“However, outside of the contemporary United States and United Kingdom, a look at the composition of certain right-of-center political movements casts doubt on the reflexive association many hold between young people and voting for the Left.”
n the evening of November 19th, not long after the polls had closed, President-elect of Argentina Javier Milei bounced across a stage in front of cheering supporters, having just been decidedly elected President of Argentina. It was a result not without its ups and downs in the months prior. The future President of Argentina, then a National Deputy for the City of Buenos Aires who previously enjoyed a colorful career in television commentary, music, and soccer, unexpectedly placed first in the primary elections in August. He was then favored going into the first round of the Argentine general election on October 22nd. However, as returns came in that night, it was clear that Milei had fallen well short of expectations and found himself trailing Minister of Economy Sergio Massa, whose candidacy many had dismissed given Massa’s role in a deeply unpopular administration marked by profound economic failures, most notably skyrocketing inflation. Fortunately for Milei, Massa’s margin of victory on the evening of the 22nd was not large enough to stave off a runoff. (Milei and his allies alleged voter fraud following the first round.) The media narrative began to shift in the time leading up to the November 19th final round as many in the press and in the Argentine political establishment began to express a degree of relief, believing that they might be spared a Milei presidency and, thus, the potential for a rather dramatic change from the Argentine status quo.
But that was not to be, and within a short while of the voting’s conclusion in that final round, it became clear that Milei had won a commanding victory over Massa, defeating him by a margin of 55.69% to 44.31%, qualifying the result in the minds of many observers as a “landslide” victory. Massa won only three of the country’s 23 provinces, and in provinces such as Santa Fe, home to the city of Rosario, which has been plagued by gang violence and elevated crime rates, President Milei’s margin of victory was remarkable. President Milei also narrowly won the City of Buenos Aires despite losing—albeit barely—Buenos Aires Province. (In Latin America, unlike in the United States, those living in cities have been known to back conservative political parties and candidates at a higher rate than those living in rural areas, depending on the country.)
Many of President Milei’s policy proposals, such as completely doing away with the Central Bank of Argentina and eliminating entire departments of the government, appear radical, as does his take-no-prisoners approach to rhetoric, denouncing “collectivists” in language that few serious candidates for political office in the United States ever would. (With that said, President Joe Biden’s chest-thumping about taking his chief political rival “behind the gym” is hardly “presidential.”) But President Milei’s approach reflects the dire situation in which Argentina finds itself, and this is why so many Argentines, long accustomed to voting for Peronists, demanded a starkly different course for the country. (1) (This was also perhaps exacerbated by the disappointment of Maurcio Macri’s nominally right-of-center presidency from 2015 to 2019.) When inflation has soared by about 120%; approximately 40% of the population in a highly educated and resource-rich country lives in poverty; and an entire generation of youth sees no future in a country, one, I suppose, is open to trying something new—even dramatically new. This is all the more the case for those who must have some sense that things could be otherwise, being reminded from time to time that they live in a nation that around the time of World War I had a similar per capita income to Switzerland and in the early to mid part of the 20th century was on a similar economic trajectory to Australia and Canada.
Even today, walking the streets of Buenos Aires, as I did earlier in March of last year, one can see clearly how prosperous a nation Argentina once was, as well as how far it has declined. And if seeing it is not enough, a conversation with basically anyone there betrays the degree of disappointment and desperation with the economic mismanagement of the country. Argentina defaulted on its debt time and again and had become hard-pressed to find any creditor willing to lend it money. As one looks back on it, he can now almost certainly say that those European émigrés who debated, during the early 20th century, as to if they should immigrate to the United States or Canada or to Argentina and chose the latter, at least from the perspective of their descendants, selected most incorrectly.
Although I am not an economic historian and, thus, am hardly the best suited to evaluate as to if Argentina’s success as a nation in the early 20th century was a result of certain trade advantages at the time; the proper harnessing of its natural resources, aided by the advent of meat refrigeration techniques in 1876; or if its trajectory was derailed, as Rok Spruk suggests, by “the absence of broad-based de jure and de facto political institutions,” it does also seem clear that the advent of Peronism and its further entrenchment in the decades that followed Juan Perón’s initial 1946 victory certainly came at the cost of economic flourishing. An increasing share of the Argentine population then came to rely on government subsidies, and healthcare, education, and the like all became “free.” As a result of these excesses, it seems clear that now—even for those skeptical of libertarianism as a political philosophy—the free market policies of President Milei’s are necessary as a corrective to decades of collectivist policies. (2) At least this is what many Argentines believe, particularly young men, who have been interviewed in numerous media profiles about the election as they express endless dissatisfaction with the direction in which their country has tilted and the concomitant loss of a path to a reasonably comfortable and fulfilling life (As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “In an industrial world that has not yet come to terms with the question of leisure, men without work are deprived of an essential condition of human dignity.”). There is a reason that Argentinians, when possible, seek to invest abroad, such as through real estate either in Uruguay or in the United States.
