Hell No, That’s Our Dough!
FOR PUBLISHERS, the “youth manifesto” is a familiar formula. At regular intervals, an editor will gather up a few thoughtful ruminations and lunatic rantings from twenty-somethings and package them for public consumption.
Sometimes the motive is purely commercial; other times it’s explicitly political.
This magazine’s founder, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., participated in such a project in the early 1970s, a book humbly titled, MANIFESTO Addressed to the President of the United States from the Youth of America (Macmillan, $5.95). As one might expect, it was an uneven collection, filled with the type of things one could get away with only in the ’60s and ’70s.
For instance, one essay crescendoed by suggesting protest of a different caliber: “For the real Power in the black community will not be decided by who controls 200,000 votes, but by who controls the 22’s, 25’s, 38’s, 45’s and the M-16’s.”
Others were more sensible, or at least more entertaining. A libertarian contributor provided a strong case for legalizing LSD; meanwhile, an avant-garde writer—whose essay is punctuated by statements like, “And I personally have little or no use for Carter’s cotton underpants even if they are very absorbent on a wilting, melting, damp, limp afternoon”— provided a strong case against legalizing LSD, at least for me.
The book’s editor did little to downplay expectations. “The ramifications of this document are myriad,” he wrote in an introduction, “forcing us to reconsider nearly every aspect of who we are and how we function individually and as a species—but its gospel is simplicity itself: survival. Not Youth survival, or even Human survival…but the naturally evolving survival and harmonious perfection of all Life in the Divine Cosmos.”
This is, on its face, a preposterous statement. Other youth manifestos perhaps do not go quite so far, but they are undergirded by the same assumption: There are intractable problems! We know how to fix them!
To my ear, Tyrrell’s contribution to the book had it about right:
It seems to me snortingly presumptuous for a twenty-four-year-old to send off to all the world his manifesto. Such an endeavor makes me wince, for presumptuous people generally appear silly. Further, there are strategic questions: to whom is my manifesto heading, and if it is whoosing toward anyone who matters, why in God’s name would he read it? Has he not read similar decrees before? Is he unfamiliar with the youthful pontifications from the twenties,The thirties and the fifties? People who matter must know more than to listen to the twaddle of callow youth.
INDEED, a conservative youth manifesto would seem to be, in more ways than one, a contradiction in terms.
“The youth,” of course, are famously liberal. In 2008, voters under 30 backed candidate Obama by a 2 to 1 margin. Protest, from the Woodstock days to Occupy Wall Street, has always been a young person’s game. As the aphorism goes, “Anyone who is not a liberal at 20 has no heart.” Some would suggest that the first challenge to creating a manifesto of intelligent young conservatives would be to find any.
Then there’s the matter of language. “Manifesto” is one of those terms—like “social justice” and “diversity”— that has been so thoroughly abused as to now spark automatic recoil.
Further, the very idea of a youth manifesto, the suggestion that a generation can speak with one voice, seems itself inherently unconservative.
Sure, it’s probably true that common events and experiences shape those who share them. Growing up amid the hardship of the Great Depression and the horror of World War II probably inculcated the Silent Generation in the seriousness and gravity of life. My generation, which came up in a post-Soviet boom, probably inherited a sense of optimism and frivolity.
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