At the 1969 Young Americans for Freedom convention, I learned firsthand of the intense ideological divisions within the conservative movement. Back then, there was a saying: Young Republicans were the conservative branch of the national Republicans, College Republicans were the conservative activists in the YRs, YAFers were the ideological branch (as opposed to personally ambitious) that drove those groups, and ISI (Intercollegiate Studies Institute) was YAFers who read books.
“Cell” theory, taught as foundational in spreading communist ideology and also exemplified by Jesus Christ’s selecting and training of the 12 apostles/disciples, is also key to all successful campaigns not relying on money to just buy the office.
Primaries give great advantage to organized subgroups built around a cohesive cell group. These subgroups drive the policies of the larger parties, which then accommodate those ideas with the broader middle (i.e. ideologically confused and inconsistent) part of the electorate. Or they lose.
As a kid at the 1969 YAF Convention, variations of the libertarian/anarchist right and the traditionalist conservatives boiled over as never seen in public before. Now at age 63, I find it incredible that we see almost identical battle lines shaping up inside the conservative movement, which controls the Republicans.
Ideologically consistent libertarians oppose almost all government, especially the federal government. They really aren’t constitutionalists, which they profess to be, but rather those who would have preferred the Articles of Confederation, if that.
They have never supported the military or any foreign policy beyond open trade. In 1969, it meant that some burned their draft cards in opposition to the Vietnam War, opposed the right of government to draft, and wanted to dismantle the military-industrial establishment.
Today, radical libertarians, like the left, oppose military spending, intelligence collection and aid to Israel.
Security and order are at the core that separates traditionalists and libertarians. In 1971, I co-chaired a national organization of university conservatives and liberals united against the radicals. We argued that, without order, there was no freedom to debate.
Like today, libertarians of 1969 were opposed to government’s addressing any cultural/moral issues. There is a reason evangelicals were late to join the conservative movement.
In the following decade, traditionalists purged the radical libertarians from leadership, resulting in moderate Republicans prevailing for a period (with Nixon even implementing wage and price controls), but the more appealing conservative movement drove the campaigns of Ronald Reagan by attracting blue-collar workers on cultural issues and pro-military issues, as well as adding the neo-conservatives appalled at the left-wing takeover of the Democrats.
Without those changes, Reagan would have remained a retired actor.
Today’s conservatives seem to be headed into the pre-Reagan relative oblivion with their rabid anti-government rhetoric. The movement will either cleanse itself, and again emerge triumphant, or will go the way of the Federalists (all national government) or the Whigs (chaotic factions).
When I ran for the national board of YAF, I used California as my base because Indiana was so divided. One of the leaders, after I became a congressman in 1995, told me, “It was just like the old days, only now we play with real bullets.” How right he was.•
Souder, a former business owner and Republican representative of the 4th Congressional District, is a political commentator living in Fort Wayne. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.