The axiom that the conservative worldview rests on is individualism. When left to their own devices, conservatives are able to create a functional, moral, and healthy society. The attitudes coming out of our college campuses and the conservative movement at large are not the kind that can assist in the creation of that kind society.
As conservatives, we believe that an overbearing government is not necessary to a society where people can connect peaceably. Instead, we believe that, through the propagation of a coherent moral code, often based in faith and the acts of charity, people can fill the gaps that the government currently seeks to remedy.
What is it that the college conservative movement emphasizes above all? Charity? Kindness? Unified, strong interpersonal relationships with members of the community to engender a true social safety net? No, instead, the college conservative movement is occupied primarily with a kind of reactionary and toxic political activism that very nearly renders them the caricature liberal media insists they are. “Triggering the libs”™ has become the apotheosis of conservatism.
Pointed, clever, and even aggressive political activism has its place. However, in the absence of an equal emphasis on moral personal behavior, it’s meaningless— if not counterproductive. If all college conservativism creates is a meaner, harsher society, the end result isn’t going to be less government; it’ll be more of it.
Kindness is a habit; cruelty is an addiction. If college activism is going to become entirely about inciting a negative reaction from your political enemies then those activists are going to continue to act the same way in the rest of their adult lives. Their weekends will be consumed by yelling at people on Twitter, not volunteering at a soup kitchen. You see evidence of this in the some of the loudest voices claiming to speak for young conservatives.
Conservatism isn’t just a collection of beliefs about the proper role of government. A complete conservative movement speaks to the way one should comport themselves in their personal life as well. The fight of western civilization is over what should dominate in society: individuals, or government. If individuals are magnanimous, government recedes. If conservatives become a bitter, unkind people, then the government will rear its serpentine head and strike.
College conservatives need to prioritize the personal attitudes they hold and try to instill in their peers. Destroy big government by making it unnecessary. Prove socialism sucks by helping those in need of financial assistance.
Alongside every affirmative action bake sale, encourage your peers to volunteer in an underserved community. Do a gun range social, but pair older members of your club with younger ones and help a freshman acclimate to their new environment. Challenge your campus Democrats, but make sure you acknowledge your shared humanity. Your opponents are not your enemies, they’re your fellow citizens that you will engage with. Treat them as such.
Engage in performative conservativism, fighting for less government by making it less necessary. George H.W. Bush was infamous for his calls for a “compassionate conservatism.” We need more conservatives to be compassionate before the government forces us to in a way that we don’t want.