While riding to the airport with the venerable William F. Buckley last year, I had occasion to ask him a question on my mind: “What one thing do you think the rising generation of conservatives must accomplish in the 21st century?” He replied, “Why that’s a rather broad question.” Then he sat, silent, for several moments, pondering the matter. When he stepped out to board his plane, he told me: “I hope you find the answer to that question.”
That’s when I realized that we must answer our own questions – that our generation is part of an old story, and that our acceptance of a role in the story is ours to determine.
As part of an old inheritance, young conservatives face an old task anew. We must rally to the foundations of our free society. And to do that, young conservatives must wage a conversation about the future.
The modern conservative conversation is only a few generations old. Buckley’s generation took a major role by launching the intellectual ascendancy of conservatism in the middle of the 20th century. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were members of that generation. It was at Buckley’s Sharon Estate in Connecticut that Young Americans for Freedom was founded in 1960. The young people involved in that movement became the second generation of modern conservatives.
In 1984, a group of young conservatives gathered every Wednesday evening at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of conservatism. They called themselves the Third Generation Project. “The greatest achievements of the First and Second Generations seem to have been to discredit liberalism intellectually and to contain its political advance,” Benjamin Hart wrote in a summary of the Third Generation Project. “The task of the Third Generation is to begin to ‘roll back’ on all fronts the liberal conquests of the last half century.” Many of the young people who went to those Heritage meetings 22 years ago are today prominent leaders in politics and culture.
And a fourth generation is waiting in the wings. The fourth generation is special because it is the vanguard of the larger generation. There is a generational shift now taking place – toward truth, toward moral and economic conservatism, toward civility, toward purpose. President Bush called it in his State of the Union Address a “quiet transformation” and a “revolution of conscience.” I like to call the young Americans – now in high school and college, and emerging into the workforce and manning the frontlines in Iraq – Reagan’s Children. Born during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, Reagan’s Children are increasingly determined to restore the nation to foundational principles.
So it is time for a conversation about the rising generation.
A significant part of that conversation will take place on the blogosphere.
Last month, Reagan’s Children Blog was launched to engage young conservatives in the critical dialogue. Ben Shapiro, Brendan Steinhauser, Francisco Gonzalez, Christopher Flickinger, Charles Ganske, Patrick Bell, Ryan Walsh, Christian Hartsock and I have joined to blog about where our generation is headed.
What battles confront us today, and what lie ahead? Where must we look to find hope, and how can we best spend our young days in service of the highest ideals? What does it mean to be a conservative in the 21st century? Where stand the aging hippies? How will our generation confront the Social Security crisis? What will become of abortion and immigration in our time? These are among the questions before us.
Blogging is a chief feature of the Internet revolution. It may serve as a tool for good or for evil. It may cheapen ideas or it may reintroduce the best ideas in fresh and wonderful ways. It may help to topple graying establishments or make new ones.
Reagan’s Children Blog will aim to partake of a revolution for good, to hash about the stronger proofs that America will survive intact.
And Reagan’s Children Blog will aim to broaden the conversation beyond itself. Already this has been happening, but it must roll to a boil. Our generation needs writers in every medium, speakers, teachers, youth leaders, mentors, parents – all who care to perpetuate the dream of America must join in the dialogue about Reagan’s Children.
For there is, I am convinced, a generational shift unfolding unlike anything since the late 1960s. Only this time, the shift is largely a reaction to that previous revolution. It is a conservative revolution.