Many take-aways can surely be drawn about the Argentine election result, from grouping it together with recent victories of right-of-center political parties and candidates this past fall from New Zealand to the Netherlands to Charleston, South Carolina; to expressing disbelief in the election of the world’s first explicitly libertarian head of state; to wondering aloud if this could represent a reversal of the so-called pink tide in Latin America. While all of these topics—and many others—are most worthy of exploration, for the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on a specific aspect of President Milei’s victory and its potential implications abroad: the role that young people played in his electoral success. According to surveys, President Milei captured 69% of voters between the ages of 16 and 24. (In Argentina, the voting age is 16.) (3) (4) When it comes to other age groups, for those between the ages of 25 and 34, President Milei won 54%, as compared to Massa’s 41%. And Massa prevailed among the older demographics, for instance capturing 54% of those between the ages of 45-59 and 53% of those between the ages of 60 and 100. As such, it is clear that President Milei’s victory was owed to young people—and young people alone. Looking beyond just the voter tallies, on this point, one can pause to watch a rather telling video of Argentine school children, themselves too young to vote, spotting a humble Volkswagen sedan in which then President-elect Milei was being driven shortly after winning the runoff; they shout, “Te amo, Milei! Gracias Milei!” In response, the President-elect’s driver pulls beside the bus, and Milei gets out to greet his young, ecstatic supporters. Whether President Milei will succeed in correcting the course of Argentina still remains to be seen, and, admittedly, Argentina is in such a dire predicament that one wonders if there even exists a political solution to its economic woes. However, he appears already to be off to a promising start, and it is an opportunity to lead that was given to him by his country’s youth.
For those of us living in the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom, in recent decades, we have become most accustomed to younger voters breaking overwhelmingly for the Left. One can recall the autopsies provided of Senator John McCain’s ill-fated 2008 presidential campaign in the weeks and months that followed the election and the explanations of then-Senator Barack Obama’s resounding victory in the 2008 presidential election: Among other feats, President Obama had captured the imagination and enthusiasm of the youth. (5) And, just as crucially, his campaign actually succeeded in getting said young voters to turn out on election day and vote for him. In the 2020 American presidential election, younger voters (in this case defined as those between the ages of 18 and 29) broke decisively for then-candidate Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump, 61% to 36%, a 25-point margin. This was true also in the battleground states that determined the result of the presidential election. According to the Tufts University Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, in Michigan, President Biden received approximately 62% of the vote among young voters, as compared to President Trump’s 35%, a result roughly approximated in Pennsylvania (59% to 39%); Arizona (59% to 37%); and Georgia (58% to 39%). During the 2022 midterm elections, voters aged 18-29 supported Democrats by a margin of 37 points, down though from 49 points in 2018. So, for those puzzled as to how Senator John Fetterman, who was then serving as Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, prevailed in that state, one must pause to observe that voters in this same age bracket broke for the then-Lieutenant Governor over Republican candidate Mehmet Oz 72% to 25%. Results such as these, which were mirrored in many other states, disabused many commentators of this idea that Generation Z—on average—is, as the expression goes, “based.” (6)
Similarly, in the United Kingdom, recent opinion polling ahead of the next United Kingdom general election indicated a stunning lead for Labour when it comes to voters between the ages of 18 and 24, in which 63% of respondents indicated their intention to support Labour, as opposed to the 8% planning to back the Conservative Party (10% expressed support for Liberal Democrats). And the findings are similar—albeit slightly less dramatic—when it comes to voters between the ages of 25 and 49.
However, outside of the contemporary United States and United Kingdom, a look at the composition of certain right-of-center political movements casts doubt on the reflexive association many hold between young people and voting for the Left. From Vox in Spain to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to Sweden, right-of-center political movements are driven largely by young people. In Germany, as narrated by Katja Hoyer at The Spectator, “Around 10 per cent of Germans support the restoration of the royals; among those under 34, that number is nearly one in five.” As Jon Henley and Pjotr Sauer observed in The Guardian following the Dutch election result:
“If everyone who voted in the election had been aged under 35, Geert Wilders, the far-right populist whose Party for Freedom (PVV) shocked Europe by winning the most parliamentary seats, would have won even more.
In last year’s French presidential runoff, Marine Le Pen won 39% of votes from people aged 18-24 and 49% of those aged 25-34. Before Italy’s election in September last year, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy was the largest party among under-35s…
In the Netherlands, the PVV surged to become the largest party among 18- to 34-year-olds, winning 17% of their vote against 7% previously. In Sweden’s 2022 ballot, 22% of the 18-21 cohort voted for the far-right Sweden Democrats, against 12% in 2018.”
