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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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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