Conclusion: What Next?
The end of this compilation may be a good place to explain its title. The title is only two words, but both are open to multiple interpretations. That the meaning of the first word could be unclear or contested is the very purpose behind this collection, so I’ll let the chapters themselves define elements of […]
The end of this compilation may be a good place to explain its title. The title is only two words, but both are open to multiple interpretations. That the meaning of the first word could be unclear or contested is the very purpose behind this collection, so I’ll let the chapters themselves define elements of conservatism. There’s much to unpack in the second word too. Irving Kristol, a major figure in 20th-century conservative thought and an AEI scholar, liked the word “persuasion” to describe, as a historian he admired defined it, “a matched set of attitudes, beliefs, projected actions: a half-formulated moral perspective involving emotional commitment.”1 Being half-formulated, these perspectives are often unexpressed or taken for granted. This compilation is an attempt to express them—to elucidate ideas central to conservatives and explain the foundations of many right-of-center decisions and policies.
Of course, persuasion can also imply argument, and these chapters all attempt to convince you about specific perspectives and persuasions. The book is not an exhaustive list of conservative principles, but we chose these particular topics because they are the most relevant to college students in the early 2020s; they are hotly contested or central to contemporary policy and political conversations. Ideally, all the chapters have convinced you of the authors’ points of view. More likely, you agree with some but remain skeptical of others. That’s fine! Even the ones that don’t persuade you may at least enlighten you by providing a clearer understanding of a major thread in conservative thought.
At the same time, the thoughtfulness of the chapters, the respect the authors show their readers, the absence of personal attacks, and the focus on logic, evidence, and values are all ways these chapters can be models for your own efforts at persuasion. I hope so, because right now our college campuses are not exactly bastions of civil discourse.
Every year at AEI’s Summer Honors Program, the Academic Programs department asks students about the health of discourse at their schools. The numbers suggest there is a lot of opportunity to improve campus culture. In the summer of 2022, for example, 48 percent of students disagreed with the statement that “respectful dialogue across ideological lines is happening on my college campus.” Only 39 percent agreed with it. Keep in mind that these aren’t just conservative students; about 37 percent of the students in 2022 described themselves as moderate or left of center. Students of all political stripes want healthier conversations on their campuses. We hope these chapters inspire you to pursue and develop conversations on your campus, perhaps by starting a reading group with like-minded—and unlike-minded—classmates, friends, and acquaintances. Use them as an opportunity to begin embedding the civil, substantive discourse that’s lacking on so many campuses, as well as a chance to better understand what conservatism represents in these tumultuous times.
- Marvin Myers, The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief (Stanford University Press, 1957), 10.