College Republican clubs are the means of taking the postliberal movement out of the classroom and into the halls of Congress.
College conservatives have an unfortunate tendency to play “sandbox politics,” that is, believing the student body government and the various political clubs and activities are equivalent to the real political battles taking place in Washington. Everyone is familiar with the stereotypical, starry-eyed politics major that believes that they are going to change the world. That said, however, this may no longer be the case. The remarkable thing about the “postliberal” movement is that it is composed nearly entirely of young people, and in particular, college-aged students. This makes the political debates happening on college campuses all the more relevant because rather than engaging exclusively within the liberal political model, the debates are leaving the sandbox and beginning to shape the political discourse around liberalism itself, both on campus and online.
At The Catholic University of America, the institution which I attend, the political environment is a barometer of what is to come. At Catholic University, the Democrats maintain only a small presence on campus. The main political struggle is between Catholic’s Young Americans for Freedom, or YAF, chapter and its College Republicans club. YAF maintains its position of defending the liberal order through “freedom” and other classical liberal and libertarian positions. Similarly, this is the model of most College Republican clubs on a typical college campus across the country. On the other hand, however, stands an outlier — Catholic University College Republicans, which represents the “New Right,” with considerable postliberal influence.
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Catholic University’s College Republicans has taken itself to advocating an authentic view of conservatism. In particular, the club stresses its uniquely Catholic identity. While just a few years ago it would be considered right-liberal, a dedicated group of students have worked to change and differentiate this club from other, more typical clubs. Now, over the last year, it has held debates on “the future of the Republican Party,” invited the likes of Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor at the university, to speak on postliberal politics, and Saurabh Sharma, president of American Moment, to speak on retaking power from within the federal government. It is hard to tell if this conservative grip on the club will remain, especially with leadership changes this academic year, but this same small and effective group of students continues to work to ensure its persistence.
In many ways, this situation is reflective of the broader political sphere. On campus, political debate is no longer a debate internal to liberalism, but a debate of the merits of liberalism itself. While right-liberal organizations like YAF have made their home firmly defending things like the free market at all costs, Catholic University College Republicans has instead broken traditional College Republican orthodoxy and embraced a mode of conservatism that is not bound by the confines of liberalism.
On campus, debate is not a traditional American left-right endeavor, but a fundamental question of if our political order is itself justified and sustainable. In and out of the classroom, we debate the common good, whether freedom is the highest good, or even what model of government is best — all things considered unaskable even a few years ago. What is most significant, though, is that we are all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. The arguably insignificant infighting between these two clubs is ultimately a microcosm of what is to come. What it signifies is a desire by college students to move beyond the political options liberal conservatives have long offered. Just asking these questions signifies something wrong with the liberal order, namely, that liberalism has been unable to answer or remedy the most pressing issues facing our nation today, something young people experience especially hard.
Ultimately, organizations like Young Americans for Freedom perpetuate a certain kind of fear in youth of challenging the liberal order. Although YAF is funded by wealthy and powerful donors and has a national leadership organization, the club is slowly losing its influence nationally. At Catholic University, the club remains popular, but persistent doubts as to the merits of the club’s ideology remain and continue to grow. For example, the club recently hosted a discussion entitled “In God We Trust: Can the Government Legislate Morality?” This is all the while that the highlights of YAF’s previous academic year were former Vice President Mike Pence and Congressman Dan Crenshaw, mainstream, liberal conservative politicians.
On the other hand, College Republican clubs, while disconnected and lacking a clear national organization, are increasingly becoming home to a group of upstart students willing to put the ideas of the New Right forward and fight for them politically. College Republican clubs across the nation (like at the University of Virginia and Cornell) will survive because of their adaptation to changing circumstances and a reflection of a different vision of politics — one willing to question the foundations of our present order. Every day, it seems as if a new College Republican club appears on Twitter willing to fight for these ideas. This is not to mention that attempts are also being made at creating new a national organization of College Republicans, namely College Republicans of America.
These clubs are taking postliberalism from academia to the real world. Postliberalism could be said to have started at Yale during the twentieth century. Structurally, postliberalism began in academia, and as such, is where most of its initial intellectual growth took place. Postliberalism has been trapped in academia because there was no demand for it politically. For a time, it filled the pages of books and lecture halls, but our political landscape remained the same. For better or for worse, this all changed with the election of Donald Trump. Suddenly, the liberal order was threatened and the “dead consensus” was broken. Now, nearly any host of political theories are on the table as a direct counter to the liberal order — which creates tremendous opportunity for us now.
While postliberals have birthed a movement, it is our generation that will finish what they have started. What began in academia will end in political effectuation. There is finally a group of young, highly motivated individuals who are willing to bring these ideas to the forefront of the political discussion and use them to win. The youth hunger for this movement; the energy of postliberalism surrounding not only Catholic University College Republicans, but other College Republican clubs around the country is the hope that will propel this movement out of the classroom and into the halls of Congress. Often, politically active youth are criticized for not knowing enough about the world to participate in actual political debate. To me, it seems like the opposite. Only the youth are offering an authentic vision that realistically focuses on objective political goods: the common good, family, stability, beauty, and order — all things our generation has been denied.