Even in New Zealand, which just repudiated Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party, one Guardian headline declared: “Youthquake rumbles to a stop? Support for the left falls among New Zealand’s young voters.” Unlike in most other parts of the world, it was young women in particular who abandoned the Left in droves, rejecting the unctuous, soap-behind-the-ears, therapeutic technocrats in the mold of Prime Minister Ardern and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Some in the younger demographic, particularly abroad, seem willing to take a step away from membership in what Lance Morrow has called “the genteel center left.”
At first glance, one might reasonably be surprised that Milei, Wilders, and the like won their elections in the first place, especially given many of the assumptions Americans tend to hold about Western Europe and Latin America. Secondly, it is all the more interesting when one learns that young people tended to support their candidacies or even provided the fundamental base of their support. But, historically, there does not appear to be anything inevitable about young people necessarily being leftists. While young people, undoubtedly, were instrumental in many Marxist movements in the 20th century, in other places, they were the conservatives, and, in some cases, some were even drivers of the extreme right. In the United States even, despite perceptions of the flower children of the 1960s, in 1972, the first United States presidential election in which those aged between 18 and 21 were permitted to vote, Democrats, who expected overwhelmingly to capture this share of the electorate, were stunned come election day. President Richard Nixon, hardly the political embodiment of being hip, nearly won that demographic. Then, in 1976, President Gerald Ford carried the 18-21 vote over his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Carter. Similarly, in 1984, President Ronald Reagan decisively won the 18-24 demographic. (Interestingly enough, in 1984, voters aged 18-24 broke for President Reagan at a higher rate than did voters between the ages of 30 and 49.) And, in the presidential election of 1988, then-candidate George H.W. Bush carried the youth vote over his rival Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. So much for young people being invariably committed to supporting left-of-center candidates.
Just this fall, though one ought not draw too many conclusions from just a poll or two approximately a year away from the presidential election, one could not help by marvel at the NBCNews poll released on November 19th, the day Milei was elected President of Argentina, showing President Biden trailing former President Trump 42% to 46% “among voters ages 18 to 34,” a stark departure from President Biden’s past imposing lead among younger voters. Polls such as these prompted much hand-wringing from writers at New York, as well as other members of the commentariat, and almost certainly factored into President Biden’s December 22nd decision to issue “a Proclamation that will pardon additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law.” Subsequent other polls have also shown President Biden trailing President Trump among younger voters. Of course, between now and election day, the Democratic Party and its allies are likely to be successful in whipping many Americans into a frenzy at the prospect of a second term for President Trump, whom they decry in those most hysterical terms possible. But that notwithstanding and even if this NBCNews poll is something of an outlier, there appear to be signs of give in support for the Democratic Party among voters of all stripes, and that is now extending to younger voters.
But not as long ago as 1988 or even 2000, the last American presidential election in which Democrats failed to outperform Republicans among voters aged 18 to 24, one can recall the enthusiasm with which young voters greeted the political career of Texas Congressman Ron Paul. This was particularly true during his 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. As one college-aged supporter of the “Ron Paul Revolution” put it when interviewed in February of 2012 by the University of Alabama’s student-run newspaper The Crimson White, “…when you realize that young people have the most to lose if the government continues to operate in its current destructive manner, it makes sense that they are the ones seeking answers from outside of the political mainstream.” Writing in the Tampa Bay Times a short while later, in March of 2012, Alexander Heffner sought to understand Congressman Paul’s overwhelming support from millennial primary voters: “Why, then, do young people still make him their preference this primary campaign? The answer is in every public opinion poll that describes young people’s disgust with the political process. A libertarian rebel in GOP clothes and a frequent thorn in the side of Republican colleagues, Paul represents a path to freedom from a destructive two-party political system.” Then, as if anticipating the appeal of Trumpism just a few short years later, Heffner continued: “As the antiparty party candidate, Paul’s central appeal, like that of Ralph Nader and Ross Perot before him, is that today’s D.C. is neither a success story nor a work-in-progress: The two-party system and its unrelenting entrenched moneyed interests are denying the next generation a decent chance of enduring economic equity for all Americans.” Congressman Paul thrived on plainly stating what he saw—and continues to see. He told so-called hard truths typically left unaddressed by most run-of-the-mill political candidates, with an element of “Let’s burn down the system.” And despite much of the global press’s insistence that the most apt comparison is between President Milei and former President Trump, the reality is that President Milei often sounds a lot more like a certain Congressman from Texas who came up short in his presidential ambitions than the man who won the 2016 United States presidential election.
