One of the most memorable classrooms experiences of my life was during my sophomore year in History of Economic Thought, when Associate Professor of Economics Charles Steele — no enemy of the free market, mind you — marched to the front of the class, dropped a copy of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” on the table, and proclaimed: “I’m going to make you all Marxists by the end of the week!” We all chuckled. This is the Hillsdale Economics department, we just don’t believe things like that. But throughout our discussion Marxism and Soviet communism, not once did Steele describe these ideas as ridiculous, preposterous, or silly. I don’t think any of us left as Marxists that week, but we did leave Steele’s classroom with a deeper understanding of these ideas and a reinvigorated appreciation for our own beliefs. Only through understanding the other side could we ever begin to truly form our own justifications for economic freedom. While this story is very much the norm at Hillsdale College, it is, unfortunately, unrequited in many young conservative circles.
At Fox News, Tucker Carlson has infuriated many a college socialist and Democratic operative through his dismissive smirks. He has turned the split-screen deadpan into a work of art. This phenomenon continues on the interwebs with the ever-popular “Interviewing College Liberals” or “Ben Shapiro Destroys” videos that rack up tens of thousands of views on YouTube. But while such low-hanging fruit provides entertainment for young conservatives (myself included), this trend of flippantly dismissing arguments with which we disagree is destructive.
It is very easy to dismiss ideas like the Green New Deal, universally-paid for college, or just about all of Democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) platform as lunacy, but these proposals are supported by wide swaths of the population. While young conservatives laugh at the notion of America ever becoming a socialist country, our leftist peers actively work to make it so. The conservative argument might make sense to us, but that doesn’t mean it will come to pass.
One of the cliches of debate is that you must know your opponent’s argument better than he does. Unfortunately, this mentality is an anomaly in the young conservative movement. Rather than seeking to understand the left’s ideology in depth, we try to learn just enough to offer what we see as a scathing rebuttal. Rarely do we ask ourselves: why do so many people my age openly embrace socialism? Rather, we resort to the easy mischaracterization of all these budding Marxists as spoiled and entitled products of helicopter parents. For those young Charles Krauthammers out there, have you ever considered why the debunked doctrine of socialism is so popular with your seemingly intelligent peers, or what the academic or philosophical underpinnings of such an idea are? These may be important things to consider before rushing to laugh at the insanity of “that loon bag Bernie Sanders” staging his bid for the presidency.
According to a recent Reason-Rupe poll, 58 percent of college-aged Americans view socialism favorably. Are these tens of thousands of people chomping at the bit to become the next Vladamir Lenin or Nicholas Maduro? Are they hell bent on enslaving the masses so they can live in luxury at the expense of others? The obvious answer is no. Perhaps, like most people our age, they see problems in the world and crave to fix them. Perhaps they see a broken healthcare system that leaves many with inadequate insurance. Perhaps they see problems that are not being addressed by those in power. That does not mean their solutions are right, but unless we do our best to understand their perspective, we will do nothing but throw stones from behind our ideologically fortified bunkers.
Many like to say that American conservatism has a marketing problem. Our message is obviously correct (it’s the promotions of eternal truths, for Kirk’s sake!), so we just need to figure out how to present it to the latest generation. This mentality may be agreeable, but it leads to an anemic understanding of our core values. The “dunking on leftist” approach favored by your average college-aged conservative, and promoted by groups like Turning Point USA, may be delicious to those already in agreement, but it does very little to change the minds of the many fence-sitters.
Tucker Carlson’s smirking approach to politics, while enjoyable, is toxic. Rather than laughing at your political opponents, try to understand them, if for nothing more than to fortify your own positions. Without the humility to question one’s own ideas, a person can never grow and learn. You never know, maybe in your crusade to rid the world of those Dummycrats, your mind might change once or twice along the way.
Erik Halvorson is a senior studying Economics.