Robinson Motte - Contributor
Rachel Robinson Motte is a Torrey Honors Institute graduate from Biola University
majoring in history. She interned in Morton Blackwell's office at the Leadership
Institute and in Congressman Jim
Ryun's (R-KS) office.
Call to Virtue
Conservative Leaders Must Exemplify
[Rachel Robinson] 4/20/04
recent issue of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Campus magazine featured an
article entitled "Losing the
Conservative Mind." The author, a sophomore at Yale, argued
that today's young conservative activists often lack a clear
idea of what conservatism means. Drawn by the excitement generated
by a popular candidate or policy, many accept conservatism because
it has been presented to them in an attractive way, not because
they understand that the principles it promotes are true.
This is an easy trap for young people, and calls to mind a passage
in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov. The passage describes
a man who was so serious about a cause that he was willing to
sacrifice even his life for it; yet even with all his fervor,
he was unwilling to do the hard intellectual work that would
train him to think well and thus defend his cause most effectively.
Students are no longer given a sound grounding in the Liberal
Arts in school, so it's no wonder they don't know how to grapple
with difficult ideas properly. Like so many other young people
throughout history, they fail to think through their decisions
and end up fighting fiercely for something they cannot always
Many college students get involved in politics because they
enjoy the social interaction and stimulating environment, not
because they fully understand what they are getting themselves
into. Those who genuinely do want to make a difference in the
world are often like the man described above; they are willing
to make sacrifices, but are unwilling to make the most effective
sacrifice. Conservatism would benefit tremendously if its young
workforce would spend a little less time networking and a lot
more time studying the great ideas that define the western civilization
they will someday be responsible for protecting.
The Campus article goes on to state that a return to the intellectual
rigor that characterized conservative groups in the 1960's is
needed to ensure the unity and effectiveness of the movement.
There is a lot of truth to this; however, there is also some
danger. Student-led campus groups and conservative training organizations
have done much to educate young people in the philosophies of
conservatism, but fail to get at the root of the real problem
facing the movement: Lack of virtue.
The most rigorous intellectual training program in the world
is worth nothing if its students do not learn virtue, because
it is useless to study the truth unless one is transformed by
it. The brightest, most loyal conservative will not be able to
make a significant difference in the culture unless he first
makes the sacrifices that are needed to learn to live well.
The moral conduct of a leader affects the conduct of those under
him. He teaches others how to live -- if he is a righteous and
virtuous man, those who support him will follow his example.
If he is a corrupt man, his followers will be corrupted. Those
who followed the Clinton impeachment proceedings know well that
intelligent, well-educated people in positions of power can be
very dangerous if their personal lives are characterized by bad
conduct. Bill Clinton's affair made it easier for others to justify
their own sins, and marital unfaithfulness became even more acceptable
to the general public.
and conservative leaders have been found guilty of adultery
in recent years. I was in high school
when I heard
of Newt Gingrich's affair, and was shocked that one of the "good
guys" had made such an enormous mistake. I know now that
such things are no less common among conservatives than among
those with whom they disagree.
Conservatives will never be able to make a significant cultural
impact if they continue to live badly. Each new generation of
activists looks a little less like the one that came before,
and a little more like the enemy it opposes. What does it mean
for the future of the west when those who love it most are little
better than those who want to see it destroyed? CRO
2004 Rachel Robinson