How to introduce students to conservative thought? It’s hard. The colleges and universities aren’t interested. The media and popular culture are hostile. What if young Americans nonetheless become aware of the existence of such a thing as conservative thought? How to convey its varieties and complexities? Even tougher. You can write articles and put things online, but there’s an awful lot competing for young people’s attention these days.
But there’s good news nonetheless. Help has arrived. Its name? President Barack Obama.
The decomposition of the Obama presidency has created what Obama might call a teachable moment. This is, needless to say, a loathsome phrase, reeking as it does of liberal sanctimoniousness and professorial condescension. Still, who can resist appropriating it, if only for this one occasion? Because it is, really, a moment. It’s a moment when minds can be opened to conservative truths, ears can be induced to hear conservative insights, eyes can be fitted with contact lenses so as better to see conservative arguments.
Are the young struck by the dashed hopes of Obamacare? Give them a copy of Friedrich Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. They can’t believe the Secret Service farce? Introduce them to James Q. Wilson on bureaucracy. They’re befuddled by the exploitation of an unfortunate incident in Ferguson? Have them read Edward C. Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (especially the chapter he titled “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit”). Liberalism’s domestic policies aren’t working quite the way they were supposed to? Acquaint them with Irving Kristol: “I have observed over the years that the unanticipated consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable, than the intended consequences.”
Are they horrified by the results of Obama’s foreign policy? Let them study Churchill: “For five years I have talked to the House on these matters—not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet.” Do they wonder what happened to the virtue of courage? They can ponder Solzhenitsyn: “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elite, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.”
Does it sometimes seem no one is saying what is obviously true? Read Orwell: “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” Does it sometimes seem no one is doing what is obviously right? Consider C. S. Lewis: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.”
So seize the day. Grasp the moment. Don’t let the collapse of the Obama presidency go to waste.