Although the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott noted that a conservative disposition “will appear more naturally in the old than in the young,” there clearly has been—and could be—an appetite, among young people, among all people, for the ideas of political figures that can be reasonably categorized as right-of-center, even now in the 2020s when conventional wisdom has written young people off. Fiscal responsibility; taking care of problems by those closest to them; or the notion of order resonate across generations and periods of time. Look no further than the remarkable degree of celebrity with which his young fans rewarded Jordan Peterson in 2018 following the publication of his book 12 Rules for Life. His simple message of embracing responsibility and “It’s gazing into the abyss that makes you better” captivated a generation of young people. Young men, in particular, some of whom lacked attentive fathers of their own, were often deeply appreciative of Peterson’s message and how it countered the prevailing modern belief that it is in eschewing obligation or communal belonging that one’s true being is best realized. In reality, the opposite is likely true: In embracing obligation, we become a better self.
How to reach younger voters has been debated extensively within Republican Party circles. One can recall Jenna and Barbara Bush’s clumsy appeal to connect with their age group in a 2004 Republican National Convention speech. Referring to their paternal grandmother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, they narrated: “We already know she doesn’t like some of our clothes, our music, or most of the tv shows we watch.” Then, addressing the former First Lady directly, Jenna Bush said, “Ganey, we love you dearly, but you’re just not very hip.” Republicans, in the time since, have sought to counter Democrats’ increasing dominance among young voters, as well as the proliferation of non-profit organizations aimed at sharing the Democratic Party’s messages and ideas. Republican groups have sought to encourage further participation in elections, seeking to match the enthusiasm among young voters that then-Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign engendered. Charlie Kirk has enjoyed some success with Turning Point USA and its trademark “Big Government Sucks” t-shirts. Much like how The Young Turks launched the media careers of a cadre of commentators from Jimmy Dore to Michael Tracey, Turning Point USA popularized figures such as Candace Owens and Benny Johnson, who are now influential voices on the online Right. Similarly, figures like Will Witt whom Henri Mattila interviewed at Merion West in September of 2020, have sought to correct college campuses’ leftward drift as well as provide to a rhetorical alternative to nominally conservative campus groups such as the UPenn College Republicans, who have often stopped short of making a full-throated endorsement of more strident Republican candidates or priorities. My friend Brandon Hassle, a former Democrat and now a member of the Republican Committee of Philadelphia, has told me that Republicans need to make events more festive. Taking a page from Philadelphia Democrats, they might consider throwing a block party, whoop it up, so to speak, and young people will gladly come, first for the festivities and then, as they say, remain for the ideas. And then when it comes to reaching even younger people, those not yet themselves able to vote, there are projects such as PragerU, where Witt has worked, that aim to correct for the high degree of left-of-center bias present in many American schools; former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s children’s books; and finally—and perhaps most importantly—the effort to make conservative politicians and ideas exciting on social media. Interestingly enough, on this latter point, President Milei’s success with young people has been partially attributed to his success tapping into TikTok, X, and other forms of social media, while his opponents relied on more traditional forms of campaigning. (7)
Former 2024 Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, whom I spent a day with in June accompanying him to his various campaign stops, made reaching out to younger voters a cornerstone of his campaign for President, often posting about it on social media. Interestingly enough, though Ramaswamy supported raising the voting age to 25 unless a young person served in the military, performed national service, or passed the test given to new immigrants, he joined the efforts by numerous right-leaning figures and groups to reach young people. For instance, during a November, 2023 trip to Iowa, he emphasized in both his interactions and in his campaign statements the need for would-be Republican standard-bearers to appeal directly to young people, address their concerns, and, crucially, project an aspirational vision for the country. Although this talking point may have been employed at times strategically to present Ramaswamy’s own relative youth as an electoral advantage, he was no doubt correct to recognize that inroads can indeed be made with younger voters in the United States. I will note though that as much as I appreciate Ramaswamy’s focus on the future (channeling perhaps former President Trump’s frequent refrain that America’s “Best Days Are Yet to Come” or “Morning in America,” before it), which often has an implicit economic and universalist argument for optimism, one begins to suspect X’s so-called dissident Right might be onto something when suggesting—time and again—that people prefer to live and die for traditions and communities rather than certain conceptions of what the American Founding was about; whether the United States is, as George Will puts it, a “creedal nation”; its stunning degree of economic success; or if it is still, in fact, “a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
In his September, 2022 City Journal piece “A New Counterculture?,” the pseudonymous author N.S. Lyons writes, “Few things are more natural for young people than to push back against the strictures and norms of their day, even if only to stand out a little from the crowd and assert their independence.” Lyons also channels Michael Lind, who wrote, “If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star.” Then Lyons continues by asserting that most of the intellectual and artistic discovery today is found in that part of the political spectrum to the right of Morrow’s aforementioned genteel center-left. Compelling debates about political philosophy, how best to live, and, perhaps most importantly, aesthetics are being had primarily among those who do not identify as part of the modern left. The most well-known example of this is the so-called intellectual dark web, which has been discussed widely in the time since 2018. And this decentralization in media has only continued over the past several years, as Substack authors; X accounts, many of which are pseudonymous; and podcasters explore ideas more complex and varied than the typical bromides being trod out at the marquee national media outlets whose collective prestige continues to plummet.
