Clarifying Conservatism at UD

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

Crusaders — students and friends, staff and faculty: as many of us know, the University of Dallas student body has been ranked as the most conservative in the United States of America. 

Here at UD, we proudly celebrate and affirm the enduring value of western civilization and our patriotic national heritage. Yet, in order to truly realize the unifying potential of our conservative tradition, we must look past partisan politics and recognize it as an intellectual and moral foundation upon which we may build towards a brighter future.

As a culturally conservative school rooted in the western classical tradition, UD’s mission, vision and values inevitably overlap many core tenets of the conservative political movement. As a community of independent thinkers, however,  each of us is charged with forming and pursuing our own political convictions, many of which substantively diverge from conservative orthodoxy. 

This diversity of political principle constitutes not a challenge to overcome but, rather, a source of enduring strength. Our ideological multiplicity strengthens our community and challenges all of our members’ preconceived notions. For all of us, we must remember that conserving a tradition means bringing it into dialogue — not taking it for granted. 

Indeed, it’s only through inclusive, sincere and sustained dialogue that our conservative principles are enriched with the rhetorical nuance, authentic empathy and contextual awareness required to properly explain and enact them.

Let’s be clear: our political differences do not define our relationship with tradition. UD’s conservative values and Catholic ethos underlie and transcend their political context, finding their ultimate expression not in electoral politics, but in the life well-lived.

Over this semester, I plan to write about why transpartisan conservatism and our Constitutional principles matter to all of us. Here at UD, our campus traditions and our nation’s patriotic institutions and traditions bind us together far more than the politics of partisanship can ever divide us. 

By rediscovering and deepening our own relationships with these institutions and traditions, we can start to rebuild our weary and divided nation, a nation divided not between Democrats and Republicans, but between self-dealing professional politicos and the American worker. It’s our duty to conserve the American Dream; fulfilling this duty requires hard work, patriotic loyalty, and a carefully considered understanding of what conservatism means.

I’d like to succinctly discuss what conservatism is not, at least here at UD. Our Crusader conservatism is not defined by unthinking opposition or antipathy to alternative traditions. It doesn’t reflexively create and then assail simplistic caricatures of abstract “change.” Our conservatism is not of the status-quo variety that works overtime to merely maintain the current state of things.

As Crusaders and patriots, we conserve and enrich our traditions and institutions so that our nation may grow and flourish from them. 

We realize that our nation requires bold change, grounded in our founding traditions, in order to make the American dream a reality for every American, especially for those who have suffered class discrimination and racial or identity-based bigotry. Such bigotry must be challenged head-on, as must be the political mentality of winning-at-any-cost that tacitly legitimizes racist and classist narratives (so long as they poll well).

Instead of engaging with ready-made narratives of division and blame, it’s time to productively engage with our nation’s founding document. 

But our Constitution is not a ‘plug-and-play’ political order in and of itself; rather, it comes with a firm obligation to continually uphold its principles and a rigorous but clear process for more fully realizing these principles in law. 

The belief that all people are created equal, with inalienable rights endowed by their creator, is integral to our nation’s founding framework. There’s no mistaking it: the principle of equality under the law, formally codified in the 14th Amendment, underpins our Constitutional ethic.

Yet, our strides of collective progress towards actualizing this principle have been hard-earned each step of the way, the battle often fought by those who would themselves reap no benefit from their profound and selfless sacrifices. 

The persistence of profound inequities can certainly make continued advocacy feel at times fruitless or even futile. But, without the courageous willingness of Americans through the ages to take a stand for what matters most, our nation and Constitution would be significantly worse off. If no American had ever held fast to an unpopular truth, we would still live in a colony rather than a free nation.

Indeed, our most challenging political conversations are the ones most worth having. They must inspire us to thoughtfully evaluate what we actually seek to conserve. They must inspire us to reject ethical complacency. And they must inspire us to stand for the best of America in moments of national moral crisis, putting country over party — however difficult this may be.

Though at times tenuous, the relationship between community organizing, principled advocacy and the rule of law is mutually enriching and a vital part of our Constitutional political order. It’s in our nation’s DNA to fight for better no matter how tall the odds. And here in the Lone Star State, we’ve never been afraid to face a challenge.

In this national moment, our system of laws and mores faces truly unprecedented stress. Now, as always, Americans must work to uphold our Constitutional framework and to foster the vital patriotic principles of equity, integrity and accountability. Doing so may not always be popular, but it will always be right. We must remember: without equality under the law and in the civic square, there is no true rule of law. Embracing and seeking to more consistently realize this ideal constitutes the moral cornerstone of modern constitutional conservatism.

We are a nation of profound possibilities, and there is no limit to what Americans can together accomplish. As we work towards our best America yet, let us remember that fostering opportunity for all starts with working towards authentic liberty and justice for all. In this task, our common Constitutional tradition will serve as our guide. I look forward to exploring this topic with you all.

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