Regular contributor to this magazine, and colleague of mine, William Parker wrote recently on universities being the battleground for ideas; and particularly for conservative ideas. Anybody who has experienced Higher Education during the tumultuous period after 1968, or in the aftermath of the Thatcher administration, should be able to attest to the palpable left-wing bias on campus. The domination of academia by the liberal-left has been facilitated, and intensified, by an absence of conservative thought and ideas. Some might suggest that there is an easy remedy to this problem: simply to place more conservatives in teaching, in the belief that when you provide those who champion the conservative voice, all shall be right again. This might rectify some issues at hand, but does nothing to answer a far more important question.

What does it mean to be a conservative today?

This, I believe, is a question many of us are asking ourselves. Some might associate conservatism purely with Thatcherite economics; others might look to Boris Johnson, and his 80-seat majority; or we might conclude that the most authentic brand of conservatism is firmly rooted with traditionalism.

If the latter is true, we might question just how conservative this current administration actually is. Socially-liberal Boris Johnson importantly won the December General Election with a blank cheque. Yes, he promised to ‘Get Brexit Done’ – appealing to working-class communities; yes, he promised to tackle immigration – winning over those affected by migrant workers; and yes, he promised to fund more police officers – reassuring terrorised communities in London and elsewhere. But what has the Prime Minister promised in order to tackle the culture of intolerance on university campuses; or to protect the treasured institution of the family; or the innocent in the womb; or the vulnerable on their death beds?

Social conservatism is more than just being tough on law and order, or having a firm foreign policy. Social conservatism can not be limited to a handful of issues.

For some students arriving at university – a place where one should be encouraged to engage in ideas and to exchange opinions – they might not have yet articulated their political ideology; and, as such, have not yet found a natural home within a political movement. Some students will be drawn towards conservative societies and associations because they already have a pre-existing ideological alignment with the Conservative Party, or with the ideas of the conservative movement more generally. Others will discover conservatism through their initial experiences at university, and perhaps in their rejection of the culture war that is being fought on campus.

Some of these individuals will be uncomfortable with the robust leftist agenda that permeates every tier of their Student’s Union and academic school; and require a ‘safe space’ that is free from the blue-haired, nauseating busy-body that impinges their socialist opinion at every opportunity. Yet, their interactions with other conservative students might do little to stimulate the intellect: there is little talk of the merits and virtues of being a conservative. Instead, there is merely an unhealthy and dull focus on the narrow litany of excellences that has been produced by the government, and tired arguments for why we are not Leftists. In such a scenario, we can all but conclude there is a dire need for conservatives to get back to basics, and to win the argument again.

Being a conservative – and particularly a conservative on campus – must involve more than just being a Party loyalist, and a small cog within the Party machine: effectively, with no real ideas or strong convictions. Conservatism equally should not be the preserve of the ‘young fogey’.

Whilst the conservative movement might be attractive to the tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking, bring-back-back-the-empire undergraduate, it is a philosophy and ideology far richer and broader than just an obsession for nineteenth century-esque caricatures.

We should not be surprised to learn that to be conservative means to conserve – it’s sort of in the name. But what is it we are conserving? How do we go about doing it, and how much of it are we really doing? These are the questions which we should be asking ourselves, and we should be enjoying the liberating experience of being able to provide answers to them.

As conservatives, we must be able to have a position that is our own, and to be able to defend it. Indeed, we must have the skills to state our case, and challenge our opposition. University culture is not on our side – and neither is society at large. We have to recognise that social institutions are not facilitating opportunities for healthy debate; and, subsequently, many students come up to university incapable of engaging in ideas and opinions they disagree with.

What is crucial and more necessary then ever is a reengagement with ideas. This challenge need not be a great intellectual expedition, though there are significant benefits in reading – and understanding – the work of philosophers such as Professor Sir Roger Scruton; and engaging with the writing of polemicists and commentators such as Douglas Murray, Peter Hitchens, Rod Liddle, and Julia Hartley-Brewer. Making the case again for conservatism should not be a dull process. It can adequately begin with likeminded individuals coming together to discuss and listen to one another. At university, we should love debate, seek fellowship and have fun.

 

Photo by Stewart Butterfield on Flickr.