For some people, however, this goes beyond merely reading and engaging with ideas other than those pre-approved by The Atlantic. In some cases, it is a short walk from reading Palladium or listening to Jocko Willink to implementing ways of leading one’s life that are different from those celebrated by the popular culture in the United States today. Lyons, to this point, channels Julia Yost’s August, 2022 New York Times guest essay “New York’s Hottest Club Is the Catholic Church,” which describes the Catholic Renaissance of sorts said to be taking place in lower Manhattan (“Dimes Square”) and, by extension, in other urban areas where the educated young people there already “taste[d] every novelty, sicken[d] of them all, and return[ed] to ancient principles so long disused that they seem refreshingly hearty when they are rediscovered.” These Catholics by choice, though admittedly still a small part of the youth population, likely would have been exposed to innumerable influences urging them away from traditional Catholicism, particularly while in college, but still chose it, in an act that Yost considers could be, at least in part, “transgressive.” (A reverse radical chic of sorts.) Nevertheless, this engagement with the faith on the part of many young professionals appears genuine. Elena Attfield, a Catholic influencer of sorts on what might loosely be called “Catholic Twitter” joined Merion West for an interview in April of 2021 to discuss Catholicism’s unexpected popularity in certain quarters among the younger generation. It is as if there is no greater revolt against the age of TikTok than to embrace the world’s oldest Christian denomination, especially when seeking out, as many of these converts do, the Tridentine Mass and regularly attending confession.
As I see it, these rediscoveries can go beyond this one example of Neo-Catholicism and might extend to appreciating family (including the extended family) and—perhaps most fundamentally—by seeking to rediscover an appreciation for the literature, art, and architecture that has defined what we might call the West. (8) As works of literature, most of all the classics, have waged war against them, it is perhaps unsurprising that a generation who has not generally read Virgil, John Milton, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley (“Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world”), would fail to appreciate the virtues that once characterized the societies these great writers variously evaluated, bemoaned, and extolled. Fortunately, though, there is X, as well as commentators on other social media sites that are trying to repopularize the important works of the Western canon. Accounts like Porkchop Express, for instance, post passages from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works. At a time when unfortunately attention spans are declining and most published books sell vanishingly few copies, certain corners of the Internet might be the best we have when it comes to reminding young people about the wonders of European and Western culture. And from there hopefully they will be inspired to put down their iPhones and read works such as these in their entirety or, at least, beyond just the most widely quoted excerpts.
There has always been a relationship between conservative political thought and an appreciation for architecture. From Roger Scruton to Senator Moynihan, the idea has been that the quality of a nation’s architecture is a useful barometer of its social health; healthy societies build beautiful buildings, and unhealthy societies construct ugly ones. As Senator Moynihan put it, “Men who build bad buildings are bad governors.” Although he was not necessarily conservative in the sense that we tend to think of it today, Senator Moynihan was strongly committed throughout his life to various beautification projects from revitalizing Pennsylvania Avenue to a better New York Penn Station. (The latter was finally realized after his death with the opening of the Moynihan Train Hall in January of 2021.) There is a reason that former President Trump’s 2020 executive order encouraging federal buildings to be constructed in a “classical and traditional” style resonated as it did. Of course, this executive order was predictably panned by the usual suspects and reversed by President Biden in February of 2021. But President Trump’s executive order on architecture, along with his proposed “National Garden of American Heroes,” sought to reignite an appreciation for the cultural history of the United States and, more broadly, the West. (Needless to say, the National Garden of American Heroes idea was also shelved by President Trump’s successor, a man hell-bent on reversing nearly any idea of his predecessor’s just for the sake of doing so.)
Despite the current administration’s nipping in the bud of these proposals for government-led architectural rediscovery, X accounts such as Culture Critic share with millions of followers examples of the world’s great architectural achievements. Commenters beneath its posts draw attention to aphorisms such as “People in those old times had convictions; we moderns only have opinions. And it needs more than a mere opinion to erect a Gothic cathedral.” These are architectural achievements that inspire a sense of awe and the sublime, and though the types of societies that gave rise to these achievements, dripping in Christianity as they were, are typically derided by the fashionable sentiments of today, one cannot help but suspect that structures like St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Notre-Dame, or, closer to home, the Philadelphia Museum of Art speak for themselves. And their mere presence may invite young people to rediscover old truths, an orientation toward the past, toward our collective achievements, and toward aesthetics that goes beyond a set of policy objectives: that elusive sensibility of which so many conservatives speak. And if we do in fact come to love these things, “things worth dying for,” we might want to rediscover the sort of political systems and cultural climates that allowed them—and the enterprising people who conceived of them and constructed them—to flourish. So, as we throw away the society we inherited, likely irrecoverably, we can be reminded of how beautiful it once was and reject the cynicism that seeks to portray everything Western or traditional as, by definition, flawed.
