Students are ready for liberty–is the Right ready to provide it?

11 09 2011

Ask anyone who has spent time on campus the past 40-50 years: liberal progressivism is the default ideology for those who aspire to be a part of the so-called thinking class.

If you want to be viewed as sensitive, sensible, and informed – join the College Democrats, participate in leftist activism, or simply nod vigorously whenever your professor launches into a stream of anti-capitalist invective. It’s not difficult to understand why so many fall into this comfortable trap (some of my friends certainly have). Inside the campus bubble, you rarely needs test theory against reality.

But this is changing rapidly. The failures of the Bush Administration, followed by the ongoing failures of the Obama Administration, have birthed unprecedented disillusionment with our political system. It is becoming apparent that government is more willing to establish and enforce privilege than to defend individual rights. Big Government Republicans have no qualms about trampling economic liberty (supporting endless bailouts and failing to address rampant spending) – just as Democrats seem unwilling to make good on their promises (black unemployment remains shockingly high, and Obama has fallen short on nearly all of his campaign pledges).

Students are taking notice.

Conservatives should be excited about this new awakening, but there’s a catch: the young and informed are fleeing from both liberalism and conservatism, increasingly turning to libertarianism. During two campus outreach events this past week, the U-M College Libertarians collected information from over 100 enthusiastic, prospective members. Student activists from coast to coast are reporting similar interest.

Like many similar campus groups, the U-M College Libertarians remain unaffiliated with a political party. We have no rigid platform, and our members often hold opposing views on controversial policy issues such as abortion, international intervention, and political reform. Our focus is on advancing the ideas of liberty through education and activism, and not necessarily direct political agitation. This approach seems to be paying dividends: the energy within the movement is palpable and growing.

The Right must reexamine some of its long-held beliefs if it is to benefit from the growth of the liberty movement and the youth who are rapidly embracing it. We all agree that the taxation and regulation of business is crippling our economy. That’s the easy part.

It will be far more difficult to find common ground on social issues or international policy. The supposed perils of gay marriage or drug legalization simply aren’t issues for members of my generation. Likewise, we need not be protégés of Cindy Sheehan to wonder why cuts to our military budget are off the table – especially when it is our generation that will bear the brunt of decades of deficit spending.

I’m not suggesting that conservatives become more moderate or centrist. Instead, conservatism, if it is to survive in the long run, must become more radical – more radically pro-liberty, that is. As more young individuals grow weary of government intervention in their economic and personal lives, they will begin searching for a new political home.

It would be wise to make room for them.

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