I fear that recent trends in the conservative movement may be for the worse, that we may be losing focus. Since I began my involvement in May of 2015 when Ben Carson announced his candidacy for President of the United States, one trend in the conservative movement has continued to bother me: the obsession young conservative activists, including myself, have developed towards “triggering.” I must admit that I was a part of this trend, as I did bring Milo Yiannopoulos to my quiet liberal campus.
Over time I matured, evolving from a “constitutional conservative” my freshman year of college to a raging libertarian my sophomore year before setting on Natural Law Conservatism: the belief that the world is governed by universal norms that we all know. I have led a campus club for libertarians and conservatives for almost the entirety of my time at college.
Over the same time, the way I carried myself on campus changed as well. During my younger years, much of my focus went to figuring out which methods would be most effective in “triggering” the other side. From setting up a table in the campus commons to attract new members, to the quality of the speakers I brought to campus, to submitting a rather brash opinion column in the post-Trump election issue of my school newspaper, I came up with a plethora of ways to make students on my campus uncomfortable. I regret the way I went about some of these activities. Sometimes, it made people in my camp who were less confident or comfortable being known as a conservative on campus decide not to join my organization.
Making the other side uncomfortable can be an useful way to get them to see a situation in a different light. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, it can also infuriate them and ensure they vote against your side the next time an election occurs. “Triggering” the campus left has its uses, but it also has consequences. On a college campus, conservatives are severely outnumbered. Upset them enough and the left will organize and turn your college into the next Evergreen.
Our time could be better spent informing the other side about the value of our ideas. Yelling that abortion is murder could easily be replaced by politely informing the person you are conversing with about the biological facts that one must ignore in order to be pro-abortion without a guilty conscience. Yelling about safe spaces could be replaced with explaining the importance of the free exchange of ideas.
As college activists become more obsessed with triggering the campus opposition, we fall further from the ideological bedrock on which conservatism stands on. Conservatism works because it is a set of ideas that properly interprets human nature as found in Natural Law and set in a belief in a transcendent moral order. Triggering people doesn’t impress this truth on them. Conservatism works because it echos deep truths.
Conservatives waste valuable time attempting to trigger campus opposition instead of conversing and exchanging ideas with their ideological opponents. When it comes to ideas, our ideas win. Most political interactions with progressives result in a drone-like recitation of the progressive hat dance, that is declaring whatever the conservative stance is to be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or any other number of conversation-stopping words.
Up until this year, my organization thrived off of controversy. Every semester we would start with a group of 20 students and be whittled down to six or seven by the end of the semester. This semester, instead of focusing on generating controversy, we focused on facilitating discussion. We asked our members to think outside the box, and to question their own ideas. We encouraged them to never let a talking point suffice for an answer, and instead to respond with a “yes, but why?”. This approach helped our members develop their own thoughts on a plethora of topics instead of rehashing talking points.
At the end of the semester, we still had 15 active members, a massive increase over the previous semester. Over the course of the semester, I made sure to take time to encourage my members to intellectually sustain themselves on by reading great conservative texts and seeking out alternative opinions beyond Fox News or National Review. This winter, I offered every member the opportunity to take a book home from my library so that they could come back to campus in January more informed than they left. Most took me up on it.
As a movement, we need to be in the business of creating what one might call “warrior-monks,” not trigger-happy trolls. The warrior-monk of today should aspire to be like the warrior-monks of old, that is the Knights Templar, the Naga sadhus, or the Japanese sohei. We need to create individuals who understand the ideology and are willing to engage the other side—individuals who emulate the qualities of warrior-monks. These warrior-monk conservatives bring about a whole host of benefits, as they not only know why the other side is wrong, but also why their side is right.
They can discuss issues of taxation, government intervention, foreign policy and social welfare with ease. But the warrior-monk must also be able to discuss deeper truths. He should possess an ability to defend the great tradition of western civilization, natural law, and the nature of man.
Learning about these deeper truths places the warrior-monk in a prime position to seek employment in the conservative movement after graduation. Beyond dedicating one’s life to this cause, there are other benefits to the warrior-monk if he decides not to go a different route. By understanding the deeper truths, the warrior-monk can raise children with conservative values and improve society by creating good citizens. The path of creating a new generation of conservatives is just as important as fighting for the current conservative movement; we must all keep the future in mind. Every coming generation is just as important as the one that passed.
As young conservatives, we stand at a pivotal time in our movement. Down one path lies continued and increased devotion to triggering, on focusing solely on upsetting as many people as we can possibly upset within our college communities. The other path is that of the warrior-monk. We should become informed and well-read on what we believe and why. We should be people whom others respect because we are informed on a plethora of issues and can defend the stances we hold.
I would encourage all conservatives to take time to read the intellectual giants of conservatism, like Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and William F. Buckley—to name a few. If you are wanting to dedicate your life to the movement understanding the great ideas upon which our ideology is built is crucial. The foundation you lay as a young conservative is the bedrock you will stand on when you are doing things that matter.
Remember: the journey one embarks on as a conservative is no small endeavor. As the National Review’s mission statement says, we must “[stand] athwart history, yelling ‘Stop,’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”