Now, on a somewhat different but important note, the United States, as I have argued in the past, despite the erosion of much of its cultural history and cohesiveness, is still the best country in the world to invest in or in which to do business As such, one can certainly aim to appeal to Americans, young and old alike, by reminding them of this reality, including the fact that the vast majority of would-be entrepreneurs globally would like to make the United States their home. In addition to having been the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and the like, the United States, today, is the land of Tesla, SpaceX, medical innovation, and the pioneers in life-extension technology. Of course, many adherents of the ascendant national conservative movement, who also are often the same people who are members of the so-called online right I have discussed above, are critical of pointing this out, tending to associate this line of thinking with an out-of-style Reaganite variety of conservatism. Now, while I do agree that economic gain has sometimes been prioritized to the exclusion of social considerations (as well as having been used as a justification for excessive levels of immigration), it is important not to go so far in the other direction as to discount the United States’ remarkable degree of relative economic success. As I pointed out at The Hill in November of 2022, the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States far exceeds that of nations such as the United Kingdom, even to the point that if the United Kingdom were an American state, it would rank 49th of the 50 states on that metric. Furthermore, the United States has recovered more quickly economically than other nations following the conclusion of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and despite its ongoing inflation challenges, American inflation remains lower than in certain other developed countries. So as much as I am sensitive to criticisms of a possible previous disproportionate focus on economic considerations and as much as I do agree that the Willsian concept of “welcoming whirl” is an insufficient organizing principle for society (i.e., “I want to live in a country and not an economic zone”), it is still true that, as the saying goes, “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” Additionally, one must recall that President Milei’s victory was primary owed not to his aesthetic or social arguments but, rather, his economic ones—and that criticisms of capitalism generally only resonate in places already made rich by that economic system. As such, economic considerations can (and should) form a partial basis for a potential rediscovery of American optimism, of the sort Ramaswamy has sought to channel. But, as we know, man, and for that matter, nations cannot live on GDP alone, and to seek the sort of potential awakening among young people that many Republicans and conservatives seek also must involve, in my view, some of the aesthetic considerations previously discussed.
Unfortunately, in some cases, it indeed seems sadly to be the case that it is not until the Left has gone so far or the situation has gotten so bad that voters finally consider trying to correct course, as has just taken place in Argentina. Of course, there it took staggering rates of inflation and misery before alternatives were considered. In nations such as Sweden, where migrants and those of non-European heritage commit sexual assault at much higher rates than native-born Swedes, finally people appear to be tiring of the multicultural policies pushed by the political consensus (but informed by teachings of the Left). But it appears that only when most of Western Europe, according to the United States Department of State, qualifies for a Level 2 Travel Advisory on account of the risk of Islamic terrorism do populations finally wake up and begin to demand a departure from policies that have been overwhelmingly failing. Eventually reality asserts itself, and policies that made little sense for decades are finally widely understood to be as flawed as their initial critics pointed out. But, sadly, as I observed in my October, 2023 Merion West essay on multiculturalism, by the time this takes place, it is often too late to correct course. As such, the objective must remain to inspire voters to take stock of trajectories before it is too late, and comparing their future and present realities to the not-distant past is often a place to begin.
There is some evidence to suggest that people do, in fact, tend to become more conservative as they age, a finding supported by the conventional wisdom, as well as by researchers such as Sam Peltzman. I can recall a former economics professor of mine alluding to this question when addressing a lecture hall filled with ambitious Yale undergraduates who despite their professed progressive inclinations, including allegedly on economic questions as well as social ones, desired nothing more than to pursue a career in financial services. To paraphrase this professor, Steven T. Berry, “Once you guys head 80 miles south of here to New York and start working after graduation, your tune is going to change when you see how much of your salary the federal government and State of New York take in taxes.” Although not all conservative approaches, especially today, necessarily prioritize tax policy, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph, there is something to the idea that, in most contexts, as people age and have a job, a mortgage, and, most importantly, a family and children to worry about, they will look askance at policies that—when analyzed carefully—seem not to stand up to scrutiny. But, for the purposes of our discussion here, given the degree to which the United States and our way of life are under full throttle assault from the Biden administration and its allies, particularly given their approach to border policy, we cannot wait for this possible natural process of maturation to occur.
As I approach the end of this essay, I will note a potential significant challenge to young people in the United States, United Kingdom, and other nations—on a wide scale—adopting the worldview of the Right over the policy positions of the Left. Conservatism, when practiced properly in my view, shies away from providing a pre-packed answer to every conceivable question. (Of course, on certain questions such as when it comes to abortion, this is no longer as feasible given that primary voters seem to expect candidates, for instance, to endorse a six-week abortion ban.) In its ideal sense, conservatism does not have an a priori prescription for every possible dilemma of morality or policy. Rather, conservatism is more about prudently viewing issues as they come, rather than mapping on pre-packed answers. Although the term has been much maligned by the rationalists, perhaps casuistry has a place after all.
