Old-Fashioned Conservatives and New-Right Radicals (1 Sept. 2013)
I think it was
some time in the 1970s, and I was in Oxford, Ohio, early in my career
as a teacher at Miami University. In any event, there was a strike in
Hamilton, Ohio, and some College Republicans from Miami U were driven
over to Hamilton in an armored truck and worked as strike breakers.
According to an interview in The Miami Student, the student newspapers, the College Repubs mostly saw their ride and their work as fun, something of a lark.
mentioned this story to a conservative colleague in my department, and
he said something like, "Miami students scabbed … for entertainment?" I
said that I didn't think they needed money, so, yeah, for entertainment
and to make an ideological point.
He kind of shuddered and said, "You don't do that …. I mean, maybe if you have to put food on the table, but you don't scab for kicks or to make a point. It's not decent."
colleague was an old-fashioned kind of conservative, with a strong
sense of decency, a working-class background, and — whatever his
complaints about unions — "scab" and "to scab" as part of his active
vocabulary. Our larking, strikebreaking, scabbing students were
something neither he nor I had encountered before.
in my career, I was a senior faculty representative to Miami U's
Student Affairs Council and kind of an informal parliamentarian. One new
student member of Council moved and his buddy seconded a motion to
reconstitute Council's membership. They moved to replace in the student
delegation the Vice President for Minority Affairs of Associated Student
Government with the Vice President for Communication. They thought it
would make a neater organizational chart having the ASG liaison officer
on SAC rather than the ASG VP for Minority Affairs.
Chairman of Council was the highly effective — as in "iron-fisted" —
University "Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students,"
and Consigliere for Enforcement (my formulation) for the University
President. The Chair turned to me and said, "Can we do that?" I thought
for a moment and replied, "Well, Student Affairs Council lacks power to
actually do very much, so we'd be advising the Trustees to impose on
Student Government a change in the ASG constitution and by-laws. We can advise
that; it's just that the Trustees as a matter of principle don't have
the authority to order such a change — no outsiders can change a group's
constitution or by-laws — and as a matter of politics, it would be,
let's say, imprudent." Whoo, boy, would it have been imprudent! They'd
have looked tyrannical over a relative trifle, and racist, since the
word "minority" at Miami University meant Black, and we were notorious
for having very, very few minority students. "So, yes, we can advise the
Trustees to act inappropriately, but they will probably politely ignore
us or send the recommendation back with a rebuke."
Chair turned to the President of ASG and unofficial head of the student
delegation. "Does ASG want us to make this change?" he asked. The
Student Body President said "No!" very emphatically, adding that the
proposal had come to ASG from the two movers, and ASG had voted it down.
Indeed, the idea had received just about no support except from these
two guys and some allies from a group that had sprung up on campus
recently, and with a lot of money. (A reporter for The Miami Student
was convinced the student group was shilling for some rich big-wigs in
Ohio politics, but he couldn't prove it and get the story published. The
reporter thought the highly traditional Miami Student was about to get challenged by the Midwestern foreshadowing of The Dartmouth Review.)
two young men repeated that replacing the student VP for Minority
Affairs with the VP for Communication would be logical and make for a
cleaner ASG table of organization and a more coherent student
then, significantly, one of my older colleagues spoke up: an
Asian-American Christian conservative from the Department of History.
but not calling attention to the irony, this historian pointed out that
his two younger colleagues on Council had a point about the abstract
logic of tables of organization but left out a crucial factor, or at
least a crucial factor for conservatives. Whatever the soundness of
their arguments in terms of abstract logic, their predecessors in
Associated Student Government hadn't been stupid, and there were
historical reasons why ASG had as part of their delegation their VP for
Minority Affairs, historical reasons that were still valid. As a
principle of parliamentary procedure, the burden of proof lies with
those wishing to change things, and as a principle of traditional
conservatism, "Unless it's necessary to change things, it is necessary not to change things."
These two guys from the Right of the College Republicans — remnants of the YAFers
and precursors of Tea Party Youth — were engaging in the sort of
abstract, historically ignorant — and proud of it!— futzing around with
organization that drives traditional conservatives up the wall. They
were engaging in this exercise not to actually get something done but to
stir up racial issues and to appeal to some outside audience. This
pissed off pretty much everyone else on Council, including our
energetically authoritarian Chair.
The motion had been made and seconded, and received in its favor the votes of the mover and seconder and failed, miserably ....
of course, the motion undoubtedly succeeded with its intended audience,
who were not the Miami University people who would vote on it. The
reporter for The Miami Student never did identify the sponsors
of our New Right activists, but the circumstantial evidence is that they
were alive and powerful in places like Cincinnati, Canton, and the Ohio
historian colleague was respectable Old-Old-Right Conservative, in the
tradition of Edmund Burke; the two punks on Council were the new
version, and what we are seeing more of today: wise-ass theorists, with
impressive financial backing, guys who don't care much about tradition
or history or, in a lot of cases, morality, decency, or just plain
manners. These were the Miami U version of what Randy Newman identified (let's say through a synecdoche
and the imperatives of rime), as "college men from LSU / Went in dumb —
came out dumb too": far too refined to be "rednecks / […] keeping the
niggers down," but willing to earn brownie points, and money, by trying
to ensure that minority students wouldn't be guaranteed a voice on a
Council, in a seat open to, and sometimes taken by, straight WASP or
a priest explained to me, there was no contradiction that Miami
University, like many public universities, has a plurality of Catholics
and is still WASPish: many MU students were WASCs, White Catholics,
sufficiently assimilated and homogenized that for all practical
purposes, they're WASPs.)
envy the energy and cockiness of these New Right students, especially
the ones who'd risk getting their asses kicked as scabs. I envy their
certainty. But these folk are cocky and certain mostly, I suspect,
because they're privileged, because they've never encountered a problem
Mom and Dad and family connections and wealth couldn't get them out of.
And they have their theories (God, do they have their theories!) often
enough — like, for a while, Miami alum Paul Ryan — out of Ayn Rand.
let us praise old conservatives, such as my two colleagues, and let us
be very, very suspicious about the new varieties passing themselves off
as conservatives. The New Right punks, female as well as male, have
their theories and their rich supporters, and they want to push things
around — and willing to push people around; they call themselves
conservatives, but in their actions they repeat the worst mistakes and
habits of radicals.
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