Redefining conservatism

College Republicans president outlines agenda for party both nationally and on campus.

By Jonathan Godoy

On Wednesday, October 9, the UChicago Democrats and the College Republicans jointly held a debate where members from both RSOs faced off on some of the major issues confronting the country today. As president of College Republicans, I was given the opportunity to open and close the debate by outlining the fundamental principles of conservatism.

The rhetorical and thematic arc that united the College Republicans’ messages at the debate represented a shift of sorts from the traditional conservative approach. It emphasized philosophy and presented a persuasion driven by the resolve to see our society flourish and thrive.

The change was purposeful. It is no secret that we represent a super-minority coalition on campus. Our perspective is one that is held by, according to most Chicago Life meeting polls of the past few years, 7 to 10 percent of the student body. Employing the usual rhetoric would accomplish nothing in the way of gaining the ears of most students here. Our style was unprecedented and inclusive and sought to build wider consensus and appeal.

None of this is to say that our words are disingenuous. In fact, we endorse this as the approach that the party should adopt on the national stage. For the purposes of furthering discussion on campus, I will outline this view below.

In defining the conscience of a conservative, I find it fitting to begin with the most essential and basic social construct: the civil society. It is in this idea that we, connected by the common bonds of humanity and inclusive of our natural rights, find our greatest sources of personal happiness and purpose. Conservatism sees its greatest and simplest purpose as this: the propagation of the civil society.

In this view, the civil society gains its greatest fulfillment. The state becomes not the major means of association for all, but rather an intermediary that addresses the issues of promoting an environment of opportunity for societal prosperity. The state is less interested in the particulars of the behaviors and relationships of individuals, and its power is necessarily and prudently limited. It defers to the judgment and wisdom of those most intimately affected by the political questions at hand.

The civil society is a rich and vibrant community where the institutions of family, church, neighborhoods, townships, and individual associations are at the center of the social fabric. These relations promote the notions of mutual dependence, symbiotic enrichment, political pedagogy, and moral socialization.

From this human-focused perspective flows innumerable policy pronouncements and stances that serve to dictate our approach to governance and prioritize our aims and objectives in order to preserve the ethos of the American Dream. Our concept of the civil society necessitates prudence and broad consensus; its power lies in its egalitarian nature and in the free ability of all to associate and define themselves as they deem fit.

Similarly, our economic principles are hinged on such notions, where the enabling power of opportunity and the impartial hand of free markets reign supreme. We conservatives find the fight against the tyranny of economic and social determinism paramount. A large bureaucracy allows for special interest groups to gain access and hold significant leverage over the political decision-making process without providing the adequate institutions to check such activity. In this way, big government is debilitating and unfairly limits the opportunities for the personal success of average Americans. We see the economy not as a zero-sum game, but as a dynamic and organic system that prospers most when all feel self-empowered and motivated to innovate, thrive and succeed.

And in the world—where the lines between good and evil, the virtuous and the malevolent, should remain firmly defined and upheld—conservatism advocates a rich mixture of policies that are grounded in historical experience and sound reality and seeks to balance our penchant for pursuing our interests abroad and defending certain moral imperatives. For us, American leadership in the world has been—and remains—indispensible; it has provided for the liberation of millions, the promulgation of our values abroad, and the security of all at home.

In short, conservatism is rooted in defining the nature of the social person, driven by an unyielding desire to see all prosper and governed by a healthy skepticism of centralized power.

We do not expect that this approach will suddenly inspire a mass of students to change their political allegiance and turn to the right. Our goal is not political proselytizing (though converts are always welcome). The aims of this message are simply to promote political thought and engagement and to stake our claim in this political dogfight. We hope that this serves as a catalyst that can change the nature of political discussion on campus—be it through more open dialogue, greater debate, or increased cooperation between opposing factions—and explicate for the better understanding of all our foundational underpinnings.

Jonathan Godoy is a third-year in the College majoring in political science.