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The Confederate Lawyer
January 7, 2010

We Were Young Once — and Conservative
by Charles G. Mills

GLEN COVE, NY — The early 1960s were a wonderful time to be young and conservative. Seeing the horror of some middle-aged people at the thought of great masses of young conservatives alone was worth it.

The New Yorker published a cartoon of a teenage boy and girl sitting on the stoop of a New York brownstone with two signs resting next to them that said, “Goldwater for President” and “Young Americans for Freedom.” The caption was, “Do you think we’ll grow up to be stodgy old Liberals like our parents?” The question had occurred to many of us. So many of our heroes at National Review had been communists or socialists when they were our age. Would history play a cruel mirror-image trick on us at the dawn of the twenty-first century?

It was hard to imagine how. It was an age in which the issues were simple. We had a foreign policy that failed to defend the Hungarians in 1956, failed to defend the Cubans in 1958, and failed to defend the Katangans in 1960. We had a government that was destroying the balance of power between the states and the federal government, and destroying the rights of states to decide the composition of their legislatures, the qualifications to vote, and just about every other aspect of state sovereignty. We had a government that was meddling in labor relations and the price of airplane tickets and telephone calls, and otherwise stifling a free economy. What we did not have was a government prepared to defend America’s honor.

The remedy was simple: victory over communism, free enterprise, Constitutional states’ rights, and patriotism. Surely we would not abandon those simple and obvious principles?

Nixon came along in 1968. Most of us supported him. He had stood by Goldwater when so many had betrayed him. Nixon would give government jobs to conservatives who needed them as credentials for the future. Finally, he ran a great campaign whenever he ran for anything.

In 1969, the prophetic new magazine Triumph sounded the warning. Brent Bozell, in a series of articles, predicted the demise of the conservative movement. His first thesis was that Nixon had abandoned anti-statism, nationalism, anti-communism, and Constitutionalism. His second thesis was that the nomination of Nixon instead of Reagan was a failure of the will. Finally, he attributed the failure of the will to spiritual weakness and specifically a failure to embrace a Christian politics.

National Review struck back at Triumph viciously and then went into decline, championing contraception, engaging in shallow criticism of Blessed John XXIII, and embracing the neo-conservatives. This was a tragedy because National Review had been a main instrument in increasing conservatism among Catholics after almost a century of widespread Catholic belief in left-wing interpretations of the Church’s social doctrine.

Neo-cons came in several waves. The first were people who moved from the left to the right; unlike the ex-Communists and their allies at National Review, however, they did not leave behind all their left-wing opinions. The next were those who thought they would get a better Mideast policy out of conservatives than liberals. Later were those who wanted in when Reagan was elected. Finally were the people who call themselves neo-cons simply to distinguish themselves from those conservatives nostalgic for 1920s-style isolationism.

Some have taken to calling conservatives who believe in anti-communism, anti-statism, States’ rights, and nationalism “paleo-cons.” They are instead conservatives as we understood the term in those wonderful days of the early 1960s.

Today we face problems that are much more complex than in the 1960s: contraception, abortion, euthanasia, pornography, widespread divorce, bigamy, pseudo marriages between homosexuals, and other homosexual anti-social behavior. We can no longer rely on people who have a mystical devotion to Ayn Rand’s person or who want to auction off the village streets. We still, however, have to support anti-statism, anti-communism, states’ rights, the Constitution, and the flag.

The young Conservatives of the 1960s had their triumph in the 1980s with the election of Ronald Reagan. We defeated communism, and we reduced taxation and regulation. We came close to stopping the growth of government. To do this, we had to abandon our opposition to federal deficits and we did little to restore state sovereignty.

We who were young and conservative then need to examine our consciences and ask if we can justify every compromise we made during the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush years.

What made it so wonderful to be a young conservative in the 1960s was that we were defying all the conventions that liberals believed they had established forever. Nothing could have been more fun. The equivalent today would be a college student advocating poll taxes, literacy tests to vote, the imprisonment of homosexuals, an all-male West Point, and one seat per county in the state legislatures. If young people start saying things like that now, they will have the kind of fun we did 50 years earlier.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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