Andrew Sullivan, to this point, wrote in 2013:
“This means a true conservative—who is, above all, an anti-ideologue—will often be attacked for alleged inconsistency, for changing positions, for promising change but not a radical break with the past, for pursuing two objectives—like liberty and authority, or change and continuity —that seem to all ideologues as completely contradictory. But they aren’t…
But a true conservative will defy the label of party and of ideology as well as a foolish consistency, when times shift.”
For this reason, and as Lind alludes to, there tends to be much greater intellectual diversity among conservatives today. Conservatism, as contrasted from libertarianism, tends not to be as doctrinaire as its competing schools of thought, which often have an answer already prepared for a host of possible issues that could arise. Instead, conservatism, informed by history, is closer to consisting of the ledger book of all of humanity’s collective trials and errors. And, perhaps most interestingly, as Oakeshott contended, a conservative disposition is not prescriptive in the sense that it requires one to conduct his daily life in a certain way or requires him to confine his preferences to a narrow menu of options. As such, one can be conservative in few areas of life other than his politics; frequently making merry, traveling the world, sampling various styles of art and music (even avant-garde forms), and “seizing the day” can be reconciled with a conservative political temperament. (9)
Now, to be clear, there are still many signs that younger voters, particularly in the United States, are very left-leaning, sympathetic to Marxism, unyieldingly critical of American foreign policy and its founding, and subscribe to various bromides about the oppressor/oppressed dynamic. (10) Given the degree to which they have been saturated in left-of-center messaging in schools (now beginning even in nursery school), from the great majority of press, in the popular culture, and with any conservative approach being laughed at and hand waved away, in some ways, it is a miracle if any young person rejects (or even begins to question) left-wing orthodoxy. I can recall in my own schooling, for instance, the unbridled appreciation with which the French Revolution was presented in high school history classes—not to mention other similar overthrows of the established order. And even when a teacher might bring up the excesses of that revolution, it was only to suggest that despite the good intentions of its champions, it got off track. There was no mention of the reality that it is invariably difficult to contain revolutions once they start; who the critics of the Revolution were and why they mattered (even if one did not subscribe to all of their viewpoints); or any defense of the idea of hierarchy in a society. And this was long before the advent of the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda or toy store windows adorned with books extolling the cultural left. For this reason, I rarely find myself arguing with those who assert that perhaps it is indeed too late for a conservative awakening among the American and British youth.
But, as Lyons points out, young people do have a penchant for “push[ing] back against the strictures and norms of their day.” (Though, on the other hand, what did Wilfred McClay write? “We love to mock the conventional wisdom, so long as it yesterday’s, not today’s.”) Americans, as one thinks more about it, have gone from—nearly universally—reflexively associating their country with being a force of good in the world and hailing its Founding to rejecting both. Although as Charles Pincourt famously asserted at this magazine, “the pendulum might not swing back,” if Americans can go from just about unanimously praising their nation to failing to express pride in it over the course of barely a generation, perhaps a reversal is indeed possible, over time. And then again, politics is a game of margins, and making even modest inroads among young voters might be enough to tip an election toward the conservative side.
Although demographically, the young people of today are different from those even a generation ago, in other ways, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and our younger generations, despite media characterizations, bear certain similarities to their forebears. And perhaps they can be persuaded. The entire concept of democracy presupposes persuadability, that voters can be swayed. (11) This is true up to a point even today amid what Jonathan Turley calls “post-persuasive politics.” Ideally, persuasion is accomplished through putting forward the most compelling ideas, tested by time, and communicating them in a digestible manner. In the absence of that, it can be done through force of personality or through the effective use of social media such as was done by the campaigns of Milei and then-candidate Trump in 2016, “meming one’s way to victory,” as it is sometimes phrased. However, I increasingly contend that—absent the degree of economic direness seen in a nation like Argentina (at some level of economic precarity, people will vote differently)—rediscovering the beauty of a world being intentionally sent into extinction represents the best possibility for young people first to recognize its merits and then, second, to begin to demand aspects of its restoration. This will be an enormously difficult task, but as young people will learn as they begin to engage with these ideas, there is a reason perhaps that one of the most oft-quoted lines from conservative thinking is “good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created.” And good things are urgently needed.
Erich J. Prince is the editor-in-chief of Merion West.
- The Argentine election result was a rejoinder to those, myself sometimes included, who, borrowing from accounts of Joseph Stalin’s ardent supporters’ unwillingness to see him as he was even when beaten and tortured by agents of his government (“It must certainly be a mistake; Stalin would never do this!”), had come to wonder if there was any amount of pain caused by leftism that would demand its adherents reconsider their commitments.
