- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

The principles that form the core of conservatism are in need not of reinvention, but recovery.

But the recovery can’t be collective. When and if it occurs, it will be in the hearts of millions of conservatives who have decided they have had enough. And it will be in the minds of young people who learn the principles that so many political leaders on the right have forgotten or deserted.

Activists attending “tea parties” and the Western Conservative Political Action Conference - and those who attended the Family Research Council Values Voters Summit - are recovering first principles that were abandoned by their elected leaders and the many policy organizations that constitute what used to be a vibrant political movement.

On every front, we conservatives were abandoned by those who decided to play ball with a Republican president who abandoned us. Well, failing to hold George W. Bush’s feet to the fire of principle led to control by Democrats in every branch of American national government. Yes, a freak financial crisis threw the election to the Democrats, but we know in our hearts that conservative principles would have been abandoned had the Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, won that election.

Recovery of first principles is a necessary first step in recovery of American government by conservative leaders. Before they appear, however, we ourselves must recover those principles. Of course, some of us never learned those principles because over the past three decades, conservatives have been dumbed down.

Young conservatives today will probably not encounter in their generation the equivalent of the great minds that shaped the conservative movement in the 1940s and ‘50s or any of the other greats who left a mark on the conservative community in the 1960s.

Conservatives - since 1980 - have had a very difficult time finding a graduate school that would educate and protect them; and, besides, there were jobs to be had in the federal government. So why earn a postgraduate degree?

By the end of the 1980s, there were very few academic billets to which a young conservative could repair. Yes, there were and still are departments of economics that are a little better, but you can’t make a community of conservatives from bean counters alone.

Literature, history, art, philosophy and religion are central elements of the conservative mind, and in those fields academe no longer countenances the presence of conservatives.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has published several studies that demonstrate that required courses in English literature, American history and the history of Western civilization are no longer required to earn the bachelor of arts degree. Is there anything that can be done? Yes. Read these books:

- Ludwig von Mises’ “Human Action” (1940)

- Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” (1944)

- Friedrich Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” (1960)

- Richard Weaver’s “Ideas Have Consequences” (1948)

- Eric Voegelin’s “New Science of Politics” (1952)

- Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind” (1953)

- Robert Nisbet’s “The Quest for Community” (1953)

- Eric Voegelin’s “Israel and Revelation” (1956)

- Wilhelm Roepke’s, “A Humane Economy” (1962)

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” (1962)

Once again, conservatism doesn’t need to be reinvented. Its principles need to be relearned to be passed on to this generation and to future generations. The surest way to do that is not by reading the popular polemics of today’s overheated partisans, but through the writings of the passionate original thinkers and scholars who helped found the modern conservative movement.

Let the recovery begin.

Richard Bishirjian, founding president of Yorktown University, an accredited Internet-based institution of higher learning in Denver, is working on a new book about the “dumbing down of conservatives.”

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