Explanation offered:

"where, indeed, the main current of campus conservatism did seem to be Catholic monarchism merged with Austrian economics - a phenomenon for which I would still appreciate an explanation"

American university student conservatism tends towards these highly incompatible extremes because American university students are 18-22 year olds who wish to rebel against the status quo, and for whom moderate left-liberalism can constitute a status quo no less than religious fundamentalism or small-town conservatism. Some kids go in for Neitzsche and critical theory, some go in for in-your-face atheism, some go for drugs, some go for Catholic monarchism merged with Austrain economics. The fact that they're incompatible makes the act of rebellion that much more rebellious.

But, like all adopted college personas, the extremes mostly fade over time. Worry more about the 25 year-old who still holds to both.


Miss Self-Important said...

Ok, sure, but why these two? I was also a conservative in college, and my desire to resist the status quo was satisfied by pretty mainstream right-wingedness (as one of my students once called it). Why no regular conservatism for Harvardian bowtie-wearers? Why not even neoconservatism, or communitarianism, or the various conservatisms that exist only on the internet like crunchy cons or pomocons? Why monarchism? (I think I can see the impetus for embracing Austrian economics as a high-brow form of libertarianism, which is still a powerful siren for political college students.)

Nicholas said...

Well, leaving the Austrian economics aside for a moment, the combination of Catholic and monarchist is the sort of thing I would expect to appeal to people who identify the French Revolution as The Point At Which It All Went Wrong. As I recall (though it's been many years now), the problems of the French revolution were a common theme of National Review-like 'think pieces,' and I think it's also identified by Kirk as the fundamental birth of conservatism as a distinct ideology in The Conservative Mind, though I may misremember. So one might as well go to the beginning. To take, for example, Alasdair MacIntyre-style desire to turn the clock back to the 12th century requires some sustained historical or philosophical work; blaming the French Revolution is easy.

Not neoconservatism because its historical roots are a) not that old and b) in liberalism, neither of which is tenable (though they're why it appealed to me); not communitarianism because most college students have chosen to reject something about their home communities, should they have them, in the very fact of choosing to go to college.

Now, getting further out on a limb, I think there's a link between the appeal of Austrian economics and pomoconism of its Yale-affiliated varieties: it's a fascination with cruelty and pain and the idea that surviving, inciting, and accepting pain somehow make one 'better' on a relevant metric. But that also seems youth-connected, for the most part (even the Austrian libertarian academics I've met recognize the capacity for pain and suffering if you lose out, and think of that as a problem, if not one that overwhelms the value of the theory as a whole).

Nicholas said...

"surviving, inciting, and accepting suffering" is what I meant to write.

Miss Self-Important said...

So conservatives wish to return to a time before conservatism? To absolute monarchies? Or even further back, to feudal ones?

I just assumed these Harvardians were already Catholics (well, some are evangelicals and seem to become Anglicans over time), and at Chicago, we were already Jews. So we went neocon while at Harvard, they go theocon.

Nicholas said...

Pretty much, yes. It's the Charles Taylor A Secular Age argument: they want to live in a time they in which they conceive that stance (Catholic, monarchist) to have been the reflexive common sense of everyone. But, we being modern secular liberals, the only way to do so is to consciously enact it.

I should also be clearer that while I think this is an attempt to return to some point in history prior to the present one, it in no way resembles history as it might have actually been in that period. If the problems we know have arisen since 1789, if one goes back before 1789 there must be no significant problems.

I've also witnessed enough people do the theological version of this, exchanging an evangelical protestantism for a sort of gauzy and non-specific Catholicism (rooted in the 11th century) or Orthodoxy (rooted in the 2nd-4th), that I think "desire to return to a time in which you have no choice but to believe x" is probably a thing, as the kids say. It requires college as a breaking point, when the old identity can be safely ignored and the new one constructed.

At Michigan the conservatism was of an NR-style reactionary kind, mostly because we were so vastly outnumbered. I will be conducting some first-hand research at Chicago this year, so I'll be interested to see if it's still the same.

Miss Self-Important said...

I don't know. These kids are not so obtuse that they would swallow the idea that prior to 1789, there were "no problems." Perhaps religious wars and the struggles of the aristocracy against the king seem more noble to them and more worth fighting over than our welfare state problems, but I can't really believe that they are so naive as to believe in a world of no problems. The move to Orthodoxy I find even more bewildering. How can Midwestern boys not be put off by the foreign-ness of eastern Christianity?

What are you doing at Chicago? Harper-Schmidt or some other variant of teaching the bushy-tailed bunnies in the Core? Chicago has Counterpoint, a neocon-ish mag whose editor just graduated, which often means that the publication immediately wilts. There was a strain of Evelyn Waugh-worshiping dandyism, but it never eclipsed the law and economics and the neocon tendencies of the...10 people on the whole campus who were conservatives of any sort.

Nicholas said...

I'm teaching Classics in the Core, though not as a H-S. I'm interested to see how the students differ from Duke students, if at all.

The catch for these variations of past-as-salvation is that none of them involve any serious engagement with history. So it's perhaps not a world of no problems that they envision, though it's certainly a world of fewer problems, and, in any event, there's no serious contemplation of history and what it might mean for those claims. Ask an adult Catholic convert about historical fluctuations in doctrine and ecclesiology, and you're more likely to get the claim that Rome's doctrinal stances are eternal and never substantially changing than any engagement with the facts, whether they support or detract from that claim. So also other streams: people are willing to accept historical beliefs that accord with their vision of the world without much scrutiny.

The appeal of Orthodoxy for the midwestern is obvious, I would think: it's exotic and mystical.

Miss Self-Important said...

The adult Catholic converts I know are either Medieval Studies PhDs, or disillusioned evangelicals who found their sects insufficiently theologically serious, and all these people seem to know about theology. But that's probably different from undergrad dithering. As for the Orthodoxy, usually when people want mystical exoticism, they take a trip to India that "changes their lives." Byzantium the new ashram?

Classics core - I took that! A fertile breeding ground for future political theory grad students.