WITH the outbreak of the coronavirus, school’s out for spring, and probably summer too. As students return from their universities, few are welcomed home as brave soldiers risking their lives on the battlefield of ideas. Yet this is so often the reality for young people today.
Nobody who has experienced higher education since the 60s can deny the Left-wing bias on campus or ignore the domination of academia by the liberal-Left. This has been largely facilitated by an absence of conservative thinkers and ideas within universities, and has been intensified by an increasingly narrow pluralism. Some suggest there is an easy remedy to this problem: provide more conservatives and champion conservative thought. This is useful to rectify some issues, but does not tackle a larger question at hand.
Many of us might be asking ourselves what does it mean to be a conservative today. Some might associate conservatism purely with Thatcherite economics; others to the electoral success of the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority, or we might conclude that the most authentic brand of conservatism is one rooted firmly in traditionalism. If the latter is true for us, then perhaps we are already questioning just how conservative this administration will be. Socially-liberal Boris Johnson won the December General Election with a blank cheque. He promised to ‘Get Brexit Done’ – appealing to Northern working-class communities; he promised to tackle immigration – winning over those affected by migrant workers, and he promised to fund more police officers – providing reassurance to communities terrorised by violent crime. But what has Mr Johnson promised that will protect the institution of the family, or the innocent in the womb, or the vulnerable on their deathbeds? Whilst we may welcome a tougher approach to law and order and immigration policies, conservatism is more than that.
Students who arrive at university – a place that should be where we engage in ideas and exchange opinions, rather than a propaganda machine – might not have yet articulated their political ideology and thus have found no natural home within a political movement. Some will be drawn towards conservative societies or associations because they already have a pre-existing ideological alignment to the Conservative Party or the ideas of the conservative movement. Others will be drawn to conservatism after their initial experience of university culture, in reaction to the culture wars that are being waged on campus. These individuals will be deeply uncomfortable with the robust Leftist agenda that permeates every tier of their students’ union and academic school, and will urgently require a ‘safe space’ that is free from the pink-haired, gender fluid, nauseating busybody who ventures their socialist opinion at every opportunity.
Yet the interactions these irritated and confused students have with other conservatives do little to stimulate the intellect. There is little talk of the merits and virtues of being conservative, no mention of traditional values and a general awkwardness around social issues. Instead, there is a dull and unhealthy focus on a short litany of excellences achieved by the government, and tired arguments for why we are not all Leftists. In such a scenario, it is obvious there is a dire need to get back to basics, and win the argument again.
Being a conservative must involve more than being a simple party loyalist, and thus a small cog in the party machine with no real ideas or strong convictions. Conservatism equally should not be the preserve of the young fogey. The conservative movement might be attractive to the tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking, idealistic bring-back-the-empire undergraduate, but it is a philosophy and ideology far richer and broader than an obsession with 19th century caricatures.
It should be unsurprising that to be conservative means to conserve. However, just what are we conserving? Indeed, how do we go about doing it and how much have we actually done? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves, and the ones that students should be rushing to answer, relishing the opportunity to debate and challenge. It is crucial that we are able to have an opinion and position that is our own, and have the skills necessary to state our case and defend it. Sadly, many students come up to university without these skills, and are unable to think for themselves. Too often they are incapable of engaging with ideas and views with which they disagree for a profound fear of offence or becoming ‘triggered’.
There are few things more necessary than a realignment with ideas, particularly within universities. The case for conservatism has to be made again. This challenge need not be a great intellectual expedition, though there are benefits to young people and old from reading the work of Professor Sir Roger Scruton and engaging with the rhetoric of commentators and polemicists such as Julia Hartley-Brewer, Douglas Murray, Peter Hitchens and Rod Liddle. Making the case again for conservatism should not be a dull process. It can begin with like-minded individuals gathering to discuss and listen to one another. For those at university and those who are not: we should love debate, seek fellowship, and have fun.