September 11, 2006
Is there such a thing as a conservative revolution?
Now that the title of my book has become part of the lexicon when discussing the situation on college campuses, I feel compelled to explain my purpose in using the term “the conservative revolution.” For some, this phrase flies in the face of traditional conservatism like that expressed by Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Conservatives, we are told, reject revolutions as radical and bloody innovations. While this may be the case in a political context such as the French Revolution, revolutions are not all the same. In this essay I hope to provide three examples where revolutions were in fact conservative, and one scenario where a future revolution could be conservative. First, let us look at the American Revolution. Who could argue that this was a revolution whereby the colonists rebelled precisely to preserve their rights as British citizens? When listing the grievances in the Declaration of Independence that brought forth the revolution, Thomas Jefferson mentioned policies that the King and Parliament had instituted that had violated the colonists’ rights. Most of these policies were recently enacted, after the French and Indian War. It was the King and the Parliament, and not the colonists, who were changing things. Therefore, the revolution that ensued sought to restore things as they were before the innovations of the British government. This was a conservative revolution. The Texas Revolution that began in 1835 was also a conservative revolution. The Texian rebels led by cult heroes like Davy Crockett, William B. Travis and Sam Houston were fighting to restore their rights that had been trampled by the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. In fact, the flag that flew over the Alamo was the flag of 1824, which represented the Mexican Constitution of 1824 abolished by Santa Anna. It was Santa Anna, and not the Texians, that was the radical innovator. The Texians did seek their independence, but only because the government that they had consented to had become tyrannical. They sought to restore their rights that had existed prior to Santa Anna, but in doing so, launched a new nation, the Republic of Texas. Suppose that years from now our own government grew in power and began to dismantle our Constitution. Many on the left and right believe that this is already happening today, although I think we are far from it. If our government declared martial law, forced a national identification card, instituted a draft, jailed dissidents and launched wars of conquest around the globe, would Americans continue to want to “conserve” that government? Those on the left and the right might actually join forces to overthrow the government through revolution and restore it to its constitutional foundations. Would this revolution be a conservative revolution? It seems to me that if the effect of the revolution was not bloodshed and anarchy, but ordered liberty and a return to constitutionalism, one could call this revolution “conservative.” Let us hope we never come to such a scenario. But I think the example is helpful in understanding the term “conservative revolution.” How does the use of the phrase “conservative revolution” apply to college campuses today? When free speech is violated, conservative newspapers are destroyed and Western Civilization is torn down every day why should conservatives “conserve” the campus culture? Conservative students are facing an intellectual battle daily in lecture halls, dormitories and administration buildings. Conservative students are fighting on campuses to restore the campus to a culture of free inquiry, intellectual pluralism and academic freedom. Since the takeover of the campuses by the sixties radicals, the academy has become a bastion of Marxism, multiculturalism and political correctness. Again, the radical innovators are the professors and administrators, and not the conservative students. When choosing to describe the battle for college campuses a “conservative revolution” I deliberately chose this phrase. Conservative students who revere Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk should be comfortable with this term. And those students who read Locke, Hayek and Rand should be equally comfortable in this description of our goal. When I called for the launching of a “conservative revolution” to take back our campuses from the grip of the far Left, I was not calling for the use of bullets, bombs nor the guillotine. Rather, I was calling for an intellectual battle that holds no punches, that seeks to tear down multiculturalism, political correctness and Marxism. In their place, I urge my fellow conservative “revolutionaries” to promote the ideas of Western Civilization, the great books, Judeo-Christian values, the free market and ordered liberty. Students should be organizing on campuses, starting clubs and newspapers, and hosting debates. The end game is not to destroy the institutions of higher education themselves. Rather, it is to destroy with the power of truth the failed ideologies of Marxism and collectivism, and return the campuses to an environment that upholds the ideas that have preserved Western Civilization. Nothing short of an intellectual and political revolution against entrenched Leftists on campuses will suffice. Therefore, I declare that the conservative revolution should continue to be the battle cry for conservative students everywhere. Brendan Steinhauser is the author of The Conservative Revolution: How to Win the Battle of College Campuses.