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South Park Conservatives

One of conservatism's rising stars, City Journal editor Brian Anderson, has penned a new book entitled, "South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias," due out in March from Regnery.

To whet our palettes, Anderson has written a lenghty feature for OpinionJournal.com describing the new conservatism that he believes is emerging on college campuses, especially the elite schools.

The question I would pose to Anderson is, "To what extent are these young folks actually conservatives?" The conservatism that Anderson is describing is one VERY broadly defined.

Anderson surveys the scene and finds dozens, hundreds of bright and lively young people completely turned off by liberal ideology and embracing more conservative positions on a number of things, especially the war on terror and abortion. Some are Christians, some are not. By all means this is a positive trend.

However, what seems to be the real phenomenon is that folks are (1) sick of all the liberal nonsense that is so far-fetched, intolerant, and unlike reality in general and (2) reacting to the culture of their parents reared on the dubious ideology and social science of the Left. Young folks are quick to smell a rat, and this rat has been dead for some time. South Park tears into the culture of political correctness and exposes the stupidity of the Left. It is quite easy and a matter of common sense. It doesn't mean that South Park, or its fans, are conservatives.

What I see developing is a growing libertarianism. In this post-ideological age, the only thing that people believe in is themselves. In fact, since all of the salvific narratives of history are dead (including to a large extent Christianity -- although its making a comeback) you can only "believe in yourself." Making a comfortable life for one's self and not bothering anyone else while doing it is largely the raison d'etre for most twentysomethings I know, even "conservatives." It seems only natural that these young "conservatives" would adopt conservative views on life because the facts are coming in more and more that liberal social policy and a permissive culture are dead ends. They differ only from their liberal counterparts in that they've wisened up a little quicker to hard facts of reality, a reality that is vindicating long-standing conservative ideals.

Anderson makes his point by noting the prevelance of College Republican chapters on campus. This is a misnomer when describing a general rise of conservatism. College Republicans are generally not conservatives in the general sense of the term. Most hold the basic assumptions about culture, life, and society (basic ends and values, while believing that the GOP agenda allows them the space, freedom, and security to pursue the comfortable life). At the end of the day, they wear the same clothes, share the same culture (which is why they are called 'South Park Conservatives'), and operate by the same general mores, although they have higher ideals and do feel a little guilty when they debase themselves. Case in point, the supposedly more morally-centered Red State America loves "Desperate Housewives," and low-brow romance novels. I always tell the story of how the most debauched sexual behavior I've witnessed was at the College Republican National Convention.

So, at the end of the day, while the mass adoption of conservative policy prescriptions is welcome, I tend to see this as more of a blip on the radar, a general correction, in the slow decay of civilization. Make no mistake, these South Park conservatives are no culture warriors (look at the almost universal acceptance of gay marriage), and they do not hold a strong philosophical basis for their pro-life convictions. The South Park Conservatives may slow the trend of decay, but they have largely been swallowed by it.

I think I am so interested in this topic because at one point, I was a South Park conservative. Young, hip and culturally tuned-in. I valued conservative and Christian moral principles, but didn't like applying them in the concrete. Everyone else should live by them for the good of society, but I could do what I wanted. It was only when I took my faith seriously that I realized that mass culture is largely trash, I had to leave a lot of this stuff behind (mostly because I didn't find it enjoyable anymore -- mere titillation), and that true civilization and culture was found in that broad universe known as the Catholic tradition.

But grace builds on nature. So let's pray that the hard facts of daily life are the stepping stones to a broader embrace of authentic conservatism for these young folks. Books by Tim Drake and Colleen Carroll suggest we are heading in that direction.


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