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Campus Conservatives--lose Argument, Few Facts

REVOLT ON THE CAMPUS, by M. Stanton Evans. Henry Regnery Company. 240 pages. $4.50. pages. $4.50.

By Michael S. Gruen

LIBERALS often have a tendency to view the current upsurge in extreme conservative politics as an expression of simplistic utopianism--a feeble-minded attempt to solve complex problems by naively facile means. From one point of view this may be quite true. One does indeed find it difficult in the mid-20th century to envisage the actualization of a conservative tenet such as total laissez-faire. But taken alone, this interpretation of conservatism fails to comprehend the almost subtle philosophical rationality behind the movement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Evans is a polemicist, not a philosopher, and his discussion of conservatism fails to achieve anything approaching profundity. It is, nonetheless, provocative. According to Evans, most of today's conservatives derive their political and economic beliefs from their more basic ethical commitments. (In fact, the word 'conservatism' comes to mean the retention of an ethical rather than a political tradition.) Their absolutist moral convictions (based either on natural law or on revealed religion) lead them--over several different paths--to an extreme individualism. One student, whom Evans quotes, remarks that the concept of morality assumes man to be a free agent capable of improving himself. "Man's pursuit of virtue," the student writes, "and the fulfillment of his duty to the moral order can be realized only in a political and economic condition of freedom." Evans himself suggests that "because the principal end of man is to shape his volition to the will of God, no man is empowered to distort another's will" by economic or political means. To this I would add that many men doubt understand individual action to be the only way of achieving redemption from sin.

Thus, belief in the market economy, and opposition to all governmental intervention including government aid to the individual (which either corrupts morals or, as in the case of Social Security, prevents the individual from deciding for himself how and when to spend his money) follows naturally. Communism, being relativist, atheistic, and opposed to the market principle, is of course immoral on all counts.

Just as conservatism reflects moral rigidity, liberalism reflects permissiveness. Being a relativist in intellectual outlook and a devotee of the scientific method, the liberal lacks morals, accepts expression of all views, and refuses to react against "statism." What Mr. Evans says suggests an extremely interesting conclusion which he himself shies away from. The conservatist he describes seeks the freedom to indulge in self-perfection (insofar as perfection is achievable); the liberal seeks the freedom of self-expression. The extent of the difference--in fact, contradiction-- between these two concepts of freedom is best expressed by the conservatives' reluctance to permit any civil liberties to Communists, the ultimate rationale being that those who refuse to try to perfect themselves must be forced.

As I have said, Mr. Evans is a politicist. He has set out to prove that a new conservative revolt has arisen to oppose the liberal orthodoxy; and that it is in this movement that students can best find dynamism, non-conformity, novelty. The facts he brings to bear are indeed impressive. He speaks of a conservative take-over in the Young Republicans since 1957. He described how the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists has in eight years increased its mailing list from to more than 13,000 using extremely low pressure techniques. He the well-known roster of conservative organizations that have been formed in the last six years or so and hints to the extensive multiplication of their chapters. This is, unquestionably, a movement of considerable proportions and, although Mr. Evans' tone may tend to convey a somewhat exaggerated impression of it, I cannot for a moment doubt his facts.

Facts, however, are what one would like to see more of in this book-- especially in regard to such questions as why liberalism enjoys its current prevalence and why conservatism has effectively to challenge it during the past few years. His failure to investigate the foundations of liberal strength reveals of a great deal, for he has staked his very definition of liberalism on the interpretation of current society provided by such men as and Ortega y Gasset, who describe the present pattern in terms of conformity and big government. Because Evans does not look to their discussion of causes, he can not draw their conclusions--that conformity and big government are inevitable.

But the whole point is that to ask a conservative such as Evans to investigate causes and effects (or the practicality of applying conservative theses) is to ask him to adopt the very ethic he is trying to shirk: the conservative is not a scientist but, rather, harks back to a pre-scientific tradition.

Anyone looking for a closely reasoned analysis of campus conservatism will not find it here. I can, however, highly recommend the book to those seeking an impression (poorly organized, though highly readable) of the spirit behind conservatism.

Facts, however, are what one would like to see more of in this book-- especially in regard to such questions as why liberalism enjoys its current prevalence and why conservatism has effectively to challenge it during the past few years. His failure to investigate the foundations of liberal strength reveals of a great deal, for he has staked his very definition of liberalism on the interpretation of current society provided by such men as and Ortega y Gasset, who describe the present pattern in terms of conformity and big government. Because Evans does not look to their discussion of causes, he can not draw their conclusions--that conformity and big government are inevitable.

But the whole point is that to ask a conservative such as Evans to investigate causes and effects (or the practicality of applying conservative theses) is to ask him to adopt the very ethic he is trying to shirk: the conservative is not a scientist but, rather, harks back to a pre-scientific tradition.

Anyone looking for a closely reasoned analysis of campus conservatism will not find it here. I can, however, highly recommend the book to those seeking an impression (poorly organized, though highly readable) of the spirit behind conservatism.

But the whole point is that to ask a conservative such as Evans to investigate causes and effects (or the practicality of applying conservative theses) is to ask him to adopt the very ethic he is trying to shirk: the conservative is not a scientist but, rather, harks back to a pre-scientific tradition.

Anyone looking for a closely reasoned analysis of campus conservatism will not find it here. I can, however, highly recommend the book to those seeking an impression (poorly organized, though highly readable) of the spirit behind conservatism.

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