- Although some right-of-center critics, such as Sohrab Ahmari, have been quick to denounce President Milei’s libertarianism, they would be wise to recall that Argentina is not the United States. Argentina’s leftward drift economically has far surpassed that of the United States’ and the strident libertarianism of President Milei’s (“There is no room for gradualism”), while perhaps not perfectly prudent in another context, is likely a necessary corrective to the decades-long excesses of the Argentine left. Just as some political observers like to de-contextualize the presidency of Ronald Reagan or the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, it is important to keep in mind that their steadfast embrace of free market principles, a stance that is derided by critics today as quasi-religious, took place in a context of the longstanding overreach of the Left. Had they been governing in a different era, their approaches might have been otherwise. It has become increasingly fashionable to criticize libertarianism, and though I remain critical of libertarianism as a totalizing ideology, I deeply appreciate many policy prescriptions favored by libertarians, along with this worldview’s deep-seated concern about the centralization of power. And when a state is as bloated as that of Argentina, one can see where hardcore libertarian ideas would be necessary to begin scaling it back.
- Although it would be unlikely to happen in an American context, it would be ironic should those Democratic Party activists who agitate for lowering the voting age to 16 be hoisted by their own petards and witness said 16-year-olds vote for Republicans. This is what some Republican strategists and officeholders hope will happen with Hispanic voters, though whether this will actually be fully realized very much remains to be seen.
- Often, though those in favor of expanding the franchise appeal to moral imperatives when agitating for such changes, political calculus is almost always the lurking reason or at least is prominently considered. In France, one of the last European nations to extend voting rights to women, it was the conservatives who advocated for female suffrage given that women were widely expected to support Catholic and conservative political causes and candidates. It was actually the French Left that saw itself arguing against women’s inclusion in the electoral process. In the time since, however, given the increasing rate of secularization in that country, which mirrors that same trend in much of the West, French women have increasingly moved toward the Left.
- My former instructor at Yale, the journalist Walter Shapiro, who prided himself on having covered eleven presidential campaigns, described how almost all presidential candidates he had known thought they would win the general election come November. When they would go from place to place while campaigning, they would see cheering crowds wherever they went. And, in the haze of selection bias, they believed that they were destined to be victorious come election night. According to Shapiro, that applied to every nominee he covered, Republican or Democratic, with the exception of Senator McCain.
- It does appear to be true, however, that certain conservative segments of Gen Z are, in fact, more stridently right-leaning in their convictions and wise to how many conservative priorities tend to be marginalized during the process of legislative compromise in Washington, D.C. But there is also a marked gender divide.
- In the United States, though cable news is often still thought of as the place where political ideas are tested and adopted, its viewership is aging and also declining. And Fox News is hardly alone when it comes to an aging viewership, with the median MSNBC viewer being 71. The median at CNN is 67. As such, social media is increasingly influential.
- This is not to whitewash Western history and portray it in an idealized version stripped of the poverty in which many lived or the reality that European nations seemed utterly incapable of going long at all without waging war against their neighbors. I am always conscious of the allure of good-old-dayism, which I have discussed in previous writings. Woodrow Wilson remarked that his day “could produce so little that was as good”; the Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō believed that the world was growing consistently worse in the 14th century; and Li Zhong, writing in the 10th century, bemoaned: “Insects fall silent amid the sedge and cranes grow restive in the treetops,/Sensing this busy world no longer cares for the sentiments of old.”
- Oakeshott, the subject of Sullivan’s Ph.D. dissertation, is on my mind from time to time these days, for a number of reasons, some of which were already outlined above. But another reason concerns his apparent ability to separate his reflections on political philosophy from the events of his day. As Paul Franco narrates in his 2004 primer Michael Oakeshott: An Introduction, despite Oakeshott living through both World Wars, the Cold War, and living even to see the fall of the Berlin Wall, his writings on political philosophy rarely touched on contemporary events. On a related note, I read with interest Bas van der Vossen’s 2014 paper “In Defense of the Ivory Tower: Why Philosophers Should Stay Out of Politics,” though I suppose writing on a global conflagration of the degree of the Second World War is distinct from an academic inserting himself into the typical partisan squabbles that characterize day-to-day politics.
- When analyzing the voter breakdown in the United States, it is crucial to note that when race is considered, young white voters still tend to favor—sometimes decidedly—the Republican Party. With that said, there does appear to be less reflexive attachment of non-white voters to the Democratic Party, among younger non-white voters.
- Youth voters like all are voters—like all human beings—are pliable. For one recent example, look at the standing ovation that Matt Petgrave of the Sheffield Steelers received upon returning to the ice after the October 28, 2023 collision that resulted in the death of Adam Johnson. Despite this ovation and its implication that the death of Johnson was accidental, Petgrave was arrested the following day on manslaughter charges, something that makes sense when reviewing the video, as many of those hockey fans in attendance surely had. There certainly is something to be said for social pressure, especially when the press and powers that be say that something is.