the movement understanding the great ideas upon which our ideology is built is crucial. The foundation you lay as a young conservative is the bedrock you will stand on when you are doing things that matter.

Remember: the journey one embarks on as a conservative is no small endeavor. As the National Review’s mission statement says, we must  “[stand] athwart history, yelling ‘Stop,’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

The Alt-Right vs The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life

Editor’s Note: This article details one of the ways which the alt-right violates the 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative as laid out by Dr. Paul Kengor.

A belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life at every stage of development is one of the most distinctive parts of Reagan-style American conservatism. Reagan’s pro-life stance gained him the support of evangelical and Catholic voters, and continues to play a role in retaining many of those people in the Republican coalition to this day.

Ronald Reagan famously asked, “What single issue could be of greater importance?” He also supported a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution which would have recognized a right to life for every human being “without regard to age, health or condition of dependency” from the moment of fertilization. This respect for the infinite value of every human person, by simple virtue of them being human, completely opposes the values of the alt-right and other collectivist groups.

This belief in the special, immutable, infinite value of the human being guides many other conservative positions. Our support for individual rights like free speech, the right to protect yourself with weapons, and the right to a fair trial all stem from the fact that people matter because they’re people. There’s never any question.

While most conservatives would say that our rights and value come from God, because we are made in His image, this is not a necessary part of conservative thought. Believe it or not, it is not an explictly religious idea to affirm that people are valuable.

To Richard Spencer, who is as close to a spokesman for the whole alt-right as one can be, our rights do not come from God, and human beings are not inherently valuable. To Richard Spencer and his collectivist minions, the value of a human person comes from their place within a family, society, racial or ethnic group, or some other community.

This perspective is, quite frankly, horrifying. If our value comes from our membership in a community, then that value can be taken away if the community, the collective, decides that our membership isn’t beneficial anymore. Believers in human beings’ inherent dignity would never consider that someone is less deserving of protection, or has less moral worth, because they are young, disabled, sick, old, or a member of a different racial group.

Lest one may claim that Richard Spencer is not in fact a spokesman for the whole movement (a somewhat strange proposition, but I’ll allow it), take Aylmer Fisher, exhorting their fellow alt-righters to “not fall prey to the pro-life temptation,” who observed (quite accurately, I would add) that the alt-right views “abortion—and contraception more generally” as “about the only things keeping our societies from falling into complete idiocracy.” Or later in the article, the assessment that the alt-right is “skeptical” of “concepts like ‘equality’ and ‘human rights.’” The narrative is clear: to the alt-right, humanity has no inherent value, no inherent dignity, no inherent worth of any kind. A person is valuable not because he or she is a person, but because of their place in the collective and what they can contribute to that collective. To the alt-right, you or I are only valuable because other people seem to think we are. It’s like fiat currency with human lives.

This identitarian point of view is problematic to pro-life conservatives on its own, and that’s even excluding blatantly racist comments made by those on the alt-right, or Richard Spencer’s claims that they “want to be eugenic in the deepest sense of the word.” Pro-lifers do not. We celebrate every human life, no matter their physical or mental ability, race, family background, income, or any other label that collectivists may try to place on someone.