When Students Were Individualists

This Time article from Feb. 10, 1961 shows some of the best and worst traits of the early conservative student movement.

As Editor Peter Stuart of the Michigan Daily puts it: “The signs point to a revival of interest in individualism and decentralization of power—principles espoused by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and rekindled by Senator Barry Goldwater.” Items:

Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative is selling best at 200 college-town bookstores across the land.

Youngsters, not oldsters, were the most exuberant Goldwater boomleteers at the Republican presidential convention.

Harvard’s newly re-elected Student Council President Howard Phillips, 19, is a stern conservative on a campus brimming with Democrats on the faculty.

In last fall’s mock election at the University of Michigan, Nixon defeated Kennedy, though Kennedy easily carried the state. At Indiana, Northwestern and Ohio State, Nixon won by 2 to 1.

Exodus Shrugged. The campus conservatives subdivide into roughly three groups. On the far right is a small fringe of shouting, demonstrating fanatics who admire the late Joe McCarthy, favor colonialism, back such causes as the “right” to exclude Negroes from certain neighborhoods, demand that students sign loyalty oaths, picket the movies Spartacus and Exodus because Dalton Trumbo (TIME, Jan. 2) wrote them. They take as their philosopher Novelist Ayn (Atlas Shrugged) Rand, who for a brooch wears a gold dollar sign to symbolize the values of selfcenteredness. On the other end of the spectrum are Kennedy supporters who find in the President’s appeal to duty (“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”) the essence of their conservatism.

In the middle of this stream runs the strongest current. Its members stand for the old verities, which they think the U.S. has forgotten. “Man has free will and reason,” says Victor Milione, 36, executive vice president of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. “Individual men should be their own agents in all things respecting their own lives.” These conservatives hold the right of private property as the best bulwark of freedom. They argue that unemployment should be alleviated by charity; that children should obey the Biblical command to honor parents by caring for them in their old age instead of leaving the responsibility to the Social Security Administration.

Read on. The book I always recommend on the history of the conservative youth movement (though it’s specifically about Young Americans for Freedom), is Gregory Schneider’s Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right. I’ve just loaned my copy of the organizer of Students for Ron Paul, in fact.

The youth element of the movement used to push the rather staid Republicans to the right. The young conservatives were among the first to agitate for Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to run for the Republican nomination. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the decades since the youth movement has been overtaken by the career-oriented College Republicans, the conservative movement as a whole has failed to produce another Goldwater or Reagan. But I think there are good odds that Ron Paul, who is galvanizing the youth and who loves speaking on campuses, is going to change that.

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2 thoughts on “When Students Were Individualists

  1. Favela Cranshaw February 17, 2008 / 4:51 am

    The dollar sign is the sign of the free market. Where did you get “self-centeredness?” In fact, that’s quite awkward. Is that your way of denigrating people who earn a living by using their minds? Is this the way a conservative thinks today?

  2. Daniel McCarthy February 17, 2008 / 5:09 am

    That’s a quote, not my wording. But Ayn Rand did believe in “the virtue of selfishness,” and to call her philosophy “self-centered” is not wrong. In fact, I think Ayn Rand would take it as a compliment.

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