Young Americans for Freedom at U.Va. made quite a name for himself. From last fall’s controversy 9/11 sign featuring a plane flying into the twin towers at their Mike Pence hosting last spring, as well as this semester’s event with Kellyanne Conway, YAF to U.Va. constantly caused drama and raised tension on Grounds. As one of the strongest right-wing voices in the University, YAF at U.Va. is a stark testimony to the decadence of conservatism. Gone are the days when conservatives strove to generate a deeper understanding of politics. Instead, YAF at U.Va. only seeks to divide students of different political perspectives. His speaking choices show his true colors – a hollow commitment to free speech driven solely by a desire to provoke controversy. The only way to effectively create an environment conducive to free speech is for students to organize together and effectively ignore YAF during U.Va antics.
The Young America’s Foundation, as a national organization, has found its beginnings with the famous conservative intellectual William Buckley Jr. and the Sharon’s Statement. As YAF’s founding document, the statement still guides the organization to this day. The statement is considered “a succinct summary of the central ideas of modern American conservatism” by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Its central premises focus on a negative conception of freedom and a deference to religion, tradition and the free market.
I’m not saying that things like religion or tradition are inherently bad. Instead, I argue that Young America’s Foundation conservatism is marked by a regressive quality that is antithetical to any conception of progress. In “The Constitution of Liberty”, Friedrich Hayek states that conservatism, “by its very nature, cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are heading”. Despite being a thinker admired by many conservatives, Hayek chose to position himself as a classic liberal. Hayek recognized that the attempt to preserve traditions at the expense of progress was an unsustainable political strategy, and as such he advocated that people who want to preserve freedom and values cannot simply hold back history. , but should move it forward in a way that works. In this sense, Hayek recognizes that there is value to be had in tradition, but it cannot come at the expense of politics or the ability of the free market to grow and change.
At the forefront of conservative student activism is YAF’s attempt to slow the progress that student movements have brought to many universities. Yet he does so by causing disruption and appealing to ideals — like free speech — that he doesn’t truly represent. Just look at the advocacy of national organizations censor a book in libraries featuring LGBTQ+ youth, as well as denying the well-documented high number of suicides of young homosexuals. Going back even further into the history of YAF reveals infamous chapters such as the Michigan State Chapter – from which YAF National immediately distanced itself – which was labeled a hate group by the SPLC. YAF’s appeal to tradition is one that is masked by the veil of freedom and freedom from state oppression, as stated in Sharon’s statement. However, this version of the tradition demands the oppression of gay people for their mere existence, which can only be implemented through state enforcement and suppression of civil liberties, resulting in a more equitable society. .
As CIO on the pitch, YAF at U.Va. chose to stir the pot, rather than attempt to be legitimately constructive. For example — the Berlin Wall Memorial and the aforementioned ruthless sign of 9/11, the “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson” event that sought to ignore Jefferson’s troubling relationship with Sally Hemmings by saying “nobody’s perfect” and the invite from mike pence at Grounds when the former vice president grossly misinterpreted the basics of critical race theory are all examples of unconstructive events that seek to rewrite history and advance a fictional culture war. I’m sure there will be nothing productive in inviting more of the people who allowed former President Donald Trump to spit in the face of democracy.
YAF events at U.Va. have done nothing to engage with ideas critically, nor do I believe that they contribute to making the University and its students “great and good”. Instead, they have only made the dialogue less effective, making it impossible for center or left students to interact with conservative students in a way conducive to a deeper conclusion on the world’s pressing issues. . A simple look at the Young America’s Foundation instagram will show a slew of memes featuring transphobic and homophobic conspiracies from unreliable news sources like the Daily Wire. At its core, there is an inability to converse in good faith with someone if they cannot accept that marginalized groups have a basic right to respect.
As a student body, we must do our best to organize and show that we will not engage with YAF misbehavior at U.Va. exhibited. The Solidarity forever event held last semester in response to Pence’s lecture is the best example of what should be done instead of engaging with YAF at U.Va. Dialogue is essential if we are to achieve a better understanding of the diverse perspectives and issues we face as students and citizens, while engaging with YAF at U.Va. in said dialog will not achieve the desired result. YAF is a prime example of a hypocritical paradox that has no interest in defending its claims to the virtues of freedom – if it did, it might have an interest in sparking a discussion of ideals instead of being a mere troll on Grounds.
Ryan Lanford is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Cavalier Daily. They can be contacted at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.