Sixty years ago, on September 11, 1960, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was founded at the home of conservative legend, William F. Buckley Jr., in Sharon, Connecticut.
The Sharon Statement outlined a list of conservative values, but it is not merely one of the most precise definitions of American conservatism to date. In proclaiming that “in this time of moral and political crisis, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths,” it is now more relevant than ever.
In a summer shaped by the unjust killing of George Floyd and the ongoing riots supposedly in response to it, the attack on America’s founding ideals has reached a new height, as so-called activists try to topple statues of American Founding Fathers and heroes, like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Grant. The principles to respond to this crisis can be found right in YAF’s declaration of freedom and limited government.
The first of those principles is recognizing every American’s “right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force.” Just as conservatives loathe the intrusions on freedom of everyday Americans by the administrative state, they despise arbitrary acts of violence by individual government officials, like the one that happened to George Floyd.
The Sharon Statement explicitly affirms “that the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice.” Today, with riots in major American cities, the attack on this internal order is on full display. The same people who proclaim that speech is violence now try to twist reality the other way, arguing that violence is speech. Conservatives rightly reject this notion that violent unrest is a form of legitimate protest in a free nation.
American politics are increasingly characterized by opportunistic identity politics-driven politicians going out of their way to show that they don’t care about due process but pure partisan hackery–from uncorroborated allegations in confirmation hearings to hasty claims of police misconduct that stir up mob violence.
The Sharon Statement asserts the conservative demand for an impartial administration of justice.
The defense of the Constitution was important when there was no such thing as the Federalist Society or a Justice Scalia or Thomas, but it is just as crucial today. In an era where America’s founding principles seem doomed to be “canceled” sooner or later by activists who deem them racist, conservatives can look to the Constitution —which the Sharon Statement rightly cherishes as “the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power.”
America is exceptional, and much of that exceptionalism stems from the genius of the Constitution and the unapologetic embrace of liberty in the Declaration of Independence.
An essential feature of the constitution is federalism–the belief that most of the government’s power is left to the states, not the federal government because otherwise, Americans would have to believe, as Ronald Reagan put it, “that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
Another hallmark of the Sharon Statement is the embrace of the free market, perfectly summed up by the acknowledgment “that when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation, that when it takes from one to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both.” That essential truth about the market economy hasn’t changed since then and it should serve as an important reminder, especially for some on the populist right.
The last themes the statement touches upon are foreign policy, underscoring the importance for a strong national defense because freedom “can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies.” And finally there is a powerful warning that sounds like a wake-up call for the current political class, given the emergence of communist China. It concludes by saying “that the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties [and] that the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with this menace.”
Therefore, the Sharon Statement remains a timeless, brilliant document in defense of individual liberty, free markets, the rule of law, and robust foreign policy powered by a strong national defense in an increasingly dangerous world.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.